Marantz DD-92 DCC deck

The Marantz DD-92 is the fourth DCC deck to come our way and stakes a claim to the high end among DCC recorders yet released. That status is certainly borne out by appearances: The front panel is pure Marantz, with a rich, anodized gold luster. Thick, solid-metal side panels and a copper-clad metal chassis give the deck considerable heft-about 26 pounds, all told- and stability.

The DD-92's operating controls provide complete mastery over its many features. Primary transport controls are clustered in the upper right-hand corner, including buttons for forward and reverse play, previous track, next track, stop, pause, fast forward, and reverse. The record button places the deck in recording-pause mode, and a record-mute button is used to insert blank spaces on a tape. The Record-Append button is used to initialize a blank tape or to find the last recorded material on a partly recorded tape. (It is important to use the Append button whenever you make a tape; otherwise the necessary time and track information will not be recorded.) A Sync-Record button enables you to synchronize dubbing from a compatible CD player linked to the DCC deck on a remote-control bus.

The DD-92 provides switches to select analog, optical-digital, or coaxial-digital inputs for DCC recording and Dolby B, Dolby C, or no noise reduction for analog-cassette playback. Analog input levels are controlled by a large knob, input channel balance by a smaller knob nearby, and headphone volume by a third knob next to a standard quarter-inch phone jack. An open/close button operates the cassette drawer, and a timer switch can be used to automate recording or playback with an external timer. Less-often-used controls occupy a smaller portion of the front panel.

One button turns automatic start-marker generation on or off. When this feature is turned on, the DD-92 automatically marks the beginning of each recorded track, based either on track-start markers in the data stream from one of the digital inputs or on a 3-second silence in the signal from the analog inputs.

When automatic start-marking is turned off, the user can manipulate start and other markers manually by means of a cluster of five buttons. The Start-Marker button is used to mark the beginning of a track manually. The Renumber button checks the track numbers on a tape and alters them if necessary to avoid duplications or gaps in the sequence. The Next button writes a marker indicating the end of a tape side, which will prompt a deck playing the tape to fast-wind to the start of the other side. The Reverse button causes the deck to flip sides immediately and begin playing from the corresponding point on the other side. And the Erase button is used to cancel any marker.

The DD-92 can be put into monitor mode so that you can listen to an input source either when the deck is stopped or while it is recording. It can be set to repeat the current track or an entire tape, and a Blank-Skip button automatically fast-winds it to the next selection. The AMS (automatic music scan) button sequentially plays the first 10 seconds of each track on a tape until you choose one you want to hear.

Three buttons control parts of the deck's large fluorescent display. The Text button steps through a commercially prerecorded tape's album title, track titles, artist's name, total number of tracks, and total time. The Time button selects the elapsed time from the beginning of the tape, elapsed time in the current track, or remaining time. When an analog cassette is loaded, the Time button selects a tape counter.

The display also includes two bar graphs showing audio levels, from - 50 to 0 dB for digital signals or - 40 to +10 dB for analog. In addition, various labels indicate when markers are being written, the type of input signal, the type of noise reduction (for analog cassettes), repeat-mode selection, copy prohibition, the sampling rate in use, and virtually anything else you might want to know about the deck's operating status.

The back panel has three pairs of phono jacks providing analog line inputs and fixed- and variable-level line outputs. Two more phono jacks serve as the coaxial digital input and output, and a pair of Toslink jacks are provided for optical digital input and output. There are also two phono jacks for connection to a D-Bus remote-control system for coordinated operation with other Marantz components.

The supplied thirty-one-button remote control largely duplicates the front-panel controls but adds a few perks of its own. You'll find transport controls, text and recording controls, and a hugely extraneous drawer open/close button. More useful are volume up/down buttons, a power button, and a ten-digit keypad that provides direct DCC track access.

The DD-92 employs many of the same Philips chips that I have seen in other DCC recorders. Bitstream technology is used for both analog-to-digital (A/D) and digital-to-analog (D/A) conversion. Marantz says that the converters used are, in fact, capable of 18-bit resolution and that the DD-92 is thus the first DCC deck on the market capable of taking advantage of the full dynamic range claimed for the new format.

As one might expect, the upgraded electronics inside the Marantz DD-92 yielded very good measurements. Using a digitally recorded DCC to test playback through the DD-92's analog outputs, we obtained uniformly superb measurements for frequency response, channel separation, signal-to-noise ratio (S/N), distortion, and low-level linearity. These results are a testament to the quality of DCC's PASC data-reduction algorithm and of the DD-92's D/A converters.

Test recordings made through the DD-92's analog inputs and measured through its analog outputs were also excellent. Overall, the A/D converter contributed only minor degradation to the signal. The biggest loss was, as usual, in S/N, and the low-level linearity actually improved slightly.

The analog cassette measurements were pretty good, though certainly no match for their DCC counterparts. The DD-92 is not the world's very best analog cassette player, but it should do nicely until your analog cassettes are all worn out.

I spent a rainy afternoon acquainting myself with the DD-92's features and sonic abilities. The text mode for prerecorded DCC tapes is quite handy. For example, with the deck stopped, you can step through the track titles on a prerecorded tape using the track-skip buttons, stop on the one you'd like to hear, and then hit the play button. The deck finds the selected track and plays it. Very nice.

It's unfortunate that DCC decks do not let you record text information to a blank tape. Philips has enforced this restriction to give added value to prerecorded DCC tapes, but the MiniDisc format lets you record your own text, and it's very convenient to be able to mark your recordings in this way, particularly if you've recorded a compilation of varied material. I hope Philips rethinks this limitation.

Also unlike MD recorders, but like other DCC decks, the DD-92 permits recording and playback at all three standard sampling frequencies-32, 44 A, and 48 kHz-with corresponding upper frequency limits of 14,500, 20,000, and 22,000 Hz, respectively.

The ability to record at sampling frequencies other than 44.1 kHz may become invaluable in the future, since future DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) formats may employ any or all of the three. And the capability is already a convenience for anyone who has 48-kHz DAT recordings.

The DD-92, like DCC in general, does suffer one weakness compared with CD and MD: Tape is inherently slower than disc. Whereas CD and MD players can cue up a track almost as fast as you can push the button, the DD-92 must wind through the tape to find it. If the tape was properly recorded with time and track information, the DD-92 can find the shortest distance to the desired selection (flipping sides immediately, for example), but it can still be a relatively long wait. Philips has indicated that higher-speed transports are possible and may become available in the future.

On a more positive note, the DD-92 showed no signs of any tendency to head clogging. I ran an analog tape through the machine for 48 hours straight and encountered no problems afterward with analog or digital playback (or recording).

Appropriately, I used a Marantz CD-11mkII CD player as my reference to evaluate the DD-92's sonic performance. They make quite a rich-looking pair stacked together; even better, they both deliver excellent sound quality. In listening comparisons using a very high-end sound system-including a Conrad-Johnson Motif preamplifier and power amplifier and KEF Model 107 loudspeakers - I could detect little or no difference between CD's and digitally copied DCC's. When a subtle difference was detectable, I registered it as simply a difference, not a preference. In other words, one was not inferior to the other. If the analog inputs are used, the recording quality also hinges on the performance of the source's D/A converters and the deck's A/D converters. The high-quality converters in this Marantz duo produced little or no audible degradation.

In my opinion, for most listeners a digitally copied DCC tape will sound as good as the original CD. And, as with other consumer digital recorders, the DD-92 incorporates the Serial Copy Management System (SCMS), which permits unlimited direct digital copying from a digital original but prevents the resulting copies from being digitally copied on an SCMS-equipped deck. Thus, multigenerational digital dubbing is prohibited. SCMS has no effect on copying via the analog inputs, however.

With products such as the DD-92, the DCC format has already reached a high level of refinement, a level that is both startling for first-generation technology and necessary in today's competitive market. The DD-92 provides analog and digital compatibility, solid construction, distinctive styling, a wide range of useful features, excellent technical performance, and remarkable sound. In short, the DD-92 is the best DCC deck yet introduced and thus sets the reference standard. You can't launch a new audio format with products much better than this one.

Marantz DD-92 DCC deck photo