In this article, we look at why I love older CD players and why this legendary Marantz CD-84 from 1984 is so very lovable!
It’s worth considering just how unbelievably disruptive the launch of CD was, back in 1983. I remember it clearly: “Compact Disc – perfect sound, forever.” Who didn’t want that?! Players like this Marantz CD-84 started to appear a year or so later and really laid the foundations for what was to become a serious, legacy audio format in Redbook CD.
That’s not a CD Player, THIS is a CD Player!
No one would have believed that in the last years of the 19th century… No, wait, that’s my favourite Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds!
No one would have believed that one of Marantz’s original CD players from 1984, with just a little repair and maintenance work, would be back up and running as well as the day it was made. Contrast that with a Marantz CD-6006 I repaired last year which needed an expensive new laser after just 2.3 years.
Welcome back everyone and yes, I’m getting through the backlog of work and trying to keep writing as I find it therapeutic! That CD-6006 laser mech, by the way, was the worst piece of plastic rubbish I have ever seen. Literally the cheapest, nastiest mechanism I’ve ever had the misfortune of having to install.
Yes, friends, this is how far we’ve come with CD player technology. We’ve gone from coated optical glass lenses, long-lasting lasers, metal mechs and players that still work after 40 years to almost completely plastic machines that fail in under three. Many of these you can no longer get lasers for anyway, a painful second kick in the nuts for owners dealing with the premature failure of a player.
A good example is the stunning, reference Marantz SA-7 SACD player I tried to repair for a customer earlier this year. It had a dead laser, no more lasers available, thanks, Marantz! I wonder how owners of machines like this feel after dropping $10K AUD on them and having them fail after 10 or so years? How would you feel, losing $1000 per year? How about all that great new technology, hey..?! Bravo.
Seriously, this is why I’m always going on about why older CD players are often much better options for most people. They are usually just far better made, but who doesn’t want and LOVE equipment that lasts nearly 40 years without major repair? You’d be mad to choose the modern player that fails a little after two years, even if it does sound better. You’ll want to set it on fire when it fails just after the warranty expires, trust me on this.
So how did we get here? I don’t really know, but a ton of Redbook CD stuff was happening back from around 1979 through to pre-release in 1982. The Marantz CD-84 isn’t true first-gen in terms of CD players but it’s damn close. The real first-gen is the Philips CD-100 and Sony CDP-101, from 1982/83. The CD-84 uses all the same sorts of parts and technology and the 14-bit oversampling DAC architecture pioneered by Philips.
Keep in mind that the Marantz CD-84 cost a ton back in 1984 when it was released. These early players were really seriously built, the CD-84 weighing nearly 10kg, mostly because of its heavy-duty power supply, metal construction and serious Philips CDM-1 mech. That’s right, the Marantz CD-84 uses the infamous and perhaps most highly sought-after mech of all, the all-metal and glass, made in Japan, die-cast zinc CDM-1.
Don’t you want a die-cast zinc mech? I know I do!
Not only that, but the Marantz CD-84 also uses Philips classic TDA1540 DAC chip. These chips are famous for having 14-bit resolution when the Redbook standard specified 16-bit resolution. What does this mean? Well, players with the 1540 chipset couldn’t resolve everything on the disc. Technically, this meant poorer dynamic range and low-level resolution of fine, quiet details.
Philips got around this by introducing the concept of oversampling, which attempted to restore 16-bit resolution and did a really good job. It also helped create the now-infamous TDA1540/1541 sound that people love. Heck, I even love it, I’ve owned/own several TDA1541 players including an Arcam Alpha 5, Meridian 207 CD player and Nakamichi OMS-7.
In practice, this wasn’t necessarily obvious. The CD-84 for example has a strong, robust sonic presentation, with the warmth and smoothness often lacking in early CD players. But then this was an upmarket player, you’d expect a strong performance.
It’s worth pointing out that even the high-resolution 18, 20 and 24-bit DACs that followed can’t or couldn’t always resolve the full 16-bit datastream. Herein lies one of the reasons why we can hear and measure differences between players.
Marantz followed up the CD-84 with the lovely CD-94, complete with wood side cheeks, TDA-1541A real 16-bit DAC, and still the legendary CDM-1 mech, which is up there with the best of the best. You can read MUCH more about the Marantz CD-94, its history, designers and loads more CD tech goodness in a great blog by René, a reader and blogger from the Netherlands.
Marantz CD-84 Specifications
Disc format: CD
Digital converter: TDA1540, 16-bit linear (almost!)
CD Mechanism: CDM-1
Frequency response: 4Hz to 20kHz
Dynamic range: 90dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 90dB
Total harmonic distortion: 0.003%
Line output: 2V
Dimensions: 416 x 90 x 300mm
Issues, Repair & Service
This player was dead when I received it. A big shout out to my customer Justin by the way who I want to thank for donating this machine to Liquid Audio. If you are reading this Justin, I owe you a couple of beers!
I fairly quickly found the issues that had consigned this lovely old girl to the scrap heap. In this case, issues with the loader and display, broken motor connections, dry joints, and the need for general maintenance prevented her from running until they were addressed.
Getting her back up and running involved repairing the drawer load motor wiring, fixing a bunch of dry joints on the DAC and front panel boards, cleaning and lubrication of the nearly all metal loader mechanism and a general chassis clean.
So – dry joints, CD-84, TDA1540 – what’s the connection? Well, part of the answer lies in the serious external heatsink and power supply transistors. These early players, with less efficient lasers, large motors and early ceramic-package silicon draw lots of power. Just the DAC chips alone consume 1 Watt, and there are two of them. The chips get hot, joints become degraded and need re-work.
I’m sure a bunch of people will wonder why I’ve not recapped this CD-84 and stripped her down to her very last nut and bolt as part of a deep rebuild. The answer is simple – she doesn’t need any of that. Would she benefit from some overhaul work? Probably, but I believe in a conservative approach and her next owner might very well like to make those decisions for themselves.
So how does she run and sound? In a word, amazingly, now she plays discs again! It’s quite a trip down memory lane using one of these early players when you haven’t done so in a while. Control layouts have changed over the years and the slow and heavy drawer is a far cry from today’s flimsy plastic loaders.
I need to make clear that CD player sonic performance has improved over time, as a general rule. That means that a 14-bit player like this Marantz CD-84 cannot sound as good as a really good player from the 2000s for example, it’s just not possible. That being said, it will sound different.
Nothing sounds quite like these early R2R machines and when I first listened to this old girl, I was immediately taken by the snap and punch of the sound on offer here. That’s from someone who’s owned some of the great CD players and heard many hundreds more over the years, so it’s no faint praise.
The CD-84 is punchy and warm. She hasn’t the highest resolution, but these TDA1540 and 1541 machines have a warmth and a lushness that truly belies their age. It’s strangely counterintuitive to think of older players, which often sounded thin and shrill, in fact sounding warm and rounded as this machine does.
It’s also a timely reminder that not all CD players from this era are the same, a subset of why all CD players don’t sound the same. I have bad memories of early players, but I never owned a CD-84 for example because I couldn’t afford one, especially not at 15 years old!
Machines like this CD-84 are becoming very collectible, like all quality, historic audio gear. I’ve said before that CD is the new vinyl and it really is. With CD collections selling for as little as $1 per disc, you just can’t go wrong with great players from the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s.
The really good news is that this stunning champagne Marantz CD-84 CD player is for sale.
That’s right, I’m selling her. Regular readers will know that I have too many CD players and, despite having sold a ton of gear recently, and my desire to keep this classic piece of digital audio equipment, I just don’t need any more CD players, so she is up for grabs.
Keep in mind that this CD-84 is completely original, apart from her recent repair and service. I’ve left her that way on purpose, so that her next owner can make those decisions, hopefully with the right guidance.
Sacrilegious as it is, the two TDA1540s and the CDM1 mech are so rare and sought after that no doubt some will see this as a part-out opportunity. I hope that doesn’t happen. This Marantz CD-84 is far too sweet a player and wonderful piece of collectible hi-fi history to be broken up for parts. She deserves to sit in a vintage hi-fi system, where someone else can enjoy her, likely for a few more years yet.
So, this beautiful and rare Marantz CD-84, punches on at 38 years of age. This is how they used to be made. She is now available in the Store, so look for her over there!
As always, thank you for visiting and I hope you found this article of some interest. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you’d like me to service or repair your Marantz CD-84 or any other classic Marantz CD player.