The early nineteen nineties was an interesting time for Compact Disc. Rather like ‘that difficult second album’, digital audio faced a dilemma as to how to evolve. Philips and Sony had come up with slick second generation machines, but these were evolutions of their first gen products and now it was time to wipe the slate clean and build new forward facing products for the nineties. One of the most interesting designs to come out of this period was the TEAC VRDS-10, which laid down a whole new set of expectations about how an audiophile silver disc spinner should look like, and how it should be built.
TEAC first premiered its Vibration-Free Rigid Disc Clamping System in the original late eighties P-1 transport, a beautiful product that was exquisitely well built inside and out. Philips machines were moving away from their over-engineered glory days, into more cost-cut mechanisms and at the same time TEAC came up with a silver disc drive that was built just as well as the first, legendary Philips CDM0. The VRDS-10 adopted the second generation of the VRDS mech, and sold for around £1,000 in the UK in the early nineties, quite successfully.
By 1992, the company wanted a range-topping one-box CD player and this was it. Effectively an evolution of the 10, it majored on superior construction quality while keeping the basic topology with a third-gen VRDS mech and 8x oversampling 20-bit DAC. It cost ¥250,000 in its native Japan, putting it against the likes of Sony’s fine CDP-X777ES, so was a premium design. In the UK, it retailed for a cool £2,000.
As you’d expect from a product of this price at this time, it sported large amounts of copper-plating inside with extensive vibration-damping and special adjustable feet. The casework was exquisitely finished solid aluminium, 5mm thick on the sides to give it great weight and a tank-like appearance. Round the back, there was a choice of RCA phono and balanced XLR analogue outputs, plus XLR (AES/EBU), coaxial, TOSLINK optical and coaxial digital outputs.
Sonically, the VRDS-20 isn’t as impressive as it looks. That’s not to say it’s poor, it’s just that rival designs from companies such as Marantz did better at the price. It has a big, powerful, confident sound with excellent, strong bass. Midband is clear and crisp and treble smooth and silky; all good, except the player doesn’t have the killer instinct as far as rhythms are concerned; the similarly priced Linn Karik of that period was a far more entertaining listen, even if it wasn’t quite as refined in a ‘hi-fi’ sort of way. All things considered though it’s still a lovely machine, and still serviceable with its Sony KSS-151A laser (still available if you look in the right places, for a princely sum). Prices on eBay start around £500, making it something of a bargain if you can find a good example.