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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 4

Listening on a Budget: The Case of an Urban Legend that is actually true

by Philip Ehrensaft / December 1, 1999

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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 and checkbooks:

1. Spend as much of your music budget as possible on live music to train your ear.

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.

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