CD player David Foister said to span the whole range of possibilities with its products. With a long tradition of quality and innovation, it has never been afraid to offer more humble fare, confident that the sight of its more basic equipment in the high street chains will not colour enthusiasts' perceptions of its products with higher aspirations.
Marantz's broad palette is also evidenced in its small but important involvement in professional audio, from the Superscope portable cassette recorder, which found favour in many applications from broadcast reporting to sound effects gathering, to its role in the development of Recordable CD (CD-R). This, in itself, has grown from the early production of a rebadged recorder to the latest reports of a new second-generation machine combining the roles of stand-alone CD recording and SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) CD writing, making it a suitable machine for mastering.
This depth of experience with the CD medium applies equally to its conventional reproduction, and the CD-16 is the latest development in Marantz's long line of CD players. The CD-16 belongs to the current Reference range, and shares many of its design elements.
The outward appearance of the machine is modest and unassuming, carrying the bare minimum of controls on what is nevertheless a large cabinet. The audiophile design detail is suggested from the outside by a number of small points, such as the high quality gold-plated phono sockets (mounted on substantial insulating washers in the case of the analogue outputs) and the facility to turn off the front panel display in the interests of subtle sonic improvement. This feature has the added refinement of two stages of blanking, with the option of retaining the time display while removing the programming details. A further outward sign of the inner approach is the glint here and there of the unmistakable colour of copper; a feature of the whole Reference range is the use of a non-magnetic copper-shielded chassis to eliminate eddy currents. The edge of this chassis is clearly visible around the bottom of the cabinet from the sides and back, as are the heads of the copper-coated screws holding the unit together. In every respect the mechanical construction is both attractive and reassuringly solid, with rugged, heavy extruded panels and slightly recessed controls.
The attention to detail naturally extends to the design of the CD16's circuitry, in which Marantz has again adopted some interesting ideas. The converters are dual DAC-7 Bitstream converters in double differential mode and, in the analogue electronics conventional off-the-shelf operational amplifiers are shunned in favour of Marantz's own Hyper Dynamic Amp Modules or HDAMs. These use independent surface-mount components on a shielded doublesided PCB, and Marantz cites shorter signal paths and faster response as their advantages. Isolated power supplies for the digital and analogue circuits, with what Marantz calls a Current Conversion Noise Eliminator, complete the picture, all aimed at keeping the signal as clean as possible. The transport itself incorporates a floating die-cast Philips CDM-4MD swing arm laser mechanism to reduce resonance.
Besides the analogue outputs already mentioned, the rear panel carries two coaxial digital outputs, also on phono sockets. These are identical, allowing the player to be connected to a digital recorder and an external DAC simultaneously. Apart from the mains lead, the only other feature on the back is a useful pair of clips for storing the transport locking screws.
If the front panel appears to be bereft of features as befits an audiophile CD player, then the remote handset comes as something of a surprise. This bristles with all the features the CD format has to offer, duplicating all the onboard controls apart from the tray open/close button and adding a host of others. Programming a required playback sequence is possible in minute detail, with access to the rarely-used Index points within tracks as well as the possibility of programming playback with reference to timing information.
The remote also offers the Favourite Track Selection feature, which Marantz has implemented with remarkable thoroughness. This facility stores, in RAM within the player, the users chosen selection of tracks for a particular CD, and offers the possibility of playing that same selection every time that disc is loaded. Depending on the amount of detail stored about each disc, the memory can hold such information for well over a hundred discs. The chosen set of tracks can be edited if desired and, although it is not necessary for operation of the FTS system, Marantz provides a set of small numbered stickers to attach to the CD boxes as a reminder of which memory location each set of playback information is stored in. This is only really useful for editing the contents, as in normal use the player reads the disc's identifying code as it is loaded and matches it immediately with its stored selections.
Measuring the behaviour of a CD player of the quality of the CD-16 can seem something of a futile task, as its performance is virtually impossible to fault without far more sophisticated equipment than I have at my disposal. The only anomaly, which I must assume is an aberration of the review specimen, was a level discrepancy of half a dB between the left and right channels. This remained absolutely constant right across the frequency spectrum, which of course was covered from bottom to top without the meters needles moving, so flat is the frequency response. The output level is within 05dB of the rated 2V for full digital modulation.
Using the machine provides no surprises in terms of its mechanical operation, except that the disc tray is not quite so positive in its location of the disc as some; a couple of times I closed the drawer with a CD apparently in place only to have it rejected. Otherwise ) everything is as expected, with access times to individual tracks no more than average. I was impressed, however, by its ability to find 'difficult' tracks on one or two known problem CDs of mine, which can completely flummox some players. These same CDs can sometimes cause difficulties simply reading the table of contents on loading, but again behaved perfectly in the Marantz.
What did come as a revelation, however, was the superb sound quality produced by the machine, justifying entirely the novel design features and indeed the price of £l,39990. The impression is one of utter openness, with that rare roundness that challenges the diehard digital sceptics. This shows itself to a remarkable degree with a good piano recording, such as Yefim Bronfman's Pictures at an Exhibition on Sony Classical (D SK46481, 1/92). The same transparency and fullness is evidenced by orchestral works, whose natural depth and sense of space was rarely more pleasingly represented, and indeed chamber music, oratorio, and anything else I cared to throw at it. It is of course brutally revealing of edits and other ingredients the producers might wish to have masked, but that is not the player's fault. CDs 1 have recorded myself are particularly likely to make me aware of deficiencies and discrepancies introduced by a player but with the Marantz there was no discernible difference.
There was, as might be expected, a clearly discernible difference between the analogue output of the CD-16 and the sound produced by feeding its digital output into less august converters. The Marantz seemed quieter and was decidedly less strident than my chosen comparison, but without sacrificing a well-defined treble register. The bass too was solid and convincing, and there was a sense of real spatial depth. Switching to the CD-16's converters from the others gave an effect I would characterize as the sonic equivalent of cleaning a window.
This is indeed a very impressive CD player. A glance at the manual gives an initial impression of a machine packed with features so much so as to risk inviting the inference that bells and whistles are its main priority. This is decidedly not the case, as the all-singing, all-dancing handset can be regarded as the icing on the cake of a player which would be worth its asking price on the basis of its sound quality alone.