The 99 series from Quad includes two CD players, and you'll have trouble distinguishing them from the front. It's another story from the back, as the more expensive 99CD-P adds inputs and other goodies, but the current contender is a perfectly straightforward CD spinner with phono socket audio outputs and a lone optical digital out.

But don't overlook the two D-type connectors, in and out, marked 'Quadlink'. Quad, like Cyrus, has embraced the one-brand system concept wholeheartedly and has made provision for 99-series components to connect together via short multiway cables that carry balanced audio as well as control signals. They also match visually, and in our opinion a rack of 99-series components looks much better than a single unit.

The bulk of the case is die-cast, common to all units in the range. It forms top and sides, from which the circuit boards are effectively hung. The transport is also fixed to the top and is a proper audio type with the usual advantage of quicker loading than CD-ROM versions.

Quad tells us that this transport is a new one for this latest model, with the most up-to-date error correction software. It's supported by Philips chips and a Crystal Semiconductor DAC - a relatively simple digital path eschewing upsampling and using well-established parts. In a similar vein, the analogue stages are based on a very popular op-amp with decent passive components.

The four front panel buttons actually manage to operate five switches, as one has top and bottom halves- we don't care for the feel much but the remote's fine.

This is a player that positively revels in the challenge of a really large-scale piece of music. In fact, the sound actually seems to get better - more solid, more 'present' - as the level and complexity increase. This is a rare situation, though not quite unique, but in any case we've no intention of arguing as it makes its own strong case for the 99CD-S's credibility.

With smaller-scale works, there's little if anything wrong with the sound, but it seems a bit lacking in impact and immediacy. One listener to this player put his finger on it when he said that the sound seems to "snap into focus" above a certain level and this seems a very apt metaphor.

In quiet music, the bass doesn't quite seem to connect with the listener, while in big orchestral climaxes or those wonderful rock'n'roll moments, there's an almost tangible body to the bass. Midrange and treble, meanwhile, remain defiantly distinct in a way that makes one sit up and take notice.

That has an impact on the player's tonal impression, which seems just a shade rich at times, and is also on occasion very slightly bright in the treble. The important midband is neutral, though, and voices are good and natural. Detail and imaging is also good, but if neither is quite the best of the bunch when one listens really critically, they both stand up comfortably to the standard of the group.

But hi-fi minutiae are not the point here, and this player will appeal to those who like to put on something noisy. Chamber music lovers and background music fans need not apply! Richard Black

Lab Report

Once again, a largely clean bill of health emerges from the lab. The main area that stands out as a weakness is noise, where performance is more like barely satisfactory than actually good. Could this contribute to the player's relative weakness in quieter music? On the other hand, the unusually poor near-ultrasonic characteristic of the oversampling filter, which allows even more aliasing than usual in the 22-24kHz band, is likely to have more effect in loud music and in this case seems a minor drawback in practice. Interestingly, this filter (a little like Naim's) is an asymmetric type, but with far more post-ringing than pre-ringing. Distortion is typical, hovering around the 0.002 per cent level near maximum output at most frequencies: it does show slight signs of 'analogue jitter' (phase modulation) but only at a low level. Output voltage is a touch above average and speed accuracy is fine.