In the 1970s, for one TA-F7B sold there had been two thousand TA-1066 leaving the retailer's shelves.
In the 1980s and 1990s, many more CDP-205 and CDP-C37 were sold than CDP-557ESD or CDP-XA7ES.
It was like that in the 1960s, too, and this reality hasn't changed a bit in this here year of 2013 - except CD players aren't built that way anymore.
Sony's X7 series represented the bright tip of the emerged part of Sony's iceberg of sales : when that brand had market-shares upward of 60% depending on the segments considered. Yet, despite very high prices and often tortuous marketing, they were the ones that sold the most, too.
That dozen CDPs crystallized and embodied what "high-end digital" was about when major and minor brands could build and actually sell with very ample margins, every year, a few thousand big blocks of copper-loaded diecast aluminium music-making machines.
Back then, there was no upsampling, no multi-format compatibility or even embedded multi-channel trudges and albums still made most of the sales - like in the 1970s, only with a shiny 12cm disc instead of a 30cm LP.
Engineers did work with a fixed standard, so to speak, for nearly twenty years : they could (and did) refine and refine to no end without fear of abrupt disapearance or the need for compatibility with sixteen possibly upcoming variants - a very simple world.
Of course, Sony being Sony, some discrepancies and strange choices entered the series, if only because a fixed ES team of designers and engineers was only assembled in… 1986 !
But Sony's high-end CDPs sold better than any other brand's equivalent offerings. Everywhere, for fifteen years, hands down.
The reasons are multiple and range from Sony's precedence in PCM work from 1971 onward to an absolutely unmatched build and finish quality. Also the fact that Sony was the co-developer of the CD format which, however, really was a Philips invention. Of course, the reproduced sound quality, too !
Sony used Philips' TDA1541 ICs in many of its own CDPs and also used many BurrBrown ICs in others. But one doesn't think of blaming Pioneer or Kenwood for doing so as well. In true Sony tradition, whatever the parts, the goal remains musicality, long-term musicality.
No fireworks, no super-sound of the week : Sony is long-term.
So much so that if Toshiba and Sharp led at first in supplying laser diodes to almost everybody (including Sony), Sony quickly took the lead there as well with its KSS lasers and linear motor assemblies : there is some Sony in your Teac, in your Luxman and in your [.name your favorite brand here.].
Even oh-so praised Accuphase relied on Sony CDMs for all of its players and drives.
Long-term as well because the proven lifetime of Sony CDPs with upper-scale lasers & drives has run an average of twenty years.
My own CDP-R1 is running on its original 1987 laser, just as do my two CDP-X777ES ; that's 26 and 22 years, respectively, of daily service ! High-end like that ain't done no more : it still was a true craft.
However, alas, argh, sigh, the "economic bubble" which allowed so much to be poured into so little made burps in '87, some more in '89 and finally blew in '91.
The last of the "hi-fi years" went with it a couple of years after that and no manufacturer ever since has been willing (or able) to offer that much quality engineering, efficiency, reliability and an extremely high standard of musical reproduction abilities.
Normally, the "X7" should start with the 1983 CDP-701ES but it didn't : it is with the 552ESD that the formula got set, with the 555ESD that it did "gel" and the 557ESD that it was cast.
This means that the "7" acronym did indeed appear after the fact as Sony first stuck to the number "5" which is a lucky number in Japan. The export market, however, got "7" as the top ("6" in the US), "5" as the mid-level and "3" as entry-level.
The same applied to the integrated amps tuners and k7 decks but Sony got back to the "5" for its last two CD siblings… only in Japan - Sony is Sony is Sony is Sony :)
Marketers' silly madnesses aside, the "X7"s chronologically appeared as follows :
CDP-552ESD (aka CDP-650ESD)
CDP-553ESD (aka CDP-650ESDII)
CDP-555ESD (aka CDP-705ESD)
CDP-557ESD (aka CDP-707ESD)
CDP-X779ES (CDP-777ESA in Japan)
CDP-X707ES (CDP-777ESJ in Japan)
Led by the work made on the 1984/85 DAS-702ES and DAS-703ES outboard d/a, build-quality-wise the X7 series clearly peaked with 1986…1988 555 / 557 / X7 period ; it also is the period Sony developed and launched its Reference components - no wonder.
Before that it's a formula in the making ; after that a stream of improvements and fine-tuning moves despite some post-1990 cost-cutting. However, pop the lid up of an X779ES or XA7ES and you'd kill to get something "cost-cut" that way today !
Philips 16bit ICs were used in the 552ESD through the 555ESD and BurrBrowns in the 557ESD and X7ESD. Sony was then ready for what it had co-developed with NTT : the "Pulse" 1bit d/a + 45bit filters and DSPs which went first into the X77ES and the rest of the series while being greatly refined along the way - read the specific pages for detailed descriptions.
The first turning point is the 555ESD which used the first iteration of the famed "BU" mechanism which was in the works in the previous players but not formulated or built like that as they used the Cerasin compound as base.
There are at least six variants of this "BU + AL" assembly but, strictly speaking, the BU isn't the complete drive.
Sony named its CD drives as did Philips (CDM-x) even if these naturally had nothing to do with Philips :)
The version used for the 1984/85 generation of Sony CD players for instance was named CDM-4 ; the last one was the CDM-26, as used in the CDP-R10 masterpiece (and only in that one).
The "CDM" name, as used by Sony and unlike Philips, comprises everything from the loading assembly (tray, motor etc), the BU aluminium base (several versions there too) up to the spindle motor, laser diode and related PCBs.
Sony's "CDM" name represents more of an internal assembly code than the CD drive itself. And, again, there is nothing by, of or from Philips there : no swing-arm here !
Example : the drive in the CDP-R1 consists of three ensembles :
CDM4D-10 (entire loading assy, puck, base plate, PCBs etc) which holds...
BU-10 diecast aluminium base, spring+rubber suspension, motor, spindle, bearing, sensors etc) which holds...
The second turning point is the drive used in the last two player of the series (X779ES / X707ES) which is a slightly toned down system that did away with the ALuminium base to use more Gibraltar material, a variant of Cerasin.
Not as sturdy as the old BU/AL drive, not as beautifully built either, and no KSS-190A anymore - that's cost-cutting #1.
The FPM fixed-pickup mechanism drive of the CDP-XA7ES is of course completely different but it was nevertheless fitted into the internal chassis of the X779ES - that's cost-cutting #2. However, anybody who has heard the XA7ES knows how good it is, drive-wise, sound-wise, music-wise.
That player remained available until 1999 and the introduction of SACD and the SCD-1.
If more recent players were indeed launched they were all priced (and built) cheaper and always conformed to the lower "5" series, such as the CDP-XA55ES.
With an average list price of 200,000¥ each, building today a machine like the X7ESD would cost at least three times as much.
And it would still leave out most of the Nichicon Muse, Elna Cerafine and Duorex, select resistors, careful PCB silkscreening, copper-plated everything, quality PNP/NPN analogue outputs, enormous transformers and, obviously, the BU-1x / KSS duets.
Plus a finish quality which still shames every other audio designer and make then or now.
With all this, it is no wonder all of these CD players still are sought after, fifteen to nearly thirty years after their respective launches : along with some of the late 1980s Philips & Marantz, Sony's X7s remain unbeaten.