Review: Sony SC-D777es CD Player

Category: Digital

I was looking to compare a modded Sony to my non-modded Sony in order to determine if I wanted to go that route or go with a better external DAC, or another CDP. The other day, I got the chance to compare my non-modded Sony to the same Sony SCD-777ES with a mod from Jerry Osment, which was a tube analog mod that works for both redbook and SACD playback. I was told that a new clock was also installed and that the mod basically bypassed the Sony analog section so the mod comes directly from the Sony digital front end.

The system is dedicated for classical music but I did bring a Pat Barber and James Taylor CD just to use to compare some music I was more familiar with.

Simply put upon hearing the first notes, the modded Sony made my non-modded Sony sound like the sound was coming through a cardboard tube, like the ones that you get from paper towels. It was a bigger difference that my Sony 777 versus my 10 year old 10 disc Sony ES CD player. Between the 10 disc player I could hear differences such as better high frequencies, better bass, clarity, etc., but not like the entire sound stage caved in. Now I wish I had a modded Sony to bring home to my system to spend more time with and compare again.

So what did it sound like, well, very natural, much more dynamic, and the piano notes, etc., had more weight behind them as well as all other instruments. This was a humbling experience. I would never have beleived this because I never felt the Sony was that far off some of the best players, boy was I wrong, not even on the same planet, really.

I also did get a chance to compare both Sony 777ES players to the Forsell transport through the Purcell upsampler into the Audio Logic tube DAC. That was an even more magical sound on redbook CDs than the modded Sony but not to any great degree, just warmer sounding and more musical. The modded Sony really was modded for classical SACD music reproduction. I was told that the Forsell was a great transport and that it held an edge over using the Sony as a transport into the same Purcell and Audio Logic setup.

Hearing a system with 4 amps and 2 preamps with separate power supplies, cross-overs and separate subs was very eye opening. I had never hear a soundstage or reproduction of depth in a system like that before. The subs were played 6 feet back of the speakers which were placed for nearfield listening. The system was configured for classical music and less for imaging.

The point is, I really undestand what a better front end does in a system and how much the Sony mods can offer me. Probably better to mod the Sony (more cost effective) than to buy a better CD set-up, and if the mod can improve upon the sound of the SACD, even better. BTW, the Osment mod was around $1200. I am not sure if he is even doing the mod anymore but the price would probably be increased.

Hope you enjoyed this and Happy Listening.

Associated gear
Jadis preamps (2) separate power supplies (2), Jadiz tube mono blocks (2), (2) SS mono blocks, customer made speakers with separate subs (2) Sony SCD-777ES modded by Jerry Osment (tube analog mod), TG SLVR power AC, NBS top of the line ICs, Forsell CD transport, Purcell upsampler and Audio Logic DAC. Custom speaker cables tri-wire with custom cross-overs, inner tube tweaks with silicone and sand filled bases. All cables has isolation devices.

Similar products
Standard Sony SCD-777ES
I agree with Bigkidz on the improvement that is available over a stock Sony unit. In my case, I replaced a Krell DT-10 transport and Sonic Frontiers P-3 with the Sony SCD XA-777ES. The stock Sony was not nearly as clear, dynamic or involving as the Krell/SF combo. I sent the Sony to Dan Wright for the full blown $2600 Ultimate Truth mod and the results were far beyond my expectations. The modded Sony now was superior in all aspects (but one) to the old set-up! (The one exception is imaging. The old set-up would give me a pinpoint center image whereas the modded Sony's is a little wider).
I was so impressed that I'm on Dan's waiting list to add a tube output stage to my Philips SACD 1000 for my office.
Nice description of what you heard. One thing I'll note is that while my (Bigkidz paid me a visit) system is more geared to classical and naturally recorded music, the Audio Logic mod to the Sony is not so restricted, it sounds good with all types of music. I'd be curious to hear one of the Kern-modified players to see how much of the special qualities you describe are attributable to the tubed output stage vs. the improved analog stage. The main reason I've liked the Audio Logic DAC has been an "aliveness" to the sound that I have not really heard from a solid-state unit--but hey, I'm a tubehead anyway. In any event, I'm sure the modified units will rank up there with the best you can buy, as you're no longer using a unit that's being built to a price point. Just remember that you'll likely be losing the Sony warranty, but what price glory, right, and the modifiers may have their own warranties, at least on their work.
I'm considering having my 777 modified. I appreciate that putting premium parts in all the right places is a no-brainer, but you are still left with the basic digital architecture of the Sony and not the latest chipset, upsampling, and so forth. How much do those count for in the big scheme of things?
BigKidz, what you did not elaborate on is the difference between CD and SACD playback. Did you listen to any Hybrid disks in both modes and what did you find? Did you compare playback over the Forsell / Audiologic combo with playback in SACD on the modded Sony? Did you listen to the Sony used as a transpport on the Audiologic? This is relevant to me because I own an Audiologic converter and consider going SACD, but if this does not bring me an improvement over CD playback over the external Audiologic I'd be wasting my time.
Edorr: Bigkidz didn't get to do all that on my system when he was over (I'll let him give you his thoughts on the things we did listen to), but I have and can answer your questions from my experience over the last two-plus years with the units:

1. When I first got the Sony I listened for the differences between SACD and CD versions of the same disc to be sure I really thought SACD was worth investing in, and occasionally do that now as well to show people the difference. CD is very good on the unit, as far as CD goes, but is clearly not in the same sonic league as SACD or top-notch analog, principally in the areas of ambience retrieval, openness and ease of the presentation, dynamics and overall naturalness of sound. Just the limitation of the medium, I'm afraid. Using the Forsell and Purcell with the Audio Logic DAC narrows the difference a bit, to the point I wouldn't sell that setup for listening to CDs, but still doesn't get me to the point where the same recording on CD sounds nearly as good as the recording on SACD in all the areas mentioned. There are some discs on CD which can come close to SACD sound (Reference Recordings and Harmonia Mundi discs, among a few others) using the upsampler and Forsell, but they still sound artificial to me in terms of ambience retrieval in comparison to a well-recorded SACD disc.
2. I didn't show Bigkidz the difference with the Sony vs. the Forsell as a transport, but suffice it to say I did try them both and am keeping the Forsell (it's nice to keep the Sony in reserve, though, in case the Forsell gets tempermental). Remember, though, that the Forsell is highly tweaked to sound more like analog, with a huge soundstage and a "bloom" around instruments reminiscent of a good turntable (not quite the same, though). The Sony as a transport was good enough, but seemed more clinical, like a Levinson transport, in its presentation, lacking the analog qualities I noted above. If you have a Forsell or CEC transport with your Audio Logic, I don't think you'd want to replace it with the Sony, but if you don't mind the sound of a Levinson or similar transport, it could be a viable alternative sonically, in my view. Although you didn't ask, I'll note that using the Sony as a transport directly into the Audio Logic, without the Purcell upsampler, was very close to the sound of the modded unit playing by itself, probably losing out slightly in terms of bass definition and ultimate resolution, but not to the point where I'd take the time to change around the cables to run the Sony through the external DAC on a disc that the Forsell didn't want to play.

Drubin's question is a good one. I don't care about upsampling for redbook in the Sony because I have the Purcell, and I don't know if Sony is or will be offering it in its SACD players, but I do like its effect when done right on redbook (and I'm talking about the different filters and dither, not oversampling). As far as the better digital side, I just don't know much about what improvements have been made. Admittedly SACD is evolving, but I'm not so sure that the improvements on the digital side are revolutionary at this point, particularly with the focus shifting more to multi-channel reproduction. One possibility is to mod a newer model, but the newer ones I've seen aren't nearly as hefty or overbuilt in their layout as the original SCD-1 and 777ES models, leading me to wonder if other problems, such as isolation from mechanical resonances, etc., might be prevalent in the newer units and offset the benefits of the newer chipset. I know that there are some high-end types of SACD players coming out now (the Lindemann and Musical Fidelity units, for example) which are reputed to offer superb sonics, but I'm still not ready to invest big bucks in the medium until I know it's going to be here for a while, and the modded Sony really is more than good enough to use for the time being, being competitive with the best single-box units I've heard out there. So I don't think there's any really good answer I can give to the question, just my ultimate feeling that a well-modded player will be able to compete with anything out there for the forseeable future.
Who is Jerry Osment and where can I learn more about what he does?
Jerry Ozment is the designer of a number of DSD based DACs such as the Jadis JS-1, the Altis DACs (along with the late Howie Mandell-Jerry services Altis units now, I believe), the Thor DAC and his own company, Audio Logic. Most of his work involves tubes, although he was planning on releasing a solid state model at some point. I'm pretty sure Jerry's got a day job as a consultant in the electrical engineering industry, and is extremely well-regarded and knowledgable about digital sound reproduction, particularly DSD based. He's also quite a nice guy and easy to talk with. He doesn't have a web site that I know of; he's in Connecticut, and I reach him by phone at 203-966-1732. You should check the archives here and at AA about the Audio Logic DACs, they may give you an idea of his products. I've owned his products since 1994, first a prototype of his Audio Logic DAC built on an Altis Reference chasis, with tubes sticking out the top, then a Model 34 which I've upgraded to 2400 status. I think his products are extremely well-engineered, use very high quality parts and strike a nice balance between being detailed but musical, not analytic, and have a dimensionality and liveness that I've heard in very few components. Be aware that he probably doesn't do the Sony mod anymore, although he might reconsider.
Dollysowner, Jerry Osment firm is Audio Logic, based in new canaan, CT. You can call him at (203)966-1732. I can tell you for a fact though he does not do the SACD upgrades anymore though, since I just got of the phone with him.

RCprince, thanks for your reply. This puts me in a difficult position since I do in fact own a CEC transport, and do not want to take a step back (as you suggest I would be) on redbook by replacing it with the Sony as a transport. I also do not want to have a third (I also have a DVD player) transport just for playback of yet another format. Was the transport section of your Sony also modified? Is there anything that can be done to the Sony to get it to the level of the CEC that you're aware of? I spoke to the Sony modifiers and they seemed to be confident it can easily be done. Interesting point about upsampling, I considered going down that route, but according to Jerry this would make no difference over his converter. There are no easy answers here, thanks again for your input.
Edorr: Funny you should mention having three transports, that's what I have too! And I really only listen to a couple of DADs too-I'm very frustrated that format never got off the ground.

I didn't have the transport modified, mainly because I had the Forsell. I would imagine someone could modify the Sony mechanism to make it sound like someone else's unit, but I personally wouldn't want to take that chance. The CEC and Forsell units are pretty much special pieces, they really do mate well with the Audio Logic, and they're much nicer looking too!

Sorry I can't help you with your quandry. While I very much prefer SACD playback, as well as analog, to CD, I do have a large CD collection and prefer to maximize the enjoyment I can get out of it. I think the CD playback system you've got certainly does that.
I hope that Rcprince has answered the majority of everyones questions. Rcprince's system is quite substantial with basically four distinct channels, high end cabling, ioslation devices, etc. His speakers (with separate subs for each channel) and tri-wired front tweeter, rear firing tweeter and midrange are excellent for the type of music he prefers. Prprince also told me that Jerry does not believe in upsampling with his DACs but Rcprince has advised that the Purcell does add to the sound mostly for its filtering, as he wrote above. If I had the CEC or better transport than the Sony, I would get a tubed DAC (I want to add tubes in my system) and try an upsampler and that would be that. My comment implies that you will not know what you are missing until you compare them in your system side by side. In my system, Rcprince's CD set up would be it. I do not have that extensive of a SACD collection so unless you see the SACD format taking off, I would stay with the best CD player set up. I have never heard the Linn 12 but I would think that CD will never approach the top SACD format in the sound quailty that Rcprince describes.

For some of us who already own the Sony, the mods are cheaper than getting Rcprince's CD set up and if they can also help SACD playback, the better. I think that Dan Wright offers a tube output for the Sony for around $3000. So that maybe the cheapest option if you want to get into a tube CD player.