With the Marantz CD94 starting to get a bit long in the tooth and with a unfilled market slot in the 500 pounds region, other manufacturers were in a position to take advantage, so Marantz has 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 - the company has invested in diecast zinc alloy chassis forms the very rigid structure upon which the player is founded. The top panel is another two-piece allo extrusion, and some of the steel panels are copper plated, along with the screws that hold it all together. The frond 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 the 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 around 150 discs, pluss 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 multiple 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 copper foil polystyrene types.

The wiring around the transport control section looks a little messy, but apart from that the design is well sorted. A select 'B' grade digital filters drives the similarly selected Philips TDA1541A S1 digital-to-analogue 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 the Philips' better types, with an alloy laser deck mounted on a foam-damped spring suspension. Even the loading draw is metal rather than plastic and is smoother in operation, but the disc clamp looks standard and its no quicker than normal.

Lab report
It's difficult to final fault with this player as there seems to be no performance area where it falls 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 is good nonetheless. The -90dB sinewave shows a little triangulation and some harmonic distortion artefacts may be seen on the spectogram. Both left and rights channels have a slight negtive 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 Philips TDA1541A 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 CD75SE, with a few small if important differences. The background doesn't sound quite as clean: it is somehow more amorphous. Whereas on the Marantz CD75SE instruments and singers alike can be clearly and precisly located in space, the Marantz CD85 smears them slightly, thickening and removing some of the dynamic edges of transienst 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 creates a big sound with pleny of slam and weight. Separation 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 not as interesting or involving; is dynamically dulled and doesn't hold my attention to the same as the Marantz CD75 / Marantz CD75 mkII SE.

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

Test results
Test resolution: 15.9 bits
Output level, source impedance: 1.93V, -0.30dB, 200ohms
Effective dynamic range: 108dB
Harmonic distortion: ref 0dB: -95dB (20Hz), -93dB (1kHz), -88dB (20kHz)
Harmonic distortion: ref -70dB: -34dB
Stereo separation: 122dB (20Hz), 120dB (1kHz), 100dB (20kHz)
Stereo balance L/R: 0.08dB (20Hz), 120dB (1kHz), 100dB (20kHz)
Frequency response (20Hz to 20kHz): +/-0.07dB
High frequency intermodulation: -104dB (0.00063%)
Electrical noise (CCIR ARM, 1kHz): -105dB
Mechanical noise: low
Ultrasonic noise: -112dB
Error correction: 2.5mm gap
Shock/vibration resistance: very good
De-emphasis: -0.08dB at 5kHz
Track finding speed (15, YEDS 2): 3 secs
White noise overload test: OK
Size (wxdxh): 46 x 35.0 x 10.6 cms
Typical price inc VAT: 550 pounds