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Reviewer: Paul Candy
Digital Source: Rotel RCD-971 as transport, Audio Zone DAC-1, PS Audio DL III DAC w/ Cullen Circuits Stage Three Mod
Analog Source: Pro-Ject RPM 5 turntable, Pro-Ject Speed Box, Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage, Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge
Amps: Manley Labs Mahi, Wyred 4 Sound SX-1000 monos [in for review], Audiomat Opéra Référence integrated
Preamp: Manley Labs Shrimp
Speakers: Green Mountain Audio Callisto (on sand filled Skylan stands), (2) REL Q108 Mk II subwoofers.
Headphones: Grado SR-60, Sennheiser HD 580 [on loan].
Cables: Audience Maestro interconnects & speaker cables, SilverFi interconnects, Auditorium 23 speaker cables, Stereovox XV2 digital.
Power Cables: Audience e powerChord, Harmonic Technology AC-10 Fantasy, GutWire Power Clef², GutWire C Clef.
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier rack.
Powerline conditioning: Audience aR1p AC conditioner, BPT Pure Power Center w/Wattgate 381 outlets, Bybee Quantum Purifiers and ERS cloth, GutWire MaxCon.
Sundry accessories: Grand Prix Audio APEX footers, Acoustic Revive RR-77 ULF pulse generator, Isoclean fuses, Caig Pro Gold, Auric Illuminator, Audio Magic/Quantum Physics Noise Disruptors, dedicated AC line with Wattgate 381 outlet, Echo Busters acoustic room treatments.
Room size: 11' x 18' x 8', long wall setup, suspended hardwood floors with large area rug, walls are standard Canuck drywall over Fiberglass insulation.
Review component retail: CDN$599

I stumbled across the subject of today's review quite by accident. While perusing Canadian distributor Charisma Audio's website for the skinny on Scheu's various analog offerings, I spied a new series of compact Shanling components aimed predominantly at headphone users. Offered were two headphone amps plus today's PCD3000A CDP. What really caught my eye with that was the price: CDN$599.

Constructed of nicely finished black aluminum, the PCD3000A measures a nicely compact 322mm (L) x 210mm (W) x 70mm (H) and weighs in at 3.4kg. The rear panel sports gold-plated RCA connectors for analog and digital outputs. Also provided is an IEC power inlet. The front panel features a pleasant blue LED display that is defeatable via the included remote, power on/off toggle, headphone output and a rather ingenious multi-function metal toggle. To open or close the tray, push the toggle. Flip it up to play, flip it down to stop, flip it right or left to advance track forward or back. I loved this toggle!

Under the hood sit the ubiquitous Philips CDM 12.10 transport and CD7 II servo system. The DAC is Burr-Brown's PCM1738 while the I/V and analog output stages use Burr-Brown OPA 604 and 2604 opamps. I'd have preferred discrete circuits in these crucial areas but I am not complaining at this price. The headphone circuit features a TPA6120 headphone driver while an ALPS Type 27 potentiometer with 0.5dB accuracy handles volume control. That's right; the PCD3000A has a volume control thus allowing the user to drive their amp(s) direct sans preamp. Thankfully, this feature is implemented in the analog rather than digital domain and controlled via remote. The display will indicate volume levels. Lifting the lid off, I was generally impressed with the layout considering the dearth of real estate. The drawer and disc mechanism were quiet in operation. I did not detect weird noises or odd behavior during the review period. Beefs? Just a couple. The display only indicates elapsed time and the volume control circuit cannot be bypassed. However, it is bypassed when using the digital output. As I happened to have a pair of Wyred 4 Sound SX-1000 monos in for review, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to put together a compact stripped-down digital system with the wee Shanling driving the ICE-powered monos.

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All these features and great price would be for naught if the PCD3000A sounded like crap. It most assuredly does not. Sure, spending more will generally buy you better performance but again, within this price range, the li'l Shanling was more than acceptable. Overall, the PCD3000A was generally lively yet also smooth and non-fatiguing, with no glaringly obvious problems. But then again nothing really stood out and blew me away either. Sure, it fell short in definition and focus which somewhat limited musical insights. However, the PCD3000A was overall enjoyable and any sins were of omission, not commission. Rather than try to be all things for everyone, the 3000 smartly steers towards the warmer, slightly veiled side of the ledger. A sensible idea in this price range.

Resolution was decent enough to reveal the inner pulse of music and instrumental timbre. However, the Shanling tended to soften the leading edges of transients and blur textures. This reinforced the smooth, forgiving nature of this player. The top end was extended and fairly detailed but lacked some of the refinement and transparency of more expensive players. I also noted a little hardness on occasion. This was particularly noticeable with complex music with plenty of upper-band information such as Elliot Carter's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra [BMG/Arte Nova ANO 277730] that requires not only an open mind but also a good deal of effort and concentration on the part of the listener. Traits such as focus, resolution and transparency are paramount here to unravel this challenging score.

The all-important midrange was where the Shanling scored high. Vocal and instrumental timbre was more than acceptable and there was welcome freedom from glare or undue edge. In the bottom end, the Shanling was surprisingly weighty with good extension and punch that belied its modest size. Do not let the compact dimensions fool you. This ain't no sonic pansy. On well-recorded acoustic discs such as Jordi Savall's sublime offering of various Boccherini pieces [Alia Vox AV9845] or Andrew Davis's powerful recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams' haunting Symphony No. 6 [Warner/Apex 927-49584-2], I did miss the dimensionality and more vividly fleshed-out tonal colors I hear from Cullen's pimped-out PS Audio DLIII. Again, irrespective of price, the Shanling conveyed the overall flow and emotion of the recordings and there was none of the edgy, brittle glassiness that plagued digital in this price range years ago.

The Shanling's forgiving presentation was helpful in making musically terrific but sonically exorable recordings such as British Sea Power's Decline of British Sea Power [Rough Trade RTA 30025-2] listenable. Better to round the edges off this sonic dog than have ice picks jammed through your skull. Hooking up the Cullen modded DAC to the Shanling brought the overall musical presentation to a new level. I wouldn't say it was of the heavens opened up and shone golden light from on high variety but still a very noticeable and cost-effective
improvement. Dynamics, focus, dimensionality, resolution and texture all improved. The bass reached lower with greater grip too. In addition, music emerged from a noticeably quieter background. Therefore retrieval of low-level information was superior to the Shanling without DLIII. This was no surprise. The Cullen is considerably more expensive and has the benefit of separate power supplies. Nevertheless, the wee Shanling more than held its own and was easily the equal of my 10-year old Rotel player which I believe originally sold for CDN$900. By the way, the PCD3000A and Cullen DLIII made a nice compact pairing that performed better than their prices would suggest. Audio Zone's filterless DAC-1 was also a fine match if you hanker for that characteristically smooth and sweet NOS sound.

As a transport, I found little to differentiate from other players in the sub $1500 range. The best by far in my experience have been the CEC products, particularly the TL51X and TL53Z which possess a thoroughly beguiling presentation, certainly among the most musical of players/transports I have sampled. The only caveat is the belt in their drive mechanisms will require replacement at some point.

I have limited experience with headphone stages but if memory serves, the most
impressive has been the wonderful one tucked into the supremely musical Leben CS-300X integrated. The Shanling's headphone output was a trifle thin and two-dimensional but still more than listenable considering the price. It sure sounded better than my laptop! However, that was with my Grado SR-60 cans, which are a decent entry-level component but hardly ambitious. Charisma Audio's Bernard Li lent me his set of Sennheiser HD 580 headphones late in the review and my assessment of the Shanling's headphone stage changed significantly. Perhaps my Grados were a little flat and thin? I obtained a considerably richer and more dimensional performance from the Sennheisers. Instrumental and vocal timbres also improved. Overall, I obtained greater musical insight and enjoyment with the HD 580s connected to the Shanling. What initially seemed a merely so-so headphone stage dramatically morphed into a rather decent one. No doubt inserting a dedicated outboard headphone stage such as Shanling's PH1000 or the tube-equipped PH3000 would take the performance up a notch or two but the PCD3000 was quite good on its own. Clearly, the inclusion of the headphone stage was not a mere afterthought as with most mass-market players but a deliberate effort to offer sound quality at least equal to that of the component output.

I also used the Shanling with a pair of Wyred 4 Sound SX-1000 monoblocks (review coming soon) without preamp for a minimalist CD player/amp package. There was plenty of useful play with the remote's volume control. Dialing in a precise level was a snap. I won't lie to you and say I didn't miss an active preamp but this stripped-down trio was darn impressive. Speed, detail and dynamics were indeed outstanding. I'll have more to say in my forthcoming review of the monos.

Frankly, the PCD3000A sounds as good as just about any player I've heard in the $1000 range. In fact, overall performance easily surpassed what I recall from previous generations of Redbook players that sold for around the same price or higher. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the Shanling enough to purchase it for a second small system. If you are looking for a compact, inexpensive CD player/transport with a decent headphone output and the thought of using a laptop computer for music playback induces lower intestinal distress, do check out the Shanling PCD3000A.

Quality of packing: Well packed in a sturdy cardboard box.
Reusability of packing: Appears to be reusable several times.
Quality of owner's manual: More than adequate.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Website comments: Decent pictures and useful info.
Warranty: One year parts & labor.
Human interactions: Professional, helpful and friendly.
Pricing: Very reasonable
Final comments & suggestions: Track and disc time remaining info on the display would be welcomed.
Canadian importer's website
Shanling website