February 18, 2010

Marantz CD7 VS Linn LP12. A Format Debate?

The formats debate. Let the games begin!
With my Marantz CD7 restored to it full glory, it's time to take it for a shake down, against my recently acquired Linn LP12. Despite the format differences, there are certain similarities between the two music making machines. First, both belong to the rather early technology designs of their kind. The Linn first appearing in the late sixties and were considered obsolete by the eighties when newer designs appeared. The Marantz appeared in 1999, a year in which by digital time line defines as a third generation but with the best of second generation digital technology. Both machines have achieved raved reviews in their time and have a cult following, even till today. Both do not have what is defined as neutral sound by today's standards, but rather a warm, comforting sound of the ol'skool hifi.

First up, I wish to denounce that this is not a CD vs LP debate, despite the tittle! I rather see it as a sharing of discovery, the strength's and weaknesses of both formats. One must also note the the CD player in general, is a one box solution, just plug in the necessary power and signal wires, and let there be music. The LP play back system is far more complicated, as it requires at the very least three components, namely the cartridge, turn table and phono stage to work together, before any sound is offered. It reality, it's rather Marantz CD7 vs Benz Micro Glider L2, Linn LP12 plus Pass Lab X-Ono combo to be fair.

I'll used 6 familiar songs that I have on both CD and LP formats for the shake down.

1) Way Out West by Sonny Rollins: This is a monumental work by a trio that's easy to appreciate, even for non Jazz lovers. It's an easy song to compare as there are only 3 instruments in the recording, a saxophone, a double bass and a drum set, recorded in dual mono technique. In the format comparison, while both sounded similarly warm in tonal quality, the LP edges the CD by presenting the saxophone's brass burnish tone quality, more realistically than the CD. The drum kit too sounded more convincing in the way the actual drum stick "hits" the skin patch with impact, followed by decaying of the drum cylinder. High hats and cymbals do sound a little more shinny and simmering decay in to thin air with much, much more conviction. The first round LP wins. My copy of LP is a recent Acoustic Sounds re-issue still available currently. My CD copy is actually a Hybrid SACD re-issued by Naxos in 2003.

2) Black Coffee by Claire Martin: This Linn recording sounds superb, in both formats. There is consistent clarity, neutral tonality and excellent band width extensions heard from both formats. For me however, the CD just edges out slightly, due to a fuller bass and dense mids plus just being able to dig out more resolution in the song. Giving the song a more dynamically fulfilling rendering. My LP is the Too Darn Hot album re-issued in 2006 and CD copy is actually a Hybrid SACD Linn Selektions 2004.

3) Misty by Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio: This is classic Three Blind Mice recording. Tsuyoshi's piano sounds more immediate on the LP, but there seems to be an odd harmonic pitch distraction on the LP, perhaps a wow and flutter issue? By comparison, the CD seems a little less dynamic on a micro level, but that odd harmonic pitch distraction did not show up some how. I'll call it even this time as both formats shows sonic flaws highly evident upon critical comparison. The LP copy is the TBM 25th Anniversary re-issue and the CD track was taken from the Three Blind Mice Jazz Sampler Volume one, track 10.

4) Lou Ge by Cai Qin: I used track 1 for comparison, as I do not know the song name being non Chinese reading illiterate that I am. Again, I found the CD version of the song to sound fuller, and warmer. The CD also did not have the vocal sibilance in the high mid section of the LP. I was more able to connect to the CD on an emotional level than I did on LP. I found this somewhat surprising. My LP copy is a re-mastered, German pressed re-issued in 2008. My CD copy is one of the original 1985 version, not the re-mastered version available now.

5) Foreign Affair by Tina Turner: I used the title track for comparison. I felt this album captures Tina Turner at the peak of her career and she's in top form vocally. The track also features Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame, on guitars. I felt both CD and LP copies of this track to be the closest matched, to the point that, with playback volume level matched between formats, I found it hard to differentiate which was which! It was that close! In the end, I decided to call it a tie here. There's a reason for the results, in which I suspect boils down to the format issues. Both CD and LP copies are original 1989 UK pressing!

My summary of the results. To me, it doesn't really matter which format did better, as they both have their charms given the right moment and software. I am also well aware, as I pointed out in the Black Coffee track, that my CD player was able to offer more musical resolution in perspective, probably means that my cartridge, the Benz Micro Glider L2 was not as good in that respect. I also took pains to point out the version of pressings that I used to each song comparison to dissect the possibility of pressings and their varying degrees of quality, be it re-mastered or re-issued. This factor certainly showed up on the Foreign Affair track, where both formats are the original pressings, the sound quality was also too close to call!

The end questions I'll have to ask are as follows, are we truly listening to the format quality or the various quality that different pressings offer? Is one format really superior to the other?


GCK said...

You changed back your cart to Benz Micro from Stradivari to do the comparisons?

Big E said...


This comparison was done sometime ago when I was still using the Benz Micro.