In a hunt for the lowest signal-to-noise ratio, Marantz introduced the first batch of the Marantz CD-99SE in 1990 week 37. The CD-99SE was introduced as a part of the SE series which also consisted of the PM-88SE amplifier and the SD-66SE cassette deck. The features of the SE series were a copper-plated chassis and a shielded toroidal transformer. The base of the CD-99SE is of course the CD-95 and these models were just introduced before Philips and Marantz entered the market with 1-bit cd players. These cd players were made at the Sagamihara plant of Marantz. This newly build Marantz plant was a three-story building containing five double production lines of 80 meters long, and connecting lines from the warehouse and packaging. This plant mainly produced audio appliances and video recorders. At first, the Japanese were a little bit skeptical about the variable transport lines, made by the Machine Factory Alkmaar of Philips in The Netherlands, but after a week of explaining and talking they were convinced. Bad news for people who plan to visit this plant; it was torn down as a part of a renewal program of Sagamihara-Shi city.
It is still unknown how many CD-99 were manufactured in the end. From the data I have gathered, it looks like Marantz manufactured five batches of the Marantz CD-99SE, and at least one batch was not limited to 200 players. Marantz also manufactured six batches of the Limited, and it looks like they were limited to 200 players a batch. This insight is different from a lot of sources (including Japanese) on the internet that talk about the production of only 200 units. Reviews of the Marantz CD-99SE are only written in the Japanese language because this player was never exported and only produced for the Japanese market. If you are a frequent visitor of hifishark you will know that you only can buy these cd players in Asian markets. Expect to pay at least $1400 for a model in good condition without a warranty of any kind and a player checked by an expert at Hifido might even be more expensive. Ah, and before I forget add customs and transportation as well. If you want to buy on the Japanese market, Buyee is a good place to start. They will take care of everything in Japan, including transportation. In The Netherlands they will charge you up to 20% import duties if you buy electronics in Japan. Buying in Japan can be interesting if you are looking for spare parts, or hard to find parts. Importing from Japan can in some cases be much cheaper because sellers don’t play the “scarcity card” for items that are not scarce at all in Japan. A Marantz CD-95 or CD-99SE is scarce on the Japanese market, but they are offered a few times a month. There are some reputable sellers in Vietnam as well, but the Chinese market is only for buyers who know the market.
Together with the Micro Seiki CD-M2000X, the Marantz CD-99SE Limited was the last cd player to receive the Philips CDM-1 drive. This handmade, upgraded, superbly designed drive built in Japan, is still going strong in a lot of cd players! The CD-99SE Limited, partnered with the CDM-1 is one of the memorable models in the history of Marantz cd players. Philips had decided to retire this beautiful drive because it was too expensive to build. But the successors of the CDM-1 were already in production. One of the successors was the CDM-1 MKII, used in the CD-80 and the CDM-4 that found its way into the Philips LHH500. Luckily for us, Philips continued to make very good drives setting an example for the whole industry.
So what did you get extra for ¥200000 in 1990 if you bought the CD-99SE instead of the ¥164000 CD-95? The CD-99SE was equipped with the same TDA1541A-S1 but got a copper-plated chassis, a shielded toroidal transformer with separate windings for all sections, a separate e-transformer to feed the fl-display, no headphone, and fast recovery diodes. If you are the lucky owner of a CD-99SE Limited you may brag about the specially selected, dual crown S1’s. Be sure to have a peek under the hood before buying!
In the May issue of Radio Technology 1991, Yoshiyuki Tanaka looked at all these improvements, and more important: he did some measurements. He compared the CD-99SE with the LHH-500 and the CD-95. He measured the effect of the copper-plated chassis, the toroidal transformer, the metal bottom plate, and the effects on the surroundings from the big 6800uf capacitors. The copper-plated chassis and its effect on lowering the noise floor were quite noticeable, compared to the CD-95. Tanaka San found out by measuring the clock leakage level which was 24dB better. His hearing recorded a ‘smoother’ sound that could be a benefit of the copper-plated chassis, which normally shows at higher frequencies. Compared to the CD-95, the CD-99SE produced a clean, grainy sound and a dynamic low range. Tanaka San attributes these findings to the use of the toroidal transformer. He also found out that the two big 6800uf capacitors create a magnetic field that affects the surroundings. Finally, he looked at the effect of the bottom plate, which is good for preventing mechanical vibration but also has a great shielding effect. Tanaka San concluded that the CD-99SE is a slightly better cd-player than the CD-95, but not better than the Philips LHH-500. But in the lower department, the TDA1541a remains the winner. His conclusion: the 1-bit LHH 500 is superior in terms of the spaciousness, resolution, and freshness of the sound.
Maintenance is very important when you own a piece of Marantz history. And please, do not start converting it to non-oversampling, give it Sowther Dac Interface Transformers, desolder op-amps for ‘better’ ones, put capacitors where they don’t belong, and so on… Upgrading cd players like the CD-99SE has to be done thoughtfully. The Marantz CD-99SE was designed by engineers, who happen to be musicians as well, and changing the layout in the cd player is also changing the character of these cd players. Recapping has to be first on your list, and a thorough check-up second on your list. Why? The capacitors are thirty years old and will not get better with time. Exchanging the capacitors with new ones have advantages as well. You can make use of high-temperature, long-life, low-esr, or smaller capacitors as Tanaka San found out! The nicest modification that I saw for this type of player is the Grundig DEM Mod. This modification, together with the Kemet SMR Series film capacitors can lower the noise floor on the player. You can also change the big capacitors for smaller Nichicon KG.
Is there a better way to enjoy your CDs with a nice cappuccino? No there probably isn’t a better way. Are there better cd players out there? There are probably better cd players out there, but this is one of the best Marantz-made implementations with the TDA1541A. And it is a rare cd player. A cd player that you cannot buy on Canuck Audio Mart. You have to put in some effort to get one, and to preserve it.
In the following table you can see some of the archived CD-99SE’s by me. Want to contribute? Send me a mail with a picture of the back of your player!
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.