Listening on a Budget: The Case of an Urban Legend that is actually trueby Philip Ehrensaft
/ December 1, 1999
Rumours continuously break out about a Truly Amazing audio component
that sells for a penny and a song and, once in a while, the rumours turn out
to have some truth. In the early 1990s, the famous instance was a Radio
Shack portable CD player that audiophiles used as a transport mechanism
in very pricey systems. Now there is the unlikely RCA RP-8065 carousel
CD player that has equalled high-end players in blindfold tests.
Before talking about this machine, I want to lay out three rules for people
who want to assemble good sound systems while juggling their budgets
1. Spend as much of your music budget as possible on live music to train
2. Mid-level equipment is the sweet spot in the market. Technological
innovations filter down pretty rapidly from top end to mid-level
equipment, but slowly, if at all, to the lower end.
3. Scout out equipment by reading The Sensible Sound, a bi-monthly
magazine dedicated to similar principles.
Under these circumstances, their rumours concerning the RCA RP-8065, if
true, would be most attractive. The machine violates several premises
among audiophiles: It is a carousel player, and carousel players usually
sound worse and are less reliable than single disk players. Also, RCA does
not usually win high marks for quality, especially at such low prices: $160
at Canadian discount dealers, and as low as $US 75 south of the border.
Joseph M. Cierneak's irreverent column in The Sensible Sound got
audiophile networks buzzing when he matched the RP-8065 against
expensive machines in blindfold tests. In the annual "Staff Picks"
August/September issue of The Sensible Sound, Cierneak recommends
coupling speakers and amplifiers which are each in the $2-3,000 range
with the humble RP-8065.
I decided to put the RP-8065 to the test when my CD player, a Sony
machine that had been recommended by Consumer Reports had to go to the
repair shop. What a wonderful surprise! The RP-8065 produced a warm and
deep sound approaching turntable quality from a spectrum of recordings
that ranged from chamber and jazz ensembles to Mahlerian orchestras.