Marantz appears to approach its work of building audio equipment with the healthy enthusiasm of the amateur rather than the 'safe' predictability of the corporation. Its fondness for the "special edition" and the designer tweak is evident from its catalogue; no matter how well received a particular piece of equipment may be, Marantz never seems satisfied — the mark, some might say, of the artist. There is always something that can be modified and improved, giving the buyer the choice between the version built to a market slot and the one which is free of such restrictions.

So it is with the latest Special Edition model, the £349.95 CD-67SE. An already successful and highly regarded CD player has gone back to the designer's bench and had changes made to the detail of its circuitry and construction, bringing to a relatively inexpensive machine some of the benefits of the Marantz expertise that has created the flagship Reference Series.

The machine is in one sense very straightforward, looking for all the world like a typical low-mid priced CD player, with no attempt at eye-catching extravagance, minimalism or esoteric aloofness. It is loaded with all the features and conveniences the mass market expects and which are often deliberately omitted from the more up-market offerings.

Unusually, most of the programming of these functions can be carried out from the front panel without recourse to the remote control handset, which means there are quite a few buttons and a very comprehensive display window. Simple track-by-track• programming is complemented by the facility to tell the machine which tracks not to play, and an elaborate Edit function takes the headaches out of the task of making cassette recordings from CDs.

In the first place the machine allows the user to tell it the length — to the minute, mark you — of the cassette being used. It then decides where to break the CD playback to fit the recording across the two sides. It can also insert fixed gaps of four seconds between tracks: To help set the 146 Gramophone June 1997 recording levels on the cassette deck, the machine will search for the loudest passage on the whole CD and play it four times to allow the peak level to be adjusted. This process takes a few minutes but is preferable to either playing the whole disc through first (and praying the telephone doesn't ring just as it reaches the loudest part) or hoping for the best and ending up with a sub-standard recording. After these preliminaries have been completed the copying process is more or less automatic — including synchronized starting if a suitably equipped Marantz cassette deck is used.

None of this is unique to the CD-67SE but such a comprehensive collection of facilities is unusual in a machine which hopes to sell itself primarily on the basis of its audio quality. It also renders slightly absurd the obligatory warning that "recording and playback of some material may require permission", which is a bit like selling someone a gun and asking them not to shoot anything with it. Everyone knows that the circumstances in which it is permissible to copy CDs are as rare as hens' teeth, but I don't know anyone who buys a cassette version of a CD they already own purely in order to play it in the car, even though strictly speaking they should. Few set out deliberately to deprive the record companies of legitimate income, but as long as so many feel they have a moral right to make copies for their own use facilities such as those offered by the CD-67SE will have their place. This particular machine is especially helpful in this respect.

The rear panel sports the usual array of phono sockets for analogue and digital outputs, plus an optical digital output. There are also phonos for Marantz's D-Bus control system which allows various combinations of Marantz components to function as an integrated system. All of this is the recipe as before: a neat and practical CD player with a generous collection of features. The differences that make this a Special Edition are, not surprisingly, to be found inside and range from the mechanical to the electronic, some quite major and some dealing with smaller details. Mechanical improvements all set out to increase the rigidity and support for the transport, with a new bottom plate and uprated bracing for the chassis. A change in line with current trends is a new mains transformer, with revised core material and upgraded oxygen-free copper in its primary and secondary windings.

Electronic changes incorporate the latest developments central to Marantz's high performance products. Many Marantz models shun integrated circuits and instead use the company's own Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Modules (HDAMs) which are assembled from discrete surface-mount components on small PCBs and heavily shielded. The CD-67SE has the latest version of the HDAM, with copper plating on the shielding, reflecting Marantz's enthusiastic use of copper for important screening and grounding jobs.

New servo and drive ICs are used in the digital section in the interests of improved tracking and better retrieval of data, with the presumed intention of making fewer demands on the errorcorrection system and dealing with less-than-perfect CDs. The CD6 decoder has been replaced with the CD7 for improved performance.

Curiously, the only change to the published specifications compared with the CD-67 is the increased weight, so the proof of the pudding can only be in the eating. Sure enough, the sonic behaviour of the Specification the same camp as other audiophile Marantz play ers. I was immediately struck by the family resem blance in the nature of the sound, and found when I checked my files that the very expression I had in mind to characterize it was exactly what I had used to describe a previous model, the CD63 MkII KI. That expression was "smooth as silk", and it remains the overriding impression created by this machine. The delivery is effortless, from the warmest bass to the highest percussion overtones, with a seamless integration to the elements which lends transparency rather than imposing a tonal character.

Not long ago I was fortunate to acquire a CD demonstrating various BrUel & Kjxr microphones, and since appreciation of these excellent recording devices relies on discerning their resolution and transparency it makes an ideal test source. The Marantz conveyed all the aspects of the microphones I know to be there, with the spectral breadth intact and the clarity of the HF response singing through on sounds like triangles and the other subtler elements of orchestral percussion. The recordings contain substantial spatial information, and this too is very well presented by the CD-67SE, with the combination of depth and solidity that only comes from accuracy.

Marantz appears once again to have achieved a difficult feat: the CD-67SE is at once revealing and musical, characteristics some seem to find mutually exclusive. Its price places it above the budget league but nearer to it than to the audiophile bracket, while its performance would suggest the reverse. Its ability to deliver this kind of quality alongside a plethora of features will appeal to those who fear that sonic integrity only comes shorn of extras, and should comfortably exceed anyone's expectations at the price