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This review first appeared in the August 2007 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with whereby they will translate and publish select reviews of ours while we reciprocate with one or two of theirs each month. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end auto-links to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of - Ed.

Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Source: Audiomeca Obsession II, Creek Destiny, Sonneteer Bryon
Amplification: Accuphase E-212, C.E.C. AMP5300, Myryad MXI2080, Lua 4040C
Loudspeakers: Thiel CS 2.4, Eclipse TD712z, Sehring 703 SE
Cables: Line level - Straight Wire Virtuoso, Zaolla Reinsilber NF; high level - Ortofon SPK 500, Fast Audio Compact6M, HMS Al Cinema
Review component retail: 1,998 EU

Belt bust
I would not call myself a nostalgic. Yet at times, my mind kicks into reverse gear to find itself inexplicably deep in the 80s. I then invariably recall my electronics background. "Energieanlagen Elektroniker" my job description put it. Alas and much to my surprise and chagrin, advanced detailing of electronics wasn't to be much on the menu. My focus would be so-called "Schütze", fist-sized clunky relays for motor actuation. Ha, Mechanicals Incorporated. I can't be sure but assume that nowadays, such technology has devolved into mere foot notes of musty parts catalogues rather than continue to feature in modern job training (although manufaktum still does list such parts).

The changeover happened back then, away from relay-driven switching with discrete parts to so-called programmable switching without mechanical gears. Hifi manufacture too followed similar changes. Established hands-on technologies based on dad's school books suddenly became suspect and found themselves competing with the less tangible digital solutions embodied in CD players. This changing of the guard in consumer electronics also hit C.E.C., a firm founded in 1954 by Takada-San of Tokyo. C.E.C. was specialized in the fabrication of turntable drives and anything but a minor player, rather counting themselves among the biggest makers of vinyl playback kit at the end of the 80s.

C.E.C. and the dawn of belt drive
By 1983 already, C.E.C. had presented its first CD player, not yet belt-powered but fitted with a Sanyo drive. Introducing belt drive occurred in the 90s to parallel the dissolution of turntable manufacture. Launched in 1991, the 12,000 Deutsch Mark TL1 became the first CD belt drive, a solution for which the firm has since become famous.

To nip misapprehensions in the bud: C.E.C.'s oft-cited patents naturally don't focus on belt drive per se -- that subject is wide open to competitors -- but rather, implementation. The grand daddy of today's TL51XR (with belt, naturally) was the TL5000. It entered the market in the mid 90s for roughly 3,000DM. Little has changed disc spinner wise though that's not true for the D/A conversion.

The C.E.C. TL51XR
The 10kg TL51XR sports two Burr-Brown 24/192 PCM 1796 chips in dual mono. And once again we encounter señor Carlos Candeias whose LEF load-effect-free technology frees a circuit from needing an end-to-end dual differential architecture. The single-ended class A output stage is intrinsic to the LEF concept. (For detail freaks: Higher bias current shifts the load line of a solitary class A transistor which handles the full signal to avoid zero crossing shifts from phase splits where phase and anti-phase are handled by discrete devices). Candeias' amplification modules are impossible to overlook [below right] whereas the belt drive itself is harder to make out beneath the hood, requiring further screw driver action. I was content to admire the rubber through a few slits [below left].

As per C.E.C., belt drive increases isolation between drive motor and spindle not merely mechanically but also by undermining electromagnetic cross coupling of currents. Regarding bad vibes, even the bottom plate of the enclosure elicits a lazy flat 'plock' during the knuckle test. A small opening in the underside demonstrates how this plate is a multi-layer construct.

Part of the Japanese concept is the CD puck. Forget to install it and noisy clatter will remind you promptly once you hit play. This clamp improves spindle coupling and mechanical damping. Increased mass also nets a bigger flywheel effect.

All in all, C.E.C. claims improved jitter, reduced error correction interpolations and significantly better S/N ratio for its mechanical implements. Should you allow the TL51XR to turn its back, you'll appreciate its comprehensive connectivity. Besides digital Toslink, coax, AES/EBU and one super link terminal, you'll spot three items of interest - 1./ the symmetrical outputs; 2./ C.E.C trademark dual-diff circuitry ahead of it, not a given with XRL connectors; 3./ properly chassis-mounted, widely spaced RCA outputs. The latter are a real relief.

For an intermediate impression, let's stress how it's not always mandatory to hail from China to pack real material substance for the buyer's hard-earned EUs.
Slots reveal drive belt

About which, how does the C.E.C. TL51XR fare on the sound 'o' euro meter?
Already apparent during burn-in was the utter absence of all ubiquitous hardness. Rarely do I cross paths with a player that's so enjoyable from the get. Whether you'll agree I can't know but many players, more so in the lower price classes, continue to strike me as too excited or even hectic well past their burn-in. Think nervousness prior to a 1st semester verbal exam. While discrete sonic actions might be well resolved without misstepping tonally, I often want for relaxation. Such players appear too busy, forgetful of unveiling individual tones in all their complex layers. Besides sustained tension, such fretful chappies often add artifice and aloofness. Whenever image density is amiss, even the finest of tiny noises and details (carbon copies in my view) turn analytical.

Very commendably, not so with the C.E.C. TL51XR. It'd be the rare listener who mistakes this machine for analytical. Nonetheless, there's no loss of fine detail, to misappropriate a well-known German loudspeaker maker's tagline. To my ears, the C.E.C TL51XR is exceptionally refined especially in the midrange and treble bands. It takes its time to recover ambiance around tones and nails true verisimilitude even on very complex signals. I don't mind tipping my hand this early by calling the Japanese exceptional compared to other players in its price class. "The lower box sounds better" was the laconic verdict of my pointy-eared lady friend who briefly tolerated a quickie profiling. Indeed, the C.E.C. TL51XR was sitting on the rack's lowest shelf. But not so hasty...

Bottom plate recess shows layered construction
Who are these flowers for? ... asks Blixa Bargeld in the eponymous song by Einstürzende Neubauten. Fact after a few bars: My cherished Audiomeca and C.E.C. TL51RX would have to share floral spoils. The song kicks off with percussion and a charged rhythm is pounded out on metal. Via the Audiomeca, this sounds synthesized. Why bother to drag real metal into the studio when it can be electronically simulated? The C.E.C. TL51XR will have you in doubt. Strapped to the Sehring 703SE, there's uncanny authenticity and the metal clangs gain in body. Put plainly, there's more there there - more information, more stuff in the harmonic envelope. It sounds anything but sparse.

Rather, it's fulsome, warm and tacit. Granted, whacking away on metallic objects doesn't sound too sexy and I wouldn't spend hours on it but once the voice enters and the arrangement thickens, what was true for the intro continued. The C.E.C TL51XR lit up musical actions more completely, down to the molecules as it were. This created more tactile sonic mass. Even though it's a cliché, it sounded more analogue...

Know the "Legendary Pink Dots"?
Not? This Brit band living in Holland now is more than 20 years old and one of my faves - but you'll need a penchant for drawling deliveries. Cue up "Damien", five minutes packed with piano, guitar, sax, percussion, vocal and electronic sound snippets. I had to catch myself repeatedly because the cymbals seemed both more corporeal and finely filigreed than usual. I remembered things smaller and sharper. Voice and guitar too were rendered unusually full yet defined, completely seamless and coherent. The saxophone's brassiness over the belt driver seemed quite 'thick', the instrument fat and tangible to echo my sentiments on the metal clangs in Neubauten.

The of-a-piece cast of the soundstage is another quality of the Japanese which this particular track celebrated. Even with music of such density, the performers had both feet on the ground, i.e. were precisely localized in space without turning into self-centered soloists. The C.E.C. TL51XR connected the dots and integrated the diverse performers into a cohesive union. This retraces an earlier comment. Due to its resolving power of fine detail, the C.E.C. simultaneously unravels subtle connections to provide the secret glue whereby complex musical threads become part of a greater super structure.

Nothing to criticize about the C.E.C. TL51XR?
Not quite. The lower bands don't crack as hard as grandma's apples shattered on the teeth. While bass drum, acoustic upright or subterranean synth warbles are all within its purview, other players in this class create more realistic slam, more definition, more presence in the bass. Though not dramatic, diehard rhythm fiends and massive attack aficionados should closely audition this machine to decide for themselves.

The C.E.C. TL51XR
  • Seems mechanically unusually elaborate
  • Avoids digititis like the plague
  • Is charactized by a profoundly relaxed, fulsome presentation
  • Illuminates mid and treble tones down to the molecules
  • Eschews analytic sharpness to propose the opposite: Detail done correctly supports organic musicality
  • Creates coherent, highly realistic dimensionality
  • Offers a strong bass foundation which ultimately lacks some impact and bounce

In toto and for its price class, the C.E.C. TL51XR offers extraordinary mid and high frequencies with rarely heard realism and brilliant resolution. Despite the latter, our Japanese refuses to ever get analytical. The only thing missing is the last word in bass definition though a bit of roundness in the bottom holds charms for quite a few.

Manufacturer's website