The Sony PlayStation As CD Player: An Epitaph

The original Sony PlayStation was a fun CD player, back when you could pick one up for less than $20.

The word about the original Sony PlayStation, model SCPH-1001 in the US, as a good or great CD player came from overseas. While the origin story is a bit shrouded in mystery, the best I can tell is word originated in Germany and traveled to the USA. Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports, perhaps patient zero in America, and John DeVore of Devore Fidelity used one in their room at CES 2003 (or 2004). Even though Jon and John kept their PlayStation hidden away in a dresser drawer at CES, word spread like wildfire.

I must admit I was reluctant to try one. At this time, roughly 2004/5, I owned an Audio Aero Capitole MKII CD Player, which I bought used and in trade for a bunch of gear. It was not cheap, even used, and I had been through any number of CD players over the years including a California Audio Labs Icon, Tercet, and Alpha/Delta combo, AH! Njoe Tjoeb 4000, and Rega Planet 2000 CD Player. I felt I’d paid my digital dues.

my system c.2005

Seeing as temptation is the better part of valor, I broke down and bought a Sony PlayStation on eBay for about $17 all in. When it arrived, I was immediately taken with its smooth, non-digital sound that seemed to take all of the rough edges off digital replay of the day, replacing them with a soft, burnished glow. A dullish glow mind you, but the PlayStation was non-fatiguing which made it preferable to many a CD player, especially for the price. Besides, I was mostly spinning vinyl at the time, so the Sony was used on occasion and this is where it really shined – as an adjunct to vinyl when the CD was the only option.

I sold my Audio Aero a few weeks after the PlayStation arrived. When the buyer came over to pick up his purchase, the Audio Aero was still sitting, albeit silently, on the top shelf of my Finite Elemente Pagode rack for inspection. The little gray Sony sat on the floor next to the rack, in use. When Mr. X arrived music was playing. “Wow! That’s a great sounding CD player!” He exclaimed, thinking the Audio Aero was responsible. “Actually, that’s playing the CD” I said, pointing to the Sony on the floor.

At this time, I was writing for 6moons but chose not to write about the Sony PlayStation as a CD player. My reasoning being, writing about it could ruin it. You see, the beauty of the Sony as CD player was you could easily pick one up for $20 or less. I bought a bunch because they tended to stop working, if you were fortunate enough to buy one that actually worked. After all, the SCPH-1001 was released in the US in 1995, so we’re talking about a decade-old mechanical device that more than likely saw enthusiastic use. But others did write about the Sony as CD player and the word “Audiophile” appeared in eBay listings along with a significant price hike. Ick.

Around this same time, PlayStation mods and tweaks hit the market, supposed improvements to make the Sony sound less like itself and more like a bog standard CD player. Of course these tweaks and mods cost real money. I heard a bunch of ’em, including a battery-powered version, but preferred the stock player hands down every time.

To my mind, the Sony PlayStation had its day as a CD player. These days, you’d be lucky to find one for less than $30, which is a welcome dip from it heady heights heyday as an “audiophile CD player”. Thankfully the “audiophile” description is no longer as prevalent as it once was in eBay descriptions, the buzz dying down as these near 30-year old spinners wear out, their plastic shells living on in landfills like dinosaur bones.