Throwback Review – Sony D-EJ01 15th Anniversary CD Walkman

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In Grade 10 I purchased the Sony D-EJ915 CD Walkman and it blew my mind with how slim the CD player was, and how cool the remote control was. I thought I was holding the king of CD players until I ran into a buddy with a fluorescent orange remote that showed song titles and a slide out CD ejection mechanism. I died a little that day. I didn’t realize Sony had released a ridiculously innovative portable CD player and I wanted it right then and there. Of course I didn’t get it right then and there- it was well beyond my purchasing means- it was $549 CDN when it came out  in 2000. Years later in undergrad, a friend tipped me off that a guy he knew was selling his D-EJ01 for a mere $50 and I jumped on it. This is my IRL (In Real Life) review of the Sony D-Ej01 CD Walkman after owning it for 10 years (!).

 

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What’s in the box?-I never got to see the box of the D-EJ01 CD Walkman so I managed to google this image off AVforums. I just know if I found this box in a store I would have gone absolutely giddy after it. It came with a charger, two gumstick batteries (rechargeable Ni-MH), a really nice cloth carrying case (strapped the CD walkman in along with the external battery pack and could eject the discs without taking it out the case), the remote, an external AA battery pack and the Walkman itself. I quite like the carrying case in particular. Finding a quality case like this one that is custom made for the player is quite hard now, never mind one that comes packaged with the device (i.e. Sony charging 50 bucks for the Style Cover for the Z3). For somebody who is more impressed with hardware than software, this is a really nice overall set of pack-ins. The battery case was also really nice- it was an aluminum tube that was rock solid.

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Design– So the D-EJ01 as you can imagine from the opener, is a solid design overall. Design is the first and foremost piece of this product on why you would be buying it. It has a solid magnesium top and bottom build (plastic battery door) and some chrome accents scattered throughout. Really solid player without any creaks or mismatched parts. There is a little window to watch your disc spinning inside (one thing I love about physical media). The remote is plastic but still solid and the AA battery pack is straight metal. So design wise, I think the player exudes a level of class and sophistication that matches its 15th Anniversary well. The slot in mechanism was the first and I believe, the only one of its kind for a portable CD player. That alone blows minds and still does to this day. The remote’s fluorescent orange on pink style was another bunker buster for its time- lit up LCD remotes were rate in its time and compared to the monochrome LCDs on other players, this was pretty unique. The flat body that needed thin gum stick batteries was also a novel feature, as CD players were huge and AA battery powered. Honestly, this thing was just plain out cool.

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Build Quality-  So build quality was pretty solid as you can see from the design section- metal metal everywhere. The CD player still works well after 15 years of age. Obviously the batteries are dead, Ni-MH was terrible for battery longevity. What wasn’t good? The remote build quality sucks. Every single one of my Sony remotes are funky- buttons don’t work, are non-responsive, sound cuts out…I just don’t understand how these are so fragile. When I look at how I use my portable devices now compared to before, I think it stems from jamming things into pockets and having wires stretched and bent on a daily basis. Now I pre-package everything carefully into my commuter bag and use a wireless remote to listen to music on the go. Its still disappointing to see the remote fail, when that was one of the key selling points of this player. Right now the track control buttons are intermittent in response and don’t always work. Not impressed for something like this. The slot mechanism on the player itself is still solid though, which is great, since it was such a complex mechanical feature. The door that blocks the slot off when closed, had issues with closing completely and has a minor gap on the left side that leaves it open- nothing serious, but a flaw in a museum piece for sure.

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Sound Quality– Sound quality is surprisingly meh for me when I listen to the player with modern good cans. When it came out, it was awesome to my ears. Bass was probably the thing I liked the most out of it- it was big and booming with my consumer grade headphones, like the Sony MDR-Q33LP. It was satisfying to me for sure. Now in 2015, with a lot more listening experience and tuned ears, it sounds quite muddy to me. Its not terrible, but its not a sound I particularly enjoy. Its surprising, because I thought I would love listening to lossless tracks straight from the CD, after being used to compressed songs for so long (320 kps MP3 usually). I did try it with its built in line out to my PHA-2 headphone amplifier and it was good but again, not great. I guess that was the nice thing in this- built in line out for stereo or recording use. I used this quite a bit with my MD recordings because it was also an optical line out. You won’t see that in any portable player nowadays.

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You can see the tiny buttons built into the player- its clear the player was meant to be used with the remote because these buttons are not easily pressed.

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The slot in mechanism was controlled by the hinge on the right- it pops out and slides up and down to push the disc out. The button on top closes the door so that the slot isn’t open to dust. It closes with a satisfying clunk.

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Technologies– it came with first generation G-protection which operated differently than the anti-skip buffers from previous generations of CD skip protection. If I remember right, G-protection did not rely on a memory buffer- instead it focused on recovering from the jolts by reading the CD more quickly and recovering faster. Sony looked at how often the jolts came from jogging  (every 3 seconds) and then made the mechanism recover more quickly. So in the end the focus was on recovery rather than protecting a memory cache. It was quite effective – I believe G-Protection was the superior anti-skip technology compared to other skip protections at the time. I never had an issue with skipping, unless I deliberately tried to jolt it more than every 3 seconds.

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You can see the slot door here- there is a coating on the lip of the slot to make sure it doesn’t scratch the CD as it comes in and out. That is one thing I don’t miss about physical media- worrying about scratching up an expensive CD or remembering which tracks are scratched and having to skip those tracks.

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Battery life-This CD walkman was among the first using the gumsticks and it was super helpful. Battery usage was expensive without rechargeables. I don’t remember exactly how long battery life was for this, but I remember getting through a full school day on a charge. It also came with the AA battery attachment which was nice for extra juice. That’s the equivalent to the portable USB battery pack that I carry around these days. I hated Ni-MH though- you could not recharge whenever like Li-Ion. You had to completely drain it or you would prematurely introduce memory effects. I would leave the player running at full volume to make it kill the last bits of battery so I could recharge it.

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Compared to– Compared to the D-EJ915 (top right), my then CD player, it was a master mind in design. I love the slot in mechanism, the orange glow remote and the exclusivity of the rare device. Sound wise, it wasn’t anything special compared to other current gen Sony players (but I loved the Sony sound at that time more than other brands like Panasonic). It wasn’t the thinnest or lightest player (especially compared to the more modern D-EJ2000 that came out three years later – bottom right), but its unique design meant it would stand out as a pinnacle of Sony design.

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Conclusion- The D-EJ01 is more of a museum piece than an everyday listening device. Its design is absolutely stellar and the key selling point above anything else it has to offer. As a CD player, it was amazing but nothing worth paying the extravagant price difference over already expensive players like the D-EJ915. I would absolutely buy it again if I had to, just for the collection completeness it provides. I wouldn’t buy it for any of its technology like audio quality. Its audio quality, G-protection and slim.magnesium design was available in other Sony premium offerings that were cheaper. They just didn’t have the slot in and remote cool factor. I do wish the player’s remote stood the test of time, especially since this was designed as a portable every day use machine. Other than that, its a great player, but I’m not using it as much, just to preserve it from wear and tear. Its a museum piece through and through, which is what an anniversary model tends to be.

TLDR- Pros- design deign design- the slot in mechanism and orange glow remote its so so so slick. Cons- not the thinnest, or lightest and the remote’s durability is questionable

 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jeff says:

    Great writeup on the D-EJ01/D-E01. I once owned one of these gorgeous machines when I picked one up during a layover in Hong Kong. I eventually sold it to save some money for my growing MD collection at the time. I regret it now, and occasionally try to find well-preserved, second-hand models online to no avail. But I’m glad I stumbled upon your homage to this exemplary piece of Sony design.

    If you’re looking to add to your Discman collection, I recommend the D-E905. Whereas you rightfully observed that the D-EJ01 had average sound quality, the D-E905 achieves a wonderful balance between design and audio fidelity. It’s the flagship model from when Sony was at the height of its powers.

    1. ellisaurus says:

      Yeah I am super happy that I have it. Its definitely holding its price on eBay and other used markets. Thanks for the props- this is definitely one of my favorite designs of all time for any DAP. I will check out the e905 for sure. I have heard the older flagships were quite a bit different but have not heard any myself. Particularly with the amps. I never had headphones that needed an amp before, but I certainly do now. It reminds me of the MD player debates between Sony, Sharp and Kenwood. I remember the amps being stronger on the Kenwoods and people really pushing for it. Meanwhile with my stock earbuds and weaker Sony MD amps, I did not understand the hoopla.

  2. Jason Song says:

    I had one of these when I was younger. It was definitely a very nice piece of design because of the way CD gets inserted. Sound quality was okay and at that time I also had the expensive Sony MDR-E888SP. I later moved on to MDs and I still have the MZ-N1 that I decide to keep. I wish I kept the EJ01.

    1. ellisaurus says:

      I’m so jealous of your e888! That one is really hard to find now, especially with all the fakes that flooded the market. I’ve always wanted to try the biocellulose drivers, especially given the heritage of those drivers in other cans like the MDR-R10. I remember looking at them in the Sony Store ages ago and thinking why somebody would pay 110 CDN for them…I would now of course haha. The N1 was a really great looking Md recorder- did you ever run into the recording head problems? I think that generation had issues with the recording head developing an error message. The Ej01 is a machine I’m really glad I kept- i lusted after it for years after seeing my buddy pull it out of his bag and ejecting a disc haha.

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