Marantz CD-16 CD Player Reviewed

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Measuring a slightly wider-than-usual 455mm because of 'wings' on the fascia (and these have nothing to do with feminine hygiene, despite the recent and wonderful Tampax ad on TV comparing Compact Disc to a tampon...), the CD-16 seems substantial yet compact: height is only 138mm and the depth 360mm. But pick up the sucker and savour its 13kg heft. You know that this is one solid machine. And the solidity extends to the inclusion of a die-cast version of the CDM4 transport rather than the nastier plastic version. Whether or not the CD-16 really needs cooling facilities, or maybe it's just a stylistic link to a certain valve player, the unit features proper angled vents across the top and a beefy heat sink on the back. All told, this is one substantial player, the antithesis of the featherweights in the 200 sector.

Ishiwata's description of the the CD-16 as 'son of CD-12' was right on the mark. One of the '12's greater glories was always its lower registers. The CD-16's bass slides inbetween the soft, full cream-cheesy bottom of the CAL Tempest and the drier, snappier bass of the 'techno' school -- just like the CD-12. This is CD bass for LP lovers, rich and plentiful and controlled without suffering either too much tube-like sogginess or (worse) the crunch of a disco. The debut CD from Collective Soul (on WEA) is my latest low-end yardstick -- there's Bass From Hell on this set -- and it has the ability to confuse lesser players. More worrying is the way that the bottom octave info can overwhelm the listener, real stomach-churning quantities and extension. The '16 keeps it all together while never suggesting for a moment that there's any unnecessary filtering or unwanted restraint. This is the sort of bottom-end juggling that separates the budget from the high-end.

But the signature sound which makes the CD-16's antecedents such stand-out players is the analogue replication evident in the midband on up through the treble. At the risk of sounding like an apologist for reality -- real, acoustic music is analogue whether you like it or not -- the CD-16 succeeds in carrying on analogue traditions in an increasingly synthetic (read=digital) world.

As the spread of compression and data reduction becomes that much more threatening, that much more of an attack on natural sound, we must be grateful for gestures such as the CD-16. The midband in particular is a stress-free zone, dynamic and open and lucid, yet possessing texture and warmth. This is no stripped-down cyberworld impression of sound. It's lush and three-dimensional, with body and substance. Moreover, it has dimensional 'credibility', and I'm tempted to think of it not just as CD-12 Redux but as a grown-up version of its little brother, the CD-52 MKII SE. It has the musicality, the life and the 'presence' of the '52, but with transparency and detail not available from that 299 treasure.

By the time your attention focuses on the treble, you expect maybe a dulling, a roll-off that continues the sweet sensation. Not so. The CD-16 has extension all the way to inaudibility, and transient attack that's only a few points shy of the speed or coherence than that offered by champions from Krell or Theta. What you've paid for, though, is the flipside of the purely techno, so you do get the warmth and perfectly graduated decay that suggests an all-analogue system. It's a minor trade-off, like Guarneri versus Extrema, but there's no trickery. You know when you go in, with eyes open, that one talks to the brain, the other the heart.

This late into the CD era, when so much of hi-fi's evolution is taken as a fait accompli, it's almost too much to demand of most manufacturers that they provide a choice which veers from company policy. Marantz appears to have made a conscious decision to serve both the music lover and the audiophile -- two different beasts whether we like it or not, and usually only served by single components which cost funny money. With the CD-16, we have a player which does at its price point what the CD-52 MKII SE did for the budget sector: it offers musicality without information loss, a semblance of analogue warmth from an otherwise clinical medium. It is definitely not the player of choice for digit-heads. It's what you feed into your single-ended, triode whatever without feeling like Quisling.

Ken Ishiwata strikes again.

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