When you think of a first-generation CD player, then it’s either Philips or Sony that springs to mind. However, there were many other machines that were sold to eager aspiring digiphiles, which didn’t receive the same attention or achieve similar sales success. Hitachi’s DA-1000 surely counts as ‘the best of the rest’ – indeed it’s a superb machine in its own right, showing great engineering depth that only consumer electronic giants such as this could manage.
Hitachi manufactured – and still does – vast numbers of electronic components which go into countless products from a huge variety of brands, all around the world. Back when the DA-1000 was launched, the sheer volume of integrated circuits it manufactured at its own plants in Japan was dizzying, not least because one of the most significant technologies in hi-fi was popularised by Hitachi – power MOSFETs. Even now many solid-state amplifiers use this technology. Unsurprisingly then, Hitachi’s first ever silver disc spinner was never going to be full of Sony or Philips bits – it was very largely bespoke…
The DA-1000 isn’t just a one-off either, because it appeared in OEM form for a wide range of other brands – a great many manufacturers paid Hitachi to put their name on one of its products. Among the clones were the Brandt DAD-001, Continental Edison DAD 9370, Denon DCD-2000, Dual CD 120, JVC XL-V1, Nordmende ADS 2000, Pathé Marconi LA-10 and Thomson AD100. The machine also appeared in Japan under Hitachi’s own high end hi-fi brand, Lo-d, as the DAD-1100K. Indeed, quite surprisingly, it is fair to say that this formed the basis of more first generation machines than any other CD player, including Philips and Sony. Perhaps it was only Hitachi’s relative lack of marketing muscle that meant it didn’t sell in anything like the numbers of Sony’s CD-P101 or Philips’ CD100.
Being a Hitachi, it had to have the company’s own bespoke bits inside its medium sized (320x145x234mm, 5.6kg) case – including the specially designed HA16633 16-bit digital converter. The transport was another custom assembly, using an all-alloy housing with a belt driven laser pick-up which is connected to the radial motor directly. There’s even a small service hatch provided, for easy replacement of the flat belt. The various circuitboards are well populated with ICs bearing the Hitachi logo, including error correction and demodulating and buffering chips, and plug nearly into a motherboard in the base, held by a frame. The wiring neatly unplugs, with each harness getting its own connector for ease of removal and replacement.
The motorised vertical front drawer loading is the star of the show, and an interesting alternative to the Philips CD100’s manual top loading or the Sony CD-P101’s motorised horizontal front drawer. The fascia is as retro as the digital dashboard of the Knight Rider car – if an early eighties David Hasselhoff had a CD player, then this would surely be it. To the left of the disc loader, which shows the disc spinning in all its laser high-tech beauty, there’s a ‘location indicator’ (as Hitachi puts it) showing the total percentage of the disc’s playing time that has elapsed in a graphical way. Beneath this is the time counter which gives the usual track time information via blue fluorescent digits, and small LEDs to the left of this illuminate for programme play and repeat. Beneath this is a row of twelve small LEDs indicating the output level of the player – unusually for a first generation machine, the DA-1000 had variable output.
To the far right of the disc loader are the transport controls – from bottom to top these comprise a large stop button with an inset pause control, and above this is the play button inset with track search controls. To the immediate left of these, just to the right of the disc loader, is a row of minor controls with include track programming functions and the volume control (there’s a small motorised potentiometer inside the unit, it isn’t done digitally). Immediately under the Hitachi brand name in blazoned on the upper right of the fascia, is the phrase ‘key in key computer control’ referring to the inset track search controls, just in case you hadn’t noticed!
The DA-1000 is fun to use in its own curious way, and surprisingly fast considering the snail-like track access speeds of the rival Philips machines. Sadly though, that’s where its superiority stops. Much has been written about the sound of first generation CD players – suffice to say it is variable. The original Phillips machines were the sweetest of the breed, while the Sony was bold and brash but less enjoyable. It was also variable too, due to production changes throughout its life, and the same can be said for the DA-1000. Indeed, there are actually two variants of this machine; halfway through the production run Hitachi switched to a Burr Brown DAC chip! The first phase of DA-1000s has the 16-bit Hitachi HA16633P DAC chip and a blue power button; the second phase got a Burr Brown PCM53P and a silver power button – although there is no sign of any other changes and Hitachi never referred to it as a new model.
Sonically, it’s a crisp, clean and well defined sounding machine. It has a strong and positive bass, one that puts many later CD players to shame. Trouble is, at the opposite end of the frequency range, it’s slightly ‘well lit’ and certainly wins no prizes for finesse. Treble is diffuse and unsophisticated – rather like a moving magnet cartridge compared to a good moving coil – rather than unpleasant. Between this there’s a well structured, detailed and surprisingly musical midband, and this makes listening fun – indeed it is more of an involving listen than perhaps one might expect. What it misses in refinement it more than makes up for in spirit – music is presented in a fast-paced and energetic way. You never forget you’re listening to something special, but the downside is the slightly processed sound that it shares in common with all Japanese machines of that era.
No one should buy a first generation silver disc spinner to use as an absolute reference, because they simply cannot compete. In most respects they’re a good way behind modern mid-price machines, and a number of budget machines do better in many respects too in terms of smoothness and detail resolution. Still, early CD does have real character, and the Hitachi DA-1000 is testament to this. Its charismatic sound makes for an engaging listen and of course it has loads of retro visual appeal too. As a kind of ‘retro space-age curio’, there’s little that can better this rare, and beautifully engineered classic machine.