Marantz CD5004 CD player
After writing my very favorable review of Marantz's PM5003 integrated amplifier ($449.99) for the January 2010 issue, I began to fantasize about how it might be packaged with other components to create a dynamite entry-level system for about $1000 (excluding cables). A good place to start, I felt, was the companion model to the PM5003, Marantz's own CD5003 CD player. Since then, both have been replaced with new models, respectively the PM5004 and CD5004, so I sought out review samples of both. (To read how the PM5004 compares with the PM5003, see my "Follow-Up" on the Marantz PM5004 integrated amplifier.)
The CD5004 offers a lot of technology and features for $349.99. It incorporates "SACD-quality" Cirrus Logic CS4392 D/A converters, which Marantz claims are very linear, producing none of the distortion caused by errors in resistor matching, no performance drift over time or with temperature, and low jitter. The signal paths for the two channels are symmetrical, which Marantz claims should improve the specificity of stereo imaging. Marantz's proprietary Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Modules, used for the analog circuitry, have been trickled down from their Reference Series components, for which the HDAMs were developed. The company claims that these outperform conventional op-amps in speed and low levels of noise. The front panel's aluminum central section electrically shields the circuits inside and the parts of the front panel made of rigid, glass-reinforced resin resist impact and help isolate the CD5004 from vibrations and heat.
The CD5004 plays CDs, CD-Rs, CD-RWs, and discs containing MP3 and WMA files. With the latter, it will display the file metadata, to help identify the disc and its contents. Also included is a buffered headphone amplifier and jack, variable pitch control (designed for musician play-along), a Q Replay button on the remote control that repeats the last 10 seconds played of the current track, and an IR Flasher input to provide connectivity to other components. Coaxial and optical digital outputs are provided.
Early in my listening sessions, I decided that the CD5004's reproduction of tonal balances was beyond reproach. The player's ability to provide rich, delicate, holographic, uncolored midrange textures was clearly evident with the vocal group Sequentia's performance of Hildegard von Bingen's Canticles of Ecstasy (CD, German Harmonia Mundi 0547277320 2). The Marantz's reproduction of the high frequencies of all the CDs I played was clear, clean, and extended, with no trace of brittleness or blunting. I particularly noticed this in the sounds of the shimmering Fender Jazzmaster guitars of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo in "Becuz," from Sonic Youth's Washing Machine (CD, Geffen DGCD-24825). At the other end of the timbral spectrum, the bass-synth blasts in "Man/Machine," from Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60611), were powerful and kick-ass, with no loss of timbre, detail, or speed. The CD5004's expertise in high-level dynamics also made it a good match for hard rock. The aptly named "In Your Face," from Mountain's Man's World (CD, Viceroy VIA8033-2), put Leslie West's burning shred guitar front and center.
The Marantz's ability to render transients with lightning speed made it a good match for well-recorded percussion instruments. My acid test in this regard are the rapid-fire snare pyrotechnics of drummer Chris Tomson in "Cousins," from Vampire Weekend's Contra (CD, XL XLCD429), which the Marantz reproduced without a trace of smear. Speaking of drummers, the CD5004's powers of articulating low-level dynamics made listening to Jack DeJohnette's delicate opening percussion in the title track of his Dancing with Nature Spirits (CD, ECM 1558) an enjoyable and involving experience. The player's dynamic strengths enabled me to enjoy all jazz recordings I tried, especially the "breathing" quality of the ensemble in the title track of Wynton Marsalis's Low Levee Moan (CD, Columbia CK 47975). And Jimmy Smith's Hammond B-3 in "Midnight Special," from Fourmost (CD, Milestone MCD-9484-2), had the requisite growl in the lower middle register.
Although I wouldn't expect a budget CD player to be the last word in retrieving ambience from well-recorded classical discs, the Marantz CD5004 surprised me. The sense of space, air, and decay in Aki Takahashi's performance of Morton Feldman's Illusions, from Aki Takahashi Plays Morton Feldman (CD, Mode 54), gave her solo piano a sense of immediacy and delicacy I normally would expect only from more expensive players. This went hand in hand with the Marantz's ability to unravel detail. Listening to "Top of the Hill," from Tom Waits's brilliant Real Gone (CD, Anti- 86678-2), I was able to follow every instrument buried in this track's intentionally muddy mix. The CD5004 wasn't the last word in unraveling all the detail it retrieved, however. With more expensive players, I have been able to more easily follow the individual instruments on "How Am I Different," from Aimee Mann's Bachelor No.2 or The Last Remains of the Dodo (CD, Super Ego SE002). I had a similar experience in trying to follow the individual orchestral instruments in the recording of Penderecki's Credo by Helmut Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra and Choir (CD, HÑnssler CD 98.311).
It wasn't really fair to compare the CD5004 ($350) with Creek's Destiny CD player ($2495), but I thought it would be at least interesting. The Creek sounded more delicate and airy, with pristine highs. It was easier to follow subtle vocal phrasings and articulations of sibilants. The music also seemed more relaxed through the Creek, with more holographically presented bodies to voices and faster, more natural transient attacks on strings, both electric and acoustic. Being able to follow individual instrument lines was also much easier. Finally, the sound of the Marantz had a bit more of a mechanical quality, and its reproduction of percussion was at times a bit more forward and splatty.
That said, the CD5004 was nearly as uncolored as the Destiny, and with recordings containing no sustained high-level passages, such as solo piano recordings, the Marantz sounded rich and silky, with good resolution of detail and an ability to articulate low-level dynamics that were damn close to the Creek'swhich costs more than seven times as much.
A kilobuck starter system
I hooked up the CD5004 to Marantz's PM5004 integrated amplifier and Paradigm's Atom v5 loudspeakers, and was taken by this inexpensive system's overall liquid and coherent balance. The sound wasn't the last word in high-frequency or bass extension, but what was there was relatively uncolored and involving, with realistic dynamic contrasts, convincing transient articulation, and decent amounts of air and ambience for such a low-cost system.
Even as Mikey Fremer and Stephen Mejias salivate over the resurgence of vinyl, others are hearing, or calling for, the death knell of the Compact Disc. I'm not one of themalthough I own 12,000 LPs, I listen to CDs much more often than to vinyl or my iPod, and I don't think I'll ever get on the digital-server bandwagon. Young folks who want to put together an entry-level system should find the Marantz CD5004 an excellent way to start, and a gorgeous cosmetic and sonic match for the companion PM5004 integrated amplifier With components like this, we can survive the recent financial meltdown while listening to good music, and might still have some money left over for food. Well done, Marantz.