A scoop: inside the Sony SCD-XA5400ES player:

I was not looking for a new CD-player. Even less I was looking for a SACD player, since I have so few SACD records that I don't need a player for them. Even so, when I have read the Kalman Rubinson article in the last Stereophile journal (vol. 32 n5, May 2009, pp. 47-51) on the fabulous new Sony SACD player I felt intrigued. In particular, I was interested because he wrote that this player was able to play standard Red Book CDs in a wonderful way. Just to let you understand, I quote his article closure: “Let's just say that, for the moment, I have yet to hear a better SACD/CD player.” Not too bad for a 1.5 k$ unit (but with a street price of about 1k$ in US)!

Then I found some reference in Internet, like the followings:

http://www.sa-cd.net/showthread.php?page=1 (search the thread on the Sony HDMI debut)


http://www.audiocircle.com/circles/index.php?topic=64231.0 (this is the ModWright forum, where Dan Wright announce his tube mods for this unit)


Here I have found also some interesting pictures of the player interiors:

http://www.areadvd.de/hardware/2009/sony_scd_xa5400es.shtml (in Deutch)

There were a general consensus that this stereo player, the first from Sony providing also a DSD output (via a HDMI port and HATS protocol), was extremely good for its price, also better than the double time expensive Sony XA9000ES, even when playing SACDs, and the 9000 was already considered better than the stock Sony SCD-1 or 777ES (but not of their modified versions, like those sold by Allen Wright of Vacuum State Electronics). It was enough for my curiosity, so I went to buy one, even if the european price is much higher (1250 Euro), but I was told that mine was one of the last three players still available from Sony Europe, even if this player has been introduced in October 2008! Very strange, isn't so?

It took a while to receive it (from Wien), but here it is and now you will be able to see inside it, how nowhere else you can find.

The first look shows a very well engineered construction.

The same appears looking from the other side...

Main Ac filter and standby transformer and two T500mAL fuses.

Note the Rubycon 2200uF 25V electrolitic capacitor.

Two main R-core transformers from Kitamura Kiden. They should be one for analogue and another for digital and controls.

The Sony transport is not top loading as in the Sony SCD-1 or 777ES.

The main power regulation. The two big black capacitors are Nichicom 10000uF 16V, damped on their base with a white foam. The two small black caps are Nichicon 2200uF 16V. The brown electrolitics are from ASV.

Now we will look to the digital board, which is placed above the analogue board.

The main digital board: there is plent of chips and memory.

The digital board bottom. Everything is SMD...

As you can see from the detailed picture on the left there are many big chips on this board. Among them I have identified a V54C365164 VEI7, which should be a Mosel-Vitelic 4 bank synchronous DRAM (4x 1Mbit x16) able to be clocked up to 166MHz; a Spansion SCD101 (flash memory?), a Fairchild FAN8036L (dual amp?) and, bigger than everything else, the SONY CXD9927R. Surfing internet I was not able to find any word on this chip. It looks like if Sony want to take some secret on it... Please, if you have any info on it, tell me (agostino dot manzato at libero dot it) what you have found. I think we can call it a DSD decoder, but I'm not sure even of that. Probably the 16 stages of digital filters that Sony claims for this player are implemented inside this IC. If someone will be so kind to send me the “service manual” I will appreciate it a lot!

But now I will show you something that you can't already find on Internet, that is, the output board of this XA5400ES player:

At a first glance I'm missing something... NO TUBES!.

Instead of my tubes there are at least 5 dual OPamp... sigh!

Left channel output: it uses 1.5 dual Burr Brown OPA 2132UA and 1 dual JRC2114.

The six blue electronics are ELNA 47uF 100V. The big brown are 470uF 16V.

Hey, look there: there is a Burr Brown DSD 1796 DAC chip!

The clock section is close to the DAC chip.

On literature I have found only that this player uses the equivalent of 6 normal stereo DACs (for a total of 12 “normal” DACs). I don't know what they mean, but I know what I see: this player uses the Burr Brown DSD 1796 DAC chip (available since 2003). It is a 24 bit DAC able to manage both PCM (e.g. 24 bit 8x oversampled via I2S) or DSD data (1 bit at 2.8 Mhz of sampling frequency), but I think that in this player it is fed always by a DSD stream (even with CD). It has balanced current outputs (4mA p-p of maximum value), so that an external I/V converter is needed, followed by an analogue Low Pass Filter.

I'm not sure of what follows, but from a first visual look it seems to me that one dual OPamp (maybe the BB 2132UA?) is used as I/V balanced converter, the other dual OPamp (the JRC2114?) is used as balanced output low pass filter and the remaining half BB 2132UA is used to sum the signals to make the unbalanced output. While the BB 2132 has a quite good reputation in hi-fi forums, the JRC2114 has not, so it should be not a stupid idea to replace it. If so, I don't understand why Sony has not used simply 5 BB 2132.

Dan Wright is designing a 2k$ mod for this player which includes a tube output stage (with 6SN7) powered by a tube regulated external supply. This is told to be giant killer, and I can believe it, since I have listened some of the great Mod Wright preamps, but -unfortunately- it is far out of my budget! Dan told me that the first things one should improve on this player are the clock and the output OPamp (probably the JRC2114?), possibly bypassing the output caps (which I have not identified).

As possible upgrades for the JRC2114 I have read very well of the followings OPamps: BB2132, OPA627 (on dual Browndog adaptor), AD823, AD826, LM6172 and LME49720. I don't have any experience in -SMD!- OPamp-rolling and I'm not sure if all these are compatible with the JRC2114 pins (I believe that the power supply are +-12V), so any suggestion/experience is welcome!

As possible clock upgrade, here follows some famous units:

LClock XO: http://www.octave-electronics.com/lcaudio/intlcl.shtml

New Class D: http://www.newclassd.com/index.php?page=33

Guido's Tent Labs xo2.2: http://www.tentlabs.com/Products/cdupgrade/xo2xo3/index.html

Audiocom Superclock 4S: http://www.audiocom-uk.com/product_detail.asp?id=8

Trichord: http://www.trichordresearch.com/cdupgrades.html

I have no experience with any clock upgrade and I don't know if all of them are compatible with this unit. Again, every suggestion/experience is welcome! Another possibility is to replace the full output stage with a better one, like could eventually be the LC ZAPfilter Mk2.

Maybe that also some resistors and caps of the low pass output stage could be improved to better components. Lastly, I believe that some Black-Gate (NH and NX) bypassing caps could help to reduce even more any possible supply noise, but one have to find the right places for them (any help?). Not to speak of the weird RCA output sockets...

For now... this is the End!

P.S. If you really insist to ask me “HOW DOES IT SOUNDS?” I can tell you only my first 4-days opinion (I opened it the second day!), after saying that people claims a 500 (five hundreds) hours of break-in before that the best performance are achieved. Well, the first thing that impressed me was the strong but not unnatural low-frequency response: very rich and powerful. The first thing that I didn't like was a not-so-shining high-frequency response, with a not-so-huge soundstage, in particular when playing standard CDs. Lastly, I was really impressed of how the SACD layer of my FIM, AliaVox and Pentatone records was playing a much better music of what I was used to listen in their CD layer! From this very first impression, it seems to me a very good SACD player, but probably not a so good CD player (e.g. Like the Burmester 001 that I have listened in the NEL Audio shop). It really needs more burn-in and -maybe- some good mods on the output board!

Tino © June 2009