THE SE in the title of this machine stands for Special Edition, as shown on a fortunately small but rather florid badge on the disc drawer. Not having a non-SE CD65 to hand, I can only guess at what is special and would expect this to be the inclusion of higher grade Cerafine capacitors in most of the power supply situations and elsewhere, plus a few other detail improvements. Although given the Marantz refinements and a touch of their styling, this is very much a Philips machine and emanates from their Belgian CD player plant at Hasselt. It uses a late version of the Philips CDM4 plastics mechanism which has gradually moved away from its initial flimsiness and is now quite respectable, with a decent metal hub for the disc motor and a weighted chuck to hold the rotating disc in place.
However, this mechanism is still rather noisy, both in the loading and the playing conditions, although much of the latter can be blamed on the poor acoustic isolation afforded by the polystyrene cabinet housing. Some attempt may have been made to improve things by means of a thin damping pad stuck to the underside of the top of the steel cover. Both the loading and the track shift are quite slow by modern standards, taking four seconds to engage a late track. The laser assembly has been considerably changed but still operates on the swinging arm linear motor system which the company pioneered. The tray is now recessed to take the new 80mm 20-minute CDsingle discs and the whole playing platform is nicely floated so that there is good isolation from. external shocks.
The remainder of the casework is a moulded plastics tray with cleverly interlocking projections to engage the various parts, which include the one heavy item, the skeleton mains transformer. The front panel is a black anodized aluminium extrusion carrying the power on/off push-switch button at the left below the disc drawer. The actual switch is operated by a push rod and is situated alongside the mains input socket adjacent to the power transformer. This admir able compaction is rather negated by the placement of the fuseholder and voltage adjuster at the far end of the rear panel; the consequential twist of unscreened cabling at mains potential passes an inch or two above the whole of the audio section.
The timing display window is placed slightly to the right of centre and the information in it appears in a rather vivid blue/green. There are also a number of flags which come on to remind you that you have exercised certain options. Main control keys are below this window and lesser used ones grouped to the right above the headphones socket; there is no control of volume to the latter but the source impedance has been chosen to even out the differences in level which might occur with headphones of varying characteristics. Additional functions are obtainable via the remote control handset provided; this is neatly laid out but a brighter typeface would have been an improvement, particularly as I found the handset much easier to use than the awkwardly hinged keys on the machine itself.
An internal inspection reveals a considerable area of free space in this standard width machine, suggesting that the original conception also had midi machines in mind. Almost everything is concentrated on the one copper plated, double-sided printed circuit board and at first one is brought up short by the apparently low component count. All is revealed if the board is lifted, for its underside (with the print on) is liberally sprinkled with SMCs (surface mounted components)—tiny resistors and capacitors which are machine glued to the board before the solder dip to achieve the latest in automated fabrication. This machine uses the standard Philips CD chip set, which has undoubtedly improved with time; the TDA1541 converter included has an A suffix and retained good linearity right down to the — 90dB level on the test disc, where the error was only I dB. Early versions would rarely make any attempt at resolving this small a signal at all, and it was not until I started measuring the obviously selected samples used, for example, by Sony a couple of years ago that the full possibilities of this clever design began to surface.
Other measurements made on this CD65SE were largely in agreement with the specification but signal to unweighted noise was considerably worse than the figure quoted, which presumably is CCIR weighted although it does not say so. Incidentally, the noise background is some 6dB higher when the machine is resting than in the play mode and a further 3 or 4dB arises on reversing the mains plug in the rear socket; that can just be heard if the volume is set at a reasonably loud listening level.
There is a digital output socket on this machine and a shorting plug has been provided for it when not in use; its omission gives rise to a few mild high-frequency spikes in the output which are quite harmless. The CD65SE also comes with a two-core reversible mains lead and a decent stereo phono-to-phono lead.
The listening tests showed a nicely balanced output from this machine but of a somewhat restrained character. The extreme low bass was rather softened and less thrilling than it can be, although far from emaciated. Further up the scale there was a tendency to deliver a less than definitive performance. George Shearing's staccato piano opening on Gershwin's "Love walked in" (MPS 833 284-2) was dulled and denatured by this player and on many discs one realised that a familiar acoustic had become vague and the background.
On the plus side, there was no trace of harshness in the treble and the grainy roughness which many of the less expensive players seem to suffer was not heard here. The inoffensive quality was apparent at all sound levels and is likely to be found pleasurable by many listeners; however, it remained several steps away from the incisive clarity which the best players can produce. One might hazard a guess that the known and indeed measured accuracy of the digital conversion in this very machine gets modified by the rather ordinary audio stages which follow it. Unfortunately, although it is not too difficult to feed a handful of superior components into the pipeline, it is not really possible to introduce any radical upgrade in a modern automated production line. The results are, however, nicely balanced, as I've said, and the CD65SE/II certainly represents good value at the price.