With the Marantz CD94 starting to get a bit long in the tooth and with an unfilled market slot in the £500 price region, other manufacturers were in a position to take advantage, so Marantz now launched the Marantz CD85 which competes head on with some highly regarded established players in this price group.

In complete contrast to the light plastic boxed siblings that Marantz is so good at -and in true Japanese fashion, for an upmarket player needs to be weighty- the company has invested in some heavy engineering here. The heavy diecast zinc alloy chassis forms the very rigid structure upon which the player is founded. The top panel is another two-piece alloy extrusion, and some of the steel panels are copper plated, along with the screws that hold it all together. The front panel is yet another high quality alloy extrusion, but the buttons and end caps are plastic. To complete the effect, the side panels are solid wood with a high gloss finish, and the whole thing sits on four large round metal-finished feet.

There are all facilities you would expect from a machine of this type -apart that is from a variable line output. FTS is available for a total of aroun 150 discs, plus all the normal track, index and search facilities (two speeds), full programming for up to 24 tracks or extracts, full edit facilities, AMS (which plays the first 10 seconds of each track) and full repeat facilities. Everything is duplicated on the remote handset, which also has a track select keypad.
Internally the player is very interesting. It has an entirely different board layout from Marantz's cheaper offerings, and represents a completely new computer optimised design, using multi-board construction techniques with ribbon cable linkages. The power supply uses a large transformer, ample audio quality supply capacitors and multi chip regulators attached to a proper heatsink. The main board is covered with audiophile Cerafine electrolytics for decoupling and a variety of film caps elsewhere, including coper foil polystyrene types.
The wiring around the transport control looks a little messy, but apart from that the design is well sorted. A selected 'B' grade digital filter drives the similarly selected TDA1541A S1 digital-to-anaolgue converter, with good quality film decoupling. The audio section is arranged in a straight line down one side of the board, with all components mirrored positionally for left and right channels. Single op-amps are used in place of the normal dual types for the audio current to voltage conversion, filtering and the final stage, which is direct coupled to the output. Output muting is by relay but de-emphasis is FET-switched. The transport is one of Philips' better types, with an alloy laser deck mounted on a foam-damped spring suspension. Even the draw is metal rather than plastic and is smoother in operation, but the disc clamp looks standard and it's no quicker than normal.

Lab report
It's difficult to find fault with this player as there seems to be no performance area where it faills down. The intermodulation distortion results are excellent, ultrasonic noise is well suppressed and the signal-to-noise ratio is better than most. Low level linearity is not perfect, but it is good nonetheless. The -90dB sinewave shows a little triangulation and some harmonic distortion artefacts may be seen on the spectrogram. Both left and right channels have a slight negative linearity error starting at -70dB, reaching about 3dB at -90dB before correcting itself lower down - there was hardly any error at -110dB. On this evidence S1 DACs appear little better than standard A selections in this respect. Error correction didn't quite match its cheaper stablemates, but is good enough nonetheless.

Sound quality
The Marantz CD85 sounds basically like a Marantz CD75 SE, with a few small if important differences. The background doesn't sound quite as clean; it is somehow more amorphous. Whereas on the Marantz CD75 SE instruments and singers alike can be clearly and precisely located in space, the Marantz CD85 smears them slightly, thickening and removing some of the dynamic edges of transients and sounding to some extent more rounded. The stage isn't as finely etched as it could be, but depth and width, in the normal sense, are very good.
Whereas the Marantz CD85 seems to sacrifice some fine detail, on the plus side it offers a convincing sensation of authority and crerates a big sound with plenty of slam and weight. Seperation of images in all planes just isn't as clearly defined; harmonic textures are also glossed over to a small degree, and some emotion is lost from voice. Very nice - yes it's just nog as interesting or involving; is dynamically dulled and doesn't hold my attention to the same degree as the Marantz CD75 / Marantz CD75 mkII SE.

Conclusions Marketing strategies are sometimes perverse, since this fairly expensive player is beaten for sound quality in some ways by two of its cheaper stablemakers. There is no doubt concerning the high quality construction and fine lab performance, and as it stands it deserves Recommendation, but listen first as the presentation is slightly different.