Marantz CD-94 CD player Sam Tellig

Sam Tellig reviewed the Marantz CD-94 in September 1988 (Vol.11 No.9):

In the rest of the Free World, outside North America, Marantz International is part of Philips. Under product manager Ken Ishiwata and his team—Ken being a Japanese who has resided for some years in Belgium—International has made an audiophile name for itself. The best Marantz products (seldom seen on this side of the Atlantic until now) combine European sound quality with Japanese build quality.

Now under new ownership, Marantz Company, Inc. (USA) is bringing in some of these products: the upmarket "94" series of components, including the CD-94 CD player, CDA-94B outboard digital-analog converter, DT-94 DAT recorder (fingers crossed), and two integrated amps: the PM-94 and PM-84.

Regular readers may remember I reviewed an early version of the PM-84 and liked it, particularly the power-amp section. I recommended the product. What did Marantz Company do? Decide not to import it! Now it's finally available, along with its big brother, the PM-94, which I'll get to in a while. Meanwhile, what should cause real excitement is the Marantz CD-94 CD player.

I lusted after a CD-94 since first seeing it at the Summer 1987 CES. It finally arrived, days before the 1988 Summer CES. Worth the wait!

This is a beautiful machine—finished in Marantz's sumptuous "rose gold" finish with rosewood side panels, or "black satin" with oak panels. Go for the gold.

The CD-94 is a Philips-based—indeed, Philips-made—player, produced in Japan at the Philips-owned Marantz factory. Sixteen bits, 4x oversampling, and said to decode all 16 bits—hinting, of course, that some "16-bit" machines don't. Digital and analog filters get rid of the high-frequency garbage (spuriae) produced by the conversion process.

The player's a heavyweight—28 pounds. That's more than three times the heft of a stock Magnavox CDB650. Finish is immaculate, and smoothness of operation places the CD-94 in an exalted category alongside such upmarket faves as the Accuphase players. We are not talking about plastic chassis, plastic drawer, tacky-looking front panel, etc. Luxurious, elegant, this player looks like it's worth spending the money on. And it is.

The back of the player gives you three ways out: analog (which is what I used), digital out via coax, and digital out via optical cable (the option you use with the Marantz CDA-94 outboard unit, which I didn't have). For my listening tests, I ran analog out into a Superphon CD Maxx and pair of B&K ST 140 mono amps. I also used the Marantz PM-94. Speakers were the no-nonsense, tell-it-all Monitor Audio R952s.

First, though, I should tell you about how I trotted the CD-94 down to a dealer and set it up for an audience of three digitophobes and one digitophile (who had sunk over $4000 into a string of mods to a Magnavox CDB650). Associated equipment included lots of Cheapskate stuff—Wilson WATT speakers with new Entec subwoofers, Rowland Model 7 amps in balanced mode, Rowland Coherence One preamp, Jadis JP-80 preamp and JA-80 amps.

The owner of the modified player began to appear ill, but quickly recovered.

"It's damned good," he said of the Marantz CD-94.

"It images," said one of the 'phobes.

"It sounds almost analog," chirped another partisan of the LP.

Several other CD players were on hand, including the California Audio Labs Tempest II, Sony CDP-707ES, and Accuphase DP-70. Compared with the Marantz, the Accuphase seemed overripe—too rich in the upper bass and lower midrange in an attempt to sound like analog. The Sony '707ES was close—neutral, dynamic, with good soundstaging and imaging. But, subjectively (and all of us assembled agreed), the Marantz was marginally better at capturing the atmosphere of a recording: there was more sense of air around the instruments and performers, and hence the sound seemed less artificial. The Sony's no slouch, though. Finally, although this was brief, the CAL Tempest II seemed to be the best of all—all the qualities of the Marantz plus a little extra smoothness and holographic effect, thanks, perhaps, to tubes. Again, though, it was close. And keep in mind that the Cal Tempest II sells for over $1000 more than the Marantz.

Am I now prepared to take back everything I have said against digital—and the compact disc in particular? Not quite. I still prefer analog at its best. Or even at its second best. But no one in the record industry is asking my opinion. Most of the new classical and jazz software is digitally recorded. Might as well have it on CD, which, in many cases, is the only way you can get it anyway. The Marantz—and the CAL Tempest II—make CDs listenable, even enjoyable. If CDs are not as subtly detailed, not as involving as great analog, they can be satisfying nonetheless. The trouble is, you not only have to pay a premium price for the discs (compared to LPs), you have to spend money on a player.

That's how my position has changed. With the Marantz CD-94, I have met an expensive player I think is worth the money. As for the Tempest II, you won't go wrong with that, either. But at $1800 list (with discounts likely the rule rather than the exception), the Marantz CD-94 represents better value, in my opinion.

The magic of the Marantz is in its soundstaging—there's a lot of it—and its ability to create a convincing sense of the "palpable presence" of instrumental and vocal performers. This is coupled with a smoothness of frequency response that is almost, but not quite, tubelike.

When the time came to send the player back to Marantz, I sent them a check to purchase it instead.—Sam Tellig

John Atkinson compared the Marantz CD-94 with the Arcam Delta Black Box in February 1989 (Vol.12 No.2):

A Marantz CD-94 CD player was used as the source transport to provide data for the Arcam Delta Black Box to handle. Compared with the Marantz CD-94, the sound of the Black Box was less mellow but also with less of a sense of "leading edges" to the sound of piano. There was a lower-midrange/upper-bass softness to the British sound which occasionally obscured detail in fast left-hand passagework on the piano. However, the way in which instruments were placed within the soundstage was almost as delicately defined as with the Marantz. The opening of the Mahler symphony was a little more brash in the upper midrange than with the Marantz, pushing the image forward toward the listener a little, but the stereo stage was nevertheless presented by the Box in a convincing manner. The Michael Hedges album, for example, was reproduced with a quite tangible solidity to the multifarious guitar images.

Listening to Amanda McBroom's track "Dorothy" revealed major differences. The Marantz was noticeably mellow, with a fatter bass guitar. Despite its more laidback nature, however, drums were more three-dimensionally presented by the CD-94.—John Atkinson

Marantz America, Inc.
100 Corporate Drive
Mahwah, NJ 07430-2041
(201) 762-6500