Monday, August 20, 2018 10:52

Parasound’s Zcd: Little, lovely, and late

Here’s the CD player I spent months looking for a couple of years back.

I had downsized my east-of-the-Rockies abode in favor of expansive living in the spacious southwest. That limited my choices for audio electronics to gear that could be tucked into the width of a narrow (about 14 inches) Ikea Billy shelf unit. I cheated a little by putting my hefty B&K power amp (ST3030 series II) in the basement and controlling power to it from the listening room with a current-sensing smarts strip.

I obtained a very nice preamp and tuner from Toshiba’s 1980s vintage micro component series. They fit neatly, looked good, and performed as well as they looked. But there was no matching CD player back then and search as I would, I could not locate one that would fit the available width, except for battery portables of course but I was hoping for a bit more elegance of appearance and operation.

Parasound Zcd RearAfter trying and rejecting a few disastrous small and cheap DVD/CD players, I settled on a compact and moderately priced Sony DVD player. It fits, it looks okay, and it works. But its audio performance is as modest as its purchase price was. In fact, the sound quality suffers in comparison with music via Pandora delivered by the Roku device that has since replaced the tuner. (I found I had moved to an FM dead zone.)

Now here comes Parasound with this lovely little CD player for its Z Custom component line. I haven’t heard the zCD, but I’ve heard and used various other Parasound products and I am convinced the performance will prove to be tremendously better than any mass-marketed DVD/CD player of similar size.

That said, I can give you a virtual evaluation of the Parasound zCD based on photos, press releases, and detailed specs.

PROS:

  • Compact size. ‘Nuff said.
  • Control flexibility. It has two sets of analog output jacks: fixed and variable level. The variable level jacks are controlled by the supplied remote. This means that you can have a very basic, but high quality, audio system by using the zCD with a pair of carefully selected powered speakers. Using non-powered speakers with a stereo power amplifier will provide more choices and potentially better performance.
  • Input choices. There’s a USB port that can play back MP3 music files from most standard USB thumb drives. There’s also a 3.5 mm stereo input jack that can take audio signals from various devices for playback. (But see CONS below.)
  • Video out. If you have a composite video device attached, the zCD will send MP3 info to that display.

CONS:

  • Input locations. The USB port and mini stereo jack are on the back panel. Front panel access would a lot better. You could plug extensions to bring the access to a handier position but that would clutter the installation considerably. I imagine Parasound’s designers wanted to keep the front panel clean and visually balanced. I notice that the only buttons on the front are ones that one might logically use when standing directly in front of the machine: on/off, eject, stop, skip/scan back, skip/scan ahead, and play/pause. Fair enough. When compactness and performance are the major considerations, certain convenience matters may likely be compromised.
  • No FLAC support. MP3s are so 20th century. Sure we all use them, but most attentive listeners prefer FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) compression. I sure do and I’d be sad not to be able to use a FLAC file filled USB device with the zCD.
  • Slot load. This is more of a quibble than a con. It means that playing 3-inch mini CDs will likely require a clip-on plastic adapter ring…if you can find one.
  • Timing. This is partly personal, partly general. A couple of years ago I was frantic for a small, high quality, CD-only player. Now I have more and more music stored as the aforementioned FLAC files and have also become very attached to my carefully constructed Pandora stations (a subject for an upcoming post). I know I’m not alone in my move away from CDs (but curiously enough, not from LPs). My first reaction to Parasound’s zCD was “I’ve got to get one of these right away!” On further consideration, I’m not so sure. The product’s appeal is still strong, but I fear that some of it is nostalgia.

 

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