Review: Sony SCD-XA5400ES CD Player

Category: Digital

I love natural recordings that capture the full acoustic envelope of the performances. The Shostakovich Sonatas performed by Ax and YYMa comes to mind...the Sony portrays the entire event in such an unforced and natural manner that it triggers ones acoustic memory into believing it is real. A player that offers no tone color or openness would be my worst nightmare. I replaced my BAT VK D5 24 bit CDP and was amazed at how much resolution and color was lost on the older design. The Sony re-creates the space, music and acoustic tones with overtones so completely that you start to smile and realize that you have been given a great gift...a peak into the performance as it occured at the recording session. My opinion of the Sony applies as much for the redbook section as it does for the SACD section. This player will become a classic product for digital playback....much better it does not get! It's a keeper at any price,,,for $1500 USD it is a freakin steal. This is Sony's best effort to date and manages to break new ground in the digital domain:)

Associated gear
Wilson Sophia speakers
Krell 400xi amp
Harmonic Tech Cables
MIT Oracle AC 2 power cord

Similar products
Sony SCD-1
Sony SCD-XA9000ES
Sony SCD-XA777ES
Levinson 39, 390S, 360S
Wadia 851
Krell SACD Standard
BAT VK D524bit
Interesting, would you rate it significantly better than the SCD-1 on SACD?

How did it compare on redbook on the SCD-1.

Interested in knowing why you only compared it's cd section to the BAT while ignoring Krell and other Sony's?
Steelhead, the Sony SCD-XA5400ES was just another experiment for me in the latest digital offerings available to us audiophiles. At it's price point, it was an easy decision to give one a try. What strikes me about the new Sony is how utterly complete, vivid and distortion free the sound is while maintaining musicality, transparency and oodles of detail. The acoustic space of any given recording becomes as much a part of the sound as anything...refreshing! Piano is rendered so believably that I almost have to force open my eyes to check if someone didn't sneek a grand in-between my Sophias. The SACD-1 was fairly brilliant sounding and clear but without the deep rich harmonic textures of the XA5400. I can't believe that SONY could deliver such an amazing player for so little with a sound so engrossing that I wish every audiophile could hear one and understand the frivolity of pursueing other, would be state of the art players...this is as good as it needs to be, period!
Details, details, details. Are you using HDMI outputs or RCA? It seems a steal, especially since you can easily try it and send it back if not pleased, with no hassle. Since Sony controls the chip design, it will be hard for the other players to compete. Can't wait for Sony outlet pricing.
RCA sounds best, compared to the balanced outputs...don't know why but that seems to be the case. I am strictly 2 channel so my opinions only reflect such a perspective. FYI, I am using my Oracle AC 2 power cord on it which don't hurt either:) I only paid $1180 delivered from Kevin at American Theatre.
As the player has broken in it has really blossomed; so full of color, dynamic shadings galore, inner detail, grain and glare free, depth and imaging beyond reproach. This sucker challenges state of the art:)
The XA5400ES is superior to the Oppo 980H for multi-channel SACD via HDMI. However for RB CD it requires a 500 hour break in which I am doing at the moment. Out of the box the player is far too forceful with a too powerful bass piano sounds very clangy. However I have noticed considerable improvement after 140 hours. Will eventually post my take on a comparision with my favorite player a modified Marantz CD94 . 20 years old and still the most natural & musical for me.
Disbeliever, I agree the Sony takes a long time to settle in, but there was something very special about it right out of the box. It's rendering of tone, dynamic contrasts and transparency are uncanny! RB is as wonderfull as SACD, which is amazing. That said, keep in mind you may have to re-evaluate your system a bit to eek the best out of the player. I happen to have two of the best power cords available in my system...the Sony responds accordingly. I also wound up using ear selected cabling, as opposed to the usuall "Brand" purchase I normaly have done (and wasted good money on). I wound up with Monster Z200i interconnects RCA(which sounds better IMHO) and Monster M2.2s spkr cables which are freakin out of this world (better performance than my old Transparent reference and MIT Oracle V2.2's). The Z200i IC was better than my MIT Oracle V2.2 XLR IC @ $4600msrp!! Let me know your experiences as it breaks is a gift from the audio God's for me:)
I have been using a Sony SCD-XA777ES for several years and like it (and see you have it listed in your "similar products" used list), so I wondered how you might compare it to the new SCD-XA5400ES. Sorry if this question seems redundant.
Many thanks for your input!
Cleaner sounding with more acoustic and spatial information...other than that, not much. The777 looks way cool so I'd probably stick with it!
Stop the presses....I just hooked up a pair of MIT Magnum M1 proline balanced IC's and all I can say is my opinion of the XA5400ES has gone even higher. I can safely say the new Sony is one of THEE FINEST digital players available at any price...definately worth a try for the asking price! remember when the price of admission to the high end was reasonable?
Has anyone heard the 5400 pitted against the Cambridge 840c? I realize that the Sony does more things, but at the 1.5K mark, on red book CD, this would seem to be the natural competition.
My brother had one from audio advisor and returned it...the Sony has exceptional tone and texture with no glare or grain while the cambridge still had a sense of hardness in the upper frequencies.
Update on XA5400ES! Breakin is quite extensive with this player as in several hundred hours on RB and SACD sections. Also, I re-evaluated the cables and outputs now that the player is sounding more fully developed. Balanced is better, offering am enhanced sense of dynamic shadings with presence and fuller bass. As for the cables, even though the Z200i's are a great bargian, the winner by a country mile is MIT's Magnum M1 Proline IC' shattering performance that takes a great player into the top eschelon of the digital realm. In fact, with the MIT Magnum cables and a Transparent MM PC on the Sony, I consider it to be one of the few CDP's that can offer the ideal balance of warmth, transparency, detail, dimensionality, depth and imaging and tonal accuracy none:O) $1500 for this player affords you the unique thrill of being able to purchase the proper wires and still feel as though you have gotten a very large piece of the high end pie and for what amounts to mere chicken scratch in audiophile terms.
The XA5400ES is excellent with both Stereo & multi-channel SACD. However for RB CD I much prefer my 20 year old modified Marantz CD94.
It's tough giving up on an old friend:O)
Dave, please try to gracefully accept that others may prefer something contrary
to what you recommend.
Sorry, the old friend comment was meant sincerely. I loved my Krell SACD standard but gave it up for unreliability..I still miss the sound:O(
Hi Dave,

Have you compared the Sony to the Oppo players?

I just sold my 707 player....I loved the bottom end,had plenty of sock and ambient retrievel was wonderful with plenty of presence. I now use a DVP 9000es for a transport.
How do you think the 5400 compares to these sony's.

Also does the 5400 output the SACD to the digital out? My 9000 does not...just wondering because I use a tube dac also.

The XA5400 is world class good, as in you can't get much better at any price. Yes, SACD digital is output via HDMI only!
Sorry, Dave. I misinterpreted your comment as a dig.
No problem, I have alot of gear I loved and let go over the years that I wish I had back sometimes:O(
Hey Dave, my Krell SACD Standard Version 3 has been 100% reliable since I got it back... I'm not giving it up unless I get a EVO 505. I guess I got a good one...
That's great news Joeyboynj...enjot it in good health:O)
I've had one of these since November and I agree it is extraordinary. I listen in two channel via the regular L & R RCA jacks.

I have previously owned the XA777ES and the XA9000ES - both of which sounded the same to me in two channel. The XA5400ES improves upon these...gone completely is any slight softness often associated with DSD or SACD. The sound is very taught and crisp while also being smooth, revealing and easy to listen to.

This thing is a steal at its price. The only negative is it takes about 400-500 hours to break in.
Whilst I agree the XA5400ES is very good its real forte is multi-channel SACD (as stated in the March Hi-Fi News review)it is also superior to the Oppo 980H especially with a Sony H.A.T.S. receiver STR-DA5400ES provided it does not pack up as mine did.The RB CD performance is also improved when used with HATS .For RB CD I prefer my 20 year old modified Marantz CD94 which is also superior to the overweight latest Marantz SA-7S1 & the expensive dCs P8i. It will be interesting to read what Kal Rubinson 'Music in the Round' Stereophile has to say in April/May issues.
You must keep in mind that I am using the XA5400ES in a simple purist high end setup. I have a Transparent MM PC ($2250)connected to an isolated Wattgate outlet. My interconnect is an MIT Oracle V1.2 proline ($6500) which feeds the Sony into my balanced Krell 400xi which is connected by a MIT Oracle AC2 PC ($4200). Speaker cables are Sigma Retro ($3000) into Wilson Sophias($12500). Evaluations done using recievers and conventional connections will not hint at what it is capable of doing.
This player is on my short list, along with the Arcam CD37; Marantz SA-11 and 15s2, 8003; Bryston BCD-1 and Esoteric SA-10. I, too, will be using it via 2-channel analog. Were you able to audition in-store first, or did you buy without that? I haven't noticed anywhere to audition so far, only a couple of static displays. The unfortunately long break-in time is discouraging, but if the player is really that good (and only the Marantz 8003 is cheaper on my list) it might be worth it.
The player is very rewarding and I purchased on faith due to low price!
I have had the sony and a marantz sa-11s2 in my system for
the last 2 months. The 5400 just beats the sa-11 in most
areas after break-in,to my ears in my system. It gives the
impression of "being there" which i have not heard from
any other player I have auditioned.
It may not be perfect, but it is a stone cold high end bargain:O)
Humm....I had a Sony XA-777es a few years back, and I liked it. At the time SACD's were far and few between, so I ended up selling it after around a year.

I may have to give one of these new players (and SACD) a second chance.
Kal Rubinson, in the new issue of Stereophile, kicks the tires on the Sony XA5400ES player and declares it the best CD/SACD player he has heard to date...more to follow.
The Sony XA5400ES is an excellent player for both RB CD & SACD but only sounds best via HDMI I look forward to reading Kals review. May Stereophile not available in the UK untill the end of this month.
I just bought one on the 'gone at a great price; $300-$400 less than any other internet price. This player replaces my old Phillips SACD 1000 that had bitten the dust in typical fashion (a slow disintegration of functions and abilities).

I've had it for 48 hours and am in the process of burning it in. So far the SACD side is great and had a noticable improvement after playing for 24 hours.

The CD side is coming along although my 5 year old Ah! player with upsampler and Amperex tubes still wins. Do a search in reviews for more info. Out of the box I was not impressed by the CD side but am very hopeful now. The CD part is supposed to have a VERY long break in period. We'll see....

You should note that the player is not multichannel unless you are running HDMI to a home theater set-up. Otherwise this is a stereo player.

Build quality is good. Very heavy and deep although the sheet metal should have been dampened.

One quibble so far: On SACD you can get album and track titles scroll across the display but you have to page the remote to get there. IMO Sony should have allowed you to set a default display.

Be prepared to invest a lot of $ for software (SACD discs) that do not have a whole lot of titles and may or may not be a viable format. I have a lot of SACD discs, and I'd like to loose a box in my equipment rack so it made sense for me but it may not for you.

More to come after 200 hours....
The Sony needs as good a power cord and IC as you can afford to sound it's best. Some brass weights on top help anchor the sound a bit and reduce some smearing for better bass and soundstaging. If your system can allow the Sony to be heard properly I have no doubt you will be impressed. Tube output devices can euphonize the sound but can not deliver the complexity and agility of a well done SS player. Musical fidelity does a good job at melding both technologies together quite well, such as in their A5 CD player.
Tube output devices can euphonize the sound but can
not deliver the complexity and agility of a well done SS player.
Dave_b (System | Reviews | Threads | Answers)

Bssed on my experience with digital players built with tube output stages, I

A player's agility, and its ability to convey complex pasages is completely
dependent on the player's design, regardless of whether its output stage is
tubed or solid state.

A well designed and implemented tubed output stage can be more agile than
a solid state output stage, and vice versa. One should look at the attributes
of each individual player rather than generalize across the board.

The output impedance of the source and the input impedance of the preamp
(or amp if connected directly) will also affect the perceived agility of a player,
since high output impedance matched with low input impedance can result in
rolled off bass and highs which can translate to a perceived pack of agility,
clarity or complexity. This is why a solid state player can sound more agile to
more listeners, IMO, because more solid state players will optimally match
with a wider array of preamps due to the inherent lower output impedance of
solid state designs.

Therefore, one should look at the impedance match between a tubed
component and it's mating preamplifier before determining that the tubed
source component is somehow lacking agility or complexity. It could simply
be a poor impedance match, which could be ameliorated with a higher input
impedance preamp, or by using an impedance matching buffer made by
Burson (for example).
The power cord supplied with the UK XA5400ES is a total disgrace for this price product and such a poor fit that it will disconnect if accidently slightly touched. However I do not believe in expensive power cords all you need is a heavy duty one fitted with a 13 amp fuse in the UK.
Tvad makes good points and I can only speak from my own experiences with tubed players. I understand and have heard what a well designed tube player can offer, but at the end of the day it doesn't quite deliver an honest representation of the music for me:O)
Compared to some of my $15K products the Sony cord 'aint bad! A Transparent Powerlink MM will make the Sony into a world class player.
Thanks for your review. You indicated that you have compared the Sony to the Wadia 851. Could you describe the differences on CD and SACD? Also, have you heard the ARC CD7 or CD8? Or the dCS or Meitner players? Thanks!
The Sony has absolutely zero digital nasties and presents the music with uncanny resolution and dimensionality. The other players are great but sound either too bright or closed in and dull.
I was going to buy the xa5400es, then I saw the negative review by Dave_b on Agon and decided to go for the NAD55.

Good call... finally heard the sony and Dave_b is right, it lacks detail for the price point. Very ordinary and overpriced.
Is your comment meant to be amusing Aarif? If it is, I don't get it, if it isn't, I still don't get it.
Not sure what Aarif is smokin, but good luck with the NAD players...typical digital sound:O(
Now using a Transparent Powerlink MM and MIT V1.2 Proline IC's on my Sony, which is placed in a oak cabinet on top of a 4" thick butcher block support with composite felt feet...WOWZER!!! Put HiFi Tuning fuses into my Krell as well..even bigger results:O) State of the art dear A'Goners..the only limitations for the Sony is what you can or can't afford to feed it with or connect it to.
Roxy54 writes:
Is your comment meant to be amusing Aarif? If it is, I don't get it, if it isn't, I still don't get it.

You need to get out more. It was funny.

Ah, the ongoing evolution of the species made evident by the juvenile ramblings of the modern educational systems end products. Between the wit of Aarif and the miimalist threshold for humor exhibited by Metralla, we have bore witness to the inevitable decline of mankind. It also answeres the age old question for me of who watches Southpark.
There's nothing more to say, you just said it Dave. Thanks.
At least you know people are reading your review. I am actually interested in this player as a replacement for my much modified XA777ES.

Southpark? Definitely not.