JVC XL-Z1050TN CD Player

JVC XL-Z1050TN CD Player

August 4, in Hi-Fi Systems Reviews

Specifications:

  • P-E-M, D-D (Converter Pulse Edge Modulation Differential Linearity error lens converter) Phone jack with level and output level,
  • Display off & mode,
  • Random, repeat, editing mode, side A/B, Program, manual search,
  • Fixed & variable outputs,
  • Digital and Coaxial out with on/off switch, Index, fade, volume.
  • Size: 17-3/4″W x 13-1/2D x 4-1/2H, Weight 18 lbs.

Few people would argue with the premise that the sound quality of compact disc players has steadily improved over the years. The audio community is a diverse crowd, and there is a niche of hobbyists who appreciate the attributes of vintage electronics. Actually, any enthusiast who has been around this hobby for a while, or knows of the history of audio can appreciate certain historical components. In spite of technical advances or the passage of time, the audio community has consistently held certain pieces of equipment in high regard. Very few individuals would disagree with the “classic” tag given to the Quad ESL-57 loudspeaker, or the Mark Levinson ML-2 amplifier. The Linn LP-12 is still considered by many to be a benchmark for analog playback, and Koetsu cartridges built by the elder Sugano are highly prized by the discriminating analog aficionado.

Typically audiophiles do not hold older digital components in high esteem, and advocate replacing them with current production players. After all, designers have learned a great deal about digital architecture, and it is only logical to assume that a new machine will outperform the digital dinosaurs of the 1990’s. Audio enthusiasts should base their beliefs on experience, and determine for themselves if vintage digital components are capable of quality musical reproduction. I can tell you that there is at least one nineties era CD player that is capable of high quality digital playback, and will give many highly regarded current production budget decks a run for their money.

JVC XL-Z1050TN review

I recently acquired a JVC XL-Z1050TN CD player to use as a transport with an Audio Magic Kukama DAC. During the process of purchasing the DAC, I spoke with Henry Lamb who is the designer of the Kukama. Henry had many positive comments about the JVC as a transport, and he used a JVC XL-Z1010 as a transport during the development process of the Kukama. I was fortunate to quickly come across a mint condition player on Audiogon. The XL-Z1050TN retailed for $800, which was a princely sum in 1990. Current market prices for this player sit around $250, but I was able to snare mine for a bit less than a pair of Benjamin’s. The JVC is used primarily as a transport, although I have to admit to being happily surprised when I ran it as a stand-alone CD player.

In the 1990’s, the mainstream audio companies were staking their reputation on the quality of their compact disc players. These were heady times, and the heavyweights of the electronic industry competed with each other to produce the finest CD players. The development costs of these machines were incredibly expensive, and this limited the players to those companies with significant financial resources. While the boutique audio companies were relegated to modifying a platform that was already in production. The JVC XL-Z1050TN was a top of the line player in 1990, and offered the sophisticated K2 DAC chipset. The K2 format is an innovative high resolution encoding system that offers higher performance than what could be achieved in a standard 16-bit recording. The studio recording is a 20-bit master, and it is then compressed to a 16-bit code. The K2 chip system in the JVC CD player then expands the code back to its 20-bit size.(1) For all practical purposes, JVC pioneered one of the first high-resolution recording formats with the K2 format.(2)

The flagship players of the early 90’s were finely crafted machines. The chassis of the JVC XL-Z1050TN contains substantial amounts of metal, and weighs in at a respectable 17 pounds. A large percentage of the overall weight of this player can be contributed to the large power supply transformer, and the sophisticated power supply. The laser is a three-beam configuration, and the optical lens is produced from precision ground glass. The disc sled assembly is robust, and has a graceful operation that current production entry-level players cannot emulate. The digital output circuit has a true 75-ohm output, and uses an isolation transformer to combat ground loops and RF interference.(3) The JVC XL-Z1050 is an elegant CD player, with a visionary design, high-quality parts, and superior fit and finish. While the JVC is a testament to Japanese engineering, the relevant question is, “can this ancient CD player produce high quality sound?”

JVC XL-Z1050TN CD Player

In my system, the JVC XL-Z1050TN is primarily used as a transport for an Audio Magic Kukama DAC. I also use a Bolder Cable Company modified Squeezebox as an alternate transport. The pre-amplifier is a Jeff Rowland Consummate. Power amplification duties are taken care of by a Jeff Rowland Model 5 amplifier. The amplifier drives a pair of Audio Nirvana Super 12 drivers, which are housed in Lovecraft Design cabinets. An Audio Magic Mini-Reference power conditioner is tasked with the duty of providing clean AC to the system. All cables and speaker wire are from the Audio Magic Illusion 4D line. Audio Magic Extreme series power cords are fitted to all components that have removable cords.(4) These components are housed in a pair of stands from AV123.

Frugal audio enthusiasts have recognized the superior capabilities of the transports contained in 1990’s era CD players. The savvy audiophile could pick up an older Sony ES, or Pioneer Elite CD player for pennies on the dollar. Pair a classic high-end player up with a digital to analog converter, and a high performance digital rig can be had for a reasonable price. The JVC XL-Z1050TN is a fine transport, and I have used it with several DAC’s. The sonic signature of the JVC is consistent, and I can account for its effects that it contributes to the performance of the digital front end. This player does a nice job of extracting the fine detail in a disc. The XL-Z-1050TN is remarkably free of haze, and it does not have a dry or etched tonal presentation. When compared to the Bolder Cable Company modified Squeezebox, the upper midrange of the JVC is slightly pushed forward. Vocals are a bit more prominent, and horns have a bit of extra bite that is not present on the Squeezebox. “Dime Store Life” by Mary Karlzen [Yelling At Mary; Atlantic 826462] frames the character of the JVC quite succulently. Karlzens vocals contain plenty of detail, and are very smooth. There is a small boost in the upper midrange, which pushes the vocals and acoustic guitar a bit forward in the mix. This extra energy can make it appear that the bass information is slightly diminished. However, the JVC has a smooth presentation that is enchanting. Many vintage players have a flowing presentation, but in the process lose the fine detail of the music. This combination of detail and graceful presentation separates the XL-Z1050TN from the pack of affordable CD transports on the market.

The JVC XL-Z1050TN is a 16-bit player that utilizes the proprietary JCE 4501DAC chip set. The Audio Magic Kukama DAC is also a multi-bit machine, and is built around the Burr Brown PCM 1704 DAC chip. It comes as no surprise that the JVC and Audio Magic units share some similar sonic characteristics. The JVC produces a wide soundstage, and it has a respectable amount of depth. Instruments and vocalists are properly spaced in the soundstage. The ability to recreate the spatial traits of a recording is very unusual for a 1990’s era CD player. Many audiophiles rejected compact discs due to the perceived inability to present space in an accurate manner. I suspect that the issues with early CD performance was due to limitations in the mastering process, and not the players themselves. “Be Careful of My Heart” [Crossroads; ELEKTRA 9 60888-2] by Tracy Chapman contains acoustic guitar, mandolin, bass guitar, bongos, and tambourine. The JVC neatly places each instrument in the soundstage, and does a good job keeping them separate. The Audio Magic Kukama DAC presents more detail than the XL-Z1050TN, and this is evident by a slight smearing of all the instruments by the JVC. The size of instruments is slightly smaller with the JVC CD player, although this aberration would only be noticeable if you have a high-end digital player on hand to compare it to. Given the modest price that the JVC can be found for on the used market, it is one of the audio bargains that cost conscious audio enthusiasts are always on the look out for.

When I compared this player to a Phillips DVP 642 DVD player, the JVC easily outperformed it. The Phillips player is actually a respectable budget player, and I keep it on hand as an example of what an inexpensive CD player can achieve.(5) In this case, the Phillips is over matched, and its shortcomings are laid bare by a direct comparison to the JVC. “Live This Life” by Big and Rich [Horse of A Different Color; Warner Bros. 48520-2] highlighted the strengths of the JVC CD player. The vocals on the JVC natural sounding, and were smooth and easy flowing. In contrast, the Phillips struggled, and had a harshness that was clearly evident. When compared to the XL-Z1050TN, the Phillips had a two dimensional soundstage, and all the instruments had some degree of haze surrounding them. Martina McBride contributes the background vocals on this song, and she sounds stunning on the JVC. The Phillips suffers from a bit of grain, and has an issue with proper tonal balance. The back up vocals are far less engaging, and the loss of fine detail robs the song of it’s emotional content. To be fair, the Phillips is the least expensive machine that any audio enthusiast should consider owning, but this vintage JVC CD player offers a significant gain in performance to cash strapped audio enthusiasts.

The JVC XL-Z1050TN CD player does not perform at the same level as the current crop of flagship CD players. The JVC is 17 years old, and it does imprint its personality onto the music. This player does have a slightly forward tonal balance, and the bass response can sometimes be a bit lighter than a person would want. There is some loss of fine detail to the music. A modern high performance digital component will generate larger instruments, while the JVC struggles with this task. It is easy to lose sight of the strengths of this player when picking apart the individual flaws of this machine. In spite of all its shortcomings, the XL-Z1050TN excels at playing music. The JVC correctly presents the critical aspects of a song, and therefore still has value in the modern world of audio reproduction. For the audio enthusiast with a limited budget, one of these players could be an excellent acquisition. The JVC CD player will perform well, and free up cash that can be allocated on other components in the system.

JVC XL-Z1050TN CD Player back

Not every vintage CD player is going to be that mythical audio bargain that has been forgotten by the audio community. While the flagship CD players of the 1990’s can be a great deal for the frugal audio enthusiast, the JVC XL-Z1050TN may very well be one of the special players that have stood the test of time. In 1993, Stereophile gave this machine a Class C ranking in their recommended components section. Blindly purchasing components based on recommended component rankings is a bit risky, but it does make sense to look at what performance characteristics of the JVC allowed it to attain this coveted recommendation. My listening sessions with the JVC show it to be a high-quality transport. The XL-Z1050TN is a fine stand-alone CD player, can that unearth all the critical aspects of a recording. Fans of vintage audio equipment will undoubtedly appreciate the virtues of this player. Audio enthusiasts with limited funds in their audio kitty should consider one of these players as a way to obtain high quality digital playback without breaking the bank. Despite the passage of time, The JVC XL-Z1050TN CD player has a lot to offer the modern audio world. If you get an opportunity to buy one, it would be a worthwhile audio purchase.

Notes

1) JVC produced the highly regard XRCD encoded discs. These discs are encoded with the 20-bit information. The XRCD discs can be played back on any machine, although it requires a JVC K2 chipset to recreate the 20-bit format. These discs are highly regarded by audio enthusiasts for their excellent sound quality, even if they are not played back on a JVC machine.
2) The K2 technology and XRCD are still in production. In 2007 JVC exhibited the K2HD version of their recording system. The Elusive Disc Inc acquired the JVC production facilities for XRCD in 2006. According to Elusive Disc, XRCD sell quite well, and are one of the most sought after high-resolution formats they stock.
3) Modern CD players often use a pulse modulation transformer in this circuit. They are less expensive, and smaller, but should have the same result as the isolation transformer.
4) The JVC has a captive power cord, and would have to be fitted with an EIC receptacle to use an aftermarket cord.
5) The Phillips DVP-642 resides in the sub $100 class of digital players. While it is inexpensive, its performance is better than the Toshiba 3980, or Sony SCD-595 that I have heard.

 from affordableaudio, By John Hoffman

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1 comment

  1. allen February 18, at 12:50 am

    Well written review. Immensely enjoyable to read and brimming with detail.

    reply

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