We thought we'd seen this one before, but as it turns out that was the 100, not the Shanling CD-T1000SE, which is a new model though evidently sharing a few mechanical components.

It's based on a Philips mechanism, but instead of the usual loading tray it has a flip-up lid. This allows direct loading of the disc and makes for exceptionally fast access since the transport is very quick to read a disc.

There's a lot more to this model than just the convenience of top-loading, though. For a start there are the valves, obvious at once in their attractive protective surrounds (the word 'cage' hardly seems appropriate here).

High quality CD player

You get the best of both worlds in a sense, thanks to Shanling's provision of two sets of outputs at the rear, one 'Tube' and one 'Direct'.

In other words, if you find the idea of adding valves to a digital signal chain suspect, you can listen without them and simply enjoy their attention-grabbing appearance. You can't forego valves if you choose to use the headphone socket, though, as one pair is dedicated to driving that.

Inside the very shallow chassis is a well-filled circuit board equipped with high quality DACs, an unusually generous provision of upmarket op-amps and an upsampling chip.

Shanling has made upsampling a switchable option, so you have unusual opportunities to tune this player to taste. There's even a digital volume control. Build quality is high, with plenty of little extras such as the ferrite interference stopper on the leads to the output sockets.

Copious amounts of detail

With so many options to choose from we plumped for oversampled operation via the 'tube' output, as it seems likely that this is how most units of this model will be used.

Shanling will have no cause to argue with our choice as the results are among the best of its class. In fact, one listener declared this firmly his favourite of the day, while the sentiments expressed by the others were hardly less enthusiastic.

It seems the single most impressive aspect of the sound is the extent to which it gets 'out of the box' in every sense - images which extend beyond the loudspeakers in all directions and, perhaps even more important, instruments that seem less constrained by the realities of sound reproduction.

There is copious detail on offer, never unnaturally emphasised but gratifyingly easy to follow and allowing highly analytical listening if one cares to try.

The frequency extremes are well-balanced and integrated with the midband - being picky, there's an occasional lack of complete control in the bass but it's by no means enough to cause headaches. That's the basics covered.

Involving sound

Where this player really excels, though, is in sheer musical communication and involvement. There is a cohesion to the sound and the listener is treated to an unusually convincing musical rendition as a result.

Whether the music be hard-driven bebop, the slow movement of a classical string quartet or synth-based pop, it is presented with complete conviction and that, surely, is what one looks for in any hi-fi component.