Adventures with the SONY SCD-777ES
Adventures with the SONY SCD-777ES
|"A Tweakers Guide to bargain state-of-the-art digital sound"|
7 April 2003
This adventure began when I borrowed a Sony SCD-777ES player from my Stereo Times associate Leon Rivkin. The following day, I acquired a Shunyata Anaconda power cord through the kind offices of my other associate, Greg Petan. Yes, it pays to be well connected.
The 777ES was a headline item when it first came out. It, and its bigger brother, the SCD-1, established a new benchmark for digital playback. Both models even made it to Stereophile’s Recommended Components A+ category and were the most inexpensive in that listing. The 777ES was a terrific value at the original list price of $3450. The list was later dropped to $3000, and then it went out of production. Nowadays the 777ES can only be found used and sells on Audiogon for around $1500. The top-of-the-line model SCD-1 is still available new, with a reduced list of $3500.
As for the Shunyata Anaconda, this is a new power cord creating significant buzz among the cognoscenti. It’s said to offer all the benefits of the Shunyata Hydra AC conditioner built into a power cord. I placed the Sony on a free shelf of my Polycrystal rack and, naturally, paired it with the Anaconda.
The combination of the 777ES and the Anaconda made excellent sound. I could mentally go through the audiophile report card and check off “A+” in almost every category. Powered by the Anaconda, the sound was incredibly smooth, noise-free and accurate, if a little dark. There’s simply no noise to speak of. Frequency response was extremely linear. The sound, while a little on the warmish side, was real easy to listen to. Dynamics seemed unlimited. The lack of artifacts raised the bar for digital playback in my house. The Anaconda has many virtues in common with the 777ES and the combination would certainly capture the hearts of many audiophiles. Throw a pair of Harmonic Technology Pro-Silway Mk II or HT Magic One interconnects into the mix, and your quest for a no-compromise digital front-end could end right here. As it happened, the Anaconda was needed elsewhere and had to be returned. Hopefully, it will be back soon.
My idea was to use the 777ES as a recognized benchmark to hone in on what my reference Von Gaylord Audio (formerly Legend Audio Design) front-end was doing right and wrong. Sure enough, I discovered areas that could use some work. But I also discovered some shortfalls in the 777ES. If anything, it was too smooth, producing a congested quality. Probably also related to the excess smoothness, the soundstage, while dimensional, seemed flat, and lacked any tactile quality.
However, visitors liked the sound of the 777ES so much I had no choice but to take it seriously. Thus began the exploration phase of the adventure.
First, I put it up on a Mapleshade Component Support Solution. The MCSS consists of three integrated parts: three Ultimate Triplepoint heavy brass cones, a sold maple wood plank, and a set of four Isoblock cork and rubber sandwiches. The three Ultimate Triplepoint cones are placed just under the component. Under the cones goes the solid maple wood plank, and under that go the set of Isoblock sandwiches. I also plugged the 777ES into the Von Gaylord Audio Live Performance power conditioner, using a Von Gaylord Audio Chinchilla power cord. All this made for a huge leap in performance. Most of the excess smoothness was gone, along with the darkness. Definition and extension improved, and the soundstage became more tactile.
Fun and Games
I recalled that Allen Chang from Golden Sound had mentioned Sony Corp. bought a lot of his power cords, so I gave him a call. Golden Sound doesn’t do a lot of advertising. In fact, nobody in the USA knows the company makes power cords, because they don’t advertise them here. But they sell well overseas. “Yeah, Sony does use my Premier Blue power cord with the 777ES,” he corroborated. “The SCD-777ES and the Blue is also my reference. But hold on to your hat, I have found some other tips and tweaks for you to try with this machine.” Thus, I heard about putting two of the Golden Sound Acoustic Discs in the CD drawer. “Try a disc in each corner on the left hand side.” You read that right: incredulous, I tried this. There’s enough room in the drawer to accommodate the Acoustic Discs. The effect was not subtle. There was a huge drop in treble noise and resonance. More clarity and more information were evident. It sounded mid-rangy with enhanced definition and a big reduction in the bloat around instruments. But it took out too much treble. I removed one Acoustic Disc and got a compromise effect. Still I found even the single disc in the CD drawer damped the treble too much and sounded unbalanced in my system. I’m passing this tweak on, however, because it’s worth checking out if you need to adjust treble balance or control treble artifacts.
Now let’s make the Sony sing
The 777ES was sounding real good, but it still suffered from some excessive smoothness. The soundstage was still flat, recessed and undistinguished. Along comes the Sound Improvement Disc (SID), a green plastic CD damping mat from Germany. Place it on top of the CD in the transport drawer. Now the stage began to project forward and back, and have enhanced depth. Tonality and timbre didn’t change, but transients were crisper, along with higher definition and separation of instruments. Without the SID there was a blurring around everything. I’d estimate this simple tweak to be in the range of a 4 – 5% improvement. The SID sells for $50 and is available from Music Direct. There are two models: Number 14 and Number 15. Number 14, which I tried, is supposed to be used with front loaders. Number 15 is for top loaders. I’m told the SID gives similar improvements in picture quality when used with DVD players.
Here’s another one for you to try. Take a set of three Jumbo DH Cones. Place one point side up on the disc drawer cover, and two along the rear edge of the 777ES. Unlikely as it may seem, this tweak addressed the same areas as the SID, but with about half the improvement. So try the SID first for the biggest bang.
Black and Blue
The Golden Sound Premier Blue cord ($600) solidly grounded the sound, with a marked increase in heft and weight in the upper bass through lower mid-range. This PC has plenty of energy at the frequency extremes, including a desirable “lift” that I’m used to hearing in the treble band. It also eliminated some ringing in the treble. Compared to the other PCs I’ve tried on the 777ES, the Blue sounded the most musical and enjoyable. The next-level-up Golden Sound Premier Black power cord ($750) added an amazing amount of weight and low-end support, but diminished the treble “lift”. It was a little too dark in this application. The Black is a beefier model and is designed to be used with amplifiers. Stay tuned—a full review is in the works.
The Sony SCD-777ES is a gem waiting to be polished. You can take its splendid performance many levels higher by exploring some, or all, of these tweaks. The irony is, if you put in the entire suite of recommended tweaks, it will set you back almost as much as the cost of the player itself!
My biggest problem with the machine, aside from the fact that Leon didn’t have the remote, is the turtle’s pace of loading a disc. Yeah, I can appreciate that it probably has one of the best CD transports available, and it’s built like a tank, but 40 seconds to load a new CD is too much.
Finally, if the SCD-777ES intrigues you, consider the top-of-the-line SCD-1. This is selling new for $3500 or used for about $2400. Not so cheap anymore, but people in the know believe it’s performance is a lot better than the SCD-777ES, and worth the extra grand.
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