Marantz CD-7 Review
In an age where MP3s freely transverse the Internet and MP3 players dominate the consumer electronics market, the CD player is an obsolete device. Where the high end is dominated by machines which play the newest high-resolution, multi-channel formats of SACD and DVD-A, the “old school” stereo CD player must be an anachronism.
Compared with an MP3 player, the stand-alone CD player is a dinosaur, and compared with the latest and the greatest, the high end Universal player is a white elephant. Certainly, these the views endorsed by a majority of the population. Who can blame them? The ubiquitous CD has been around for many years, and has seemingly not adapted to change with the times, offering limited content per disc, not to mention a price tag (which is notably absent from MP3s). Plus, it doesn't even play DVDs, videos or connect to the Internet.
How then, does a $2600 second-hand player like the venerable Marantz CD-7 make any sense?
First off, there is the quality of the components and construction of the player, which is first class on both counts. The case itself feels, and weighs as if it were carved out of solid champagne gold aluminum. It tips the scales at a not insubstantial 23kg, far more than the average player. The aesthetics are very basic, and some would claim austere, with a few buttons, and no knobs, no tone controls, no fancy AMS (Automatic Seek), just plain old Play, Stop, Pause, Next Track and Previous Track. Don't think for moment that Marantz put lead in there and tacked on a few nondescript buttons to deceive the audiophile. The internals of the CD-7 are as impressive as the build quality of the player. When Philips chose let Ken Ishitawa to design this player, he utilized a combination of their best technologies available at that time. Mating their best CD transport mechanism, modifying a Philips CDM-12 Industrial and coupling it with the what many reckon to be the best DAC in the business, the 11 year old Philips TDA 1541AS1 “Double Crown”, producing a no compromise player that was a veritable giant killer. In its day, it beat the Sony SCD-1 player at playing CDs, offering a fluency and smoothness that made the Sony sound unrefined and harsh. Of course, once the SCD-1 activated SACD playback, the Marantz lost out on resolution and soundstage. However, with SACDs being as rare as they are, that was seldom the issue.
Next, there is the impressive CD performance which comes second to none. Competing players were few and far in between, and when they competed, they were usually left behind. Vast orchestral pieces lose no detail, all the instruments come out cleanly and separately, instead of collapsing into a sonic mish-mash of noise. It is unfazed by the human voice either, producing a faithful and accurate reproduction of the singer. Sonatas do not faze the CD-7 either, as it portrays single instruments with an accuracy, detail and captures all the nuances, a concert grand sounds as a concert grand should. It spares nothing in the reproduction of any instrument. In fact, I hold it responsible for my rediscovery of my CD collection, showing me passages which I had never previously heard, instruments that I had never suspected to have been playing. Once mated to a headphone amplifier and a decent pair of headphones, it forms a system that can match the best of systems. It is warmer and more musical than the Sony SCD-1 I had the chance to listen to. The SCD-1 seemed cold and dry by comparison, though those qualities disappeared when SACD playback was activated. Only when SACD playback was used, did the SCD-1 manage to beat the CD-7 convincingly in terms of detail and soundstage, though it still did not get rid of the “dryness” of the sound. That, unfortunately, needed to be cured with either a mod, or by putting the redbook output through an external DAC.
Thirdly, the CD-7 can be operated as a standalone DAC to receive signals from other Hi Fi equipment. Though it is limited to accepting only Redbook data, the converters built into the CD-7 are still a benchmark by which other DACs today are measured. In fact, there have been instances of the CD-7 being utilized to convert signals from a PS 2 for the “ultimate audiophile game experience”. If one goes to buy a comparable CD transport and DAC combination from separate manufacturers, one ought to expect to pay a great deal more than the price of the CD-7. While the CD-7 can be bought used for around $2600, a comparable 47 Labs Shigaraki system would cost above $2900 new, without any accessories and cables. In fact, it is this ability to act as a DAC and CD player which gives the CD-7 the unique ability to be the centerpiece of a Hi Fi system, overcoming its CD-only limitations.
However it does come with a great many disadvantages. The CD-7's playback is incredibly, almost ridiculously accurate and will destroy the worst of recordings, making them near unlistenable. Its bulk makes it a pain to move around, a critical consideration for those poor audiophile college students, if there is such a breed. It lacks flexibility by being unable to play anything other than CDs, no HDCDs, no SACDs, no DVD-As, as such it is an anachronism. The final factor, it must be admitted, might not affect the majority, who own CDs and do not wish to convert their entire collection to the latest and greatest.
In the end, with the advantages of a first class performance, build quality and the ability to act as a DAC for other equipment, the disadvantages can easily be discounted. If you are looking for the best CD playback, you need look no further, the CD-7 is it, at a reasonable asking price. Sadly, Marantz only produced 750 units of this player, and finding one on the market does take some deal of luck and patience.