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Digital Drive: REVIEW: Pioneer Elite PD-S95 CD Player/Recorder by davehg

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REVIEW: Pioneer Elite PD-S95 CD Player/Recorder

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Model: PD-S95
Category: CD Player/Recorder
Suggested Retail Price: $3000
Description: Single Box Stable Platter transport
Manufacturer URL: Pioneer Elite
Model Picture: View

Review by davehg ( A ) on October 27, 2004 at 00:19:40
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for the PD-S95

These transports, while generally rare, pop up infrequently on Audiogon. Given the lack of info and my own saga in obtaining information, I thought I'd post my review.

Reviewed in the Sept. 1993 SPhile, the PD-S95 was supposed to be the first in a series of Japanese assaults on the US audiophile industry. As it turns out, the units were simply too expensive to compete in the US market, and a series of small oversights all but sealed their fate. First, they did not offer AT&T ST interfaces, which made them less competitive than their US competition (mostly Theta, Wadia, and Levinson). Second, they suffered from poor marketing. Most Elite dealers did not have the knowledge to sell these expensive units. Consequently, very few were imported and sold in the U.S.

However, due to the success of the PD-65, both as a transport and single box player, plus its adoption by US Audiophile companies including Wadia and Enlightened Audio, the stable platter transport quickly gained a cult following. Modders such as Modwright offered great upgrades, and the bullet proof construction won many fans. Still, those with access to the PD-S95 were few. Matters were not helped when Pioneer began to phase out the stable platter designs in the late 90's, as most of the market moved to mif-fi and DVD players. Only Esoteric continues as one of the lone brands of truly high end Japanese gear manufactured by a large Japanese company (I am ignoring the excellent Accuphase).

The PD-S95 is one of those rare examples of what "built like a tank" truly means. Weighing over 40 lbs, with a single massive drawer and a machined alloy silver platter, the transport used several separate brushless Hall motors to rotate the platter and control the laser assembly. Inside, the chassis is copper plated, and the power supply sits in an isolated corner with a heavy copper "cage" over the top. The box is steel, honeycombed and held together by stainless steel hex bolts. It really is quite impressive to see this level of detail from an otherwise mass producer, and would be equally impressive coming from Levinson or Theta. Only the high end Teac VRDS and Esoteric units meet this level of build quality.

Connections to a DAC are via three choices: Toslink, coax, and unbalanced BNC connections. A non-removable but heavy duty powercord does not offer the option of using aftermarket cords. The front display and buttons are simple. Nicely, the user can also turn off the display during play.

I compared the Pioneer Elite PD-S95 to my trusty Technics DVD-A10 (circa 2001), both feeding a Musical Fidelity TriVista 21 DAC using Acoustic Zen MC2 coax digital cable. Like the Elite, the Technics is overbuilt, but not nearly to the standard of the Pioneer. Rather, the Technics was a decent first DVD-A player aiming at the bottom of the high end market. Of note, it offers the ability to upsample to 196khz (this can be turned off), and outputs the upsampled signal (up to a 96khz digital signal) through its two digital audio outputs. It is a decent transport, available frequently used for b/t $150-250, and plays DVD-A as well as redbook. It rocks as a DVD player, with great sound and picture.


Reviewers originally opined that the PD-S95 was a ringer for the Theta Basic using Coax outputs, if less authoritative on the bass. My own sense is that the Pioneer is a detail champion, stripping away the grunge and unmasking low level detail. Backgrounds were noticeably quieter than the Technics. The Pioneer also anchored players and instruments firmly on the soundstage. Voices, especially choirs and quartets (think CSNY, the Blind Boys of Alabama, or the Temptations) were beautifully presented, with clear delineation of each singer. The Pioneer was simply a champ in rendering vocals.

Oddly, the Tri-Vista sounded best set at 196khz upsampled when using it with the Technics. With the Pioneer, it sounded better at 96 khz, where voices and instruments were more clear and less fuzzy or veiled. Does this mean the Pioneer was doing its job at rendering more accurate information, or just one of those synergy things? Only comparisons with another newer, high end transport with low measured jitter will likely clear things up.

Where the Pioneer falls a little short seems to be in the area where the Tri-Vista excels: mainly, adding body and weight to the low end and mids, especially at lower volumes. Bass detail is there in spades, but the volume seems diminished at low listening levels. To get the weight back, I have to turn up the volume. Thankfully, doing so does not distort the mids and highs. Things just get louder. I wouldn't describe the Pioneer's house sound as thin or cool, just not rich or full bodied. A poor analogy can be comparing ARC preamps to CJ preamps. Both have a distinct character.

I've had this experience when upgrading components, where I hear a definite differences that make me initially wonder whether the replacement gear is more accurate, more musical, or just different. By example, when I switched from Totem Model 1's to Merlin TSM's, it took many months of adjustment to get used to the different presentation. With the Pioneer PDS-95, I guess I haven't decided yet whether the sound is more accurate, or whether the Technics as a transport was simply more colored. It will take more weeks of comparison to form a final opinion.

Which leads me to the main point of why I decided to post a review on a 12 year old transport that is unavailable and rare. Fellow inmates seems to be experiencing a "silver age" (those of you who follow comics will understand this analogy better) in relationship to digital analog converters. DACS are increasing cheaper and outperform those of just a few years old that are many times more expensive. The Tri-Vista and the Benchmark at the mid end, and the Ack, Mensa/DIO and others at the low end of the market, demonstrate the trickle down effect of high end, at least as far as Redbook is concerned.

But where is the diversity and availability of high end transports? Dealers will steer you to one box solutions, even assuming they have a transport to sell you, or they will direct you towards CD players where you end up paying for a DAC you won't use. Most new transports today fall into one of two camps: very expensive or multi-player (high res). I think only Audio Note is still producing anything reasonably priced (under $2k). Audiogon is awash in fairly old high end transports sold rather cheaply.

So until the market completely switches to computer based transports (oh please oh please oh please), those of us with DACS will continue to make due with el cheapo Toshibas, used Technics or CAL Delta's or Theta Datas, or the used high end transport bargains. Of the latter camp, the Pioneer PD-S95 is a rare bargain (about $1200 when all is done), quite reliable, and therefore, highly recommended.

Product Weakness: Somewhat lighter low end, though still detailed.
Product Strengths: Bullet proof construction, quiet, fast, detailed

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: VAC Avatar SE
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): None
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Tri-Vista 21 DAC
Speakers: Merlin TSM-M/REL Strata III
Cables/Interconnects: Acoustic Zen Silver Ref, Satori Shotgun, MC2
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Rock, jazz
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): JR Filter, Cardas Golden Reference Power
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Pioneer Elite PD-S95 CD Player/Recorder - davehg 00:19:40 10/27/04 ( 4)