The VERY FIRST Portable CD Player | Sony D5/D50
Retro tech is becoming popular among the new generation, mainly because they don't make 'em like they used to. Do you really think an electronic device you purchase today will last almost 40 years and best most of the offerings 40 years into the future? Sony did it back in 1984 with many of its legacy products.
The Sony D5, also known as the D50, was the world's first portable compact disc player. It was the predecessor to what would become the mass-market Sony Discman. What was so special about this product? Almost 40 years after it debuted at $300, which was paltry compared to what the actual full-size CD players were going for, it is, in my opinion, still a viable option as a disc spinner you can use today as your daily driver.
The more reasonable price tag allowed people to experience the new format for the first time without spending an obscene amount of money. By 1985 the price dropped to $200, and Sony was pumping out 100,000 units every month to meet the demand. So when this happened, of course, people wanted more of their favorite music on CD, which triggered the true beginnings of the era of the Compact Disc. The D5 was a catalyst in a trend that would last for over a decade.
First, let me start by telling you how I discovered the D5. I was browsing articles and videos about the Sony Discman because I wanted to do a video about the original ones from back in the day. So I clicked on a video where the guy had like a dozen Discmen laid out on a table, and the one that caught my eye was the D5. It looked cool and was a bit bigger than the rest of them. So I waited until he spoke about the D5 to find the model number. I almost immediately started scouring the internet to find one to buy. It wasn't easy; 98% of the available ones were for parts only. It was a bit unfortunate because I wanted to own a piece of Compact Disc history, especially since this device laid the groundwork for the Discman and many other portable devices.
The D5 needed to be plugged into its 9V power adapter to work, or if you are lucky enough to find a battery pack case, you can get a few hours of battery power from it utilizing C-cell batteries. So, in my opinion, this was meant to be a small form factor CD player for the home; however, as I said, it was the foundation for what was to come. Sony realized that if this was to be portable, they needed to make it smaller, and the battery needed to last longer. It needed anti-skip technology since the only thing providing shock absorption for the D5 were two small rubber shocks inside the unit itself. After all, the point of a portable device back then was to be like the Walkman, where you could take it out with you and be free of cords.
So, long story short, I found one days later via the selling platform Mercari. The person wanted $180, I offered $150, and it was a done deal. There was one in mint condition on eBay for like $430. I didn't want to spend that kind of scratch on this project, but had I known what I know now; I may go back and buy it if one of you hasn't swooped in on it yet. So, the one I got came with the power adapter that plugs into the rear of the unit providing an RCA output, even more solidifying my opinion that this is meant for home use and not jogging around the neighborhood. This unit features the CX 20133 Digital to Analog converter, a standard in Sony's smaller audio offerings for many years. It wasn't easy to find out what DAC came inside this unit; however, back in the 80s, they took their owner's manuals seriously. The owner's manual is shy of fifty pages and features everything you could ever want to know about this unit. It's so in-depth that I could probably build one from scratch if I had the parts lying around. That's just how intense this service manual is.
It is much different than how companies do things today, basically just specs, warranty, and a faceless thank you for buying their product.
The unit looks cool, especially during an era where aesthetics for electronics was transitioning from the 70s to 80s. The D5 has a cool retro-tech feel without looking like an obsolete piece of gear forgotten in time. I had been looking for a CD player where I could see the disc spinning on top, and I finally got it. The top lid of the unit shows part of the disc in action. Once you open the lid, the bottom panel is made of metal, and the disc sits on top. The front of the unit is straightforward; it controls basic functions, like the power button and the play, pause, stop and skip buttons and a small screen to show the song number and time information. On the right side of the D5, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack.
One huge feature of this unit is it can get loud.
It doesn't take a lot to get things going.
The sound quality is superior to many units I have tested today, leaving me confused. How can this little player from almost 40 years ago play like it was made yesterday for audiophile-quality sound reproduction?
That's just how they did it back in the 80s.
Unfortunately, the Discman that followed for years and years after these initial units did not sound the same.
The bass is incredible, and the clarity is crisp on the D5. The soundstage was fantastic, allowing the Tekton 2-10s I used to audition this little marvel to shine. I honestly listened to this unit for several hours the first day I had it. It wasn't fatiguing at all. I had it plugged into the Vincent SV-200 integrated amplifier via Audioquest RCA cables, and it worked fine. I feel the advantage of this unit is that it doesn't have the anti-skip feature, which in an earlier model, Discman, had been proven to degrade the sound quality of the music when the feature was active. This is just a straight-up CD player, and it can play CD-Rs, which was hit or miss for its time.
Overall, I think this unit is solid, and I will probably use it quite often since I liked it that much.
Now, is this player for everyone?
Probably not, since most people like the convenience of their mobile phones, and this is more of a ceremony.
Is it cool to own a piece of HiFi history?
Heck yeah, it is.
So, there's a question that still lingers in my mind. If this device sounds so good and is superior to many of today's products, what happened? One thing that happened is manufacturers decided to go to the lowest bidder and just pulled parts off the shelf. They stopped innovating. They got lazy and greedy and knew considerable differences in quality would be inaudible to many, so they said the hell with it. Let's make a CD player that will sound good enough for X amount of dollars and call it a day. Little do they know the resurgence is at their doorstep, and there will be a demand for high-quality players soon. Now, not all new players are substandard or bad. There is a lot of new technology, new DACs, and new players that could easily beat the D5; however, I posed the question: will these devices last almost 40 years?
We'll find out.
I'll probably be on the other side by then, so I may not find out.
We live in an upgrade-centric society where we constantly have been conditioned to upgrade to the next big thing. Most devices will be obsolete, improved, or cheaper in a year or two. Back in the 70s and 80s, you bought a piece of gear and kept it because it was good and it did the job well. However, my goal in this hobby is to enjoy the experience regardless of whether it's a new or vintage piece. If it's good, it's good, and I will appreciate and enjoy it for what it is.
Download the Service Manual Here