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Thule CD 100 - CD player

The Danish connection

[Italian version]

Product: Thule CD 100 CD player
Manufacturer: Thule - Denmark
Approx. price: 700 $/Euro
Reviewer: Dejan Veselinovic

[Thule CD 100 + IA 60]
The Thule CD 100 (up) & IA 60 amp (below)

Thule Audio's CD100 CD player, seen above its sibling IA60 integrated amplifier, represents the Danish company's entry level model, as does it sibling in amplification. However, as we shall see, that certainly does not mean it offers entry level sound.
This Danish company has been active for some 9 years now, and is the brainchild of Mr Anders Thule. Thus far, the company has maintained a relatively low key market image, but has gone a long way in developing an extensive line products, in three categories and with several offerings in each category.

CD100 is, as stated, their entry level model. Above it is model CD150, which is essentially the same, but offers a true balanced output using twin DACs and with a twin power supply, one for the digital and the other for the analog section.
Finally, you can upgrade CD150 by purchasing a separate DAC board, which uses no less than four DACs in a true balanced differential configuration. The only reason this is brought up is that exactly the same upgrade path lies before you even if you buy this model - you can upgrade it in steps right up to the top.

Looks, construction and technology

[Thule CD 100 inside view]
The Thule CD 100 inside view

As with other models from this company, the outer appearance is very sober, very understated, but exudes quality. The case is made from heavy steel, the fascia from an 8-9 mm thick aluminum plate, machined to that it has a gentle sloping front.
Controls are kept simple, however, you'll find most of them on the supplied remote control, which also controls other Thule audio components. Actually, only the remote control unit looks sort of cheap, even if it is made of durable plastics and does its job reliably.
Only the top plate is detachable, and is held down by five screws; if fastened properly, there will be absolutely no rattling or any other mechanical noise.
All this means that the unit is quite massive, weighing in at around 7 kg, not at all typical at this price point, but very good indeed, as this also means less vibration and what there is has been moved down in spectrum.

Inside, we'll see the whole divided into three logical parts - the power supply, the mechanics control board and the DAC board, which also holds the analog output section.

Everything is unusually neat and tidy. The drive mechanism is by Philips, a 12.4 unit, however, using Thule's own control software and electronics. As with their other products, SMD has been used wherever possible, rational and applicable.
Parts have been carefully selected. Capacitors are mostly by Philips, the DAC uses Burr-Brown's PCM1710, a multi bit unit with multilevel Delta- Sigma. Analog outputs are amplified using Burr-Brown's OPA2134 FET op amps. Also, the DAC's clock is actively and separately buffered, a good practice seen far too rarely.
Output connectors are soldered directly to the board and use good quality gold plated RCA Cinch connectors - again, good practice on both counts.
Since the board is a stand-alone unit, it can easily be exchanged for another model higher up the scale, or serviced in the unlikely event service is needed, given the quality of the parts used and the SMD technology, known and used for its high degree of reliability and cost-effectiveness. The small blue blocks are high quality polycarbonate capacitors - if one has to use them, then these are the ones to use.

The Opponents

CD100 was pitted against a Harman/Kardon CD730, a model just replaced by CD740. It uses Philips' Bitstream technology, with two typically H/K touches - the power supply is somewhat above average in both capacity and quality, and instead of using integrated circuits, H/K traditionally use discrete component outputs, in this case in a dual differential configuration.
This is said to provide great speed and better sound. In terms of price, this model costs roughly the same as CD100; its successor maintains the same price, but uses twin Burr-Brown DACS, and would thus be an even more direct competitor.
Then there's a modified Marantz CD53 player, which instead of NJR2114 op amps now has OP275 chips, and its power supply and decoupling capacitors have been both changed and substantially upgraded.
The last opponent is a Philips CD721 player which has been extensively tweaked (rebuilt would be a better term). While keeping its original power supply for the mechanism and display, it has been endowed with two new toroidal transformers and dedicated extremely high quality power supplies, one powering the digital, and the other powering the analog section.
In addition to this, its rather cheap'n'cheerful 4560 output op amp has been replaced with an Analog Devices AD826 op amp, which increases the initial 15V/us slew rate to 350V/us, while decreasing the settling time from some 2000 to 70 ns.
Instead of the cheap captive cable, it has been endowed with high quality, Teflon insulated gold plated RCA Cinch connectors, connected to the board using solid silver wire.

Since Thule leaves the choice of cables to the user, I used my standard MIT Terminator 4 cables for all auditioning. While not the best there are, I believe they cannot be beaten on a sound for money basis, and are ultimately much more likely to be used than exotically priced offerings from other sources.

The Sound

Upon powering the CD100, the first thing that surprised me was its uncanny silence in operation - the literature claims as much, but it doesn't prepare you for this kind of silence. Once you place the disc on the tray and it retreats inside - silence, no sound, absolutely nothing!
You have to put your ear squarely on the unit to percieve that anything is working, unless you look at the display. Now, that's good work.
I decided to be mean, so I knocked the case - hurt my knuckles, but not the player. It just continued as if nothing happened.

I started off with Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" (BMG 3753-2-R- RE), which instantly shows up any deficiencies in the bass region if present - but not here.
The bass guitar came across as a bass guitar with its strings slightly loosened, which of course is precisely what it is. The sliding female vocal and the female vocal support were so clear and well defined it seemed I could work out how far back and to the side they happened to be.
Changing the tune Connie Dover's "Ubi Caritas" ("Celtic Spirit", Narada, ND-63929), the kettle drum could be heard in all its subtleity and raw power. Connie's voice, on the other hand, came across as very clear and highly articulated, without any false shine, euphony or in fact any artefact other than its natural clarity.
Moving on to Led Zeppelin's "Gallows Pole" (Led Zeppelin III, Atlatntic, SD-19128-2), Robert Plant got his money's worth with this unit. In the whole mix, once everyone joins in, it was easy to hear through the mix and pick up each and every instrument, from each drum beat to the each plucked banjo string. I have never heard it done so well in anything like this price bracket.
Enigma's "MCMXC a.D." (Virgin, CDVIR10) rarely has such gravitas as here. This is a good one to test the speed of any unit (beside being a good one to listen to), and CD100 simply took it and did it, no questions asked. The same happened with Vangelis' "Metallic Rain" track (Vangleis: Platinum, Polydor, VP 180 197-R).

Moving to calmer waters, The Weavers (Reunion at Carnegie Hall 1963, Analogue Productions, APFCD 005, gold plated disc) came across in full glory of a large sound stage, with excellent acoustics. Each voice could be clearly heard, yet in full harmony with the rest and within the ambience. Not to mention the audience applause - close your eyes and you could well be there, not here.
Pavarotti's "La Donna e' Mobile" (Cedar Digital Deja2, D2CD02) should not fail to invite you to sing along, such is the power and feeling behind the Fat Man's voice. I played and replayed that particular piece (thank God for the "Repeat" button) until my wife told me I was really overdoing it - I usually am, but she rarely tells me so.
Girls next. Well, Maria Callas and Kiri Te Kanawa (Cedar Digital Deja2, D2CD20) really swung it this time round. It's units like this that show you why those ladies have such fame, and why they deserve it.


Thule Audio's CD100 is a very serious CD player in the sense that it goes about its business in what is probably the best of all ways - it starts the music going and leaves the room so you can get down to listening.
It has a very diplomatic character - it never offends, it's very polite in general, but if need be, it can waltz, opera, folk dance or rock'n'roll, as the occasion demands.
It has a very clean and unusually deep bass line, while its mid and high ranges are very coherent and very, very natural. No sheen, no grain, no euphony, little is lost along the way and next to nothing is added.
Compared to H/K CD730, it has a still deeper bass (clean and deep bass being H/K's strongest point), but is brighter than the H/K, which is a little on the dark side.
CD100 was considerably more dynamic and life-like than the Marantz, while keeping Marantz' composition and control; in other words, it just ditched Marantz' "von Karajan filter" kind of sound and let the music flow. It also made Marantz' bass seem somewhat lacking.
With the rebuilt Philips player it really had to work hard. It never matched Philips' speed and absolute dynamics, but it beat the Philips on the expansiveness of its sound stage and kicked me back to the drawing board.

It simply does what all players are supposed to do, only it does it better, much better than most - for the life of me, I cannot think of another unit in its price class which can equal it.
To be sure, some have better this or that, but none I can think of has its overall balance, composition and a kind of seriousness about music making without being stern or cold.
Do yourself a favor - go out and at least listen to this one. And take the money along, chances are you'll be spending it.

© Copyright 2000 Dejan Veselinovic - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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