The Philips CD100 was launched on the 1st October, 1982 – and with it the new Compact Disc format – and as far as the music industry was concerned it was not before time. The once-mighty LP format was on the wane; seven years earlier it has sold a breathtaking 91.6 million discs in the UK, but by 1981 sales had dropped to below 60 million, down nearly 10% year on year. Factor in the declining quality of vinyl, and the stage was set for the successful introduction of the shiny, new digital audio disc…
CD wasn’t a poor effort, either. The massive corporate might of Philips and Sony came together to package two bleeding-edge technologies into one consumer format. Philips did much of the development work on laser disc storage, while Sony made the digital coding side work. The ‘Red Book’ specification was signed off in 1980, defining CD as an optical disc storing 650MB of linear PCM audio in 12mm deep pits on a single sided, lacquer coated, 120mm diameter aluminium disc. This permitted up to 79.8 minutes of uncompressed stereo digital music at a bitrate of 1,411.2kbps. A 780nm semiconductor laser read the disc, which gave up to 99 tracks and the same number of index points. A 44.1kHz sampling frequency gave a frequency response of 20Hz to 22.05kHz, and the 16-bit word length made a theoretical dynamic range of 96dB possible.
Philips famously described the new format as giving “pure, perfect sound forever”, a claim that would go down in hi-fi folklore, and regularly ridiculed. In truth, it was far from this, but as far as most people were concerned, it was certainly excellent – suddenly hiss, end-of-record side distortion and pitch instability were things of an analogue past. The new CD100 ran dual 14-bit, 4 times oversampling DACs, which proved subjectively more agreeable than its Japanese rival, the Sony CDP-101. The player’s original swing-arm CDM0 mechanism was a masterpiece, one of the best ever CD transports and massively over engineered. The TD1540 DAC wasn’t half bad either, despite offering only 14-bit word lengths, and it came with an excellent filtering that was far less intrusive than some.
Surprisingly, many CD100s still work to this day, the transport and laser assembly having lasted far better than later ones. Even though the laser is no longer available, it isn’t usually the laser failing that stops the music, it’s the disc drive spindle motor. A properly working CD101 is a joy, with a smooth, warm and rather fluffy sound. That 14-bit treble isn’t as jagged as you might think – it actually sounds soft and silky albeit a bit diffuse and opaque. The bass of this Philips machine is superlative, massively strong and tuneful – few later players bettered it.
Operationally, the Philips is far more quirky. Its sound can pass for a modern machine, just, but the way it works seems positively prehistoric. Track access times are glacially slow by today’s standards, and the LED track indicators are quaint. Overall then, here’s a lovely little curio than still plays music in a very enjoyable way. It is still possible to find ‘low mileage’ examples out there for under £200, but you’re trusting to luck as there are no replacement spare parts available – unless you have another working machine. Its sound may not be pure or perfect, but sure is pleasant and long-lasting.