Review: Shanling CD-T100 CD Player

Category: Digital

Great box. No, boxes: it’s double. Inside there’s a solid block of what looks and feels like polyethylene foam, not just a pair of polystyrene caps for the ends of the unit. Not much chance of shipping damage with this package. And where’s the unit? Instead there are cavities for a large number of extras and accessories. Let’s see, here’s a pair of white gloves. Now that seems to be going a bit far, it’s not made of crystal, this machine, is it? Oh but there are tubes to install. Now I understand. For those who have never done it, you install a tube the way you do a halogen bulb. Make sure you don’t get any body oils on the glass or the tube’s life can be dramatically shortened.

Still at the top layer of the box, here’s the remote. Silver-coloured, long and slim, two or three dozen buttons. The numeric ones are little gold nipples in a darker surround, quite easy to distinguish by touch from the larger silver command buttons. Good thinking. (In use later on, the remote’s buttons prove to be quite well laid out, with volume, stop and the rest easy to find and learn.) More goodies: a chamois to keep the metal polished, a double demo disc... oboy, one of my favourite Jennifer Warnes tunes, Way Down Deep, is here in an HDCD version! Here’s the power cord. Wow, a premium cord, thick and heavy, with hospital-grade connectors. Looks good, and they didn’t need to do it. Few manufacturers include such a potentially expensive accessory even at this price, but a good cord makes a clear difference to sound quality. It’s another indication that the designers’ priorities are well chosen.

However they have paid a whole lot of attention to the visuals. As you lift off the top block of foam and pull the player out of the box you can see that its pictures don’t really do it justice. They make it look a tiny bit tackier than it really is. The thing doesn’t just breathe high end, it waves it out at you with both hands. There’s anodized aluminum, brushed stainless steel, gold plate, lucite, chrome and glass. It looks like a space station; it could have been inspired by the same marine drilling platform that gave Steven Spielberg the idea for the mother ship in Close Encounters. There are transformer pots like contained reactors, tube cages like condenser columns. There’s a cool little display window set into the narrow brushed metal front edge, for all the world like the windshield of a ship’s bridge, and there’s a disc clamp like a flying saucer. The designer clearly had fun.

Basic control functions are available from solid metal buttons on the player: play, pause, stop and skip. The rest are keyed from the remote. The machine is heavy, with most of the weight at the back where the transformers are. You can set it up on four flat corner pads or you can use three points. Two of these screw in, replacing two feet, and one slides under the bottom panel. All three have dimpled footplates, gold-plated like the points. Plating and machining are high quality. I use the points, replacing the two front feet, and place the player on the carefully-leveled top shelf of my Target T5 equipment rack. The IEC power connector fits nicely.

The five RCA jacks on the rear panel are surface mounted, not set into the chassis. They are gold-plated, American-made and labeled CMC SuperCU. There are two stereo sets, one marked CD Audio Out and the other T. Amp Audio Out. These are both high-level analog outputs: the first are solid state and the second use the unit’s tube amp. Both can be plugged simultaneously into your preamp inputs. You can then choose your favourite output pair as you listen, but your second pair of interconnects must be as good as the first to make this a meaningful way to compare. A final RCA jack on the back panel is labeled Coaxial Out and is intended for an external converter. As I plug the Neutrik connectors of my Ensemble Masterflux cables into the CD Out jacks, I notice a sticker marked “Export Edition!”. Perhaps this unit is not identical to the ones sold in China.

Over the first weeks of listening that led to this review I try both sets of outputs without developing a clear preference, most often using the pair labeled CD Out. There generally seems to be a bit more detail available through these, but in contrast, the T. Amp outputs seem very slightly warmer. I am not yet ready to say one set is clearly better than the other.

Besides choosing a pair of outputs, a decision also needs to be made about tubes. I have opted for an upgrade, a set of NOS Western Electric 2C51/396A tubes to replace the stock Chinese ones. I decide to install the upgrade right away. These tubes are only about half the size of the stock parts, and in order to set them in easily the “condenser towers” have to be partially disassembled using an Allen key. I do this carefully, so as not to mar the chrome plating. Each tower is made of four separate sections: a flat ring drilled at opposite points and two threaded spacers, so removing one ring doesn’t make the whole assembly collapse the way it would if the vertical supports were made of a single bolt with a sleeve. I take off two levels of each tower and manage to slip the little NOS tubes into the ceramic sockets using my new white gloves. The best tubes go into the left-side sockets; the right-side ones are for the headphone output and I’m not using that right now.

Breaking in the CD-T100 takes a long time. Initially the sound is pretty tame and I much prefer to spend my time with vinyl. After 100 hours things are better but tame still. I keep my hopes up. I’ve heard a well broken-in Shanling before and I know mine can do better. Two hundred hours of play after the first disc, the sound has become lively, colourful and involving.

Six weeks and over 200 hours of play later I come back from four days in the forest with my ears thoroughly rested. I decide it’s the ideal moment to perform an experiment to see which combination of outputs and tubes sounds best. I choose Karen Young singing Second Time Around, accompanied by the superb bassist Michel Donato. I start listening with the Chinese tubes and the T. Amp outputs. The music is clear and pleasant, with good detail. I know my system can throw up a bigger soundstage, the mids are perhaps a bit thin, the bassist and singer appear on the verge of losing each other on one tricky passage. I enjoy myself all the same; there is no hardness in the treble, no digital edge, the bass is quite clear, the rhythm and melody present and catchy.

I switch to the CD direct outputs, bypassing the tube amp. There is a new fullness to the voice and a richness of timbre that wasn’t there before. There is better control in the bass. The soundstage is bigger and more detail is available. There is a clearly audible moment when Ms. Young almost breathes too late and loses the beat, and the tension this creates is fun, involving. This combination is obviously preferable to the previous one. Now I swap the left-side Chinese tubes for NOS Western Electrics. This doesn’t change much if anything, and it shouldn’t: I’m still using the CD outputs, which bypass the tube amp. Time now to go back to the tube amp outputs to see what the NOS tubes have done for the music.

Ah. Oh. This combination is way more open. The music has moved back and spread out. It has a much more relaxed quality where up to now it has been a bit too assertive in comparison. The voice is even more natural, Ms. Young’s breathing sounds less forced and she seems to be having an easier time singing, as though she has suddenly gotten better at her work. Michel Donato is trying less hard to impress and has started to play bass with effortless rhythm and definition. He and the singer are naturals together, they never miss a step. The soundstage is much, much bigger. I like this! Conclusion: without an NOS tube upgrade, use the CD Out outputs on your CD-T100. Otherwise a NOS upgrade is well worth it, a measure that will make your player sound much better for less than the price of a premium power cord.

My entire CD collection has been stolen three days before I get my Shanling player and while the insurance settlement is pending I do not attempt to replace the discs I know well. Most of my listening is therefore done with new discs. I pay attention to frequency extension, detail, image, timing and rhythm, harmonics, timbres and overall coherence and musicality. In my system, the CD-T100 delivers them all. I hear no hardness in the treble. Bass is tight, firm and melodic. On recordings with spatial information, like the Beethoven piano sonatas played by Robert Silverman on Orpheum Masters, there is a fine sense of a three-dimensional event. Even on studio recordings, though, like Gianmaria Testa’s Lampo, instruments and voices have a pleasing fleshed-out nature. This last disc has a very well-recorded male voice. Harmonies are seductive and instrumental timbres and textures very fine on the Decca recording of the Albinoni Opus 9 concertos played by Andrew Manze and the Academy. The Shostakovich String Quartets by the Emerson Quartet on DG have wonderful rhythm and dissonant harmony. There is terrific drive along with melody and vocal detail on Passionate Kisses from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Party Doll. A recording which falls apart if timing and bass extension are poor is Le Temps Passé from Michel Jonasz’ La Fabuleuse Histoire de Mister Swing, but the CD-T100 makes it hang together perfectly. Harmony is delicious and grouped voices and brass beautifully coherent on the Huelgas Ensemble’s recording of the Padovano 24-voice mass. I listen to Eva Cassidy’s version of Stormy Monday for the first time with this player and it floors me with its timing and emotion, as it has so many other people. My girlfriend on the couch next to me was just as breathless as I was.

The remote offers a strategically-placed button which lets you switch on-the-fly to 24/96 upsampling from play at the normal Red Book 16-bit/44.1 kHz rate. There is a slight lag in use as the player does the operation, and a blue indicator light appears on the front panel. It’s interesting to explore the difference between the two modes. I come to prefer upsampling slightly, because of a sense of increased air, precision and occasionally instrumental weight, but the difference is initially hard to pin down and for some discs is inconsequential. This switch button also has to be used to turn off upsampling if you want to hear HDCD discs properly, since upsampling loses the extra information encoded on HDCD discs. Another blue indicator light on the front panel comes on if the disc is HDCD, but this only happens if upsampling is off. It is hard for me to see at a distance which light is on, and in one case I listened to an HDCD disc without turning off upsampling and missed the extra information. (I had overlooked the HDCD logo on the printed insert.) In case you’re wondering, it sounded much better when I played it in HDCD.

I’m going to wind up by saying what I like best and what I like least about this player. First of all, its performance-to-price ratio is terrific. I have not heard any other in its price range which sounds as good, and there are more expensive machines, including some very highly-rated ones, which to my ear offer no more music. Musically then, and especially with NOS tubes, the CD-T100 provides a genuinely involving experience on the best discs and can keep me listening for hours. This is high praise indeed, since my other main source is a Linn LP-12 Lingo along with an excellent phono stage and a good collection of vinyl.

Lastly, the only things I don’t like about the CD-T100 have to do with light, not sound. First, the colour and placement of the two blue indicator lights next to each other on the front panel, while aesthetic, don’t let me see clearly whether upsampling or HDCD is in operation. A last minor quibble is the fact that the machine is a considerable light source. Although the alphanumeric display can be dimmed with the remote, it is the least of the machine’s light-emitting elements. I’m going to have to get a screen for my equipment rack if I want to listen to CDs in the dark, and if I do that the remote won’t work.

Associated gear
Klyne SK-5A preamp
Sima Celeste W-4070se amplifier
Meadowlark Shearwater Hot Rod speakers
Ensemble Masterflux interconnects
Ensemble Voiceflux speaker cables
I'm sorry to hear about your CD's being stolen, I hope you get a good settlement from insurance. I have to say, that was one of the most informative, measured, and interesting product reviews I've ever read. Bravo!
A very complete and enjoyable review. I feel as if I know the player without ever hearing it. The sense of fun with your objectivity made me read every word. Well done, indeed. Bummer about the stolen cd's......regards, Bluenose
What CD player did you have in your system before the Shanling? You mentioned in the review that you had heard other high end CD players that sounded no better than the Shanling, can you tell us what they were?
Hi this is Stewart from SOS and I also want to congratulate you on a very good review. I am glad to see there are Audiophiles out there that give a piece of gear time to properly burn in before doing a review. As you put more hours on the Shanling it will sound even better.

It is unfortunate that one of the most stunning things about the player, the blue halo around the platter, is counterproductive to what you like. Being that I am using Pass Amps which also have a large blue glow it is a match made in heaven, sonically and aesthetically.

Having anything stolen is always a drag. But the positive aspect is that you probably had a part of your collection that you are pleased to be without, so you get to replace what you loved and try lots of new stuff.
What are the dimensions and weight of the machine?
Thanks all, for your responses and your encouragement. This is my first published review. I took time trying to get it right and I' m really glad it hit the spot for you.

Thanks also for your sympathy on my loss. My CD's are slowly being replaced and Stewart is right, there is a silver lining to the cloud. I only regretted that my usual evaluation software was not available for the review.

I don't really like making comparisons in writing when a good impression of a unit can be conveyed without them and when the whole point is to use the part of your brain which listens, not the part which reads and analyzes. But here goes anyway. Other high end players I have heard and still remember well include the Linn CD12, which unfortunately I liked better than any other player I had ever heard. Another setup which is better than most others is the Ensemble transport and Dichrono DAC. Apart from that, I have listened to the comparably-priced Linn Genki, whose best characteristic seemed to be PRAT. On the level of detail, timbres and relaxed musicality I really preferred the CD-T100. Another player I know slightly is the Moon Eclipse, which I remember as sounding much like the Shanling, especially the SS outputs. It is more expensive, of course. Then there's the Linn Ikemi, which is a terrific player and may match the Shanling in many categories. Heck, it may beat it, but I am happy enough with the CD-T100 that I'm not much interested in the comparison right now.

My previous player was a Cambridge DiscMagic transport and IsoMagic DAC with a plastic optical clock-locking cable between them and a Wireworld Gold Starlight III digital interconnect. Total price less than the Shanling. That setup actually had a lot of good qualities. To my ears, the Shanling beat it on harmonies, bass extension and weight, digital artifacts and a bit on soundstage, but not by a mile in any of those categories. It was the sum of them all that made the difference.

The player is approximately 18 inches by 11.5 inches by 4.5 inches--I just went and measured it with a tape, so published specs may be slightly different. But that gives an idea. I don't have a scale so I can't weigh the player at home ( and I don't really want to truck it over to the fruit and vegetable store today ). But it must be close to twenty pounds.

I don't actually dislike the blue halo. Aesthetically the whole machine is a success, including the blue lights. I find them tiring only when I myself am tired after working very late and decide to listen to music instead of going straight to bed. It's then that listening in the dark becomes attractive. In future versions perhaps the company will make it possible to turn all the lights off, the way you can dim the alphanumeric display right now. In the meantime, I'm sure I can find a satisfactory workaround.
I did purchase on of those for the same reason (aesthetic) . I kept it 2 monrhs for running it in. But I desperately waited for any good bass to come.
Nothing happened . I tweaked, changed cable (by the way the Ac cable given with the CD-T100 is just the same nice-looking , poor performance) ... nothing better.
Conclusion : This (very) nice thing does not produce music , merely some boring sounds. Hopefully my dealer took it back at puchasing price (Major advantage of that Shanling there are so few on the market that it is really easy to get rid from it).
Finally I got that Audio Aero to replace my old krell KPS 30i , and -whow- it made quite a change!
My advise : keep the shanling for its look may be as a bedside light , and find yourself a (real) good CD player.
I'm sorry you weren't able to hear any bass from your player, Jimbo--I hope your unit wasn't broken. (BTW, the stock Shanling tubes do not supply as much low end as the WE396A's.) Whatever the reason, our experience seems to have been different, but I'm glad you have now got a player whose sound you like. I would just like to make it clear that I bought my CD-T100 for its sound; looks were definitely secondary.

You are quite right that the stock AC cable can be improved on. (When I did this I heard better bass extension and weight, incidentally.) However the stock cable is still very much better than the ones that the great majority of high-end manufacturers supply with their units. I have swapped it for the stock (molded) cord on my second player, a Shanling CD-S100, and got a big improvement in clarity and soundstage.
I trued the WE 396a and also the Western Electric 2C51 which i found slighly superior. None did anything to the bass extension. Bass are missing in that shandling, but it is not the worse : the worse is that this CDP does not (re)produce emotion , it is definitely not musical at all.
The sound is accurate but awfully "dry". Even a cheap Philips is softer than that. I thought first it needed a long burn-in, I kept it two months and it was very dissapointing to check that nothing bettered.
That dryness is so much the opposite of the warm and smooth sound and look and feel of the tubes !
Listen : the sound is softer on the transistor output !!!
You can tweak it as much as you want, I am pretty sure that the way they chose or dedigned the output op'amps circuit is THE issue. Components change may not even be sufficient to make it sound what it should ( and deserve regarding it's outstanding look).
So , you are happy with the CDT-100 , this probably indicates that there is room for some other improvements in your system before discovering the shandling weaknesses.
Your experiment with the AC cable indicate the direction you should follow, starting with trying some alternative power amplifiers.

Tobias- nice review.

Jimbo-- perhaps the reason you didn't like it is in YOUR system?

I've not heard the CD player, but sheesh, Jimbo, go back and re-read what you posted from Tobias' point of view. You sound like sortof an ass.
Yes he does.
Ok , I have to agree with you : the problem is my system : it is too good.
You know the best system only reproduces what the weaker item allows to reproduce . That is why I realised how weak the shandling was compared to the rest of my system.
Now if your system is weak , the CDT100 may well be sufficient, but beware if you ever plan to improve it next, then the CDT100 may become the problem.
CDT-100 is not performing well enough.That's all I can say.
Jimbo, your point about amplification is an interesting one; I have in fact upgraded my power amp since this review. My new equipment is tubed, and bass is less powerful and extended, although very satisfying all the same, in my humble opinion. Everything else is much better. I conclude that the CD-T100 reveals still more music when the associated equipment is improved.

I cannot disagree with you when you say there are better CD players. Perhaps you can even find a better-sounding one at the same price; I would expect this to happen eventually anyway, as a result of continuing research and development. And I wholeheartedly agree with your approach to choosing a player, which, if I understand it correctly, is to use your ears. IMO a review should help you choose what to listen to, *before* you make a decision to purchase. I would never want to buy sound equipment simply because of what I read about it.

Finally, without knowing more about your system, it's hard to follow you when you say the Shanling sounds disappointing because your associated equipment is too good. That may well be true--you probably have the kind of system most of us only dream about--but in that case, weren't you hoping for a bit too much at this price point?
Well Tobias I do think your new tube amp is to be re-tweaked : check your tubes , expecially the driver ones, revise your cabling system. You should get a reasonnable amount and qualitity of bass from tubes. May be your previous transistor amp was a bit "heavy" on the low medium and the improvement you experience shows that bass should be looked after somewhere else.
I have got both Krell (300W/ch) and Audio Note (18W/ch) amps and I tell you the AN has a better bass slam than the Krell.
I agree with you that we all should listen before buying that is why , concerning that Shanling I wanted to make clear in this Forum about the lack of musicality and teh weak bass end.
The distribution of CD-T100 is so confidential and the availability so low you have merely no chance to try it at your home .
You will therefore try to make up your mind reading those posts and some press or webzine articles.
They are far too favourable to the CD-T100 (IMHO).

Having been very dissapointed, I would like People willing to acquire should to also consider those 2 points :
1- why are so many tweaks, tubes evolutions and electronic kits proposed for it ( after all if it's so good it should not need those )?
2- whay are so many CD-T100 being sold -brand new- second hand so quickly after its introduction?

Well, that will be all on my part about that topic , I just hope my posts do restore some kind of equilibrium !
What speakers are you using with the AN tube amp?

Nobody had issue with your opinion. It is the manner in which you display your opinion that shows what an ass you are.

To answer your two questions-

1) People will roll tubes. People buying $1200 CD players want to mod them to make them sound a little better. Everyone wants something for nothing. People mod $5000 CD players, and roll tubes in $5000 amps. None of this means Tobias' review or his point of view is or is not valid. Ask yourself why his gushing review was well-recieved, while your counterpoint, which might be valid, is pissing people off. Read what you write before you click "submit as-is".

2) Why are there so many for sale? They're a hot item. Everyone's talking about them. This means there are 2 types of people selling them; 1) The guy who bought one because it was hot and decided he didn't want it or it didn't work with his system, or he thought it was a piece of crap, or maybe he liked it, but not as much as his other player. 2) The guy who's trying to buy low and sell high. It's called business.

You can't make a conclusive argument, Jimbo, because all you have is your opinion, and as we all know, opinions are like... well, they're like Jimbos.
You call it "gushing", mike1, and I'm blushing. I admit my review is a tad breathless... and I thank you for the honest comment. I'll remember it next time I write.

It's a big thrill to acquire a new component you enjoy, without feeling you've broken the bank. That doesn't have to get in the way of an honest appraisal.
I didn't mean anything negative by saying you were gushing, Tobias-- you obviously liked the player, but you told us why and spent some time writing the review. It's just irked me that Jimbo came in with his "mine is the only opinion that matters" attitude.
A question more than a review, I am enjoying my unmodified Shanling enormously. If that is because my system is defficient, so be it. The digital glare is gone and the midrange is great. It fits into my,shall I say, laid back system beautifully;
LP12/Origon Live Silver taper/dynavector D17( at the moment it's very sick in hospital, get well soon cards welcomed)
Shanling CDT 100
Creek t43 tuner
Graaf WBF one pre
Pass lab Aleph 3
Living Voice Auditorium speakers.
Observation and questions, everyone talks about WE 396a valves. I live in the UK,if you can find any at all, they are $400 a pair wholesale, I kid you not. Ive got some Sovtek valves to put on sometime.
Everyone talks about upgrading the power chord, any suggestions to what?
Interconnects, I'm leaning to re-cabling over time to Acoustic Zen, Silver Ref between the Shanling and pre, Matrix pre to power, any comments good or bad?
Finally I agree with Mike1, tweaking does'nt mean a product is bad, in this case I think it is that is good and you want it to be better.
A good discussion, better for being heated.
Power cords for the Shanling: I now use an Ensemble Powerflux FSF, which improved bass extension and gave better highs, timbres and dimension to the instruments. A similar cord on my Klyne SK-5A pre gave more of the same.

WE tubes (or valves to esteemed Brits): occasionally advertised here at rather less than the price you're talking. They are quite magical compared with other NOS (I've heard GE and Sylvania), but any NOS tube I've heard is better than stock.

Your system looks very much to my own taste (I have Shanling SP-80 monoblocs and Meadowlark Shearwater Hot Rods, also a Lingoed LP-12 with rewired and Heavy Weighted RB300 and a Cardas Heart). Your description of how your CD-T100 fit into it corresponds with my own impressions.
have heard a shanling cd-T100
dreadful sound and no emotion i' m afraid
the AR CD3 i heard on the same system ( LS15 PRE, VT 100 poweramp )was light years ahead
much cheaper (about 1000 euro) and very close to the AR CD3 was the AH NJOE TJOEB 4000!!

as for the design: looks very cheap - chinese kitch!!

but if you are happy with it that' s what counts most!!
Maybe you heard a CD-T100 from an early production run. I listened to a newer version and heard a great improvement over the unit I owned myself. If this is typical then you get a _lot_ more for your money now than youdid initially.
My goodness how it is difficult to take a decision about the Shanling CD-T100 after all what i read in this site. My problem is that the dealer does not want me to try it with my system before i buy it, i mean even if i heard this cd player at the dealer this will not help me a lot, because we don't have the same equipements....I have a Mcintosh amp, Mirage OM5 omnipolar speakers and i still hesitate a lot about it. Either i read a very nice review or a very bad one. Now my question is have you ever heard about the Shanling cd-t100 level 1 modification ??? it seem that result of this modification increase a lot the resolution and the open stage !!!! can you tell us your opinion about it ??? specially the price of this modification is almost $1000 more than the none modified one. Thank you
I raved about this player for looks and value, two years ago. Sorry, I haven't heard a modded version and I hesitate to go for the kind of mods you mention. It's a question of the value added--I really don't know how much can be gotten back at resale.

In my opinion the player represents an excellent value in stock form. It has, as I mentioned above, been steadily improved by the manufacturer, and the T100C model demoed at the Montreal show two weeks ago sounded much better than my original one. That makes mods less necessary.

Another mod option is available from Steve Nugent at Empirical Audio. Reports here of his work on the T200 are excellent, but it doesn't come cheap either.

I wonder why you don't feel your dealer can offer you a reliable demo. When I was evaluating CD players before buying the Shanling, I went around and listened to a good many, both more and less expensive. The associated equipment was all different from place to place, but I made notes on my response to the music as I went along, and in the end I felt I had enough info to make a decision. If the Shanling doesn't turn you on in the store, that could be a sign you should listen to other players--and possibly save up a bit more money to spend.