TEAC Reference PD-H300mkIII CD
review of TEACs Reference AG-H300mkIII AM/FM stereo receiver, I noted that it
was a remarkably functional component that actually sounded pretty good, all for a price
of $349 USD. Not only did it allow me to connect my CD and DVD players, it also featured a
moving-magnet phono stage for my turntable. The AG-H300mkIII struck me as the ideal stereo
receiver for assembling an inexpensive second system for an office or bedroom. It also
seemed the perfect "gateway" component for an audio newcomer on a budget looking
to build his or her first system. This month I review TEACs matching CD player, the
At just $229, the PD-H300mklII is on the first rung of the
high-end ladder -- I cant think of another dedicated CD player at a lower price.
Sure, scores of DVD-player models can be purchased for under $100 that will play your CDs,
but I dont recommend going that route. Their inferior CD sound aside, I dont
like the extra time it sometimes takes DVD players to read and start playing a CD. When I
built my first stereo system, I bought a DVD player, thinking that Id appreciate the
added advantage of being able to play MP3s. I ended up regretting this decision, and
ultimately ended up buying a dedicated CD player. Unless you need it for playing movies, I
advise you to use a dedicated CD player for music. In the long run, it may even save you
The PD-H300mkIII is the perfect visual complement to the
AG-H300mkIII receiver. It shares the same black casework and brushed-aluminum faceplate,
and its footprint of 8 7/16"W x 3 11/16"H x 12"D is nearly identical. I
could easily read its good-sized display from the comfort of my listening chair, from
which the remote control allowed me to select songs, program the track order, and perform
the usual suite of functions I expect of a remote.
The PD-H300mkIII uses a 1-bit D/A converter (TEAC
doesnt specify who makes it) with an 8x-oversampling digital filter. It will play
your CDs, CD-R/RW, and MP3/WMA discs. The ability to play MP3s was a pleasant surprise,
and I think says something about TEACs target market for this product. Most people I
know listen almost exclusively to compressed music files and arent about to forgo
the convenience of storing +100 songs on a single disc rather than carrying around a bunch
of CDs. I think TEAC was wise to design a product that accommodates the needs of a growing
number of todays listeners.
Which makes the PD-H300mkIII, like the AG-H300mkIII, a good
gateway to the high end -- a feature such as MP3 playback could be enough to sway budding
audiophiles to buy it. As their interest in the hobby develops, the ability to play MP3s
may become of less importance, and the next CD player they buy might not offer the
feature. The TEAC provides a sensible starting point and a firm foundation on which one
can build a lifelong interest in the hobby.
On the rear panel is a pair of RCA analog outputs and a
single TosLink optical digital output. I was pleased to see the latter, which let me send
the players digital bitstream directly to the DAC of my Bryston B100 SST integrated
amplifier/DAC for decoding and amplification. There are also remote-control RS-232 jacks
for connecting the PD-H300mkIII with other TEAC components so that the system can be
controlled with a single remote. Again, TEAC has made operation as simple and convenient
System and sound
The Reference PD-H300mkIII fed my Bryston B100 SST via
Kimber Kable Tonik interconnects, the integrated amp in turn driving PSB Platinum M2
bookshelf speakers via AudioQuest Type 4 cables terminated in banana plugs. My reference
CD player is the NAD C542.
I listened to a wide variety of music through the Reference
PD-H300mkIII, and was very impressed with its sound overall. In fact, taking its low price
into account, I was astounded by what this little budget wonder could do. The PD-H300mkIII
might be the most laid-back-sounding CD player Ive ever heard, yet it rarely failed
to engage me. Until I began listening to vinyl, Id always associated an
"engaging" sound with those components that tended to offer a more upfront,
"forward" sound. My turntable has changed that perception: It sounds more
laid-back than anything Ive listened to, yet has no trouble commanding my attention
for hours at a time. I dont mean to imply that the PD-H300mkIII sounded like my
turntable, but, like the turntable, it tended to set the music either between or behind
the plane of the speakers, a more distant perspective than Im accustomed to.
As I listened to Alice in Chains Unplugged
(CD, Columbia 67703), singer Layne Staleys voice seemed a bit farther back on the
stage, as though I was sitting in the second or third row rather than right up front. This
is not a criticism -- such an aural perspective did nothing to detract from my enjoyment
of the performance. The TEAC displayed great rhythm and speed, and brought the vivacity
and energy of what was probably this Seattle bands last great performance into my
room. The drum kit sounded punchy and tight, and the cymbals rang with excellent clarity
from the back of the stage. I ended up listening to far more of the album than Id
The PD-H300mkIII did a superb job of portraying the depth
of this albums soundstage -- far better than I was expecting for $229. Ive
heard CD players that cost a lot more that couldnt convey as much depth.
Unfortunately, the width of that soundstage was a bit narrow; sound rarely seemed to come
from beyond the outer edges of the speaker cabinets. This made the stage of Unplugged
sound a bit congested; I didnt hear the spaces between musicians that Im
accustomed to with my reference player, the NAD C542. For $229, however, this is a fairly
One thing that, in my experience, inexpensive CD players do
nearly as well as those costing thousands of dollars is the retrieval of recorded detail.
Im not suggesting that a $229 CD player will convey the delicate subtleties or
expansive three-dimensional stage of a megabuck model, but it will give you much of what
the very best do at a fraction of their prices. Ive found that, in terms of detail
recovery, a CD players price has little correlation with its performance.
This was the case with the PD-H300mkIII. Its ability to
extract plenty of information from my favorite CDs was so good that it took me a while to
get over my initial shock. As I listened to Stephen Layton conduct the choral group
Polyphony in Morten Lauridsens Madrigali, from Lux Aeterna (SACD/CD,
Hyperion SACDA67449), I couldnt believe the clarity with which the TEAC unveiled the
unique tone of individual singers voices. I began to think that the PD-H300mkIII
wouldnt be out of place in a system with an integrated amplifier costing three or
four times its price. There was good depth in the choir, and I got a good sense of the
size of Londons Temple Church, where the recording was made.
On Glenn Goulds 1981 recording of J.S. Bachs Goldberg
Variations, included in the compilation Glenn Gould: A State of Wonder (CD,
Sony Classical/Legacy S3K 87703), the pianists incessant humming was readily
audible, and gave the impression that he sat a bit farther back than Ive heard with
my NAD player. This recordings microdynamics -- minute variations in the volumes of
notes -- were clearly perceptible. As Goulds fingers danced across the keys, it was
impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of his playing; his enthusiasm was
wholly contagious, fully commanding my attention. Was the TEAC able to reproduce the full
weight and dynamic range of Goulds Steinway? Not quite, but I cant say
Ive ever heard a CD player that could create the illusion of a concert-grand
piano in my listening room. As long as a component can hold my attention with such music,
Im pleased. The PD-H300mkIII easily managed that task.
Another of the TEACs strengths was its midrange
clarity. Because I tend to gravitate toward vocal music, this played a significant role in
my very positive impression of the PD-H300mkIII. It did a remarkable job of discriminating
between the characters of different singers voices, clearly revealing the tonal
qualities of each. In fact, other than slightly recessing the positions of singers, I felt
that the TEAC pretty much got out of the way, imposing very little character of its own on
human voices. On Neil Youngs Live at Massey Hall 1971 (CD, Reprise CDW43327),
I was amazed at how transparent and expressive Youngs singing was. Ive heard
this from CD players that cost ten times as much as the PD-H300mkIII, but, the subtlest
low-level details aside, the TEAC gave me most of their performance at a small fraction of
their price. Although I began my listening with the assumption that the PD-H300mkIII
should be aimed at newcomers to high-end audio, this disappeared as I began to realize
that I might need to revise my idea of what a good entry-level CD player should cost. The
PD-H300mkIII made it apparent that that price is considerably lower than Id thought.
Although I found a lot to like about the PD-H300mkIII, it
wasnt without shortcomings. One of these was the narrow soundstage described above.
Another was its bass reproduction, which I found lightweight. I wouldnt describe the
PD-H300mkIIIs sound as "lean," but it lacked the fullness, punch, and
weight of not just top-notch CD players, but other budget models Ive heard. On
"See You Later," from Elliott Smiths New Moon (CD, Kill Rock Stars
KRS455), Smith strums his acoustic guitar pretty hard -- its easy to hear the
instruments rich, full sound. Through the TEAC, however, Smiths guitar sounded
a bit thin, and lacked the breadth and fullness Im used to. I noticed this quality
on hip-hop and other music that features prominent bass. While the PD-H300mkIIIs
low-end reproduction was OK, that feeling of oomph so important to the visceral
re-creation of truly deep bass was definitely lacking.
I compared TEACs Reference PD-H300mkIII with my own
reference CD player, the NAD C542 ($499). Ive owned a C542 for several years, and
often suggest it to people looking to buy an affordable, high-quality player.
In terms of features, the NAD and TEAC are pretty similar.
The biggest difference is that the TEAC can play MP3 and WMA files; the NAD is strictly a
"Red Book" player. This makes the PD-H300mkIII, at less than half the price of
the C542, a very good value, and may be enough to influence the decision of some buyers.
Though sonically the NAD and TEAC had quite a bit in
common, they didnt sound identical. As for detail, the players were on a par: Both
let me hear most of whats on my CDs, though the TEAC had the edge in delivering
soundstage depth, reproducing deeper, more tangible stages in front of me. With vocal
recordings, the TEAC sounded every bit as transparent and pure as the NAD. With their
superb midrange clarity, both players offered very lucid views into the performance. In
this regard, I think Id have a difficult time telling them apart in a blind
The one area in which the TEAC wasnt able to match
the NADs performance was the bass. The C542 created a more solid foundation, its
bass conveying not only better impact, but more weight and authority as well. Playing the
Elliott Smith disc, the TEAC was a touch cooler than the NAD, which did a better job of
communicating the fullness and warmth of the bass guitar in "Going Nowhere."
Although the NAD was superior in this regard, its important to remember that this
improvement comes at more than a doubling of price, without yielding across-the-board
improvements in sound. For someone on a tight budget, the TEAC is undeniably the better
value: it provided much of the NADs performance -- and bettered it in its ability to
convey depth -- for less than half the cost.
After spending a couple of months with the Reference
PD-H300mkIII, using it to listen to a wide assortment of music, Im even more
impressed than I was with TEACs AG-H300mkIII receiver. The PD-H300mkIII is now the
"go-to" product I name when asked to recommend a good, affordable CD player: It
gives excellent value and good sound for $229. Its shortcomings have nothing to do with
anything it adds to the sound, but are rather sins of omission. Although I think the
PD-H300mkIII could easily find itself in an office or bedroom as part of a second system,
it wouldnt be outclassed in a stereo rig consisting of components costing three or
four times its price.
If youre in the market for a CD player, but the
recent economic downturn has you trying to stretch your dollar as far as possible, you owe
it to yourself to audition TEACs Reference PD-H300mkIII. Buy it, save some money,
and sleep well, knowing youve made a very smart purchase. Its a no-brainer.
. . . Philip Beaudette
Price of equipment reviewed