Review: Shanling CD-S100 Mk II CD Player
When it was available in North America, the Shanling CD-S100 cost $699 in Canadian dollars, and came to be placed at the top of its price class. That original player has been replaced by a Mark II version at CDN$999.
I owned a Shanling CD-S100 for nine months before selling it to buy a CD-S100 Mk II. Is it worth spending the extra money for the Mark II version? In a word, yes. In my opinion the new player represents a great big step towards the high end.
Both the S100 and the S100 MkII are remote-controlled. The cheaper S100 has a Philips CDM 12-10 transport controlled by a CD7 servo. Its D/A converter is a Burr-Brown 1732 24-bit/96kHz chip. The output stage uses OPA 2134 op amps. The S100 has HDCD decoding and built-in 24/96 upsampling, permanently swiched into the circuitry. It has an attractive low-profile design with a round display window in the center of the front panel. Its power cord is detachable and substituting an upmarket power cord allows extra detail to come through in the sound. The S100 is remarkable for true timbres and rhythmic drive, and it is even more remarkable as a value for money. Still more can be had from it with aftermarket upgrades to internal parts.
The CD-S100 MkII has a higher chassis, a thicker front panel, and it weighs a good deal more than the smaller player. Its display window is rectangular and is placed under the disc drawer. The front panel “On” button is actually a standby mode switch; the power switch is at the back on the left. Powering up turns a front panel LED red and pressing the standby button turns it green. This larger, more expensive player has a newer version of the Philips transport/servo system in the S100, a Burr-Brown 1738 decoder and OPA 604 op amps. HDCD is absent. There is 24/96 upsampling, switchable from the remote. The remote control is heavy, with larger buttons than the smaller player’s. You can also control volume from the remote. The three RCA output jacks on the back panel (one digital, two analog) are of excellent quality. The power cord is detachable.
It is worth noting the construction quality of the two players. The S100 is cleverly made. Note the detail in the photo of the front corner. The front panel looks like solid metal until you take the top plate off, when you see it is actually a folded plate. The execution of the metalwork is excellent and it appears the company has gone to some trouble to get it looking right.
The MkII version looks just as good, but for different reasons. It has a solid metal front panel, heavy and rigid--see the photo. The top plate and the rest of the chassis are similarly heavy-duty. Extra money spent on structural integrity does not necessarily show up at first glance, it’s not mentioned on a spec sheet and only careful buyers generally appreciate it. However solid construction makes a big difference in resonance control and isolation from vibration, both necessary for good sound. This is the feature of the S100 Mk II that suggests most clearly to me that the designers’ first priority was music.
A look at the internals of both players shows up several differences. The S100 has the same shielded power transformer and prefilter board as the MkII but the rest of the power supply circuitry is on the same board as the audio. The S100 Mark II’s transport is shielded. the original S100’s is not. Lots of space inside the box means reasonable isolation of the components in the S100, but the MkII has even better isolation while being much more overbuilt.
Does the different construction of the Mark II make a difference in sound? The MkII preserves the timbres and drive of the S100 but adds a new level of detail and realism. Voices have more presence and emotion, ensemble sounds are more coherent. There is warmth, harmony and an engaging realism : a better sense of a musical event. The S100 needs a power cord upgrade to provide a sense of hall sound but the MkII has that out of the box.
With the player initially installed in my classroom, I listened to Eva Cassidy’s version of “Fields of Gold” with a student who stayed late. We tried the S100 first, then the S100 Mk II. We were both silent after the Mk II's rendition. It was much more emotionally touching. The S100 is a dynamic player, it can get you dancing. The Mk II can do that, and it can touch you too. With the Mk II I noticed more extension and weight in the bass ; more natural, less sibilant highs ; a more neutral background and so more perceived detail. Notes last longer as they diminish and disappear, and more of their richness survives as they do. Voices are rounder. I think I noticed a strange effect of upsampling in the S100, a change in the soundstage, as though it were like a movie projected through a special-effects lens. This was absent in the Mk II, but I had switched upsampling off that time.
Switchable upsampling on the Mark II makes it possible to discover your preference, of course. Over time I came to prefer upsampling for most types of music, but I liked small instrumental ensembles, string quartets for example, without it. I didn’t use the remote volume control, preferring the sound when I used the amplifier’s volume control, but remote volume would be very convenient in some applications--a bedroom “lullaby system”, for example.
The original S100 did not seem to me to be a bad player—quite the contrary. I was delighted with its sound in my second system and could find nothing better at the price. However I gained a whole lot in musical involvement by moving to the S100 Mark II. In fact, the Mark II designation does not seem to me to do the player justice. I would prefer to think of it as a whole new player. It doesn’t look like the S100, and inside the box the only common elements are the transport mechanism, part of the power supply and perhaps the clock. All in all the S100 Mark II seems to me to be twice the player the S100 is, for a lot less than twice the money.
Van den Hul The Second interconnect, Century 21 Alpha 120 integrated amplifier, Audioquest Type 4 speaker cables, Aurum Cantus Leisure II SE monitors on Atlantis stands.
NAD 541i, Cambridge CD6