The Arcam is all solid state, compared to the hybrid transistor/tube Shanling. However, had I not known, I’d have thought the Arcam was the tube component. It had a certain richness and warmth compared to the Shanling. On Richard Thompson’s Keep Your Distance, I was impressed by the Arcam’s solid cohesiveness. All the various instruments could be heard clearly, and the vocals sounded clean and prominent, without seeming exaggerated.This track has a deep solid bass, which the Arcam reproduced very convincingly. On the CD-T1500, the bass seemed to lose some of this weight and authority – especially when set to 192kHz.
The differences between the two players were not huge, and I daresay if you couldn’t live happily with one, you probably couldn’t live with the other. Nevertheless, I had a consistent preference for the Arcam. However, the Shanling has a built-in Get Out of Jail card in the form of balanced outputs. Now, it’s been a fair while since I used a CD player with balanced outputs – so long, in fact, I’d mislaid my cables and had to make up a fresh set. But the effort was well worth it. Suddenly, the Shanling was calling the shots.
The increase in output level seemed bigger and more strongly projected. Of course, I reduced amplifier volume levels to compensate. But it went further than that. The Shanling’s soundstage seemed broader and deeper, and the music had greater tonal body and dynamic presence. Going over to the Arcam, the sound now seemed somewhat ‘smaller’ and more contained. Back listening to the Arcam, I felt I wanted to turn up the volume - past the point where I’d originally had it set – trying to match the Shanling’s bigger broader deeper soundstage, Doing this certainly helped, but did not fully compensate. The Shanling sounded bigger, not just louder. Via its standard outputs the Shanling had sounded very good, but not exceptional. Using the balanced outputs, it was much, much better – often close to outstanding. So, you need to use the Shanling balanced to hear it at its very best. The difference is pretty significant.
Another thing that made the CD-T1500 sound better was switching its display lights off. You do this from the remote handset, and the result is a cleaner slightly more focused sound.There’s a richer ‘darker’ quality to things – as though the music were emanating from an inky-black backdrop. I also wondered about the ‘open’ transport, which allows light to reach the surface of the CD. Years ago, I used to reckon that CDs sounded better if played in a totally dark environment. Most are, of course, simply because of the way that CD players are designed and engineered. Back in the 1980s I had Pioneer’s PD-75, which played discs upside-down on a platter. There was a little window in the drawer, so you could see the disc spinning, and this allowed light to reach the playing surface. That player definitely sounded better with the window taped up. I wondered if the Shanling might also be affected. So, having nothing better to do, I found a suitably sized box and placed it over the transport. It did not cut out 100% of the light, but certainly reduced it by a big margin. Now it might’ve been imagination, but I reckoned there was a further small but noticeable improvement in focus and clarity…
The Shanling CD-T1500 is a very nice-sounding CD player - one that sounds very good unbalanced but much better once its balanced outputs are used. Combining extraordinary detail with real substance its sound is extremely impressive. I love the CD-T1500 for its looks and build, and reckon there are many who will want one for its appearance alone! But set it up carefully and the sound is more than a match for the wrapping.