Ferguson CD 01 CD Player Page 2

Pressing the play key brings up another tiny legend, 'scan', which remains lit until the first track is found. The display then displays track number, time and index. Index points can be directly selected with a pair of dedicated keys, but not many discs contain the required coding for this feature. There are no programming facilities and no repeat function other than 'A/B', which works well for short excerpts but is awkward when it comes to selecting whole tracks or anything longer. One definite improvement over the CDP-101 is that the 'stop' key on the Ferguson CD 01 is marked as such whereas previous Sony practice was to label it 'reset'.

Connections are via conventional RCAs that work at the standard 2V output level. Integration with other equipment is therefore straightforward. The player's Anglo-Japanese styling is largely successful, although certain details jar. One instance is the juxtaposition of the finely machined alloy disc drawer front (Sony) and the painted plastic front with the word 'Digital' in a calculator-style font (Ferguson).

sqnote Tim Listens
When it comes to its sound, the CD 01's presentation is very similar to that of late production examples of the CDP-101. The Sony player was subject to a large number of revisions over its long production life and so it's difficult to attribute a single sonic signature to all iterations. However, the consensus at the time was that all the early Japanese players lagged behind what Philips and Marantz were doing in sound quality terms and it's true that the CD 01 is no match for these sophisticated dual-DAC models with their 4x oversampling digital filters and phase-linear analogue circuits.


Put this aside though and there is much to enjoy here. Treble is perhaps a tad 'hard' but it is also bright and explicit, which brings a finer sense of focus than an early Philips machine can manage, percussion and brass being the main beneficiaries. Bass too is tighter than the plump and rich Philips norm, which is a 'love it or hate it' characteristic of the first Dutch designs. The value of this difference depends on one's taste and the other components of one's system. One aspect of the presentation I did find difficult to get on with was the upper midrange, which sounded overly forward. This served to add a sense of unwanted 'glare' to some recordings, which could become wearing, especially when discs were played at a high volumes.

However, the CD 01's fine insight was a good match for the clean and measured production of Chris Rea's album On The Beach [Magnet CDMAG-5069]. Crisp hand-claps and vivid-sounding cymbals demonstrated fine upper register performance in the title track, '80s production values and '80s audio technology working together to achieve an excellent balance. Perhaps a deeper bass line would have helped, but I can't imagine any of Ferguson's customers of the period being other than highly impressed.

Startling Presence
One curious feature of the CD 01's presentation was the nature of the stereo image it produced. The sound tended to create a 'pool' around each loudspeaker rather than form a single continuous spread and it was difficult to place each sound source with any degree of accuracy. Poor imaging has been noted with early Japanese players in these pages before, notably the Yamaha CD-1 [HFN May '16], possibly as a result of phase distortion in the high order analogue filters they use.


Nevertheless, every now and again the Ferguson could throw up an absolutely solid central presence, Marilyn Martin's soaring vocals on Phil Collins' 'Separate Lives' from his ...Hits album [CDV2870] being one startling example. I must admit that this made me do a double-take so much had the character of the sound changed. Positioning aside, I felt that the texture of vocals was perhaps a little more abrasive than one would hear from a Philips-based player (or a Sony one of a generation or so later). This was the part of the listening experience where the Ferguson CD 01 revealed its weakness, but it still wasn't as bad in this respect as a low-priced model from the format's earliest years.

Today, much as when the player was new, I suspect that the sound of the CD 01 will divide opinion. Some will revel in its rhythmic precision and pin-sharp focus while others will tire quickly of a presentation that can at times be described as dry and hard. Nevertheless, with the help of Sony, Ferguson managed to launch itself straight into the big league of CD replay at just the right time. It is just a shame that no more similarly interesting models would follow.


Buying Secondhand
Finding a Ferguson CD 01 isn't especially easy as it doesn't seem to have been an especially popular machine. Of those that were sold, many ended up in schools and other public buildings, acquired by local authorities already tied to Thorn via contracts for other audio-visual equipment. The similarity to the Sony CDP-101 helps with finding key parts, such as the optical block and the major ICs. Sony CDP-101s are still fairly common on the secondhand market and there are plenty of scruffy 'donors' out there. Though it may seem perverse to break the latter and preserve the former, the CD 01 is many times rarer than the CDP-101, and is arguably nicer to use as well.

One thing that a scrap CDP-101 cannot help with is the servo power driver IC (STK6932), which like the two used in its forebear is a source of trouble. However, its function is simple and an alternative circuit is easily built up from available parts (eg, the still-manufactured L272).


Another very common problem is the hardening of the lubricants used in the mechanism. With age everything seizes up, from the laser sled drive to the disc clamp and drawer. Luckily, all the parts are quite large and easy to handle, so the necessary strip down, cleaning and re-lubrication need be no more fraught than the refurbishment of an automatic turntable. The only potential pitfall here concerns the anti-backlash gear, which drives the sled. This contains a crescent-shaped spring that's easy to lose if you're not careful.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Of interest to collectors of British and Sony equipment alike, the Ferguson CD 01 is an intriguing early CD player that is well worth seeking out. In many ways the 'missing link' between the Sony CDP-101 and the company's later output, the machine is technically well executed and enjoyable to use. Provided you've a preference for the Japanese 'take' on how CDs should sound then your only difficulty will be in finding one...