The UK retailer Richer Sounds once licensed some of the big names in hi-fi that had fallen out of fashion. Ariston, Eclipse and Eltax, just to name a few. Eltax were better known for their loudspeakers, and through Richer Sounds produced a lot of budget-conscious models in the days when you could still buy a decent hi-fi separates setup for under £250. Those days are long gone, though the Eltax name is still used on budget loudspeakers.
For a time, Richer Sounds were the king of budget hi-fi in the UK. If you entered one of their shops in the mid-2000s with £200 in cash, you could equip yourself with an amp, a CD player and a pair of speakers, plus the necessary cables and ancillaries. The kit would probably come from one of their own brands – likely Cambridge Audio, who Richer Sounds were exclusively distributing at the time. Or you could buy an Eltax ‘Acura’ CDP70, the matching AMP70 and a pair of monitor 3 loudspeakers. Another £50 would get you an Ariston-branded turntable to go with your setup, which was basically identical to the budget models Sony, Audio-Technica and Pioneer are shipping today.
When I was starting out in ‘new’ hi-fi around 2008, I actually bought the Eltax CD player. The CDP70 at the time was being shifted for £19.99 brand new, cheaper even than most of the supermarket DVD players you could buy. It came in a black finish, had basic CD playback functions including programming, repeat and random, and a solitary analogue output. You didn’t get digital outputs, a remote control or direct track access, but even for the original retail price of £69.95, you wouldn’t expect any of those.
I never got to hear my original. I got it home, plugged it into my Cambridge A5 and found that the drawer had a fault. It would open and close of its own accord, and would only stay in if you delivered a well-aimed thump to the front of the tray. Even for £19.99, a CD player that couldn’t actually play a CD was no good. So I returned it and doubled my money for a bought a Bush Acoustics CD2025, which worked happily for many years.
More recently a conversation in the ‘Audioshite’ Facebook group sparked my curiosity. I turned to eBay and for the same price as mine was new, I purchased a used, non-working Eltax CDP70. Back then I knew very little about repairing equipment. Knowing what I do now, the fault in my original unit was likely either a weak tray belt or a dodgy limit switch. I was curious to open one of these players up and see how well (or badly) they were built, and finally discover what it would have sounded like all those years ago assuming, of course, I could get it going.
I found a player with better build quality than I remembered. Thick steel panels make up the casing, which is better dampened by design than the typical cheap casing with folded metal sheets and stamped steel forming the top and base. The downside is plenty of visible screws, though nothing unsightly. The front panel is made entirely of plastic, with a nasty cheap feel to the buttons, not helped by the CD player being frustratingly slow to respond to commands.
There’s a surprising amount of circuitry inside, though the bulk of the core CD playback is based around Sony KSS-213C optics and supporting circuitry. You get run of the mill digital to analogue conversion hardware, a well-specced power linear supply and support for external remote commands from the matching amp via a socket on the back.
The CD loader is a typical plastic affair, but it’s better than you might think. It does use a loading belt which I changed. Variations of the same loader have been used by countless manufacturers since the mid ‘90s, and if you’ve spent any time working on CD players you’ll find yourself right at home servicing one of these. It’s smooth if not refined in operation, and about what you’d expect for the money.
Mine had a faulty tray belt and laser. Both were replaced, the latter with a knockoff assembly from a Chinese eBay seller. You used to be able to buy a generic KSS-213 within the UK for less than £5, but I suppose Brexit put a stop to that. Nevertheless eBay makes everything cheap and plentiful. If your’e doing this yourself, don’t forget to remove the blob of solder shorting the two pads on the PCB just above the connector, used for antistatic protection in transit.
I found the laser I bought was adjusted perfectly out of the box, though there is a pot on the rear of the laser assembly to adjust the power. Too low and it won’t read recordable CDs. Too high and it won’t read anything, and will quickly burn out the laser diode. If you’re adjusting one, you’ll hear the noise of the laser increase as you raise the power, and it will become quite obvious if you’re going too far. I try to use test discs where possible to adjust them, but in the absence of a suitable disc for a machine or any service data I will generally adjust so that the player can read a reference CD R and a number of commercial CDs from different decades without skipping.
So how does it sound? Perfectly pleasant and entirely ordinary. There’s really nothing about it to speak of. It has a somewhat forward midband which is probably by design, but it’s not so obvious as to suggest it is a purposeful alteration in frequency response to partner the matching amp or Eltax speakers. I can’t hear any deficiencies in its frequency response, though dynamically I find it lifeless. Frankly, the thing is duller than dishwater. There’s nothing standout about its sound, though nothing ‘wrong’ per se.
Load times, however, are truly excruciating. I’m not sure if the servo they used was designed for universal disc playback in DVD players and such, but even when properly adjusted it can take a leisurely 30 seconds or more to read the discs table of contents. It will read most discs, even recordable ones, nor does it mind discs that don’t perfectly conform to the ‘redbook’ standard. But it’s a player for those who prefer life at a slower pace. You’ve enough time to poor a beverage or read a chapter of your current novel of choice. And when it does load, the bland performance isn’t worth the wait.
This was an interesting trip down memory lane, but one that I’ve no wish to repeat. I look back to 2008 and find I’m not at all sorry my unit was dead on arrival. The Bush Acoustics CD2025 was a vastly superior CD player in every respect, even based solely on my memory of it from 15 years ago. There are a surprising number of CDP-70s on the used market, with the going rate for a near mint example around £25. In my opinion that is at least £20 too much. If you can bag one for nothing, or a handful of change, it might be worth it purely for the fact it does, eventually, play a CD. But you can do a hell of a lot better for double digits.