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Compact Disc Transport


Manufacturer: CEC Co., Ltd
Price (in Poland): 25 750 PLN

Contact (w Europie):
C.E.C. International GmbH ǀ Wacholderweg 16
22335 Hamburg | GERMANY


Provided for test by: RCM

The Japanese company C.E.C. Was founded in 1954, hence this year it celebrates their 65th anniversary. For many years it was primarily an OEM manufacturer, supplying various turntable components such as motors, bearings and suspensions for other brands, for example for SME and Oracle. In 1991 however, it presented an invention that defined it for many years to come – a belt mechanism for a Compact Disc drive. For this review we received the latest product, TL2N CD Transport.

he Compact Disc Transport itself in 2019 could seem like something from a different era, even more anachronistic than - a one hundred years older - turntable. It could but it is not. Life is unpredictable and just like the vinyl record was rehabilitated in a moment when it almost disappeared from the market, a CD transport suddenly returned too when most music lovers crossed it off already. As a result of the new trend, this type of transport is offered by companies such as Pro-Ject, Primare and Cambridge Audio, known from their complete or integrated low to mid-price level CD players.

The reason for this resurrection is quite unexpected: most of the integrated amplifiers are now – no pun intended - integrated with D/A converters, and usually also with audio file players. This is because we are witnessing a shift in the interest of audiophiles from computers as audio sources towards file players. Manufacturers can therefore propose a "pure" transport from which one can send a signal directly to such an amplifier or to external D/A converter. And, I think, it also turns out that the Compact Disc format is in most cases competitive even with hi-res files in terms of sound quality, and usually even outperforms them. You can say I'm crazy or delusional, but that's how I see it.

| Belt Drive CD

A Compact Disc is a plastic or glass disc in which so-called "pits" are extruded. A layer of metal reflecting the laser beam covers the surface of such disk. Unlike in case of the LP standard presented by Columbia in 1948, the beginning of the disc is located on the inside of the disc (earlier records groove could start from outside or inside the disc).

The more important difference, however, concerns the reading speed - the LP disc spins at a constant speed, and thus the signal reading speed decreases as the disc center approaches. CD read speed is constant - Constant Linear Velocity; CLV - therefore the disc must spin the slower the closer we are to its end, i.e. the outer edge. Therefore, one of the most important tasks of a CD transport is to determine the precise rotational speed at each point of the disc and for each of these points it is different.

Apart from C.E.C transports, all other CD transports are of the so-called "Direct Drive" type. The disc is placed in them on a plate that is mounted directly on the axis of the drive motor. This is a proven, reliable solution, but it has a disadvantage - the vibrations from the motor are transferred directly to the CD, and the electromagnetic noise is transferred to the optical reading system. Most engineers will say that it doesn't matter because the error reduction systems implemented in the CD standard do not allow mechanical and electrical interference to affect the signal. I will quote the classic: "whoever has ears, let him find out for oneself."

C.E.C. Cut teeth on turntables, primarily on their drive systems. The idea of stable disc rotation was, therefore, no stranger to it, and the company employed engineers with open minds and eager to experiment - even if they seemed to go against the current dogma. So they assumed that reading a digital signal from a CD is essentially a process similar to reading a signal from vinyl record. And if so, a significant improvement in sound would be achieved by using a belt drive similar to what we know from turntables. Because, the vast majority of top turntables feature this type of design.

This is how a Belt Drive CD was created - a transport in which torque from the motor axis is transferred to the axis on which we place a CD using a drive belt. In the top TL0 3.0 transport, but also in the tested TL2 N, the optical module is also moved by means of a belt. Since in such a system a much more powerful motor can be used than in classic players, the axle is a part of a large shaft, delivering torque, and the disc is pressed with a heavy CD stabilizer. And this again sends us back to the gramophone technique. The first player in which the CEC used the belt drive was the TL1 transport - today a cult device.

| TL2 N

The TL2 N model is still the latest product of this company, despite the fact that two years have passed since its premiere. The next one to come is a matching digital-to-analog converter. This is a top-loader with a manually operate lid; that is made of darkened plastic. When the device was introduced one special feature was pointed out - although it is a model from the '2' series, it features drive with two belts, same as the top transport '0'.

Apart from this, the device looks like any other CD transport. On the front there is a small display, as well as five control buttons and a sixth to turn it on and off. Next to the display, information on the device's operation are illuminated in blue. Two of them relate to upsampling. The digital signal available on three outputs - RCA, TOSLink and AES / EBU - can be upsampled to 24 bits and 88.2 or 176.4 kHz.

Upsampling | Why not 96 and 192 kHz, as others do? It's a half technical and half philosophical choice. Technically, this choice is justified by the fact that we sample the signal from CDs, i.e. with a sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz, and 88.2 and 176.4 kHz are simple multipliers, by 2 and by 4. In this case we are talking about synchronous upsampling.

Philosophical, because other engineers think it is better to upsample the signal asynchronously. To carry it out, you need complicated mathematical algorithms and each company has its own, which is why each upsampler sounds different, but technically it can be reasonably justified by the need to overclock the signal. The choice between both methods depends more on personal preferences and accepted optics - also in technology, choices are everyday life.

Superlink | On the rear panel of the device, in addition to the aforementioned digital outputs, there are four BNC outputs, forming a so-called Superlink. This is another solution borrowed from the top series '0'. In this case it is a link composed of four BNC cables, with a separate clocks for the left and right channels, a signal connection and a separate one for "master" clock from the DAC, that is used for transport. If this is not enough, one can also use an external 44.1 kHz reference clock. Many companies, including Esoteric and dCS , offer them.


TL2 N interested me in the context of other devices, not necessarily CEC. So I used its RCA and AES / EBU digital outputs and Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6100II digital cables. The number one converter was the tube DAC in the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition (№ 1/50). The DAC number two was Mytek Brooklyn Bridge. For comparison I used transport sections of my Ayon and Gryphon Scorpio. I powered CEC using Hijiri SM2R „Sound Matter” and placed it on top shelf of the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition rack.

C.E.C. in „High Fidelity”
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. DA5 | digital-to-analogue converter
  • BEST SOUND AWARD 2016 | STATEMENT AWARD: C.E.C. DA0 3.0 - digital-to-analogue converter
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. DA0 3.0 - digital-to-analogue converter
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. CD5 - Compact Disc Player, see HERE
  • BEST SOUND AWARD 2015: C.E.C. TL0 3.0 - Compact Disc transport, see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. TL0 3.0 - Compact Disc transport, see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. ASB3545WF Wellfloat – anti-vibration platform, see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. DA 3N + TL 3N - digital-to-analogue converter + CD transport, see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. CD 3800 + AMP 3800 - CD Player + integrated amplifier, see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. DA53N - digital-to-analogue converter, see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. TL53Z + AMP53 – CD Player + integrated amplifier, see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. TL51XR – CD Player, see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. TL1N/DX1N – CD transport + D/A converter (world premiere) , see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. AMP3300R - integrated amplifier, see HERE
  • REVIEW: C.E.C. AMP6300 - integrated amplifier, see HERE

  • Recordings used for the test (a selec- tion)

    • Audiophile Reference IV, First Impression Music FIM029 VD, HDCD (2005)
    • Art Pepper, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Contemporary Records/JVC VICJ-42524, K2 CD (1957/2006)
    • Camel, Moonmadness, Janus Records/USM Japan UICY-40048, Platinum SHM-CD (1976/2014)
    • George Michael, Faith: Special Edition, Epic/Sony Music 753202, 2 x CD + DVD (1987/2010)
    • John Coltrane Quartet, Ballads, Impulse!/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCU-40001, Platinum SHM-CD (1962/2013)
    • MAP feat. Krzesimir Dębski, Groovoberek, AC Records ARC 012, Master CD-R (2019)
    • Radiohead, OK Computer. OKNOTOK Edition, XL Recordings/Beat Records XLCDJP868, 2 x Ultimate HiQuality CD (1997/2017)
    • Royal Blood, Royal Blood, Warner Music UK/Warner Music Japan WPCR-15889, CD (2014);
    • White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan, V2 Records 63881-27256-2, Reference CD-R (2005)

    When writing this test, I decided to eliminate terms such as "vinyl-like", "analog", "turntable-like" etc. It seemed to me that I should refrain from cliches such as: "If this is a belt drive, then it "must" sound like a turntable, right?" And yet you have to prove first that it does "sound" in any way since "zeros" and "ones" are nothing more but "zeros" and "ones". I started writing this way and it wasn't going bad at all. However, I quickly found myself censoring myself in this way and that these key words keep coming back, and they actually gave the whole a proper meaning.

    Because IT IS an "analogue" sound, associated with the warm and saturated sound of a turntable. The differences between TL2 N and Ayon and Gryphon drives are clear, easy to define even by an untrained ear - each of these mechanisms sounds differently (using the term "sounds" I mean "modifies the signal").

    And the CEC drive does sound like a turntable. I intentionally do not use the term "analog source" because it is not so, but a "turntable".

    We get large, strong and even saturated virtual sources with it. This is the thing that distinguishes most turntables from most CD and some SACD players. And only some of them can saturate the sound so that we do not have the impression of dryness. I would say that the TL2 N directs the performance toward what we know from DSD files, and rather those with a higher sampling frequency than basic DSD64.

    It works in a very similar way, by lowering tonal balance and emphasizing slightly the mid part of the bass range. Which in turn results in large phantom images, momentum and power. We will quickly come to the conclusion that the CEC transport saturates the sound with something, modifying it so that it is almost "tangible". With recordings that are highly saturated themselves, like those from the First Impression Music Audiophile Reference IV sampler, like Ballads by John Coltrane Quartet on Platinum SHM-CD, as well as with phenomenal MAP album featuring Krzesimir Dębski titled Groovoberek, with all these discs the sound was super-rich.

    Right away, from the first tones of the Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section I could clearly hear that the tested transport also lowers the sound by slightly withdrawing the treble and upper midrange. That's why everything sounded with it in such a three-dimensional, cool way. Even George Michael's Faith from the 2010 reissue, which I don't consider to be particularly good. It was with CEC that the vocals were just pleasant on it, without the annoying, high reverberation and sibilants. On the other hand, with dense percussion, mainly on jazz recordings, this withdrawal did not bother me at all. The cymbals were strong, vibrant and had a lot of weight.

    All this resulted in a dynamic, natural sound, with a low center of gravity, a sound close to us. This is the case where you can talk about "tangibility" and "performers within a grasp of your fingers" without being ridiculous. The TL2 N goes exactly in the same direction as turntables that deliver a warm, dense, saturated sound with a strong foreground. Let's add - the sound in the foreground is really dynamic.


    The sound of TL2 N transport is very characteristic. However, it turns out that it largely depends on whether we us an "original" signal or whether we sample it. This is not as big a change as when switching to another transport, but it is still an important one. The sound I described above was obtained using 24/176.4 upsampling. When we turn it off, we'll get a bit thinner and not so saturated sound.

    On the other hand, with upsampling on, the sound is warmer, denser, stronger - in my opinion simply better. The only advantage of an "original" signal is that it is slightly better differentiated. But this differentiation did not affect the fact that the music sounded in a more natural way, on the contrary - as if we were technicizing it a bit. The least interesting option to me seemed the 24/88.2 setting. The sound was warm with it, but dynamics and tonality seemed somewhat dampened.

    I think this description will apply to any type of connection. I heard the same changes both with the DAC section in the Ayon Audio player and with the Mytek DAC. This is important because Ayon converts the input signal to DSD256 and only then sends it to the DAC section, and Mytek sends the signal directly to the chip (provided that we turn off the MQA filter).

    I told you at the beginning that I was comparing this transport to a good turntable in my mind, while escaping the use of the word "analog". This is because the CEC modifies the sound in its own way - in exactly the same way as it is modified by turntables, not by reel-to-reel tape recorders. It zooms in on the foreground, enlarges it, and pulls back layers of the stage closer, making the presentation appear larger than with other transports. In a direct comparison it simply plays louder, stronger, which confirms that digital transports cannot be treated as "without any own properties".

    This approach works best with jazz music, vocalists, as well as small and medium ensembles in classical music. It gives them weight, sense and density. But CEC also shortens the decay and brings the deeper layers closer, so the sound is always just as pleasant and soft. Which bothered me when I listened to stronger rock, like from Royal Blood album Royal Blood and White Stripes from Get Behind Me Satan. It's “dirty” playing, with distorted vocals - I mean mostly the Royal Blood - and distorted guitars, which played by CEC sounded nice, pleasant, but a bit without proper fire.

    | Summary

    CEC transports cannot be confused with any others. They sound in an incredibly pleasant way, with a sound referring to what good turntables do - let it be, for example, Kronos Pro Mk.II. It's an immersive, tangible sound with a low, dense bass and a warm treble. It's very, very addictive. It is not the most precise and differentiating sound, and the perspective is approximated in it. Because it is a device that offers direct contact with the performer, which is at your fingertips. And what it does, it does perfectly. That is why the RED Fingerprint is fully deserved.

    CEC devices are always extremely solid - they are also heavy. This is influenced by both the rigid housing and the weight of the drive itself. The chassis is made of thick, bent sheets, and the device features aluminum feet.

    Front and rear | On the outside, the TL2 N looks like many other CD players and transports. It is distinguished by a glass, sliding top-loader transport lid, but also not enough to make it a big deal of it. The front of the device is made of 5 mm thick aluminum plate, in which a window was cut out covered with a transparent plate. Underneath there is a small, not very readable display known from devices from the 90s - this is called conservatism.

    Next to the display, we can highlight other indicators. Two of them relate to upsampling frequency. The next one informs you whether the TL2 N has been connected to the D/A converter via the Superlink. At present, only the DA0 3.0 and older DACs are equipped with such an input, such as DA3 and DA1. And finally there is information about whether the transport is clocked by an external clock.

    On the back there are four BNC sockets, or so-called Superlink, but also classic outputs such as: RCA, TOSLink and AES/EBU. There is also a IEC power inlet.

    Inside | The considerable weight of the device - 12 kg - comes mainly from the fact that its bottom has been stiffened up with an additional steel plate. However, the mechanism itself also adds to total weight. Mechanically, it is a rigid and heavy structure. The bottom layer is an aluminum base bolted to the bottom of the housing via brass spacers. Both motors are mounted on curved "leaves".

    Similarly to turntables, also here the shaft on which the disc is placed is decoupled from this part. Along with the optical system, it is bolted to a thick, aluminum plate decoupled from the base using four elements resembling silicone rubber - two on the front have a different color than the two on the back, so I assume that they also have different mechanical properties. The CD Stabilizer weighing 380 g is made of brass.

    Control circuits and outputs are mounted on the board behind the drive. A NEC systems deal with the control. You can see the upsampler system at the S/PDIF and AES/EBU outputs - it's Burr Brown SRC4382. This is a fairly old system, introduced to the market in 2006, originally intended for professional applications - for example in broadcasting systems. Its purpose was to convert 16/44.1 asynchronous signal to 24/96 or 24/192, but CEC engineers reprogrammed it so that it worked synchronously, upsampling the signal to 24/88.2 or 24/176.4 .

    The power supply is based on a medium-sized toroidal transformer from Bando. Two secondary windings come out of it, and thus there are two separate stabilized power supplies. They feature Rubycon filter capacitors.

    Remote | The remote control is newer than the display, but still quite old. Still, operating the transport with it is quite efficient. In addition to drive control and upsampling, functions also available from the front of the device, the remote control can also dim or turn off the display and backlight information, as well as loop the track or whole disc and program its playback.

    Technical specifications (according to manufacturer)

    Drive System: Double Belt Drive // Spindle & Pick-up
    Playable Discs: Audio CDs & Finalized CD-R/RWs
    Power Supply: AC 230/120 V, 50/60 Hz
    CD Stabilizer: Diameter; 120mm, weight; 380g (brass)
    Digital Output: SUPERLINK x 1: 2.5Vp-p/75 ohm (BNC x 4); AES/EBU x 1: 2.5Vp-p/110Ω (pin2=hot); COAXIAL x 1: 0.5Vp-p/75ΩJ; TOS x 1: -21 ~ -15dBm EIAJ
    Word clock: BNC x 1: 44.1kHz
    Up-sampling: 24bit / 88.2kHz, 176.4kHz
    Dimensions: 435(W) x 335(D) x 111(H)mm
    Weight: 12 kg
    Color: Silver or Black


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