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Deconstructing the CEC

sept 6th 2009

My newest baby, my pride and joy.

A warm round of applause please - for the CEC TL1X

I was vacationing in wonderful, hot, wild, crazy, spicy and supercool New York City and I planned in advance to bring something for my system.
US market is incredibly rich in high end goods, but the shipping charges plus the box throwing couriers and reluctant owners refusing to ship - make a personal visit necessary. Plus as a bonus you get a chance to buy a Samsonite suitcase for 120 bucks to carry your extra payload  - try this in Europe.

So prior to the trip (family vacations) after a couple of days of browsing the USA I decided for the CEC.

This is my absolute transport dream from 15 years ago. I drooled over the Stereophile review, so I HAD TO HAVE IT.
Not only my CEC was priced ok, not only it was in Manhattan, not only it was the top variant - champaigne gold and 1X, but it was also ABSOLUTELY MINT.

A nice trip to totally changed Harlem, clean, safe and friendly, and one hour later I found myself carrying 40 pounds of drop dead gorgeous aluminium toy. Thanks to Tim for good business.
The owner - did not fully understand what he owned - but to understand why - read on.  (I mean he took the CEC to be what they said in Stereophile)

C.E.C. TL-1X

Whoooa. What a gadget. Remember the legend? It goes like this: "CEC made the world's first belt driven transport, where similarly to vinyl turntables - the CD turntable is driven by a remote motor via a rubber belt. Thanks to the belt - it sounds like analog, smooth, easy on the ear, liquid and definitely - High  End."
The CEC in reality belongs to Sanyo, as revealed a label under the CEC label, so it is a Sanyo kind of a Lexus. Or Lexus kind of a Sanyo.

Here is the Stereophile link to a review which made CEC a commercial success. A blessing from Mr. Harley - was enough to jump--start the newcomer company.

Belt or not - C.E.C. TL-1X looks pretty, with its quarter inch alu panels, curved shapes, high mass, sliding doors, gigantic puck and spartan buttonology.  Could a CD look any better than this - NO!

It is like with pretty girls - pretty as they may be, we have a temptation to peep under the skirt, don't we ? So lets do it. Nothing inappropriate with this babe.

Below is a beautiful , belt driven CD section.

Above - the capacitors are from SANYO, but no oscons here. Lets hope these are good enough. Power supply is on separate PCB and it is a CEC job. Nice but nothing to write home about. I was able to switch from 110 to 230 V in one easy switch of a plug. Nice.  Sadly - the power supply quality is rather poor, there are 4 regulators: +5, +6, -6 and +24V.
The problem is that almost all electronics uses this one +6 V power so it is almos as good as one supply for all player.
In addition to that - the electrolytes dont have any bypass and are not from LOW ESR breed, so the noise rejection is poor.
There is no AC treatment at the input - no capacitor, no choke, no varistor either.
There is no choke or coil after regulators - just one cheap electrolite and thats all.
Man, I have seen better supplies. Even in players as cheap as Sony CDP-227ESD. Cec spared five dollars worth of parts in their flagship player.

Above - the 120 - 230 v switch

The transformer sits in a black steel cube - I cant judge it. It looks solid but looks can be deceiving. Like with the motor......

Above is the main PCB - like all CEC - it is a Sanyo. Strangely - world top transports are almost all Sanyo. Mephisto 2, Shigaraki Clone, Roksan ROK-DP1 and CEC chose Sanyo as vendor of laser and mechanism.

You notice some parts missing - they were removed and placed on separate small PCB attached to the back panel as OUTPUT SHAPING BOARD. Remember this one for later.

This PCB is just BEGGING for oscons (maintaining nicely the Sanyo pedigree.) The PCB does not have CEC signature. It is a standard boombox PCB - cheap and messy, it was for 100% taken from another sanyo cd player.

I have finally replaced all caps with Sanyo oscon SE series. It does sound better - cleaner, smother, more magical.

Below you see two chips which perform output SPDIF signal shaping buffer.

Below you see the whole small output PCB for  S/PDIF signal shaping buffer.

As you see above - CEC has (from the left on the photo) coax RCA for spdif, Toslink high end version of block (silverish box) , and AES/EBU symmetrical balanced digital output too.
The two black cubes are output transformers.

Above is the famous belt transport in full glory.
Left black motor is for spindle, right one is for tracking. So far - so good.

Above is ze transformer.

The arrow points to the rubber cushions supporting the mechanism. Nice but not too sophisticated, I mean boomboxes have similar thing too.

Sanyo laser under magnifying glass looks really GREAT. It is so well made, that even Sony may blush.
All laser is built onto a cast alloy sub-assembly.

The laser does not have the magnetic rails a'la Sony, but the plastic linear snail gears moved by the rubber belt again. Point for CEC.

The exposed legend - rubber belt transport. And oh - what a super duper motor that is !

CEC TL-1X transport

The spindle is extremely solid and strong, with gigantic bearing underneath to support  the one pound puck.

WAIT A SECOND !!!!!! What is this ????  After removing two screws - a small chinese mabuchi motor for 2 dollars comes out!
Hey CEC, are you cheating like almost everybody else ? Couldn't they source a brushless motor? Booooooooo.

From now on - things ONLY GET WORSE. Prepare yourself for a shock.

CEC TL-1X transport

The above mentioned output shaping SPDIF board which is attached to rear panel has the usual set of parts - isolation transformer, series caps, logical repeater pulse chips and resistors. I mean, this PCB does not PRODUCE spdif signal, it tries to improve it.
In my experience these circuits do not improve anything - the best SPDIF is the ORIGINAL one, where it is being generated. Any additional circuitry can only spoil it. Read about that HERE  .   But lets check this one......

CEC TL-1X transport

Yes folks - this miserable trace is the chinch S/PDIF signal - but WHY IS IT NOT SQUARE ?!?!?!?!?!?!

Above is the AES/EBU balanced trace. Completely different from S/PDIF but again - far from square.

I CANT TAKE THIS. Why?!?!?!? Why me?!

Anyhow - my trip to New York was worth the fun of improving the CEC.
You probably heard the general opinion : CEC sounds very analog, very smooth, but people complain about the bass. It is wooly, ill-defined, without power, weight and authority.
That's the only reason why these toys show up on ebay at all. The bass issue.

Here is the bitter truth: CEC sounds smooth and analog like NOT because of the belt thing, but because CEC engineers modified the SPDIF trace to be unrecognizable as square. They filtered it and reshaped it to be without the low square harmonic fundamental. So DACS read it but lack bass. This is the fake analog smoothness which was created to fool people into the belt bullshit story.  And NOBODY EVER discovered this. Am I the first one to use a scope? Stereophile did not bother, mr. Guru Harley drooled over the belt legend in the same way he drooled over the THETA bullshit.

After a day of experiments I was able to arrive to the point when the trace looks like this:

TADADADADADADA drums rolling - here comes the Lampizator version of the CEC TL-1x......

Looks better, doesn't it ?

Here is the trick - remove the yellow wire from the socket and wire it to output RCA chinch socket (hot pin) .
Use from yellow wire a 250 Ohms to RCA in series, and 75 Ohms across RCA hot and cold. Keep the remaining wires in the socket. This way the real S/PDIF signal comes BYPASSING the whole shitty fake signal generator. What a RELIEF this is !!!

Above is the GND point which I wired to the RCA ground.
No more crap - this is a bare naked spdif at its best.

Back to Listening to the modified  CEC TL-1X

The CEC was compared to Theta Universal transport (my bass reference) and to Sony CDP-xa5es - my overall transport reference.

The CEC trashes the Theta in the bass, and in all other departments as well. No contest.

The same for Sony. Cec wins with one hand tied behind the back. It is that good. All bass problems disappeared, while there is still beautiful musical mid, space, depth, stereo, goose bumps, magic - you name it.

My hotrodded Behringer with Lampizator sings beautifully now. I am so happy that despite discovering a crappy motor and unbelievably terrible stock trace of spdif - I can call CEC the winner and the keeper. I am not parting with it no matter what.

I feel sorry for Mr. Tim who lost such gem for so little money. And for all those folks who bought it for 5000 dollars and live with this bad sound it produces as stock.

Dear CEC - since you spent 95 % of the budget on golden chassis, even screws have golden threads - you could have bought a better motor and omit the output PCB as I did.

But would there be anything interesting for me to write ?????
And for you to read ?

Doctor jet legged Lampizator in the state of bliss.

A month later:

After a month I went further and I upgraded all capacitors with Oscons, and the three largest raw power supply caps with Nichicon 3 x the size. I bypassed them with tantalum bypass (on power PCB) and I also built a separate power for the clock: The output shaping PCB attached to the back wall of the player has the separate clock already built. It was only lacking separate power supply.  (the quarts is very unusually shaped as a small and very thin cyllinder) The clock signal is then fed BACK to the mother PCB by the  red wire. So I cut the orange wire with 5V supply from common PCB supply and I have added the new 5V regulated supply, using 12V from the power board as a source. So my clock has now individual supply and all is great.

CEC TL-1X Cd Player

The digital chip which controlls the player and produces SPDIF is the Yamaha YM7121C

It should also get the dedicated supply line which I will add later. The supply pins for yamaha are: for VDD : 3, 32, 72,  and for VSS: 77, 29, 52 .
Digital out is on pin 49 th (5 V PP)
The datasheet is here:

CEC TL-1X Cd Player

The other chip which is black because it was painted black -  I checked -is a Sanyo demodulator. Somehow I am not surprized because laser is sanyo as well.

See it revealed !

CEC TL-1X Cd Player

The whole main PCB in stock form. No regulators, no ferrites, no premium caps, NOTHING of highend pretensions.  It is just a pcb.

CEC TL-1X Cd Player

X101 used to be the clock which was moved to the small PCB on back wall. It can be moved back here because we don't need it so far away.
I did not do it yet. The black wire brings the clock signal back from the remore clock.

Above is the remotely mounted  clock. Q is for quartz, T is for signal isolation transformer (evil !!!)

CEC TL-1X Cd Player

The arrow shows where the spdif signal is closest to the source Yamaha chip. Take it from here , lift the right end of the jumper and solder the wire to the lifted end. Take it to RCA by 250/75 ohm resistor Lpad - 250 series, 75 parallel.

Black caps are removed, orange tanmtalums go in - 100 uF / 10 V.

CEC TL-1X Cd Player

Tantalized pcb.

CEC TL-1X Cd Player

Three tantalums went to the power supply PCB after the regulators.

Tantalum bypass is on SECOND CEC pcb where instead of large tantalums I used Rubycons 3300 uF low ESR caps.

Second power PCB wit black rubycons.

Second CEC with oscons everywhere. I had two versions to compare - orange Tantalum and oscons.

Two CEC machines competing - Tantalum version and oscon version.
At the time of writing - no conclusion emerged yet.
It will come soon.

Sony unfortunately was second best in this contest. CEC is better.

Behringer DAC serving as test processor for my evaluation.

The final word:

the sound of CEC is outstanding. It betters all my transports by  now.
It is more natural and liquid than the best ones I know - the Theta and the Sony XA5ES and 7ES. It beats to no end the Teac T1 with cheap VRDS and superclock from Trichord. It is somehow close to Mephisto1 with all my work done on it and it was not compared to the superb Mephisto2.
The most apparent feature of the sound is the magical presence in the room, transparency, very very deep and controlled bass, and resolution allowing to hear the hiss of master tapes.
Overall - a mix of solid construction and bullshit - the CEC is my favourite transport after even only one mod - bypass of digital out transformer. This is a one minute mod anyone can do.

Half year later

I have lived with the CEC and I confirm all the good things I already wrote about it.

I have some second thoughts observations and even one theory:

1. The motor issue: I think I know why CEC sounds so different from other players - what makes it SO GOOD.
Since it has the heaviest puck in CD kingdom,  I believe that it is THE PUCK that makes it sound great. Everyone else writing about THE BELT story - seems to overlook the pook (a rhyme).  Furthermore, to benefit from the puck's ability to smoothen out the minuscule speed variations in between motor magnetic stators (unevenly spread around) - it is beneficial to have WEAK MOTOR.
Yes, the key to CEC success is the most extreme ratio of puck weight to motor torque.  (high ratio). For sure the biggest ratio of all players in existence.
I suspect that electric motors do not rotate smoothly - depending on the magnetic construction, the motor speed varies - it "jumps" in a similar way the seconds hand in the clock does. It is impossible (very costly) to make a smoothly revolving motor, hence they choose the easier way - the puck .
So contrary to my stupid, uneducated and rude comments - using a strong motor would defy the whole point and "clock jump the puck" again.
Vive la moteur inferieur !
In fact - this is where the belt comes to the picture - the belt is a rubber, it is elastic, and so it amortizes (dampens) the motor irregularities which can not effectively accelerate or slow down the heavy puck.  The Puck is a FLYWHEEL of the player.
Such effect is not achievable with any other technique or technology however expensive.
An even higher degree of speed smoothing is used by the strangest turntable - the VOYD REFERENCE. It also has three small motors and 3 belts. Why 3 ? Probably, each one has the point of high / low torque as it rotates - delayed by 1/3 of phase so together they run semi smoothly, while the belts of different lengths further smooth things out.  (Needless to say it is a great turntable, Audionote deck of choice.)

But I digress.

Second observation: you can upgrade the caps from the power supply board really freely, and also add a AC filter LC. But be careful when messing with the signal PCB - the caps which work in the laser reading circuit and servo circuit and motor circuit - CAN NOT BE UPGRADED WITH DIFFERENT SIZES. generally avoid the space between two big things with radiators - the integrated servo mechanism. Or just change the cap size 1:1

Only caps that you know are in chip PSU can be of different sizes (oh it feels good to oversize !!)

Third observation: I had at home for a week the CEC TL-1 without X - the old one.
It differs visually - it has a square display window, not the horizontal slot like TL-1X. It also has different buttons.
It is the INSIDE however that matters - and believe you me : they are practically the same.
Unless there is one critical part different which I haven't noticed - that's the same laser, same mechanism, same PCB. Same capacitors and parts, same quartz.
Differences are not for me worth the second hand price gap:
NonX has no AES-EBU connector
The quartz and separation transformer are on main PCB where the X had empty places. There is NO additional output shaping board. The same circuitry is already un main board.
There is no 120/230 easy switch.
The PSU is 10 % less sophisticated - less regulators etc.

What is important - the puck of the X is half the weight and quarter of the torque momentum of the X.  Which means a quarter of the flywheel effect.
All in all - if you are ebay hunting - the non X is as good as X especially after some tuning. I could not tell the audible difference after treating both similarly by caps and my other works.

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