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Product: JoLida JD-100A
Vacuum Tube CD Player
Manufacturer: Jolida Inc. - USA
Address: 10820 Guilford Road - Annapolis Junction, MD 20701 USA
Telephone: (301) 953-2014
Approx. price: $900 USD
Reviewer: Nels Ferré
Reviewed: June 2002
This review is a bit of a departure for me. Usually, I publish a review and then answer letters concerning the review. With the JoLida JD-100A, I have received countless e-mails that read something like "I know you like the JoLida amps, but have you heard the new JD-100A CD player?" Some letters are even more direct: "When will you be publishing a review on the new JoLida JD-100A?" I have not had such an eagerly awaited review until now. Well, here it is.
JoLida has been producing high value vacuum tube and hybrid electronics since 1995. Located just north of Washington, D.C., all JoLida gear is built in China, with final assembly, quality control, and packaging completed at their facilities in Maryland.
First, let me begin my search by clearly stating that I am not a big fan of digital music reproduction. To my ears and taste, analog is the way to go, but as we are now in the 21st century, one really must deal with digital. There are too many CDs of great music that will never appear on vinyl, so a high quality CD player is a must.
For 9 years, I ran a Harman/Kardon HD-7600 in my system, which I still think is a great player. It was highly regarded in its time, and I enjoyed it immensely. It exhibited very little of what I call "digital artifacts" or the "sound" that differentiates digital from analog. To use an analogy, analog is a fine piece of wood, natural and beautiful. Digital is Formica. Sure, it's durable and functional, but I find it to be totally void of emotion. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end: the spindle motor went south on the HD-7600, and a new motor could not be secured.
My next player was a Sony ES series machine which was well reviewed by a major US magazine. I find in store auditions on CD players totally useless, as the room and the associated equipment are always different from what I own at home. With other components, I find that I can deduce the performance that I will experience at home; not so with CD players. I never liked the machine; it had an overabundance of "digititis." It was not musical in the least and no amount of run in improved it.
By this time, I had joined the staff of TNT Audio, and had become reacquainted with vacuum tubes. I purchased a JoLida JD-603 CD player to replace the Sony. While it was a far better machine than the Sony, I ultimately found it to be rather un-involving. The machine wasn't irritating to listen to, but not exciting, either, unlike JoLida's other offerings. In other words, it was just kind of "there;" I still found myself longing for a machine that I loved. Additionally, the build quality was not at the level of the rest of the JoLida line. The JD-603 seemed a sort of "bastard stepchild;" it was definitely the "odd man out" in the JoLida product line. The JD-100A is the replacement for the JD-603.
I need to make this very clear: the JD-100A is a completely different animal from the JD-603. If I had both units side by side, with no brand markings on the machines, I would never have guessed that both machines are from the same manufacturer, they are that different from one another.
The build quality of the JD-100A is stunning, everything is made of metal, and there are no plastic bits to be found anywhere. The player weighs in at 19 lbs, quite hefty indeed. The build quality is evident on the interior of the unit as well. There are two large metal shields that run the depth of the unit that shield the transport from both the tube output section on the right side of the machine, as well as the associated transport electronics, power supply and headphone amp on the left side. There are two large transformers to power the transport and audio circuits independently. The transport is Philips' CDM-12.
The more I peered around the internal circuits, the more impressed I became. All circuits are placed internally to use a minimum of associated wiring. For example, the tube output section, which uses a pair of 12AX7 tubes, is located in the right rear of the chassis, right next to the rear panel, where the wiring attaches to the gold plated RCA output jacks. More attention to detail is evident with the headphone amp and associated jack. The headphone amp is located in the front left of the chassis, again very near the headphone jack. The associated wiring is of above average quality as well, low gauge wiring (for the application) sheathed in fabric.
Speaking of the headphone amp, headphone lovers can rejoice: the JD-100A uses MOSFET devices for the headphone section. There is not an op amp IC to be found.
On the front panel of the JD-100A are only the most necessary controls for CD playback; direct access to CD tracks as well as programming have been relegated to the large, heavy, and quite impressive remote control. Like the player itself, there are no plastic bits on the remote. The buttons are actually shiny silver ball bearings, while the rest of the remote is cloaked in matte black.
Around back, there is the usual IEC socket for the power cord, two pairs of fixed audio outputs, and a coaxial digital output jack. All jacks are gold plated, and appear to be gold plated Teflon.
JoLida covers the player with an 18 month warranty, 6 months on the vacuum tubes. The manual states that the included Chinese 12AX7 tubes have a life span of approximately 20,000 hours. That works out to approximately 2 years and 4 months of 24 hour a day use. A listener using the player for a more realistic 2 hours a day can expect to replace the tubes every 27 years. In other words, the JD-100A is designed for very low maintenance, even for listeners who are apprehensive about living with vacuum tubes.
The JD-100A really lets the music flow. The JD-100A served the music, not the technology. Sure, the JD-100A has a vacuum tube output and a 24/96 D/A converter, but with glorious sound like this, who really cares? Right now I am listening to disc 4 from the Les Paul and Mary Ford box set (Capitol CDP 1 91651 2) and the music keeps stealing my attention from the keyboard and monitor. Most of the music on this set was recorded in the 1950's it sounds very fresh, even 50 years later. Les Paul's guitar work sometimes sizzles, sometimes soothes, but always amazes. The JD-100A lets the listener forget about the format, and enjoy the music.
Bass is deep and tight, a bit punchy. The midrange is very smooth and uncolored; again technology becomes a distant, almost non existent issue. While the JD-100A uses vacuum tubes, I tend to forget this too, and lose myself in the music. The highs are smooth and extended. The player images quite well for a CD player as well.
The JD-100A is a departure from most high end machines: it shuns the expected Burr-Brown D/A converters in favor of Philips chips. This is totally intentional. JoLida's design goal with the JD-100A was to build a CD player that was very linear, thus very listenable. This is the main difference, in my opinion, between digital and analog music reproduction. Analog, to my ears, is very linear. Many CD players tend to be bright and analytical. These players reproduce all of the detail, but they tend to be very fatiguing, especially during extended listening sessions. Listening to music should be enjoyable, not fatiguing. On the other hand, if the player is too smooth, then resolution suffers and much of the excitement of the music is lost, glossed over. The discontinued JD-603 is a prime example of going too far in this direction. JoLida has done an excellent job of striking the proper balance in the JD-100A, to my ears; it is "just right." In the JD-100A, JoLida has a player that makes music in very much the same way as my analog rig, which costs many times the price of admission of the JD-100A.
The punchy bass that I mentioned is another one of the design goals of the JD-100A. This allows the music, all of it, to be heard even at low volumes. This is one of the attributes that I found so dear with JoLida's integrated tube amps, as well.
I did have a very
interesting discovery with the JD-100A. I was listening to collection
of Cajun music on the Rhino label ("Alligator Stomp" R2
70946.) Like most of the other CD's I've played on the JD-100A, I was
amazed at the musicality of CDs I was missing via other machines.
This CD sounded better too, more open, more natural, and extremely
involving, even considering the fact that this CD is far from
reference quality. For those who are unfamiliar with Cajun music,
Cajuns are people of French ancestry that settled the bayous of
They brought their music from France and adapted it, mixing it with American country music as well as black gospel music brought by the slaves from Africa. Cajun music, unfortunately, has not caught on very well in the U.S., and tends to be more of a regional style with low sales volume. Because of this, record companies did not spend much money on making the records; most have fair to poor sound quality.
And so it is with "Alligator Stomp," but there was a surprise. While tonally the disc sounded better than I have ever heard it, some tracks exhibited speed stability problems, which I was never aware of before. My thoughts here are that the JD-100 is so neutral that other aspects of the performance became evident.
All of my reference discs sounded exceptional. What I really found enjoyable was rediscovering discs that are of less than reference quality. Many of these discs are actually better than I was aware.
Sound quality with the JD-100 is directly related to the tubes used in the output section. The Chinese tubes (Sino?) that ship from the factory are good performers, but I would recommend changing them to Svetlana tubes, from Russia. Every aspect of performance improves with the Svetlana tubes in residence. A JoLida dealer sent some Philips tubes in addition to the Svetlana's, but I was unable to test the player with the Philips tubes, as I experienced a 75% failure rate over 2 pairs.
The performance of the JD-100A did improve slightly with the addition of aftermarket power cables and interconnects. The JD-100A was nowhere near as fussy when it came to the need for interconnects and power cables as was the Cambridge Audio CD-500SE that I reviewed earlier this year. With that machine, upgrades were required for good performance. This is not the case at all with the JoLida; the upgrades are more akin to the cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae.
I listened to the JD-100A with all types of music both reference and non reference, and have absolutely no complaints as far as sound quality. It is, by far, the most non-fatiguing, yet very musical and exciting CD player that I have had the pleasure to hear. I could listen to it non-stop all day long. In fact, on many occasions, I have done just that.
The JD-100A may look
familiar to some readers, especially those in Europe. Cosmetically,
it is identical to a machine marketed by Lua of Germany, the
I asked Michael Allen, President of JoLida, to clarify the matter for me. His comment? "No comment".
Although the satin silver finish is quite attractive, JoLida should offer a matte black finish for those like me who prefer a black finish. Color me boring.
Speaking of color, the soothing blue display is not bright enough to be easily read in a bright room. I did not have a problem reading the display while listening at night.
Additionally, for those listeners who have children, the remote may want to be hidden safely away while not in use. Keep in mind, it is a one pound block of steel, and may become a lethal weapon if used improperly. The owner's manual states that the remote uses AA type batteries; it actually uses AAA type batteries.
These are minor quibbles indeed. I had no concerns at all with the sonic performance of the JD-100A. Taking into account the robust construction, and its many sonic virtues, I think the JD-100A may actually be under priced at its $900 retail price. I do however, wish that the player featured HDCD decoding, although its absence has not hampered my enjoyment of or enthusiasm for the JD-100A.
The introduction of
the JD-100A is far more than just "another CD player". In
my opinion, it heralds a new era for JoLida, that of a serious
contender in the high end digital arena, while remaining true to the
company's high value for the dollar mission. Additionally, I feel
that the JD-100A will prove to be formidable competition for its
Not only will the JD-100A stay as a part of my reference system, but for the first time in years, I can truly say I am happy, even thrilled, with my CD player. How about my beloved Harman/Kardon machine, you ask? It is now the second favorite machine I have ever owned.
I would like to thank Michael Allen of JoLida for providing the review sample. Additionally, I would like to thank Bill Baker of Response Audio for providing the Svetlana and Philips tubes used in this review.
© Copyright 2002 Nels Ferré - http://www.tnt-audio.com
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