On Reliability

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AR-reliable.jpgYesterday I was cleaning out the closet in the guest bedroom. In among the pillows and linens was a Panasonic model SL-SW405 portable CD player. It was bright fire-truck yellow with clips and gaskets to make it moisture-proof.  With a MASH decoder, extra shock memory, and control lock switch, this ½ lb. lump of plastic was quite the gym-rat or traveler's playback device in its day. The serial # tag on the bottom reads "March 1999" and yes, it still worked!

Thirteen years. I wonder, what percentage of thirteen-year-old high-end CD players are still operational? The oldest disc-spinner I've got (not counting a Pioneer laser disc player) is my Meridian 598 DP CD/DVD player. And yes, it still works flawlessly too.

Unlike high-end preamps and power amps, which can be easily and economically updated with some new parts, high-end CD players are not as simple to keep running. If the laser assembly fails, finding a replacement can be difficult or even impossible. Getting a replacement belts or drive mechanisms for early high-end players can be challenging, to say the least. The term "boat anchor" comes to mind when I think about some of the earliest cost-no-object CD players.

Looking through Ebay you can start to glean which products are reliable and which aren't. Early Adcom amplifiers models 535, 535 II, 545 545 II, 555, and 555 II have proven to be outstanding in the reliability department. Even on EBAY a vast majority of these amps that come up for sale are working. That's pretty amazing for a twenty-five year old power amplifier from ANY manufacturer, let alone a one known more for value than state-of-the-art design.

Since I own several Adcom 500 series amps, and I can attest to their reliability in that they all still work. But all the Adcoms in my possession are also prone to picking up RF. They also produce much higher idling noise levels than newer amps, such as the Krell S-150 monoblock amplifiers. So reliable isn't necessarily the same as low-noise or high resolution.

What am I getting at? Just because a component is still working reliably after twenty-five years doesn't mean that it will be sonically competitive with current high-end products. But in the case of amplifiers like the Adcom 500 series, some audio gear can deliver exceptional value, especially if measured by the number of hours it's delivered music, divided by its cost.

And the Panasonic CD player? I've got it hooked up to a Meridian Audio Core 200 system via it's line-level analog outs, and it sounds pretty good, almost as good as the Logitech Duet via S/PDIF. Well, another point in favor of reliability.

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