The Pioneer PD-91 Compact Disc Player - Review 2012

Discover the classic Pioneer PD-91 Compact Disc Player. Is it worth it?

The Pioneer PD-91 is considered a rare piece of equipment to own but in 2020, is it worthwhile owning such a classic piece of kit.

Pioneer PD-91 CD player

In 2012, my initial experience with the PD-91 wasn't great. On arrival, the unit switched on fine but once a CD was loaded, it just wouldn't read it. Initially assuming that the laser which was brown bread (dead) I opened it up. The laser pick-up for the PD-91 were always a mixed bag of reliability and was prone to fail. But in 1987, this wasn't a problem as a new laser pick-up only cost £30 including fitting.

Back in 2012, laser units for the PD-91 were more affordable and although scarce they were more accessible but still expensive. Even Pioneer themselves still carried parts for the PD-91 but unfortunately, no laser pick-ups. The price for NOS laser was around £300 and even then, you didn't know if it was going to work as some retailers sold them with no guarantee or returns.

With my PD-91, lady luck was on my side. Under closer inspection, I could see that the lens of the laser was missing and by tilting the unit over to one side I heard something rattle. It turned out to be the lens that had become loose and fell off the pick-up whilst in transit.

After a gentle clean and delicately removing all of the old glue from the edge of the lens, a very small amount of glue was applied to both the lens and the cup lens holder. Carefully seating the lens back into its recess it. Switching back on, the disc read perfectly and within half a second.

So after a heart-stopping interlude, the PD-91 was working perfectly fine.

Originally released in 1987, the PD-91 was regarded as one of the best cd players at the time until Sony released its pulse technology in 1992. So, what does it sound like in 2020? Well, I'm lucky enough to know the person who bought my PD-91 back in 2014 and I have to say that the sound is superb. 

Those dual 18Bit Burr Brown PCM-65 DAC's still seem to cut it and it's still a bit of a monster. But, as much as it's performance is still very nice, in comparison to today's technology such as my ALLO Revolution DAC I do feel it's not quite as accurate.

Find out more about the Allo Revolution DAC.

So, although a little dated, the PD-91 can still turn ones head from time to time. And owning such a fabulous piece of history is nice. Since 2014, my old PD-91 has had one laser pick-up which cost over £500.

One of the more positive things about the sound which I could say is still mighty impressive is the bass and the spatial picture it portrays. In other respects, the mids can seem a little cloudy at times and the highs aren't as believable as today's DACs. The bass, however, is tremendous and has a real organic, vinyl-like like and fluid temperament to it.

At this point, I'd be quite comfortable to suggest that with some modifications, the PD-91 could really shine once again in mostly all areas. Maybe not to a 2020 level but if it just lost that cloudiness, it would be very impressive indeed for a CD player of such vintage. If you have a PD-91 and had it modified, please get in touch, I'd love to know what was done.

Build quality... Well, the PD-91 is something considered these days as from an era of excess. To buy this kind of build quality today is simply not happening within the price point. All the major players produced flagship models such as Marantz and Sony. 

A great example of this is the legendary Trio/Kenwood L-07D turntable, a pure 'no limits' masterpiece.

In 1987, the PD-91 cost £900 which in 2020 amounts to £2000. Current prices for this CDP on the second-hand market are topping out around it's original price £600 - £900 - for a very nice example with remote and with a recent service.

If you desire to own a PD-91 you would get something built with precision with a mindset for success. Back in 87-91, the PD-91 was something of a revelation in CDPs. Over-engineered and beautifully designed. Okay, it's not hewn out of a solid chunk of aluminium but even though, today it looks very dapper. 

The only design remark I would say which makes this machine look dated is the dreadful script lettering on the front. Goodness knows why it was ever considered attractive to do this kind of lettering. It didn't sit well with me even then.

There is a downside of course. The PD-91 is getting on a bit. Don't kid yourself, things will go wrong. So before you do pull out your green, you must find someone who knows about this machine inside and out. From my experience of asking around back in 2012, the technicians I spoke to all told me that you needed some specialised kit to get these machines working properly, especially after a pick-up replacement. If this is still the case in 2020, caveat emptor.

Also beware of buying a unit which has had its gain increased. Although, this is hard to prove it must be a question to the seller. Increasing the gain can make a not-so-reliable laser pickup read properly again. But, by doing this, it shortens the life of the pickup.

Another problem I had with my PD-91 was the loading drawer. I found one day that once the drawer had retracted it would eject immediately. I found that this was because one of the cogs seemed to jump a few teeth each time it retracted, making sure the eject switch engaged eject. I thought I solved this a few times by resetting the cog but eventually, it would come back.

So, my experience of this machine was bittersweet and to be honest, I was glad to see it go in the respect of worry. Knowing and waiting for the laser pick-up to fail which could have either landed me with a £500 bill + fitting for a replacement laser or have me acquire a 11.7kg paperweight. Yet at the same time I kind of wished I hadn't sold it because of its outrageously amazing sound.

I respect anyone who keeps these machines alive and use them often. It's not impossible to keep these things going and if the price is right, they can still be a reliable spinner.

Here are some of the problems I encountered with the PD-91, some were easy to fix, others not so.

The Laser Pick-up lens may become loose due to the glue drying out.
The front digital panel display can become dim over time.
The ribbon cable connecting the laser pick-up can become loose.
Drawer mechanism failure. Once the drawer has retracted, it immediately ejects again.

Biggest drawback:

In general, laser pick-ups can last for around 15 to 20 years depending on usage. But, the replacement of the laser pick-up in the PD-91 is very expensive and difficult to source. Also, because it may be impossible to know if the machine has been tampered with in the past, eg, gain adjustment, this job needs an experienced technician to undertake and reset the machine back to stock.

Buying one in 2020.

I would advise caution. Make sure you see the unit working. Do not have a PD-91 sent via courier. Although they are a tough machine, they are fragile inside.

Prices... For a perfect condition machine, the top-end price would be £900, this would include the remote and documentation of service via an adequate technician.

Would I own one again? I think I would but only if I had a technician in place to service it once a year and who can either repair or have a stock of laser pick-ups for a reasonable price.

So, my experience of owning this wonderful cd player was bittersweet but it was full of magic and I do miss the quality of the machine both in build and sonically.

Digital converter: 2 x PCM65P
CD Mechanism: PWY1004
Frequency response: 2Hz to 20kHz
Dynamic range: 99dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 114dB
Channel separation: 109dB
Total harmonic distortion: 0.0015%
Line output: 2V
Digital outputs: coaxial, optical
Dimensions: 458 x 425 x 129mm
Weight: 11.7kg
Accessories: remote control
Year: 1991
Price: GBP £900 (1991)