Marantz CD-94 CD player part 5

The market launch of the Marantz CD94 was in december 1986.

In 1984 Royal Philips N.V. completed their first true 16-bit digital to analog converter; it’s code number was the N2990. In Nijmegen (Elcoma) B.J.M. Kup was the first person that was able to put both stereo channels into one IC. The development of the 16-bit IC had started in 1983, and after that Philips (Nat.Lab) even developed an 18-bit converter but it was never put into production because the lack of demand or commitment? The Marantz CD-94 and the Philips CD-960 were among the first CD players to receive a sample of the TDA1541.

TDA1540P, the IC that started everything for Philips.

The TDA1541 was produced from 1985 till 1988 on wafers at the Nijmegen plant. It was then shipped to all the different assembly centers in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Manila or Kaohsiung for final assembly. The TDA1541 officially has no grades, but a movie about this subject shows a grading process of at least seven selections after the final measurement. This last measurement determined if the IC met the requirements according to specification. The integrated circuit was then put into one of the seven slots, indicating different selections. I know of at least three grades of the TDA1541, namely the normal TDA1541, the R1, and the S1. I have already come across three S1s in the Marantz CD-94, one of which was in an evaluation model.

A TDA1541 S1 from my own collection.

On the WWW you can find pictures of TDA1541’s with a S1 stamp, hinting towards a first selection of ‘sonically’ better IC’s. These were put in CD players by Marantz, Sony, Philips and Mission.

Top: Made in Nijmegen, The Netherlands (Elcoma plant). Bottom: 3rd ever produced 16 Bit Digital/Analog converter (probably).

The first runs of the Marantz CD-94’s that came off the production line employed the TDA1541. You can spot these ‘first run’ production models easily, because the drawer front sported a rather ugly ‘z-filter’ badge. But as far as I know there were also players without the ‘z-filter’ badge that carried the TDA1541. In case of the Philips CD-960 you have to open the CD player in order to know for sure what version of the TDA1541 is inside. In these CD players you are going to find the SAA7220P/A as well. You can upgrade the TDA1541 and the SAA7220P/A but I am not sure about the results. The player from the first series that I owned sounded very smooth, almost liquid and I kept going back to this player. At that time I owned a modified Marantz CD-80 and Marantz CD-85. My advice: check the players on the inside if you buy them! There are a lot of examples of bad upgrades, down-graded SAA7220’s and counterfeited TDA’s. Most of these counterfeited samples come from the People’s Republic of China. They come disguised as re-printed samples, production dates from 2000 and 2001, shifted or misformed Philips stamps, N2 IC’s with ‘non-existing’ production dates and I could go on and on….

No comment but I would not buy one of these…
From: Philips quality reference handbook 2002
From: Philips quality reference handbook 2002

After roughly one year of production, Marantz started producing the CD-94 with a TDA1541A IC. It replaced the ‘non a” and was made from 1988 till 1998, and came in four selections. The TDA1541A was produced in The Netherlands (Elcoma, Nijmegen), France (Elcoma, Caen) and Taiwan (TSMC). The latest production runs came from Taiwan. The ‘official’ grades came with TDA1541A, which superseded TDA1541 in 1988. Both S1 and S2 grades are specified for their THD+N of 0.45% (-47 dB) at -60 dBFS, as opposed to 0.8% (-42 dB) specified for non S TDA1541A. In addition, S2 is specified for THD+N of 0.0014 % (-97 dB) at full level as opposed to the 0.0018% claimed for the non-S2 grade. The Marantz CD-94 never got a Q-Selection, or S2 grade ICs. The ‘Limited’ edition of the CD-94 did not get these either. However, I saw a few Marantz CD-94s with a TDA1541 S1 inside, ending the urban legend that the TDA1541 had no selections.

Different types of the TDA1541A

Another selection grade was created with the ‘Q-Selection’ S1. You could find this ‘Q-Selection’ only in the premium Marantz and Philips CD players such as the Marantz CD-80, CD-85 and the Philips CD-880/880J.

Selection grades of the TDA1541A.

Around the year 1991 there came a revision that was named the N2. It also came with the four selection grades. This N2 revision was produced until the year 1998. From a trustworthy source I learned that somewhere around this year production of the TDA1541a has ceased.

Revised TDA1541a, data sheet from Philips.

If you plan on upgrading your Marantz CD-94 or your Philips CD-960 you have a lot of production runs to choose from. If you are on a budget, you could opt for the latest production runs that were made in Taiwan. Pedja Rogic from Audial used these in his Audial S4 Dac. If you can save up some money you should consider the TDA1541A S1.

There are a few things to think about when you want to upgrade your Marantz CD-94. The TDA1541A’s tend to vary in sound. Higher grades (Q-Selection, S1 and S2) can sound more refined/detailed but there are no guarantees. Simply swapping a first generation TDA1541 may be the road to Nirvana, but your mileage may vary! What I know for sure is that the latest runs from TSMC/Taiwan are made with better machines and techniques than the first one’s, made in Nijmegen at the Elcoma plant.

Fake sample. Notice the smaller pins, the pin 1 hole, and the rough surface on the IC. This example weighs less than the original and does not function as a TDA1541a.

You can easily find samples of the TDA1541 S1 for $60 but are they authentic? Furthermore, with these samples you risk doing damage to your beloved CD player and there are stories of ‘overheated’ TDA1541A’s on the internet. If you want to know for sure you can check the solderings if you buy a CD player. If you buy on the internet; only buy from reputable, trusted sellers. Sometimes the production codes on the IC (HSH8831 2 Y) can tell you something about their authenticity. The first letter in the code will tell you where the wafer (silicon) was produced, the second letter will tell you where the IC was assembled, and the third letter tells you where the test location was. The numbers behind the letters tell you in what year and what week the IC was produced. In our example: 1988 in week 31.

Genuine TDA1541A S1 from a Marantz CD-95 (made in The Netherlands).
Genuine TDA1541A S2 from a Marantz CD-7 (made in Taiwan).

Upgrading your digital filter will also benefit your overall sound quality. The original TDA1541 came with the SAA7220P/A, and later versions came with the TDA1541A/SAA7220P/B pairing. There is also a SAA7220P/C but that was never used in CD reproduction by Marantz or Philips. The SAA7220P/C has been specifically designed for better performance for satellite (32kHz) applications¹. Philips used the SAA7220P/C in their FT990 tuner.

The SAA7220P/B stereo interpolating digital filter.

The SAA7220P/B is an improved version of the ‘A’ device giving 1dB better performance in the passband of the FIR filter, achieved by using different ROM coefficients. The other difference between the two types is that the offset in the accumulator is greatly reduced (+0.05% in the ‘B’ compared to +5% in the ‘A’). The SAA7220P/A required a +5% offset to give optimum performance when used with the TDA1541 dual DAC. However, with the ‘B’ version this offset is no longer necessary for optimum performance.

“Revised” PD16 board. Note L501 and L504 on the board (Ferrites). You can find these PD16 boards in the Marantz CD-94 MKII and Marantz CD-95. Some CD-94’s also have ferrites on the PD16 printed circuit board, but the ferrites are attached to the wire bridges.
TDA1541A on a socket for easy swapping. It allows you to compare different samples with each other. Gold plated sockets are also available.

Marantz started using the S1 grade TDA1541A in a variety of CD players. Around 1988 the Marantz CD-94 MKII was the first one to receive this selected IC. Later on Marantz used it in the CD-95, the CD-99SE and it could also be found in their premium DAC’s. The Marantz CD-99SE was manufactured with the S1 grade of the TDA1541A, but later on some the ‘Limited’ edition was released with the S2 grade (a S1 with two crowns). Behind the ‘drop down flap’ you could read the following text: Limited special selected D/A convertor (TDA1541A followed by two crowns). Whereas the ‘normal’ Marantz CD-95 received the S1 grade, the ‘Limited’ edition also got a pair of S2’s (a S1 with two crowns). At a later stage Philips started using the S2 stamp with two crowns (runs that were produced by TSMC/Taiwan).

Marantz CD-99SE Limited.

Later on, Ken Ishiwata used this S2 grade in his ultimate Marantz CD-7. This player was his statement TDA1541A player that used two of these ICs. The Marantz D-1 project also used two S2 graded ICs. It goes without saying that if you are in the market for one of these players, you have to raise the lid of the player to assess the authenticity of the ICs by checking the solderings. This assumption may sound absurd to most readers, but recently I spotted a Marantz CD-99SE on the internet in China (Taobao.com). I had seen this serial number before, but with other TDAs! It is sad indeed to see these scammers exchanging selected ICs for regular ones.

Two TDA1541A-S2 in the Marantz Project D-1.

This ends part five of the journey through the history of the Marantz CD-94. Feel free to use the comments section! Hope to write a part six as well and that part is going to cover some thoughts about oversampling and op-amp upgrades.

¹ As noted on dutchaudioclassics.nl.

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