Just by looking at the CEC TL1x you get the feeling that it is a very serious transport. And if you know that its transport is belt-driven this feeling is substantiated. For the Marantz CD94MKII, on the contrary, it is not so apparent that it’s a very good transport. Sure, you can say a thing or two about its analog output but purely used as a transport, and as long as this very old unit operates within spec, I can tell you that it is actually almost state of the art.
Therefore, here’s an interesting comparison.
These 2 players couldn’t be more different. Also inside there are no common parts. The CD94 uses a die-cast swing arm Philips CDM1 mechanism, the CEC uses an extensively modified Sanyo mechanism. They are in completely opposite segments price-wise. And the CD94 is more than 10 years older than the CEC. Nevertheless, the Marantz is absolutely very good. But you cannot simply use any old Marantz or Philips player that has the CDM1 transport on board.
This much was proven in the Classic Philips CD player Review
The reference setup
In this setup, the two players were compared. Central to this system are the DCS Delius DAC and Purcell upsampler. The rest of the system consists of a Jeff Rowland Synergy preamp and Model 6 power amps, Martin Logan SL3 electrostatic speakers, Transparent Reference LS cables and interlinks as well as Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C interlinks (dac-preamp) and various other transports and dacs.
Naturally I tried the various players in different positions on different racks in order to get the best impressions.
The DCS components were used in 176kHz (precisely fourfold of cd’s standard 44.1kHz) throughout this review.
Marantz CD94MKII used as a transport
Starting the test with the CD94 connected to the DCS Delius and Purcell via Belden RG59 digital cable you immediately notice a couple of things: compared to the Audiomeca Mephisto II transport, or the Sony XA50ES as transport, the sound is much more relaxed and less in your face. There is still plenty of speed and dynamics are impeccable, especially with the CD94, but at the same time there is more lushness to the sound, and especially the highs are much more fluid and “analog”. There’s also more body and color. It really more resembles analog. To give you a better idea about the quality of the CD94: it sounded much like the Proceed PCD3 which uses the same CDM1 transport and the PCD3 was always held in high esteem.
When you switch from the Marant to the CEC you’re first surprised that it’s got a comparable presentation, but then you start noticing smaller but important differences. The CEC is even more fluid, lusher and a lot more spacious than the Marantz. The sound is fuller and more fluid. Strangely enough, high-hat sounds themselves are more smooth on the Marantz but shorter, less fluid than on the CEC. Compared to the CEC the Marantz is more staccato and more technical. The one area in which the CD94 is comparable to the CEC and maybe even better, is the attack and dynamics. It is just that little bit more lively and less rounded on the transients. But this is very much more a technical difference. If you listen with your gut (not your brains) surely the CEC is better all-round.
Technically, these 2 transports couldn’t be more different…
The Marantz uses a modified Philips CDM1 swing-arm aluminum diecast transport. A massive, heavy affair with a huge lens assembly that uses real quartz-glass. This is old hat technology but for many, myself included, these transports are still amongst the best ever made and still rate highly. The CDM1 is also almost indestructible and seems to last forever. It reads any cd or cdr. And it reads it FAST! And it never skips.
The CEC uses a basically simple and lightweight Sanyo transport but modifies this entirely. First and foremost there is of course the belt drive. Not only the spindle that rotates the cd is belt driven; also the lens assembly is belt driven. Further, under the spindle axe there is a large counterweight that, together with the heavy puck that you place on top of the cd, makes for a massive and very inert whole. This has the advantage that cd’s simply cannot vibrate, but it also make for a slow response when you start a cd and even when you skip to the next track. On top of this slight niggle, many experts claim that, for cd, you need low mass. The exact opposite of what CEC achieved. And yet the sound quality is overwhelming. And I have heard many, many cd players and transports.
Although the Marantz comes remarkably close and is even technically slightly better in some areas, the CEC easily takes first place when it comes to emotion in the music. It is simply more “analog” sounding, and this is important to note, without ending up muddy, woolly or slow. By now nothing surprises me anymore in the crazy world of audio and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Marantz had won. But the CEC wins me over with its more engaging sound. If you don’t have the budget for the CEC then there’s always a Marantz CD94 that can be bought for silly money. And the Marantz comes pretty close to the presentation of the CEC!