Pros: Excellent sound quality, plays almost every brand of CD-R and is very affordable.
Cons: Popular seller and may be difficult to find in stores.
Late last year I began the arduous task of finally admitting to myself that my seven-year-old JVC micro system was no longer up to the task of fulfilling my music listening needs. Over the last few months I was having more and more trouble playing CDs (new and old, CD-R and originals) in the system until one day it just decided that it had enough and just would not go on any further. Thus began the search for a new system with one of my priorities being that it should be able to handle any CD, CD-R and CD-RW that I throw at it.
After picking up Sony?s Style catalog, a collection of the company?s latest electronics offerings of the season, I decided to take a look at the CMT-RB5 HIFI Micro System. I was not looking for much, just something that could play all my CDs and be small enough to fit on my shelf at a cost that even a student could afford.
As it turned out, the store I visited already had their own small collection of CD-Rs and CD-RWs available to test on their wall of stereos and all of them ran perfect on the Sony. Having previously owned a JVC system I could not help but also take a look at their FS-SD5 micro system which is a direct competitor to Sony?s CMT-RB5. The Matrix Soundtrack sounded superb on both systems but it was hardly a CD with a broad range of highs, lows and vocals, and that is where the Chemical Brothers CD came in. Unfortunately, I am just an ordinary consumer and not an audiophile, my vocabulary in this department is quite limited and even the words I do know I am not sure what they all mean. What I can say however is that the Sony sounded great, much better than the JVC, and ten minutes later with a bit of haggling I walked out of the store with a brand new CMT-RB5 at $295CAN after all taxes were done ($256CAN pre-tax in Ontario).
The system itself has what anyone might expect for a micro system in the $200USD ($300CAN ) price range:
- single drawer loading CD player.
- digital AM/FM tuner with 10AM/30FM presets.
- 15 watt speakers.
- headphone output.
- bass/treble control.
- daily timer.
Sony?s marketing machine also points out the:
- 2 way bass reflex speaker system with HOP woofer and tweeter.
- Remote Commander control.
- DBFD bass enhancement.
And some nice extras usually not found in other micro systems include:
- unique prism viewing window showing the spinning CD.
- MiniDisc optical output (TosLink).
- CD Text.
The speakers are a bit under twice the height of the main system and this can make the setup look a bit odd to a person (like myself) not used to it. The front panel of the main unit is set up quite plainly. Going from top to bottom, the viewing window is nice to look at for the first five minutes until you realize that you just wasted five minutes watching a spinning disc, the comes the CD tray like any other, then the LCD display and finally six function buttons. The buttons (when you look at them close up you might think they glow or light up but actually do not) include switching from tuner to CD and the usual play, forward, back and stop controls. Given that the same controls are available on the remote it seems Sony only included them on the main unit in order to fill space on the front panel. The remote control has clearly labeled buttons indicating their nature, is quite simple to use and for anyone who has mastered a television or VCR remote it should be second nature to them. The operating manual is just as clear and simple with most of the system?s features taking no more than two pages to effectively explain.
Several things stand out about the CMT-RB5. First of all is the included MD optical output. Given how Sony?s MiniDisc format has performed in North America, it is unlikely that most people would take advantage of this extra, but since I do happen to own an MD player I found this option to be definite push towards making the decision on purchasing this system.
The second thing is the inclusion of support for CD Text where specially encoded CDs will contain information about the CD such as the name of the CD, the artist and track names. Unfortunately, the CMT-RB5 only lists the track name for a second, scrolls through it and then the display switches back to the track time.
Thirdly, and most importantly in this review is the system?s ability to play all assortments of CD-Rs and CD-RWs. Initially I was reluctant to go with Sony given their hard stance against MP3s and copyright infringement, and had assumed that they would be the last company to allow any of their CD players to play CD-Rs and CD-RWs as they are one of the companies working to develop anti-copying protection schemes. After setting up the system at home I began to test every variation of CD I owned to see if they would all work. First came the originals with various CDs from the likes of Sony, Virgin, Warner Bros. and BMG. I tired offerings from different studios under the assumption that they would be pressed in different factories, but really I had no idea and could be wrong. All the originals played perfect. Next came the original CDs that have gotten scratched over the years and would have trouble playing in my old JVC and portable Sony Discman. To my surprise all of these CDs played perfect as if I had just purchased them brand new. Now either they are not as badly damaged as I believe them to be, or the Sony really is an amazing system. Next came the real test: my collection of CD-Rs. Not that I have a (relatively) huge collection to begin with, but the option of being able to burn music on a CD and then being able to play it back on a home system holds great importance to me. Here I tried brands including Memorex, Mitsui, Sony, HP, TDK, Verbatim and an assortment of bargain bin no-name brands, all of which played flawlessly except for an old green (cyanine) CD-R which probably has a ten year lifespan to begin with. With CD-RWs I tried all the same brands and all of these worked perfectly as well. I should also add that the sound produced by the CMT-RB5 is so clear that I could definitely tell when the music being played from a CD-R was a copy of a CD and when it was just MP3s burned onto a CD ? this was something I was not able to do until hearing this system.
Things I have neglected to mention:
- Excellent sound quality (my CDs have never sounded clearer!).
- Incredibly easy to use.
- Small and compact in size.
- Very affordable.
- CD spinning and laser motor is quite noisy.
- Does not come with MiniDisc optical cable.
- The system weighs more than it looks.