The name Marantz has had a long history in audio. The firm was founded by an American hi-fl pioneer, Saul Marantz, but today it is a Philips owned company with access to that vast Dutch industrial empire's many European manufacturing plants as well as its own production facilities retained in the Far East, giving Philips a reciprocal foothold there. In the circumstances you will not be surprised to learn that these two new CD players bear a remarkable resemblance to the 16-bit Philips machines we reviewed in our August issue (page 322) and come from the same Philips plant in Belgium. The external appearance has been adjusted to match other items in the Marantz range, of course, and both have additional colour-coded phono sockets and internal circuitry to mate with the various Marantz remote controls. That apart, the cheaper and larger model CD-56 seems to be electrically identical with the more compact, midi-sized, Philips CD-450 already discussed in these columns, and certainly measures and sounds the same.
Our attention then focuses on the senior model CD-65, for which some rather interesting claims are made. In spite of the parallel with the Philips top model CD-650, the extra money reflected in the price has been spent in a different way. Philips opted for additional facilities as we described, whereas Marantz have looked hard at the sound quality.
The basic performance of a modern mass-produced CD player is pretty well proscribed by the design and performance of the dedicated integrated circuits (the chips) available. These in turn reflect the strength of original thinking on the part of their conceivers and the skills exhibited by those responsible for their quantity manufacture. Inevitably at the end of this process there will be tolerances, variations and imperfections, and so one possibility of improvement lies in selecting the most accurate part of the total Output of components and using them in top-grade machines. No manufacturer has yet officially admitted that this takes place, but it happens. (As an aside, we have already noticed in the Denon DCD-1500 reviewed in September that correction circuits, keeping deviant chips to the straight and narrow path of rectitude, are coming into vogue and a much more elaborate use of this idea has been noted in new Nakamichi models auditioned but not yet reviewed.)
Even with the chips 'fried to perfection', there are quite a few other peripheral matters which affect our enjoyment of the meal. I think it was Robert Stuart of Meridian who first drew attention to the improvements to be gained in early CD players by additional care with power supplies and alterations to the audio stages, and it is this aspect which has engaged the attention of Marantz's Steve Harris. The major changes made to the model CD-65 involve the removal of most of the electrolytic capacitors from the factory massproduction Circuit boards and their replacement with selected components of much higher grade. This applies not only to audio Coupling and decoupling devices, but also to parts of the power supplies where the recently developed ceramic powder capacitors were found to be a worthwhile upgrade because of their superior ability to 'sit on' certain disturbing impulsive currents produced in the digital parts of the player. These changes are carried out in the UK by a specialist company who then retest and repack the machines before they are returned for distribution. No, they will not do the modifications to your Philips player, (a) because they are not equipped to tackle 'one-offs' and (b) because this would just not be fair to Marantz who did the hard work and much subjective listening before deciding exactly what those modifications should be.
The remainder of the model CD65 is very much in the Philips idiom. The mechanism is the now standard plastics CDM2 which seems to work reliably enough, even if it is a little noisier than most in operation. Much of the chassis and casework is also plastics. The facilities and controls provided are adequate and take up the full range of CD's versatility including Index points and a 20 memory store. They are, however, aimed at making everyday operation simple at the expense of causing the user to think hard if anything less usual is contemplated. For example, I particularly miss not being able to launch straight into any track; it is daunting to have to punch a keypad 24 times to hear "Candide's Lament" on the recent Roberta Alexander record of Bernstein songs! The CD56 and CD-65 have identical controls and fluorescent display panels, blue and green respectively, indicating programme and time details, but only the CD-65 has a headphone socket with its companion volume control. The multi-language instruction manuals are adequate but there are occasional lapses in the English translation.
A full set of measurements was, carried out on both models, as much in an attempt to identify something at variance between them as to establish absolute values. Nothing of the sort appeared, although both models exceeded the specification in most respects. Output 21 volts, frequency response completely flat to 15kHz falling to —02dB at 20kHz, signalto-noise ratio 98dB left 105dB right, crosstalk 2-5dB (the latter at 20kHz) above noise, distortion 00025% at I kHz, squarewave copybook—one could go on but it would be meaningless. More important, what of the sound? I hesitate to say. In recent months I have been subjected to widely ranging opinions from a variety of sources: e.g. "The CD process is so perfect that all CD players must sound the same" (Dogma). "1 am unable to measure anything to justify the differences people claim to hear" (Try your ears). "The differences I can hear are so small compared to other things as to be unimportant" (Are they?). "I could not hear any. "I did not believe the new **** could sound that much more lifelike and less mechanical than my old player" (Money well spent). "The Which? team could not hear any differences" (Never mind them; can you?). "None of them equal my X turntable, Y arm and Z cartridge" (Especially if you listen by gaslight to cover up the hiss).
It is a fact that the second half of 1986 has confronted me with a significant number of CD players from many sources that all sound so law of averages alone means that they must be reproducing what is on the disc. I think it was Sony's Iwopart machine which gave us the front marker, but the several Philips 16-bit machines, these Marantz versions, the other Sony ES models, the latest Technics, the new Nakamichi are all extremely difficult to identify with any degree of repeatability; indeed the differences between them are sometimes masked by the differences between outwardly identical versions of the same model, particularly in the rear rank; variations between them are often noticed if one has a side-byside comparison going. In contrast, some of the older machines, many of which were the favourite smoothies of other reviewers, now stand apart as the clearly recognizable odd men out, fully justifying our own frequent comparison with the sound of live music.
Back to the Marantz machines; is the CD-65 better? Yes I think it is; there is a certain snap to the sound, an improved detachment from the loudspeakers, an indefinable some thing which in the course of an evening's listening adds life to performances. It is not that the CD-56 is in any noticeable way deficient but, after a while, the desire to change back to the CD-65 is undeniable. I have tried it on other people and, as I expected, few would venture an opinion. However, one old, and one only 20 had no doubt and repeatedly went for the CD-65 on blind comparison. Oh dear, I hope this doesn't start another spate of correspondence.