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Hi Fi Choice October 2011

A Star is Born

Jimmy Hughes believes Shanling’s latest CD
player gets closer to SACD performance levels
than anything comparable on the market

Shanling’s new CD-T2000
shares the stunning
aesthetic of the former
CD-T1500, but, although
superficially similar, the two players
are, in fact, quite different.
The CD-T2000 is a Red Book CD
player constructed around a highquality
Sanyo HD-850 transport. It
also features a Burr-Brown PCM
1792 24-bit/192kHz upsampling
DAC. It has a genuine tube output
stage, but no solid-state analogue
output. There are actually two
12AUX7 (ECC 82) tubes per-channel
(four tubes total), because the player
offers the option of single-ended or
balanced operation.

Like many new CD players, the
CD-T2000 features a USB socket,
enabling you to use its DAC with
computer-based music storage
systems. It also has a digital input
(and digital output) via RCA phono
sockets. Two sets of variable
analogue outputs are provided –
single-ended via RCA phono sockets
and balanced via XLRs.
Output voltage levels are claimed
to be 2.1V and 4.2V for unbalanced
and balanced respectively. The
volume control is a digital-type and,
having variable output, allows you to
connect the CD-T2000 direct to a
power amp – though the unbalanced
output voltage of 2.1V may be a bit
low for some power amps.
There are three power transformers:
two for the analogue outputs and
one for the digital side of things.
To retain the smooth classic lines
of the earlier player, while offering
various switching options, three of
the four corner posts feature selector
switches: power on/off; output
volume and a CD player/USB
input switch.

“An unusually good
player, it lets you hear
the music as it was
originally recorded.”

The Sanyo transport is a high-quality
device that’s virtually silent during
operation. There are no audible
whirrs or clicks – important for an
‘open’ player like this, as there’s no
case to reduce the noise. The
transport offers fast track access
and reasonably speedy fast search
– certainly, better than the CDT1500,
which was very slow.
Shanling’s SCD-T2000 (SACD/CD
player) had a solid-state output with
the option of a tube buffer stage to
add a bit of valve warmth. However,
this player has a proper tube output
stage and no solid-state option.
One slight grumble is the way
the CD-T2000’s volume control
automatically defaults to -40dB
once power is switched off. While,
useful if you’re connecting directly to
a power amp, it means you have to
turn the volume control clockwise
about 2.5 turns (or use the remote)
to get back to maximum output again
each time you switch the player on.

Battleship build
Like most Shanling products, the
CD-T2000 offers ‘battleship’ build
quality and a very high standard offi nish.
The entire chassis is made
from solid aluminium panels around
one centimetre thick and sits on four
corner turrets. It weighs in at about
11kg, which is remarkably heavy for
a CD player and whether or not its
substantial build affects performance
is debatable. But the sound certainly
has a ‘solid’ quality to match the look
and feel of the player.
While the chassis dimensions are
more or less the same as earlier
Shanling players, having the feet at
each corner has effectively made the
player wider. Indeed, so wide, it only
just fi ts onto a ‘normal’ 46cm-width
hi-fi equipment shelf. Ideally, you
need one with a width of about 50cm.
If this product were manufactured
in the USA, it would probably cost
three or four times what Shanling is
asking here and at just under £2,000,
makes it a veritable bargain. You can
buy it secure in the knowledge that
few products anywhere at any price
will match it for build quality and finish.

Comparable to SACD
Before auditioning the CD-T2000,
we’d been enjoying the sound of
the SCD-T2000 SACD player. When
playing SACDs, the latter delivers a
very open, detailed sound that’s very
natural and the difference between
CD and SACD on this player has
been fairly marked (but that’s what
you’d expect given the technical
advantages of a higher-resolution
format like SACD).
With CD, however, the CD-T2000
sounds better than the SCD-T2000
and while the latter delivers
a very open sound – it lacks that
slightly hard ‘closed-in’ tonal balance
you almost always get with CD.
This difference is very noticeable
on instruments like cymbals. Via the
CD-T2000, cymbals reproduce with a
lovely breathy openness that sounds
like good analogue. Transients have
crisp attack and there’s plenty of
body and shimmer. But what’s
unusual and remarkable is the lack
of tonal hardness – something
that really lets you experience the
sound of stick on metal – or metal
to metal when orchestral cymbals are
crashed together.
Playing the recent Boulez recording
of Mahler’s orchestral song cycle Des
Knaben Wunderhorn, we were
forcibly struck by the truthful natural
quality of the sound – the pure
uncoloured timbres and spacious
naturalness produced. Had we not
known otherwise, we’d have thought
we were listening to an SACD rather
than a CD – there was a comparable
purity and ‘rightness’ about the sound.
With no pressing copy deadline, we
spent many hundreds of hours
listening to the CD-T2000 on all
kinds of music recorded over a vast
period of time and always the sound
had a pure, open naturalness that
seemed like an open window on the
music. If the aim of high-fi delity is to
reproduce the original without
adding or subtracting, then the
CD-T2000 gets pretty close to that
ideal. It’s a player that satisfi es your
needs without leaving you hungry
for more.

As good as SACD
This is an unusually good player –
one that sounds as good as it
looks. It delivers a smooth, natural,
well-balanced sound that lets you
hear the music as it was originally
recorded. Considering our enthusiasm
for the SACD player, the prospect of a
player that could make CDs sound
almost as good as SACDs might still
prove too much to resist. And anyway,
the thought of going back to something
‘inferior’ once the review period was
over was just too depressing to
contemplate. Hearty recommendation,
as I think you’d agree.