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Cambridge Audio D 500 - CD player

Smooth operator

[Cambridge Audio D500 - CD player]

[Italian version]

Product: Cambridge Audio D500 - CD player
Manufacturer: Cambridge Audio - UK
Approx. price: 450 Euro/$
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu
Reviewed: February, 2002

Cambridge Audio is a Company that has been able to find its place into the HiFi market thanks to a series of affordable, good sounding and audiophile on a budget-oriented products.
The UK-based Company doesn't try to make everything, just few things at its best. As for CD players, Cambridge Audio makes three models only: the entry-level D300, the D500 under test and the D500SE, a more sophisticated edition also reviewed by us.

The Cambridge D 500 is a CD player aimed to the beginner audiohile, someone who wishes to build a good sounding system without mortgaging his house for the second time. This player is not something built in the backyard as some UK-made audiophile components of the Eighties. No, this is a well designed and made product, something built to last. Though designed and engineered in the UK, the D500 - to cut manufacturing costs - is actually made in PRC, that is Popular Republic of China.

Technically, the D 500 is a player which makes use of a Delta-Sigma D/A conversion, good Sony transport and servos, a solid power supply and a good analog output stage. It sports two digital outputs, one electrical (with a BNC) and one optical (TosLink), gold-plated RCA output connectors, a detachable power cord (with IEC outlet!) though no phone output is available.
The writings in the rear panel are "upside-down" so that they are clearly readable when looking at the rear from above, as we always do.
The front panel is minimalist though a touch of finesse is given by the usual (very Cambridge-style) jog-dial knob that allows track skipping, fast forward, progressive track selection etc.)
A great care has been taken in order to reduce jitter (claimed to be better than 180 ps. - weighted mode) and to improve signal/noise ratio (claimed to be 110 dB).
The Cambridge D500 also offers a complete remote control and four feet with internal soft-rubber core, good to reduce vibrations.
The CD player has a standard size (43 x 30 x 8 cm) and a reasonable weight, the quality of the crafsmanship is good.

And now for some surprise (as usual, at the inside :-))
First of all no savings on copper shielding here! Some output device and the whole servo circuits are shielded by means of copper (or copper-plated) covers. But there's more!
Hear hear, even a fake toroidal transformer! How's that? Well, have a look at the pictures below. At a first glance, it seems the D500 is equipped with a massive toroid, shielded by means of a copper cover. Actually, that is just a cover that hides a small standard transformer (the second pic shows the little secret).
Now, the trick may work fine to make the inside of the player much more attractive (audiophiles think toroids are all the rage nowadays) and, perhaps, the metallic cover acts as a shield for magnetic stray fields...but I'm pretty sure many D500 owners won't be glad to know what was hiding under the cover ;-)
So, buyers beware!, not all that glitters is...toroidal :-))))

[Cambridge D 500 - inside view]
Cambridge D500 and its fake toroid (see arrow)

[Cambridge D 500 - inside view]
And now the Cambridge D500 unveiled! (see arrow) :-)

Note. Before you ask, the disc that's on the CD drawer is a 24 bit remastering of "Turnstiles" by Billy Joel (1976). Strongly recommended.

Smooth operator

This ain't the usual run-of-the-mill middle-class CD player. No, the Cambridge D500 is a whole different beast. You know this after the first seconds of playing...those who still believe CD players are all the same...well, they should listen to this one.

Clearly, the designers have tried to give this player a distinctive sonic signature and, so far, it seems they succeeded. They choose to make this unit sound very differently from the mass-marketed Japanese CD player of the consumer entry-level market.
A good marketing strategy, I'd say, since the typical buyer of this CD player is, mostly, someone who wants to upgrade from some super-entry level stuff. Hence, he MUST be able to detect a CLEAR difference.
So, while cheap entry-level players sound boomy in the bass, harsh and thin in the mids and unbearable in the highs....this D500 is exactly the opposite: good and clean bass lines, clear midband and detailed yet smooth highs.
For HiFi newbies, used to evaluate HiFi components only by bass-mid-treble, this is the Heaven of Audio: a player so smooth to make bearable even the worst CDs, so warm to tame even the brightest tweeter (so common on budget speakers), so airy to give life even to the cloudiest of amps.
Actually, you will find many newbies simply enthusiastic about this player. Experienced listeners, though, know there are other parameters to evaluate the whole performance of a CD player. So, while the bass is clean and sufficiently deep it also lacks some articulation and grunt.
Electric bass lines are clear but less involving than usual and the kick drum lacks punch and impact.
Finally I have something to say about the extension of the bass range. Sometimes one wonders where the first octave has gone. Oh yes, it's still there but it seems a bit shy: listening to pipe organ pedals proves this.
Almost the same sonic signature can be found in the mid bass region, where the upper notes of acoustic and electric bass, though clearly defined, lack muscle and body. Definitely, the D500 doesn't not have the boomy kind of mid bass so frequently delivered by lesser players. Conversely, it seems a bit too dry.
The D500 forte is its mid range: open, clear and with that sweet touch that makes the listening experience always relaxing and relieving.
Voices, especially female ones, are reproduced with finesse and precision. Experienced listeners may find voices a bit metallic from time to time, especially opera singers (one of the worst tests for any HiFi component) tend to sound shouty.
The high range is refined and still very smooth, harmonically rich and well extended till its upper end. The highs never sound in your face but still play a key role in the sonic performance of the D500.

Overall, this CD player is a fine performer with a strong personal sonic signature that puts it into a league of its own, considering how far is from the run-of-the-mill kind of sound delivered by mass-marketed players. Please read on, as there's more.

Dynamics, pace and timing

The "smooth" behaviour of the D500 does not influence its performance in the dynamics department. It can deliver enough energy to follow even the most dynamic-demanding musical programs, though it is exactly an explosive performer.
It does even better in the microdynamics department, thanks to the very good quality of the high range. Tiny details and small variations are easily unveiled by the Cambridge D500, it is nota magnifying glass, though. Its performance reminds me the Linn Mimik CD player I tested a couple of years ago.

The REAL problem of this player is something that has driven me crazy during the long listening sessions. I wondered, I pondered and finally came to a conclusion: dudes, is this player S L O W !!!! Yes, it may sound strange, considering its dynamic performance is adequate, but the pace this player gives to the Music it reproduces is totally unnatural.
While this can be detected with every kind of Music, it becomes utterly evident when playing strongly rythmic musical genres. I'm referring to rock, blues, dub, trip, dance etc...every time a sustained and fast timing is needed, the Cambridge D500 simply fails to do the right thing.
It slows down, perhaps because it tries to add a sense of unnatural "breath" to the Music. As you may know, HiFi components that sound slow are often referred as sounding "big" though fast perfomers are sometimes referred as "thin".
Actually, when one listens to very good sounding units there's everything: proper timing AND "big" sound. I don't know if this effect has been decided by the designers or if it has been just an unlucky coincidence...I can only say that it is sufficient to play something from Massive Attack, Prodigy, AC/DC, Cult, KebMo to detect there's something strange. My wife, casually entering the listening room while the D500 was playing, commented "It seems lifeless".
In other words, the adrenalin drops and so the eyelids. OK, not exactly so...I'm just trying to give the idea of the effect :-)
Some listener may found this very pleasant...me? it simply drives me crazy. Also consider that listeners used to evaluate a component by means of bass-mids-highs are not able to detect proper timing and pace. It requires a musical ear (someone who plays an instrument) or a well-trained ear. I've NEVER heard a newbie (or read a consumer review) which refers to timing and pace. Normally they concentrate on "good bass, excellent mids, open highs".
To me, Music is not only "bass-mid-high"...it is life, adrenalin, movement.

3D soundstage

Into this price range one starts to find CD players that can image properly, something that entry-level machines are still unable to do.
Hence, the D500 can create a realistic soundstage, proportionally correct and especially deep, with several virtual planes and good focus on players and instruments. Of course, it can't rival with much more expensive players but I can consider its performance good enough for HiFi systems up to 3,000 $/Euro.
Below than that and the soundstaging ability of the D500 will be limited by that of amps and speakers. Namely, if your budget system can't image properly, you should upgrade amp and speakers before selling the Cambridge D500.

The "focus" on the instruments can be upgraded quite easily with simple tweaks (see section "Some advice" below).


The cabinet of this CD player isn't well damped, actually it resonates quite easily. For 450$/Euro I'd like to see some care has been taken to dampen metallic resonances from the cabinet. It costs almost nothing and it can do wonders to the sound quality.
The electrical digital output has a BNC connector. As this is not the standard connector one finds on aftermarket digital cables, it should be better to have a RCA connector instead. Oh yes, one can use BNC/RCA adapters but these are never a good choice, IMHO.
The player under test hasn't been able to read a disc (KebMo - OKeh/Epic) which is normally played by other players I have at home. I've tried few CD-Rs as well and it seems the D500 can read them all.
I've found the "fake toroidal" trick quite amusing but I'm pretty sure some customer won't like it at all.

Sonically, as said, this player has a strong personality, either you love or hate it. It does perform exceptionally well in some areas (mid-high range, clarity etc.) and bad in others (timing and pace). This is NOT a problem related to its price range as I've listened to lesser players than can time properly.
The bass range is clean and well defined but it lacks authority and punch. Voices - sometimes - may sound a bit metallic and thin.

Finally, a note on list price. The Cambridge Audio D500, depening on the Country you live in, sells for 400-500 $/Euro. Considering it is actually made in China and taking into account its non-universal sonic behaviour I'd consider it a bit pricey.

Some advice and tweak

The Cambridge D500 is one of the CD players that benefits from a LONG warm-up. DO NOT LISTEN TO IT before 6 hours of continuous playing or you will be highly disappointed. As hours pass, it only gets better. Hence I'd suggest to leave it permanently on.
The stock feet are better than average but I've found interesting results with the Sonic Design damping feet.
Briefly, the bass range has become deeper and heavier, the mid-high range has lost a bit of that metallic note that I've sometimes heard and the focus on the instruments has greatly improved.
Anyway, your mileage may vary: depending on your taste, the HiFi rack you're using and the tonal balance of your system you may have better results with spikes. You just need to evaluate this on your own.
The interconnect cable should be something fast and plenty of bass (VdH, for example) while the first thing to do is install a good mains cable. Finally, thanks to the digital output, the D500 can be improved with an external DAC, when in need for a radical change.


The Cambridge D500 is a good product but buyers should be aware of the fact it does have a very peculiar kind of sound so a test listen is mandatory before buying.
It is sweet but slow, detailed and clean but thin in the bass...in other words it is not a player for everyone (do they really exist?) though it will be a HUGE upgrade over entry-level consumer players.

© Copyright 2002 Lucio Cadeddu - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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