Marantz is noted in the UK for its decade-long success in producing a chain of fine, moderate cost CD players. If sometimes contradictory on other matters the audio press were almost uniform in singing their praises. But the success Marantz has enjoyed in Japan is less well known.
By all accounts, high quality audio remains very healthy there and Marantz engineer Ken Ishiwata has finely honed his skills in creating a range of high end CD players that have achieved record sales in each directed market niche. Exhibiting typical Japanese standards of luxury build and finish, one of those models is now available in the UK, the 3000GBP Marantz CD15.
This product has enjoyed home market sales over 500 units per annum that are the envy of the competition. It has a high Eurotech input, provided by the vast recources of Marantz's parent company Philips, this including the transport, the major control systems and the DAC's.
Presented in the classic livery of satin champagne anodised alloy finish, the exterior case (full sized at 454mm wide by 360mm deep and 138mm high) is made of this very solid material. In keeping with its up-market audiophile image, a luxury remote handset has been specially designed to accompany this machine. This weighty but slim creation also comes with a satin anodised fascia and matching gold buttons. The controls on the minimalist fascia are confined to power, play, pause, previous and next track, plus display off. If you werehoping for a relaxing time in darkened roo conditions, the display off button unfortunately illuminates an overbright led which you may well feel like blacking over!
Founded on a strong diecas chassis the Marantz CD15 begins with the renowned Philips CDM4 Pro mechanism, a miniature diecast nit with the long life, low vibration Hall effect disc motor (bruchliess, low noise).
Transport and tracking control are via stepless servo electronics with analogue procession, which is still favoured by many designers. Good isolation for the Philips CDM4 mechanism is given by damped coil springs. A Japanese-built high tech loader is employed together with frictionless magnetic disc clamping. All internal chassis sections are heavily copper plated including the diecast base.
Once recovered and error proofed the data is digitally filtered in an NPC SM5803 which includes de-emphasis control. Subsequently this is processed to high over-sampling, noise shaped Bit Stream rate in the Philips SAA7350 chip. A fast logic array divides two Philips TDA1547 DACs (these are bit FET switced capacitor networks). It has four DAC units per integrated circuit and also includes four current to voltage converters. After leaving the DAC the signals reacht the first differential combiner and then a second stage employing 5534 audio ICs with filtering, leading to a final amplifier to achieve the unbalanced analogue output. This stage uses the Marantz HDAM hybrid monolith amplifier unit also seen in the Marantz CD63. HDAM is a high speed discrete classic op amp using chip components and surface mount technology, while the outpu devices are discrete, medium power FETs.
For the balanced outputs, buffers feed studio grade 600 ohm output transformers and there is a transformer winding included in the feedback loop to maximise transformer performance.
Reference CD plaers included the Wadia 16, the Krell KPS20iL and the Accuphase DP70V, backed by an Orelle DA188 and a QED Digit Reference converters. Level control was by an Audio Synthesis Passion and a Conrad-Johnson PV12. Power amplifiers used included the Meridian 605 and Musical Fidelity A1000 plus a Krell KSA-100S. Monitoring was via Mordaunt Short Performance 860s, a QUAD 63 and the Wilson System V.
Well warmed up and run in, the Marant CD15 was used for a couple of weeks on several systems and throughout all the sessions, it proved to have a consistent approac to music replay.
First impressions were of a strong, confident sound, crips, explicit, dynamic and focused. These impressions remainde throughout, and were further reinforced as location, interfacing and system matching was optimised for the player.
Superbly refined, the Marantz CD15 has succeeded in abolishing grain and roughness, Its sound was finaly textured, seamless and highly resolved. Excellent levels of detail were retrieved regardless of the specific frequency register or the complexity of the music. It possessed high definition throughout the frequency range.
Describing its character, the sound was just a shade brilliant, with a hint, just a hint mind, of 'chromium plate' while the mid range was a touch lean and slightly electronic. If judged as being cool compared with some replay systems, the MarantzCD15 could not, however, be failry critised as clinical or cold. The full bodied lower mid range amd the powerful, extended bass defied any such characterisation.
In some respects, the Marantz CD15 has an American flavour; the bass packs a real punch, is precise and has real weight at the lowest audible frequencies. Broadly well balanced, the mid range showed just how revealing the Marantz CD15 is, in its ability to faithfully portrau the natural tone colour and timbre of sounds.
Stereo images were to a high standard with very good depth and focus, while image width was fine. Ambiance in recordings was weel realiswed, with this and the high transparency combining to help establish convincing, well layered prespectives in the sound stage illusion.
In the treble, the level of recovered detail was exceptional, achieved without grain, excess 'edge' or false sibilance, this was a genuinely low jitter sound.
In all these respects it matched and even beat classic player references such as the Accuphase CD70V, reaching towards the state of the art levels seen with the Wadia 16 and Krell KPS20i. Where the Marantz CD5 gave rise to conflicting opinion was rhythm and timing. Rhythmic expression was rated as 'above average'; unexceptional in view of its other qualities. Some of the swing, flow and verve of favourite tracks was blunted but the firm bass and dynamic expressive midrange helped to hold up the standard in the face of a loss heard in the treble. Trenble percussion - hi hat and the like - could not establish a really clear rhythmic pattern nor did the treble align itself very tightly with the musical pulse established in the bass and mid register.
As i have frequently mentioned in review, this subtle aspect of sound quality is often separated from benchmark characteristics of hig fidelity: focus, clarity, neutrality and so on. The importance of good rhythm will depend on personal taste and sensitivity, system matching and favoured programme.
In an effort to explain the ratings for sound quality, if 'hi-fi' parameters were paramount then the Marantz CD15 would get a straight win at 40 marks. But if the rhythm aspecst is crucial some listeners might knock it back as far as 20!
I have chosen to split the difference and give the Marantz CD15 a worhty 30. This is not as arbitrary as it sounds since the score sheets did in fact carry numbers in the suggested range.
Tried via the balanced outputs to assess the flavour of their alternative driver and coupling technology, the Marantz CD15 was disappointing. Now the sound was darkened and closed in and the entire sound stage compressed in both width and depth, together with a noted loss of lower level ambiance. The bass had less depth and crispness, the treble a whitened glare which was most surprising. All this lead to an overall rating of 20 for the balanced output, below average for the class.
This luxury Marantz is of audiophile quality, built and finished to the required standard. It demonstrated an exemplaru preformance in resolution and linearity, with veru low noise and distortion at all levels and frequencies. It tracked well, demonistrating good vibration resisanve, though like all good players, also benfited from an isolating platform. It was fitted with properly executed balanced outputs but the sound was not a patch on the single ended line outputs and these have presumably been included to meet a specific market requirement.
Via line in, the Marantz CD15 impressed with its very good stereo, precision, control and detail, these remaining constant over a wide range of frequencies, loudness, programme ype and complexity. It was however less then fully convincing on treble timing and rhythmic flow.
Nevertheless the overaal ratings were high enough and i strongly advise potential purchasers to audition for themselves this recommended, high performance one-box cdplayer.
Type: Compact disk player
Number of channels: 2
D/A conversion system: 1bit linear/channel, double selected blue star TDA1547
Frequency characteristic Line Out (RCA): 20Hz~20kHz ±0.2dB
Frequency characteristic Balanced (XLR): 20Hz~20kHz ±0.2dB
Dynamic range: 96dB
SN ratio: 108dB
Channel separation Above: 100dB (20Hz~20kHz)
All the harmonic distortion factors: 0.00135% (1kHz)
Wow flutter: Crystal precision
Output level/impedance Line Out (RCA): 2VRMS/150 Ohm
Output level/impedance Balanced (XLR): 3VRMS/150 Ohm
Conformity load impedance Line Out (RCA): Above 10 kOhm
Conformity load impedance Balanced (XLR): Above 10 kOhm (to RCA)
Digital output Coaxial: 0.5Vp-p/75O
Electric power consumption: 20W
External size (wxhxd): 454x138x360mm