CEC TL 5 CD TRANSPORT
" Refreshingly – almost bloody-mindedly – simple in concept and operation, CEC’s TL5 transport is living, breathing proof that less really can be more. This is good old Red Book, with the emphasis on the ‘good’!"
Roy Gregory | hi-fi +
Since CEC introduced the world's first Belt-Drive CD Transport in 1991, a lot of music lovers have enjoyed its rich musical sound, which CEC continues to improve on. A heavier stabilizer brings a more stable rotation of the disc and the Belt-Drive system eliminates the effects of vibration and electromagnetic noise caused by the motor rotation.
In order to read the signal recorded with Constant Linear Velocity (CLV) on CD, rotation speed should be slowed down as it goes to the outside. Usually the spindle motor controls the variation of speed. All CD players and transports place the spindle motor beneath the turntable for CD and the motor shaft works as the turntable center, this is a called direct drive system. Stable and accurate rotation requires a bigger torque from the motor itself, which inevitably creates certain vibrations and electromagnetic noise. In the CEC TL 5 the spindle motor is placed independently from the center shaft, and thus vibration as well as electromagnetic noise effects to the CD are minimized. A heavy CD stabilizer provides bigger inertia of the CD turntable, and achieves a stable and smooth rotation of the disc. A smaller torque motor, coupled with the longer distance from the motor to the center shaft (turntable) create the ideal fundamentals of music reproduction.
The new CEC TL 5 features multiple digital outputs: AES/EBU, COAXIAL and TOSLINK. The shortest possible signal pass and stability of signal quality have been maintained by direct mounting of all terminals to the single circuit board. The Superior Fluorescent display can be dimmed and even disconnected.
By placing the CD turntable shaft in the center of the top loading open space, the replacement of the CEC TL 5's rubber belt is now done with ease.
The word about the musical cohesion, the rich detail and emotionally gripping "analogue-like" sound got out very quickly. No other CD drive has sounded so analogue to this day. There has seldom been higher quality compact disc playback in this price class !
With the belt-driven CEC TL 5 in the system, one can benefit from the advantages of this type of drive. The newest CD belt drive by CEC helps improve the tonal progression.
Test reports in international magazines, as well as the testimony of our satisfied customers worldwide, confirm that we have achieved our musical objective :
Music reproduction on its highest level.
Summary of Main Features
Playback of Red Book CD's
Top-Loading CD Bay
Belt Drive System
Heavy (Ø 7cm 330 grams) Disc Stabilizer
Designed, developed and built in Japan
CEC TL 5 - $3,100
Our Special Offer - $2,940
CEC TL 5 UPGRADES
TL 2N 12cm CD Stabilizer - $250 (bundle price)
TL 2N 12cm CD Stabilizer - $730 (purchased seperately)
Aluminum Remote - $140 (bundle price)
Aluminum Remote - $290 (purchased seperately)
Spare Belt - $99 (purchased seperately)
Shipping charge applies to items purchased seperately
CD Drive System
Belt Drive // Spindle & Pick-up
Audio CDs & finalized CD-R/RW
Ø 77 mm, weight: 330 g (brass)
• AES/EBU x 1: 2.5Vp-p/110Ω
• Coaxial x 1 0.5Vp-p/75Ω
• TOS x 1(optical): -21~-15dBm EIAJ
AC 230/120 V, 50/60 Hz
435 (B) x 335 (T) x 109 (H) mm
Silver or Black
What they say ...
Refreshingly – almost bloody-mindedly – simple in concept and operation, CEC’s TL5 transport is living, breathing proof that less really can be more.
For those still using CD, one of the best available transports just got better AND cheaper. For those of you who have moved over to file replay, even a brief listen with the CEC TL 5 will serve to remind you just what you are missing.
Roy Gregory - hi-fI + | 2019
"A MATURE & TARGETED TECHNOLOGY"
For starters, play a CD and you can instantly define several performance critical factors: the physical medium itself is of course, closely defined, but so too is the data rate coming off the disc. Replay and decoding may well be two separate problems, but at least they’re singular in nature and both depend on mature, targeted technologies. Likewise, data transfer standards are clearly defined and the cables and connectors employed benefit from 30-years of development. Compare that to the computer derived hardware, multiple file types, and system topologies that constitute a file replay system. If you also factor in the volatility of the replay chain itself, you can begin to understand why even the best sounding file replay solutions are so frustratingly inconsistent.
When it comes to high-end systems, file replay is not only a long, long way from the premium source so many claim and assume it to be, but it’s also generally well off the pace. So what are we to make of those ubiquitous USB inputs? File replay may not be all that just yet – but it’s coming. More to the point, its impending arrival as a genuine, high-end source (while it might not be as imminent as some would have you believe) has driven the development of multi-input DACs and that in turn, opens up the opportunities for other digital sources, be that CD or an A-to-D bringing digital versatility to record replay. Opportunities? Indeed, because as I noted earlier, optical disc replay and decoding are discrete operations and there are sound reasons why putting them in separate boxes can deliver serious advantages.
"AN ENTIRELY NEW MACHINE"
This rather circuitous route brings us to CEC’s TL5 CD transport; a product that offers a fascinating take on the advantages, practical and sonic, currently enjoyed by optical disc based systems, a chance to not only put file-replay in context, but to appreciate and acknowledge the on-going development of optical disc reading. I’ve been using the (outwardly almost identical) TL-3N for some years, so a new model from CEC was always going to be of interest. That earlier model was built around CEC’s twin-belt drive mechanism, a dedicated CD transport as opposed to a repurposed DVD or ROM drive. Round the back it also featured a row of four BNC sockets, as well as a fifth for an external clock, all part of CEC’s proprietary Superlink data transfer standard.
Look at the back panel of the TL5 and the absence of those five BNCs might suggest that this is nothing more than a cut-back version of the TL-3N, but in fact it’s an entirely new machine, built around a newly developed single belt transport – a transport that CEC claims outperforms the twin-belt version in the earlier unit. By stepping outside of the CEC eco-system, the company is also able to dispense with the Superlink hardware that can only be used with their own DACs. That facility still exists on the new TL-2N, a comprehensive update of the TL-3N with a revised twin-belt transport.
But the TL5 is a completely different animal, a pared-back, hair-shirt transport that’s both genuinely universal in design and that is considerably more affordable than the previous CEC machines.
"CDT vs CDP"
CEC also offers the CD5, which is a full-facilities player based around the same single-belt transport used in the TL5, one that sits surprisingly adjacent to the CD transport in terms of price ... and on paper at least, that makes it a tempting alternative, even if only as a standby option in a DAC-based system.
Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. The CD5 does more than just add a DAC to the basic architecture of the TL5. Like most CD players on the market these days, it also offers USB, co-axial and digital inputs, as well as a headphone output (with its own, dedicated volume control) and both balanced and single-ended analogue outputs. All that extra hardware comes at a price : the CD5 offers no AES/EBU digital output, which although I found myself preferring the TL5’s co-axial option, is still a very worthwhile facility that will definitely play in certain systems. It also ends up sharing its power supply across all those extra functions. Try using the CD5 as a transport and the TL5 buries it, offering greater detail, transparency, dynamic range, and a superior sense of musical flow… the whole point of owning a dedicated transport in the first place. Used as a CD player, the CD5 puts in a creditable performance for its reasonable price, one that’s full of musical life and energy. Just don’t confuse it with a dedicated transport like the TL5, or you’ll be selling your system short.
"WHY TOP-LOADING & THE BELT ?"
Take a look at the TL5 though, and it becomes apparent that it ticks an awful lot of boxes when it comes to top-flight CD replay. Since the dawn of digital disc, the top-loading transport has been an almost ubiquitous part of the best performing players. Even those state-of-the-art disc players that use drawer-loading mechanisms are internally arranged to mimic a top-loading topology. But there’s no drawer and the TL5’s simple sliding cover eliminates not just the drawer but the motors and circuitry associated with mechanical loading.
Likewise, belt-driven CD mechs have built an enviable reputation, being used in some of the best and most musical CD replay systems. Putting the DAC in a separate box also removes all the noise generated by the decoding process, as well as protecting it from the vibration and electrical interference generated by the transport and its various servos. Of course, you only realise those potential benefits if you can maintain data integrity when the signal passes from one box to the other. CEC provides an AES/EBU connection via XLR and a TosLink optical. They also include an S/PDIF co-axial connection, but inexplicably it’s via RCA rather than BNC – one of the few serious criticisms I have of the TL5’s physical arrangements. Other than that, it’s all business :
Four push buttons for basic transport functions; a simple, moulded remote that offers comprehensive functionality; a manual transport cover and a large diameter puck/weight to keep the disc in place.
"EXIT TL 3N ... ENTER TL 5"
The thing that kept the TL3-N in my system for so long was the combination of temporal and dynamic expression it brought to music, qualities that so often escape many of the most expensive and heavily engineered digital replay solutions. Light on its feet, it managed to offer pace and momentum, while also allowing performers and performances to breathe. When any company withdraws a much-loved product, its replacement is always met with a degree of trepidation – especially when it’s claimed to be both better and cheaper! Thankfully, even the briefest listen to the TL5 demonstrated that I needn’t have worried, as it immediately displayed a beautiful sense of pace and timing, musical shape, and structure.
Its ability to separate both spatially and tonally was better than the TL3-N while it also offered a greater degree of textural and acoustic detail. The music of Sibelius, with its fractured, kaleidoscope structure, interlocking instrumental voices and hesitant tempi has long been a challenge to the most accomplished of conductors, let alone the average CD player. Yet it presents the perfect opportunity for the TL5 to strut its stuff. Barbirolli’s reading of the 2nd Symphony is masterful and the CEC (driving Wadax, Wadia, or Mytek DACs) delivered every last ounce of his beautifully structured sense of purpose and authority, scale, and drama. The crescendos built, inexorably and without stumble or constraint, the pauses were positively pregnant. This is music making with gusto, a performance with an almost irresistible sense of ebb and flow that starts with Barbirolli but finishes, emphatically with the CEC.
After that, the sort of kick required to bring rock or pop to life, the subtle texture and intimacy to make a vocal connect, or keep track of an extended instrumental line – they’re all child’s play. If you really want to hear what this transport does, just choose something that depends on phrasing and compare its performance to the competition. Whether it’s Argerich or Arvo, Ella or Eminem, the way the CEC flows effortlessly through the music makes most alternatives sound clumsy and disjointed, mechanical and stilted. Of the available outputs I found the S/PDIF lighter and livelier, more transparent and engaging than the AES/EBU, which while impressively solid and stable also sounded a little dynamically flat and distant. Other systems and other listeners may disagree, but I loved the extra air and immediacy that came from the coaxial connection – which somewhat invites the question as to how much better it might be with a BNC socket instead of the RCA?
Refreshingly – almost bloody-mindedly – simple in concept and operation, CEC’s TL5 transport is living, breathing proof that less really can be more. This is good old Red Book, with the emphasis on the ‘good’. No elevated sample rates or super bit depth, no DSD or dual-digital connection: Just plain old 16bit, 44.1KHz – done right. If you needed convincing that there’s still life in the old dog yet, one look at the online CD offerings and one listen to the TL5 should ram that message home. For those still using CD, one of the best available transports just got better AND cheaper. For those who’ve moved over to file replay, even a brief listen with this CEC will serve to remind you just what you are missing.
The CEC TL5 serves notice that it’s not how big the numbers are but how you read them that matters. It offers a timely reminder of the benefits of dedicated CD transports when it comes to optical disc replay, but most important of all, it does a remarkably fine, musically un-intrusive job of rekindling all those musical performances stored on CD. If that all-singing, all-dancing, multi-input DAC you just bought still isn’t delivering, you know exactly what to do …