A living legend - Marantz CD-84


New member
Jun 20, 2014
Only recently I've obtained one of the legendary, early compact disc players, the Marantz CD-84 and I wanted to share some thoughts. released in 1984, the early project used the Philips' initial technology, including the 14 bit TDA 1540 DACs (separate for both channels) and superb near-immortal CDM-1 mechanism. Unlike the earlier players,made with the configuration, the 84 had silghtly refined electronics, as Marantz's engineeres wanted to correct some sound quality issues known from the previous models.

In the web there are very few reasonable descriptions of how CD-84 actually sounds, with the unreasonable ranging from 'true hi-end' down to 'worst TDA1540 player ever made'. There is a nice comparison od models 74 (described as lively, upbeat but harshat times) and 84 (described as slow, heavy and unexciting) in the internet somewhere... As the guys investigated the difference, it turned out to be ust some component quality changes, with the same general design of the players' electronics. Interestingly, it seemed that all 'improvements' have worsened the sound of model 84 compared to model '74 (and CD-100 perhaps?) but something was slightly wrong there. Firstly - I doubt that just chainging the quality of parts could have such significant influence on the sound quality (so either there was something wrong with the tested player or there is more change in the player's design) and secondly - I doubt Marantz engineers would agree to make the higher model sound obviously worse and let it out nontheless...

On the other hand, in an interview found elswhere, a Marantz engineer agrees, that CD-84 was not yet what they wanted to achieve. And so I've come to find out myself now.

Hidden in my hometown in one of the million closets there was a well preserved specimen of the legendary player. And in good visual and very good technical condition. Of course, being almost thirty, this unit must have been serviced, and yes, the cover and the plate beneath the mechanism had been already removed before, as minor signs of such activity can be found. However, the mechanism and the electronics seem to be in more or less original condition, without visible signs of any modifications done.

As for overall design, it is a typical front loader of the 1980s, with plenty of buttons, signs and a very bright display. I believe its rather ugly, but that's just my taste.

Apart from the buttons you'd normally expect to see, there are some others, like music standby or A<>B or A<>B cancel or Time and Min... and I have no idea how to use them. Well, obviously, they must have been unnecessarry, as they have been abandoned later, right?

Anyway, even using the set we all know, operating this player is not as intuitive as one would expect. You have to remember, that when it's stopped, you can pick the track number using the 1-0 keypad, but then ypu have to press play, and if you want to change the track with the keypad, you have to pick some other track and press... next. Also, the 'back' button will automatically activate the Pause as well (presumably to help skipping tracks backwards).

OK - having finished the briefing, I can begin with the mission. I take the remarkably heavy player out of my car and connect it to a set consisting of Sony's average TA-FE710R amplifier, Tonsil Excellence 1S speakers and Philips DVD 763SA as a comparison source. This SACD player is known for it's good sound quality and should be a good unit to compare the sound, or at least I don't have a better one for now. just to eliminate the Tonsil speakers' sometimes inadequate performance (cheap, $200 bookshelf set), I took out my Beyerdynamic DT-880 headphones as well. What are my thoughts? Well - here goes...

The player greets us with 'error' sing, indicating there is o disc inside. Well... a sort of error indeed, but a 'No Disc' indicator would be a beter idea. Like many of it's owners point out, a functional CD-84 has no trouble reading any proper CD audio disc inserted, including scratched and recorded ones.

The overall sound of the player is more or less what the people I mentioned above described. It's rather dark and indeed 'slow'. Apparently Marantz's designers tried hard to cover some problems of the early problems they encountered. However perhaps it might sound way too dark after listening to a bright sounding player, because in a tiring (both for me and the players) test when I listened to a track on one player and then - straight away - the other, the differences between CD-84 and 763SA are suprisingly small. In fact, the players sound very much alike, and quite unlike the Philips CD-753 (TDA 1549) that has a brighter and lighter sound.

I've listened to many different CDs, of different recording quality and I've come to some conclusions. Firstly, the sound quality of CD-84 is remarkable for a very early CD player. It is a bit unrefined and sometimes one can hear it's not exactly perfect or 'hi-end' (though I ever heard a hi-end player, I admit :( ), but with DT-880 it can sound superbly if you get the right album in your hand.

The bass is low and powerful. Sometimes even too powerful, as making the DT-880s sound dark is quite an achievement. However, the same track listened instantly on 763SA sounded equally dark, believe it or not.

The mid range is a bit inconsistent and depends on the recording quality a lot. Sometimes it's smooth and brilinat with stunning vocals sounding as if you were listening to a living person here and now, and sometimes it''s a bit rough and pierces in one's very skull giving a headache. At times it also gest a bit over-exposed, like 'too close' to the listener's ears, so to say, making me lower the volume instantly.

The instruments' tone sometimes can be charmighly pretty and natural, yet sometimes has a bit 'artificial', unrealistic feeling to it. Or am I being harsh at te moment?

All in all - the mid range is very dependent on the recording quality and the player seems to expose mercilessly all the flaw here. In fact all the problems I heared were nothing new for each of the albums - it can all be heard on all reasonably good players, only depending on the disc itself, one will sound better in Cd-84 and one in CD-753 that, hiding the lower mid range a bit behing, taking off some weight there, can make the sound more pleasant.

The upper range is a touch 'dry' and hissing sharply at times, but can show plenty of detail, again - depending on the recording quality. Queen's 'The Miracle' album will sound best ever, while the bizarrely recorded 'Innuendo' is rough, hissing and a pain to listen on this set. And on most sets anyway...

The sound sceem is very well created and the sounds can nicely move from the headphone speaker somewhere into your head, filling all the space in between. Sometimes, however, the distance between musicians can become way too big, especially in small bands with just a few instruments involved, when the sound does not fill the whole scene in front of you, but the sound comes out of just a few spots with some space between. Also, the CD-84 seems to have a tendency to hide the background, exposing the leading instrument, making the Marsalis' trumpet in 'The London Concert' sound a bit too loud compared to the backing orchestra. Or so were my thoughts... So I'd say the player has superb capabilities of building a wide and deep scene, but sometimes it gets a bit too wide.

To conclude I'll just mention what happened when I was listening to 'Dove Vai' song from a soundtrack to a Polish movie 'Quo Vadis'. It is a well recorded piece of music, with densly filled scene, including large symphony orchestra, backing choir, lead vocals (opera mezzo-soprano and melo-recitation) and percussions. The sound was powerful, well balanced and crystal clear and... the 763SA could not live up to it! CD-84 simply sounded better, believe it or not....

So I think it's perhaps not the worst, but maybe among the very best TDA1540 players? I just can't say it's a bad player. I admit it a bit sensitive to recording quality (maybe over-sensitive) and has a dangerous capability to sound rough in the mid and high range, as well as let the bass dominate the piece. But in most of the material I've tested, ranging from pop/rock, through jazz, blues and classical music, the player gave an at least good or very good performance, with truly stunning results with 'audiophile quality' recordings, and it surely can still show the moder mid-grade players a trick or two.

Maybe it is partly because the dark soul of CD-84 matches the known lightness of DT-880s very well, but like I mentioned, it's no darker than DVD763SA known as a well sounding inexpensive SACD player... In fact, the longer I listen to it, the more I appreciate the work of Marantz's engineers of the time. In my opinion - remarkable vintage CD player indeed!

I hope this writye up was interesting. Well I personally like exploring the past (whether it's vintage watches or vintage audio), and listening to a 30 year old CD player was an exciting adventure for me!


New member
May 20, 2014
As someone else who regularly explores the past, I know exactly what you mean!

I can listen to a 1927 HMV 202 "Re-entrant tone chamber" gramophone, a fully mechanical and acoustic wind-up gramophone, and think to myself how could it ever get any better than this? Indeed it has been said elsewhere that to fully appreciate how great certain recordings from the 78rpm era actually were you need to hear them played on a top class contemporary instrument. No digital transfer of the same recording can have anywhere near the life and full bodied sound of the original. Early acoustically recorded music does indeed still sound better on acoustic instruments, even today! An EMG gramophone has far more presence than any modern hi-fi system, irrespective of price.

Anyway, thanks for the review. What this goes to demonstrate to a largely sceptical audience is that digital does not always sound the same. I have stated this in another thread about "How to build a hi-fi" where I claim that the source is still key, even today in a digital system. Obviously there are plenty of enthusiasts too busy enjoying music played from their hard-drives through DAC's to worry about actually discovering the differences for themselves. No two CD players sound the same and what your review has shown is something that I have often wondered - designers "voice" their products to be assimilated into specific systems with other components.

I've recently passed on a Leema CD player that I now realise was probably designed by two ex-BBC sound engineers to sound "analogue". Given their experience working in recording studios and dealing with live music, this must be a little disconcerting for those people who write off "analogue sounding" as being a glib modern day expression for something they perceive as being inaccurate.

Your review reminds me of what I discovered way back between 1987-1990. I owned a cheap Matsui CD player in 1986/7 which was quickly replaced by a Philips model with FTS (Favourite Track Selection). The latter set me back £250. I remember going into a "CD Shop" in 1987 and being told by its owner that "It's pointless to spend a lot of money on a CD player - it's not like a turntable, they all sound identical. You don't need to spend more than £300 on one". This from a man who presumably wanted people to save money so they would spend up to £14 on a single CD in his newly opened exclusive CD-only selling shop! Of course, equally, he might not have known any better either!

Anyway, when Philips brought out a new top-of-the-range Bitstream player in 1990, I decided I wanted to buy it. Bitstream was "it", forget multi-bit, it's full of distortion, the Hi-Fi press claimed. Anyway I saved up the £350 and went to several Hi-Fi shops. None stocked Philips and none were remotely interested in a well reviewed CDP that they had no intention of stocking due to "reliability issues", as one claimed to me.

With my tail between my legs I was told by one shop that the latest Rotel CDP would be as good as the Philips, if not better. With some apprehension I booked a demo and took along my existing Philips CDP (multi-bit with 8 times over-sampling). Both my Philips and the Rotel were played through a modest amp and speaker set up with a variety of music material. I was actually quite gutted. The Rotel which looked fabulous and was well made sounded too similar to my existing Philips CDP for comfort, let alone the all-singing all-dancing Bitsream Philips. In this case an "upgrade" wasn't feasible. Anyway, seeing my obvious disappointment the dealer disappeared out of the room and returned clutching an all aluminium boxed CDP with a name I'd never heard at that point. This player was also multi-bit like my existing Philips. At this point I thought I was ready to leave. Not only hadn't I heard or seen my precious Bitsteam Philips but a Rotel CDP utilising the exact same state-of-the-art chipset and built much better than my plastic Philips, hadn't managed to sound ANY better whatsoever.

The dealer pressed play on the grey aluminium box with minimal display and buttons adorning the fascia panel. Instantly both he and I looked at each other. Wow! Talk about improvement in sound quality. By contrast the Rotel/Philips sounded flat, thin and sterile. A simply piece of violin music sprang into life. Suddenly the violinist was right in front of me. The sound was "holographic" and three dimensional. You could hear the air move around the instrument and the scratching of the bow. The CDP was an Arcam Delta 70.2 and even though it was double my budget I knew I had to buy it. Several weeks passed by before I actually did but that experience was probably my first own personal experience with the world of Hi-Fi. What it taught me was that no matter how much time you spend analysing technical specifications and numbers, you can't tell how good anything sounds until you actually hear it for yourself.

It also taught me that the latest technology is not always the best. Build quality, carefuly matching of parts, selection of third party components, and ingenious design all contribute equally to the quality of sound reproduction. No two players / sources sound identical. It was true in 1990 and it's still true today.


New member
Jun 20, 2014
Vladimir said:
Very good writeup. Do you also have the matching PM-84 amp?

No, I... don't like the design, firstly, and secondly - it's a very old player and how can I know how much it will last? I think it's better ust to have a vintage CD player in a modern system, than a whole vintage system that may fail at any time. Still, if I have a place big enough to start a vintage audio collection, well, who knows ;) ?