The Philips that was made in Japan.

The Philips CD960.

The Philips CD960 marketing slogan in the US boasted: “Truly a reference standard CD player, the CD960 incorporates only the most uncompromising components because it has been designed by the world’s most uncompromising audiophiles1; Philips engineers”. But were the engineers that worked at the Natlab in Waalre uncompromising audiophiles? And where are the Philips engineers’ audiophiles? I hate to admit it, but they were not because they were just engineers and were not addressed as audiophiles back in the day. They did invent the TDA1541, the SAA7220, and the bulletproof CDM1 drive mechanism. And these Philps’ inventions were remarkable designs’ in my opinion.

On the inside of the Philips CD960.

Being rewarded with the European title: player of the year, it was no mystery that Philips introduced the CD960 as their benchmark player. The Philips CD960 was their top CD player, and the hi-fi press rewarded the CD player with the title “reference standard cd player” numerous times. The NOS (Dutch Broadcasting Society) used the Philips CD960 in their studios due to the insensitivity of the player to shocks and vibrations2. When designing the CDM1 drive mechanism, the engineers paid extra attention to the error correction mechanism in conjunction with the damping and metals used to construct the CDM1. By the time that demand sored for this high-end drive mechanism, Marantz and Philips established an assembly line at the company’s main factory in Sagamihara, procured all necessary components, and began producing CDM1s in Japan.

Some old photo’s from my archive. Collages made with the help of Fotor.

If we look at the circuit boards used in the Philips CD960, we can see that they almost look identical to the ones used in the Marantz CD-94 and the Micro Seiki CD-M2. These CD players were all built at the Sagamihara plant of Marantz in Japan between 1986 and 1988. A collaborative effort between the Dutch and Japanese where the Dutch provided the factory with a state of the art production-line (made and designed in Holland)3. This factory was also visited (and inspected) by Frits Philips and by princess Margriet of the Netherlands. And these visits to the Sagamihara plant were well documented by the staff association of Marantz Japan4. I have to disappoint you if you want to visit this factory too: The factory was torn down to make way for new building projects in Sagamihara-Shi.

A collage with an Canadian CD960 and new transport belts from Dindiki. Collages made with the help of Fotor.

The Philips CD960 and the Marantz CD-94 had their market introduction around January 1987. Some facts: The first production models came from the assembly line in 1986 – week 515; A pre-production model (CD-94) found its way to the developing staff and Ishiwata San6; This pre-production model of the CD-94′ had a lid secured with six screws from the top; It also had a green light next to the FTS button; A total of four revisions of the Philips CD960 were being made, which consisted of five models, for the different markets; when introduced, Next to the CD960, Philips also introduced the FA960 amplifier and the DAC960 digital to analog converter as part of the same product line.

The heart of the CD960 is the Philips dual 16-bit D/A converter chip, the TD-1541 select version. So refined it flawlessly reproduces even the quietest passages with a clarity never before achieved. This exceptional D/A converter is mated to a Philips 4X oversampling digital filter for superior performance. Philips pioneered 4X oversampling and our experience with digital filtering is unequaled.

CD960/00R – 220V version, for the European market.
CD960/01R – 110V/120V/220V/240V version.
CD960/05R – 220V or 240V version for the European market.
CD960/07R – 120V version, for the Canadian market.
CD960/17R – 120V version, for the US market.

The CD960 sported CAD (computer-aided design) parts such as the CDM1 and the several circuit boards in the player, which gave each component and ground point its optimal location with the exclusion of hum due to unwanted ground points. It also was less labor-intensive for the engineers to compare different layouts/components on the circuit boards for better results. Strictly selected parts are used in the design by Philips to ensure long-term top performance and playback quality.
The custom-made ‘audio capacitors’ came from Elna, Nissei, and Nippon Chemicon and have proven their durability over the years. The power supply is a 100-watt mains transformer with four separate sections: the digital section, the servo section, the display, and the analog circuits.
Inside the CD player are six circuit boards to minimize interference and vibration. Five of these circuit boards are attached to a two-kilogram die-cast zinc alloy chassis, whose function is to dampen vibrations. One of the circuit boards is attached to a heatsink. The real icing on the cake has to be the CDM1 drive mechanism of the CD960, produced in so-called clean rooms. The laser is mounted on a fully-floating swinging arm in a vibration-resistant die-cast chassis, firmly supported by a heavy-gauge base plate. Thoroughly protected from bumps and vibrations, the laser stays firmly on track and in focus.

A selected TDA1541 from Nijmegen (The Netherlands) and the CDM1 drive mechanism. Collages made with the help of Fotor.

Finally, there is the TDA1541 digital-to-analog converter. It is a specially selected DAC chip with the highest specifications. Philips will have had its reasons for not displaying the selection rate on the ICs used. In the Marantz CD-94. I have seen several TDA1541s with S1 grading but not in the Philips CD960. Philips product manager Hans Offer told Audio (03/1987) that only TDA1541 of the highest grade is used in the CD9607. In the production of the TDA1541, it did allow for grading in seven selections. Depending on the design requirements, the manufacturer could choose a low-cost or high-cost TDA1541. It goes without saying that the worst measuring TDAs ended up in the cheapest CD players, and you can’t tell from the outside of the Integrated Circuit.

Serviced by a real Takumi; Photo by courtesy of Bram Jacobse.

Broadcast standard Radialinear transport. Philips commitment to exacting specifications is also evident in the CD960s mechanical construction. It features a high-grade cast alloy chassis. A linear-design motor was chosen to drive the radial pivoting arm for fast track access and exceptional resistance to external vibrations.

Considering that the first Philips CD960 came off the assembly line thirty-five years ago and many of these CD players still play CDs trouble-free, it may be called a miracle. But that does not mean that these CD players do not need maintenance and that we cannot use better components for that maintenance. The Elna and Nippon Chemicon capacitors are now well past their service life, and if you still want to enjoy compact-disc, then replacement is necessary. Capacitors from Elna (Silmic II), Panasonic (M), and Panasonic FR/FM (low esr) are worthy substitutes. Nissei styroflex capacitors around the TDA1541 generally still do a good job and if you want to replace them, consider Kemet SMRs. Also, don’t forget the expired axial capacitors on the drive and display PCB. The glue on circuit boards can also be corrosive, so removing the glue (residue) from the PP16 circuit board might not be a bad idea. The CDM1 drive mechanism belts are serviceable if you have a steady hand. I use the blue ones from Dindiki, and the drive belts still hold up well! If you are looking on the 2nd hand market for well-maintained ones, I would at least leave the ones with poorly done modifications. These modifications to the CD960 often include too-big capacitors and other op-amps in the analog section of the player. Some restorers even dare to use Panasonic capacitors in the analog part, or even worse: they convert it to a non-oversampling mode.
But instead of the beloved audio nirvana that every audiophile is looking for, the non-oversampling modification introduces some nasty side effects. The NOS mode introduces much more noise in the audio spectrum which worsens at higher frequencies, and you will have higher harmonic distortions. Another audible side effect: a rather sharp roll-off in the higher frequencies. And should you still have doubts about whether or not to use oversampling; ask the so-called experts if they can show you a measurement from before and after the modification. I guarantee you that the above results will be reproducible.

Some parts that need attention/replacement after thirty years. Photo by courtesy of Bram Jacobse.

The Marantz CD94 is considered the more audiophile version of the two, but I think the differences between the CD960 and the CD94 are minimal. On the PP16 circuit board, only the large fuse and the addition of C803, C804, C831, C832, and C841 (Nissei 103J) are the most obvious differences. And just because Marantz used the wood (chipboard) panels does not mean the Marantz CD94 sounded better. I think Philips short-changed the design of the CD960 by not using a heavier lid. Philips/Marantz later started to use the much heavier Zamac panels indicating that the direction taken with the Micro Seiki CD-M2 design improved the sound. The Micro is still the best-designed player of the lot but may not fit everyone’s budget.

Another fine example for sale.

Finding another good Philips CD960 on the 2nd hand market can be a daunting challenge. Just find the one that still looks good, has its remote control, and the original packaging material is not impossible. It would be great to assume that all the CD960s are in perfect shape but believe me, they are not, so a good technician can also come in handy: The CD960 sounds so much better when it has had its maintenance! I regularly see asking prices of €900 or more and a CD960 that has been poorly (or not at all) maintained is not worth that. If you want to spend this kind of sum, maybe a Japanese Marantz CD-95 or CD-99 on Buyee might be an option. Have fun finding a good one, or enjoy the one you already have. Until next time!

Specifications:

Frequency response: 5-20000Hz (0,01dB)
Frequency response (20Hz-20kHz): +0.0 to –0.17dB
Distortion (1Khz, OdBFs/-30dBFs): 0.00039% / 0.021%
Distortion & Noise (20kHz, 0dBFs/–30dBFs) 0.00065% / 0.030%
Total Harmonic distortion: 0,0015% (0,025%)
Digital jitter: 160psec
Resolution @ –90dB/–100dB: –2.0dB / –2.1dB
Signal to noise ratio: 101dB (104dB)
Channel separation: 100dB
Dynamic range: 96dB
Amplitude Linearity: 20 Hz to 20 kHz. ± 0 01 dB.
Phase Linearity: ± 0.2°, 20 Hz to 20 kHz.
Disc format: CD
Digital converter: TDA1541
CD Mechanism: CDM-1
Output: 2.29Vrms / 54-59Ohm
Digital outputs: coaxial, optical
Accessories: remote control, power cable
Power consumption: 13W
Dimensions: 420x100x378mm (WxHxD)
Weight: 10kg

  1. According to the North American Philips Corporation.
  2. From a Philips Netherlands Advertisement (1988).
  3. From the ‘Philips Koerier’.
  4. The staff association of Marantz published one .pdf on the matter.
  5. From my own archive and I found no earlier production weeks.
  6. From the stories of David Prakel (a close friend of Ishiwata San). According to Ishiwata San the CD960 and the CD94 were CD2 CD players. Second-generation drive mechanism and second-generation electronic design.
  7. Hans Offer was a product manager in Germany for Philips.

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