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A second life for your first PlayStation

Gary Krakow investigates the growing underground movement of audiophiles who use a PlayStation 1 game console as a hi-fi stereo CD player.
Recognize this device as a gaming machine or a hi-fi component?
Recognize this device as a gaming machine or a hi-fi component?Sony

Is there an original Sony PlayStation  game console still in use in your home?   Or do you have your PS1 buried at the bottom of a closet?

It turns out your video game console may be worth a lot more than you think. You might actually own one of the best sounding, high-fidelity CD players out there. 

Audiophiles have been abuzz about PlayStation 1 audio for some time now. There has been a lot of experimenting with these game consoles with some very interesting results. 

One of my guides in this journey has been Michael Lavorgna — an audio guru who writes for Michael has been listening to his PlayStation for a while now and helped me find the best-sounding machines.

Sony’s first PlayStation was released in the United States in September, 1995. It had a custom MIPS R3000 processor and it used CD-ROMs for playing games. Sony sold more than 100 million units. That means there are a lot of used ones out there.

There were a number of different PlayStation models made over the PlayStation 1's five-year life span. Michael told me to look for a PlayStation with the model number SCPH-1001, which is the unit with separate audio and video RCA output jacks. That particular model allows audiophiles to use their own (expensive) audio cables to get “perfect” sound.

I also tried one of the other PlayStation consoles that didn’t have separate RCA output jacks.  Other models had a single output cord with audio and video jacks at the end. I found one in good condition on eBay.

Before I started my listening tests, Michael had a warning for me: "Plug in the units — turn ‘em on — and don’t turn them off."  It seems the PlayStations sound best when left on all the time. Michael was right. You shouldn’t even listen for the first three days.  Both units need every second of the break-in period.

Overall, both of these PlayStation game consoles make really terrific CD component decks.  Compared to a Pioneer DVD/CD/SACD player, the Sonys sounded clearer and cleaner. They also held their own against my top-of-the-line, Class A+ rated Sony SACD machine.

But in the end, the more expensive player was just plain better. As for the PlayStations, I preferred, slightly, the sound of my 009 model to the 1001 — but the differences were few. 

I preferred the 1001’s original Sony game controller to the bright red “aftermarket” controller which came with the 009.   PlayStation controllers are wired units. They are not as flexible as more modern wireless remote controls units which come with most devices. Plus, since the controllers weren’t designed for home audio use, you’re on your own to figure out what to press to get your music to play.

If you already own a PlayStation you should dust it off and give it a listen. And, if you want to buy one you should be able to find a console good shape for $25 or less on eBay. My 009 cost me all of $20 — including shipping.  And, there were a bunch of neat video games thrown in as well.