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Philips CD 723 - budget CD player

Paso doble

[Philips CD 723]

[Italian version]

Product: Philips CD 723 - CD player with remote
Manufacturer: Philips - Netherlands
Approx. price: 120 Euro/$
Availability: depending on the Country
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu
Reviewed: January, 2002

The Philips brand doesn't have a great reputation among die-hard audiophiles, mainly because the giant manufacturer makes products which are oriented to the consumer market.
It was different, say, 15 years ago, when Philips CD players were considered among the best of the market, namely the ancestor CD 104 and the famous CD 960, one of the highly regarded players in the history of modern HiFi (and still well reputed nowadays).
Then Philips, after having acquired the Marantz brand, decided to leave the "audiophile" market to the glorious American name. The marketing strategy proved to be successful and today Marantz products (especially CD players) are well considered even by the most integralist audiophiles.
Philips didn't choose to stop producing HiFi components, though, especially CD players and recorders and, while being aimed to the consumer market, these are - more or less - Marantz players (actually, it's viceversa) with cheaper looks and WAY lower prices.
Philips makes 3 standard CD players: CD 713, CD 723 (a 713 + remote) and CD 753 (actually it's a Marantz CD 4000 with different power supply caps).

The Philips CD 723, the player under test, is an extremely inexpensive digital machine and it can be easily found at a price around 100 Euro (or USD). Despite this very low price it offers several interesting features that could be attractive both for the absolute beginner and the crazy DIYer.
Firstly, it offers a coaxial electrical digital output, instead of the ubiquitous (as in players of this range) optical one, which normally sounds worse. This means the CD 723 can be used as a cheap CD transport connected to a DIY DAC such as our TNT Convertus or to a second-hand unit. S/H DACs are very easy to find at very low prices, nowadays (thanks to SACD and DVD-Audio!!!! :-)).
Secondly, the Philips CD 723 is very easy to "tweak" and can be successfully used as a "training camp" by every audiophile willing to improve his tweaking/DIYing ability.
Finally, the player - considered as a standalone unit (i.e. no tweaks, no external DACs) - can be easily considered as an inexpensive first step for a budget-oriented system, where the largest part of the budget can be devoted to speakers and amp.

[Philips CD 723 - inside view]
Empty spaces...inside the CD 723

Now it should be clear why I have titled this article paso double: the use of this CD player is two-fold: either as an introductory player for a minimalist ultra-low budget system or as a toy for experienced audiophiles with a DIY attitude.

Technically, the Philips CD 723 uses a bitcheck (Continuous Calibration) D/A conversion, a CD transport that reads virtually anything digital (CDs, CD-Rs and - hear hear - even CD-RWs!!!), a comfy remote control from which you can even adjust the volume level (via the variable line output), a pretty useful headphones output.
Then, of course, it offers every kind of digital gadget: program, repeat, random, fade, peak etc.
Its size is standard (45.5 x 26.5 x 8.6 cm) and its weight.....minimal, as you can easily guess having a look at the sadly empty inside of the player. The cabinet doesn't sport any kind of anti-vibration device (so it's pretty resonant) but it certainly looks much more expensive than it really is.

Paso doble

Reviewing basic-class HiFi components is both easy and tricky. Easy, because one can immediately tell what's wrong, as sonic "mistakes" appear to be evident. Tricky, because it is hard to make the reader understand how the sounds compares to more expensive stuff. So, please, have in mind the (low) price of this unit when reading my listening notes.

This player is essentially neutral, in the sense that no portion of the audio spectrum prevails over the rest. Only sometimes one can hear the high range a bit over the rest but, substantially, a kind of general "stable equilibrium" is preserved.
The quality of the high range, as you can easily guess, is so-so, to say the least. Take - for example - the cymbals: these are reproduced in a perfectly one-key style: the CD 723 concentrates on the fundamental note, forgetting the harmonics, so that the timbre of the percussive instrument appears very close to the one produced synthetically by a drum-machine.
It is hard to detect all the harmonics after the instrument is hit, so all you can hear is a kind of "tizz-tizz" sound that makes every cymbal sound equal.
It is not exactly unpleasant, as the general mood remains "soft" and warm. The same happens with the piano harmonics, a real mined field for every HiFi component, CD players in particular. Even the most harmonically rich pianos become poor and sterile and appear somehow "softened".
Don't get me wrong....you get what you pay for. Inexpensive CD players (and HiFi components) can't reproduce the Music in its full bloom, that's a fact.
On human voices the Philips CD 723 doesn't sound bad at all: it is a smooth performer and succeeds reproducing a sense of "breath" and air (surrounding choir voices for example) that is mostly welcomed. Even when playing the difficult "Cantate Domino" (Proprius, choir and pipe organ) the inexpensive player shows some self-control (unexpected, I'd say) and delivers a pleasant sound. Of course, during the trickies passages, a sense of general confusion and compression prevails....
In the bass and mid-bass the CD 723 performs proportionally better, sounding gutsy and lively, even when playing the intricate drum machine patterns (and seismic frequencies) of "Protection" by Massive Attack or when trying to move the air with the organ pedals of Saint Saens (Symphony with orgel, Dorian Recordings).
No, it won't make you stand up in a standing ovation...but there's quantity - at least - if not quality. To be clearer, it is more or less the same bass range of the similarly priced Teac players (Teac CDP-1120, for example) though substantially worse than that one delivered by the JVC XL-Z 232, which is 50% more expensive (150 Euro/$ instead of 100 :-)).

Summarizing, the JVC sounds better in all areas but it doesn't offer a coaxial digital output and a phones jack...so, there's no such a thing as a free meal, you know.

Dynamics (micro and macro)

Entry-level CD players have vastly improved their performance with respect to overall dynamics. So, while the old Marantz CD 38 (only slightly more expensive) grasped for breath every time the musical program asked for dynamics and punch, the Philips CD 723 sounds lively and punchy, it will not strip the seat of your pants but certainly can be considered involving.
Please have in mind it has been tested into my B system, the one I call "budget-oriented", where the interconnects are twice as expensive as the whole CD player :-)
Despite this torture test the Philips CD 723 survived, in the sense that it rarely showed terrific dynamic compressions.
For example, sharp drum-machine patterns (these can have outrageously steep rise fronts) have sheer impact and violence, as in "Heat Miser" again from Massive Attack (Protection - WBRCD2).
Summarizing: if your doors and windows don't shake when playing these tracks, for sure there's something else into your system that needs an urgent upgrade, not the CD 723.
The player isn't exactly "fast" and even in the microdynamics department it performs poorly...but one has to think at the 100 Euro price tag.

3D soundstage

If you have read some review of entry-level CD players (or HiFi components) here on TNT-Audio, you are already aware of a very basic fact: cheap stuff can't image properly. It is a God-given fact. Inexpensive CD players aren't able to create a realistic soundstage, yet.
The Philips CD 723 tries as hard as it can...but fails to create even a shadow of 3D image. Sometimes, it succeeds placing some instrument in a kind of second "row" but, substantially, its performance is extremely poor. Absolutely inexistent.
The center of the image - alas, the space between the loudspeakers :-) - is confused, blurred and even randomly moving. It is very hard to focus on a particular instrument or singer as everything belongs to a confused narrow area between the loudspeakers. Cymbals play INSIDE the tweeters most of the times.
Surprised? Don't be! That's life, you can't expect soundstaging from such inexpensive HiFi components. Regular customers who may be interested in a CD 723 don't care much of stereo image, as with entry-level systems there are much more relevant and unpleasant troubles and compromises (bass extension and punch, midrange clarity, overall dynamics etc.).
Compared to similarly priced players, the CD 723 performance is close to the almost inexistent one of the Teac 1120 and only slightly worse than the aforementioned JVC XL-Z 232.


Considering the price, there's no much room for complaints. The Philips CD 723 is solidly and consistently built, only the cabinet shows some excessive flexibility (i.e. it resonates), even near the RCA line plugs so beware of killer-grip RCA connectors!
The mains cable isn't detachable BUT! once the warranty expires...one can always change it with something better (of the DIY kind, like our free designs).
One can even think to add a filtered IEC socket. The coaxial digital output is a dream come true for audiophiles looking for a cheap transport for their DIY or second-hand DACs.

Sonically...what else can I say? The price says it all. It is not precise nor detailed, it does not have 3D imageto speak of... but plays admirably smooth and balanced and, for sure, when hooked up to a budget-oriented system, its faults can be easily masked by those, way bigger, of cheap speakers and amplifier.

Some advice

More or less, the usual recommendations apply here: let it warm up for 20 minutes at least, use a decent interconnect cable (Monster Interlink 200 or something from our DIY factory) and immediately throw away the stock feet, trading them for something softer such as doorstoppers.
As always suggested, a damping session for the cabinet should be taken into serious account...but avoid spending too much...it would be useless. Even electronic tweaks can easily become too much of a good thing: an outboard DAC is the best upgrade you can do to this player. There's no need to spend big bucks: just browse the second-hand market in search of DACs from a couple of years ago. Audiophiles sell/change digital gear frequently (because there's always something "better"...or so they believe :-)) so good DACs can be found for sale at ridiculously low prices.


The Philips CD 723 is pretty unique: sporting an extremely useful coaxial digital output it can be used as a cheap transport...OK, it does not sound like a Vimak or a Wadi...but it can read anything and the main differences in digital playback systems come from DACs, output stages and power supplies.
As a standard CD player it can help building an inexpensive first system (once they were called "student systems" :-)) that can be easily upgraded.
For 100 Euro/$ one can't ask for more.

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

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