Underwood XCD-5

Underwood Modified XCD-5 from Onix CD-5

  • Level 1 Upgrade from new Onix unit $750, currently owned unit (CD-88, CD-99 or CD-5) is $400
  • Level 1+ Upgrade is $870 new.
  • 3 Year Warranty honored by Onix (AV123)
  • 770-667-5633 1-10pm Eastern Time

Last month I review the Onix CD-5 and came away very impressed, especially for $399. During the review process, I was surfing Audiogon when I saw an ad for an Underwood modified CD-5. Being the inquisitive soul that I am, I contacted Walter Liederman owner of Underwood HiFi, and about 3 weeks later the modified XCD-5 arrived.

Underwood XCD-5 review

From the exterior nothing is different between the stock and modified versions except the upgraded Vampire RCA jacks, so I will save the time in writing a visual tour. The difference lies under the hood, all modifications were designed and work done by Chris Johnson of Parts Connexion, the founder of Sonic Frontiers.

Underwood XCD-5

In talking with Walter, the modification time takes approximately 3 hours, and involves not only the electronics, but chassis work as well. Not one, but two sheets of Soundcoat are added to the base of the internal chassis foundation. This stabilizes the equipment further making the unit even quieter, both mechanically and auditorily. To further dampen the chassis the stock feet were replaced sorbothane isolators.

The basic output wiring is replaced by two feet of quality Teflon coated pure silver dielectric DH Labs wire. Soldering the end points of wire and other capacitors/resistors/etc.is silver Wonder solder by TRT.

The majority of upgrades involved replacing various electronic components. Rather than rely on my potentially wrong translation, instead I’ve borrowed the list that Walter himself states: -10 RIKEN OHM (Japan) 1/2 watt (gold-plated leads) Carbon Resistors are placed in the signal path.

  • -8-BLACK GATE Standard, N and C grade electrolytic capacitors are installed around the coupling caps and power supply.
  • -Two-MULTICAP PPMFX grade, metallized polypropylene capacitors are used in the signal path.
  • -8-SF4007 Vishay-Telefunken diodes are added to the bias supply.

Listening Underwood XCD-5

In our emails Walter asked that I break the unit in for approximately 200 hours before doing any critical listening. The easiest way for me to do that was by playing the unit in my classroom. During the day I played a variety of cd’s over the next three weeks with the unit staying on 24/7. For those of you wondering, the stereo is placed in such a way that only I have access. Therefore, my students are subject to the whim of my personal musical taste at that time.

When it came time for the critical listening sessions, the unit was brought home and was hooked up next to the stock CD-5. I burned copies of the demo discs I used, that way I could start the play button at the same time in order to make instantaneous comparisons. At times I relied on moving back and forth from my chair, others, I used my Sennheiser headphones and flipped the switch between sources.

The differences were immediate and stunning. The XCD-5 brought forth a much grander soundstage. It’s comparable to listening to a nice set of monitors on a decent receiver, then switching over to a fine power amplifier. Seemingly every instrument carves out a greater area of the stage. Listening to the horns in Joe Jackson’s Cha-Cha Loco from the disc  Body and Soul, it was easily to recognize that this album was recorded in an actual hall, the ambience was recreated that well.

The differences in vocal presentation was slightly less obvious, but still noticeable. The vocals of Phoebe Snow and Dan Fogelberg warmed up. In switching back and forth I noticed an edginess in the stock model versus Walter’s upgraded unit. I was hearing details that I thought had completely been brought out by using the Onix SP3 tube amp over my trusty HK PM665VXi. One of the best comparisons I can make is looking at the before and after pictures of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel after the latest cleaning. Just as the colors are brighter, deeper, and richer, the sonics coming from the XCD-5 present that same clarity.

It became obvious after a few hours that the biggest difference can be heard in jazz, acoustic, and classical recordings. Time and time again I wrote the following phrase in my notes after switching back and forth, “openness and depth much improved”. Another phrase I repeated was, “stunningly quiet background”. I felt that for the first time I reached the next level in appreciating classical music, what a friend called the emotional stage. Whereby the passion of the musicians is transferred to the listener.

Conclusions about XCD-5

There’s an old saying about letting a fresh pair of eyes take a look at a problem. In the case of designers such as Walter Liederman and companies like Parts Connexion that upgrade units, their ability to see the possibilities in upgrading do the audio community a great service. It is in their work that potential is realized. In the case of the XCD-5, a fine, basic unit from Onix is turned into something exceptional. It’s the difference between viewing a house empty of items and the same home full of furnishings. The home comes to life with color and details.

For those of you looking for a quality cd player that offers incredible detail well beyond any stock unit, plus with the continued backing of a 3 year warranty from Onix, it would be wise to investigate the XCD-5. Consider it a steal for just $750. Thank you Walter Liederman and Chris Johnson for showing that there is more than one way to fine audio.

Associated Equipment: 

  • Harman Kardon PM665Vxi , Onix SP3
  • Onix CD5
  • JoLida JD100
  • Jolida 1501
  • Totem MITES
  • Apple iPod 60 gig (AIFF only), Zebra Cables
  • Celestion Si stands.

from affordableaudio, By Mark Marcantonio