Perhaps you haven’t heard of Hegel Music Systems. They are a manufacturer of audio electronics based in Oslo, Norway famous for their amps (featuring patented SoundEngine technology) and, more recently, their phenomenal line of external DACs. Check out their excellent web page at www.hegel.com. If you have heard of them, you probably haven’t actually heard them (and you should!). They are new to the American market and currently only have a dozen or so dealers. I am happy to report that Adirondack Audio & Video is now one of them.
As a longtime audiophile, I’m thrilled whenever I have an opportunity to listen extensively (and intensively) to new gear, but I have rarely been this excited about taking on an entire new line of electronics as I am with Hegel. Owning a HiFi store allows me lots of opportunities to demo new products, but deciding to become a dealer (with the accompanying financial commitment) involves making business calculations that are often more stressful than fun. With Hegel, none of that mattered. The sound quality of Hegel electronics is so good that I felt compelled to offer it to our customers. If you live nearby and you love music, you need to come in and listen. And then you’ll know what I’m writing about.
For those of you who are too far away, let me try to explain. I’ll start with the amps (and discuss the DACs in a future blog entry). We have the two least expensive Hegel integrated amps on display in the showroom (the H70 and H100). Before you even listen, you will notice that the look of the amp is “Scandinavian minimalist”—simple and purposeful while at the same time looking exquisite and expensive. The quality of design and workmanship is evident immediately. Press the large, central power button and the amp turns on with a satisfying ka-thunk. No matter what source or volume you might have been previously listening to, Hegel will always revert to the balanced input and a moderate volume—a thoughtful touch. Then there’s the sound. I can think of no other amp—at any price—that exhibits as much control over loudspeakers as Hegel does. Each instrument, each note, is clear and distinct, like there are no electronics in-between you and the musician. The base, even at moderate volumes, is balanced and tight—powerful while at the same time articulate and controlled. Hegel amps are exceptionally neutral, so you’ll easily hear any imperfections or tonal coloring coming from the source or your loudspeakers. You’ll want to pair these amps with the best speakers you can afford.
With high-quality loudspeakers, the Hegel amps are truly magical in their ability to present music with all its original dynamic punch and tonal balance. The SoundEngine technology—found only in Hegel products—undoubtedly has a lot to do with this. I’ll let Hegel explain:
The HEGEL SoundEngine™ local error cancelling system prevents distortion in the audio amplifier circuit stages, preserving the original details and the dynamic range in the original music signal. The end result is a much cleaner music signal with a larger dynamic range and lower distortion.
The unique and patented Hegel SoundEngine™ audio technology is combining the advantage of class AB-amplifier and the advantage of class A-amplifiers, without having the draw backs of class A- and class AB-amplifier technologies.
What this means for the listener is a level of clarity and resolution in sound that is immediately apparent. You will find yourself re-listening to your entire music collection, hearing nuances that you never knew were there.
As you can tell, I’m very enthusiastic about Hegel and I hope to play my small part in helping them become as successful in the United States as they already are in other parts of the world. With sound quality like this, the task should not be difficult. You’ll understand what I mean as soon as you listen.
The current, updated version of the EDGE G3, now $7088.00 is a very nice 115 wpc, which retains all of the accomplished attributes and accolades raved about in the below reviews from other astute sources, of its lower powered predecessors.
I had made an exceptional statement in my FB post just before our Grand Opening in early July that the G3 in my very first listen, was “THE BEST INTEGRATED I’VE EVER HEARD. I would like to say in my own defense of this premature statement, that in all fairness however, that it was amazingly obvious from the moment I unboxed it and plugged it in. Fortunately, our audition copy was Steven Norber’s (Edge National Sales Manager) personal amplifier, so was already broken in, only requiring the typical 20 minute warm up to be fully ready to strut it’s stuff. At this point I would like to try to put that previously unqualified statement into some perspective. Obviously, from the following reviews, everyone who’s ever tested an EDGE Amp, including the G3’s previous editions, have also been extremely impressed.
I feel that at this juncture, it is important to mention that too often people do not fully appreciate just how important an amplifier is to the overall system performance. So when you get a really good one, or in this case, really exceptional, you sort of cannot put a fine enough point on it! For instance, too often I hear the comment that it is the “speakers” which make the biggest difference in a system, almost as if, that’s all that is really important. But to be frank, that is only a half truth. Speakers will certainly “establish the type of sound” you will get, however, the true character, integrity, and by far, its believability, “or likeness live sound” is absolutely up to the “amplifier”. So underestimating this, often results in an under qualified amplifier being paired with the speakers. Sadly this results in your inability to ever put together a true high end/high performance system. Not to mention, you usually NEVER HEAR what your speaker can really do…EVER! One reason for this naturally is that unless you have a particularly abstinent speaker to drive, such as one of very (low efficiency, impedance, stability, or that requires tremendous power), you can get “sound” from almost anything you plug into them, even a cheap AV receiver, especially if they are of the “very efficient” variety. This does not however, in any way, shape or form, let you hear anything close to what a really good speaker can do. You may quite literally be missing up to 50% of what that speaker can do. So knowing exactly “what a given amplifier is doing” if very important for the best speaker matching.
So to really put an amplifier through the paces, and establish just how good it really is, a competent tester uses an average of about 20 individual values of comparison. Some of these are, sound stage depth, width, and height(measured individually), dynamics, micro dynamics, detail, imaging, a balanced representation of the frequency response (from ultra low notes to extreme highs), and its ability to place various sounds at points in space(and give those sounds a sense of size). These standards are the most commonly talked about, as they can be easiest to identify without the employment of a test bench. And of course, any tester worth their salt should have a qualified reference system to which standards of measurement can then be authenticated. At ADK AV our reference electronics are a complete McIntosh system, amp, pre, and CD, and reference speakers are Flagship PSB’s (Synchrony One), or Fidelity Acoustics RFM-2’s, both 5K a pair (which speaker used depends on what’s being tested). The Mac amp & pre, which weighs in at a cool 11K. The Edge G3 being tested, at $7088.00, or almost half the price. Try to imagine my amazement when I found that with the right speakers, as the EDGE is 115 w/p/c, compared with the MAC’s 350 w/p/c, the EDGE performed as well as the MAC in EVERY CATEGORY!!! That my friends is such a rare feet, that it is extremely difficult to credit. Normally even with two completely matched amps in terms of overall quality, the one with the most power, will sound better. So how on Earth can I qualify this?. I personally believe, that EDGE (as mentioned in my spoof blog – reverse alien technology) may simply be, the best darn design available today, at ANY PRICE, and is clearly built with equivalent quality as is used by McIntosh. Ironically, both companies “literally hand build their products in house” – another extremely rare quality today, especially in the electronics industry. In summation, the EDGE G3 wins my absolute highest admiration, honor and recommendation. I can unequivocally state, it would be my amplifier of choice for any high quality speaker system appropriate to it’s power output. I might even suggest, depending on your own listening habits, it may be the amplifier of choice even for more difficult to drive speakers, as when I mated it with the extremely difficult Totem Wind’s (9K), which normally require a much more powerful amplifier, like our 350w/p/c MAC, to both my amazement and elation, I could find NO DIFFERENCE IN INTEGRITY between the two, other than “the G3’s inability to reach the same volume level” as the more powerful McIntosh.
I cannot give higher praise for the EDGE G3, it is simply, the best Integrated Amplifier that I have EVER heard.
Finally, Hard Cold PROOF of the use of REVERSE ALIEN ENGINEERING in closely guarded, but advanced US Technology!!!
Here at TheSweetSpot@adkav.com we sometimes get to experiment with the most advanced bleeding edge technologies, in this case, virtually right off the BLACK OPS drawing board! We found evidence from a company calling itself EDGE, which, we believe through no small coincidence, is located in an area of Colorado, not far from a Top Secret underground military instillation, call it NORAD or Area 51, it makes little difference. All of these Top Secret Military Facilities according to the United States Congress, DO NOT EXSIST! We believe however, that proof positive is evidenced by the employment of super advanced technology, specifically found in EDGE, to bias high current electromagnetic power transmissions devices. Edge claims by utilizing a unique method of Light Amplification by Stimulated Emissions of Radiation, they’ve engineered a methodology which results in a totally linear simultaneous output of high current electron transmissions. Yet, for some reason, NO OTHER TERRESTRIAL amplifier company has ever even imagined such advanced circuit topologies in amplifier design. How is it that NO ONE has ever conceived of anything like this technology!?! Coincidence? We think NOT! But to cover their tracks, EDGE claims they didn’t actually “invent” the Light Amplification by Stimulated Emissions of Radiation technology, but only developed a unique circuit topology to harness and control such extreme high tech forces. So, here’s an entity mysteriously close to Top Secret underground military instillations, that is actually employing “LASER Beams”, yes “RAY GUN Technology” in the design of their amplification devices, which also I’d like to point out “coincidently” resembles, the suspicious stories about electromagnetic based propulsion systems used in Area 51’s advanced REVERSE ALIEN TECHNOLOGY research, which as we mentioned above, according to official sources, does not exist!
Astute researchers, like Erich Von Daniken, proved that not only have aliens been visiting Earth for the past 12,000 years, or more likely, 70,000 years (evidenced recently in the 70,000 year old mining operations discovered in South America & South Africa). But, very recently, hard evidence has been unearthed that shows they have bestowed vast engineering knowledge to early man, like the Sumerians and Native Americans, then later, the Egyptians, allowing them to not only fashion batteries to light the interior of the pyramids, but to build the pyramids, and other megalithic structures themselves. New evidence suggests, these pyramids were NOT burial chambers, but HUGE ANCIENT POWER GENERATORS, capable of powering an entire city. Which of course helps explain how you can have 50,000 people thriving in a DESERT! I find it hard to believe that not only is EDGE’s most advanced amplifiers Laser biased, but their “super amplifiers”, actually emulate those ancient “pyramids” themselves (see photo). Is all this just a coincidence? Just how many “coincidences” are we to believe in these mysterious yet amazing super power generation devices?
Clearly, EDGE’s most mysterious, and closely guarded technological triumphs are deployed only in their Signature Amps (very limited distribution). Scientific scrutiny of the totally unique circuit design utilized in the their Laser Optical Bias Circuitry deployed in this MEGA 400 WATT Audio Engine, is suspiciously similar to the Laser guided electromagnets used to stabilize the Super Advanced Magneto-hydrodynamic Hyper Drive System (a.k.a. Inertial Drive) that was discovered aboard the captured Alien Flying Saucer under guard at Area 51. Yes, the very one that crashed at Roswell New Mexico, in 1947. According to EDGE, this advanced circuit incorporates a 630nm wavelength laser in each channel operating directly on the silicon substrate of the bias transistors. The laser bias circuit in turn is part of a servo feedback network. As the signal rises, the output of the laser increases, and as the signal decreases the laser output falls. This keeps the bias at the optimum operating point allowing a tenfold increase in gain. The additional gain is achieved while maintaining signal integrity (linearity) — at light speed – “another first ever”. The result is the clear musical nature of the NL Series as observed by well-informed reviewers and buyers. Well informed? Informed by who? MIB???
Unfortunately, EDGE has left no evidence of REVERSE ALIEN TECHNOLOGY in the black box technology I have the pleasure of testing here at The Sweet Spot. Though not one of the Pyramid power amplifiers, it’s still a MUST AUDITION. No Earthly born technology that I have ever encountered comes close to the surreal experience this power amplifier is capable of! It could well be a life changing experience in the appreciation of just how amazingly authentic, a reproduced musical experience can be! Or at least, that’s what a Gray recently imparted to me, as he claimed that when you have to travel 38 bazillion miles to get home, you have to have an OUT OF THIS WORLD SOUND SYSTEM ONBOARD…
Well, we’ve had quite a busy and exciting summer here at ADK AV, with our very successful Power of Music Art Show, and of course, the official Grand Opening of the Hi-End Audio store, AKA the “Sweet Spot” on July 9th. (Please see comments from some of our guests, previous blog). It’s been a busy seven months since our initial “soft open” just after Thanksgiving last year, and we’ve had the pleasure of auditioning several fine brands of electronics and speakers. It’s been quite a process, as many of the brands we tested are very, very good. My objective was to find not only the best brands, but of those, to cherry pick their best offerings to compliment our particular product mix, and to allow us to offer price points to suite virtually any budget. Of course, we already had many fine brands to start with, which we had brought over from custom, such as Sony ES, Marantz, Sherbourn Klipsch and PSB.
So, I would like to welcome our new additions by naming them; they are, Hegel of Norway – DAC’s and Amps, NAD, Jolida Tube Audio, Nordost Cables, Teac and Marantz Reference, Music Hall turntables, Grado & Schiit Headphones (USA), Golden Ear, Totem, Revel, and Fidelity Acoustics speakers, and as of this week, one of my all time favorites and most esteemed, McIntosh Labs, U.S.A.
We very much wanted to have a “reference” level system, so from Mac we went with separates, MC302 Amp and C48 Preamp. I must say, that with the Mac gear driving the “Wind” Speakers (on loan from Totem Acoustics of Montreal, pictured in the below blog), the caliber of sound, be it Symphonic, Jazz, Vocal, or what-have-you, is nothing short of absolutely awe inspiring. I’ve been in this business for quite some time, and I must admit, I was extremely impressed! While listening to a very robust symphony for instance, I felt I was actually transported to the very place I had first heard it live, the Power Symphony Hall, St. Louis, Missouri. Every nuance of detail was there in its proper place, and even the secondary harmonics were absolutely filling the room, making the sound stage to my ears as if it was HUDGE’A. I had to remind myself I was sitting in an ordinary retail space!?!
Please, I invite you to come in soon (even if you are not in the market for anything) and give your favorite music a spin on this system, it is utterly mind bending. You owe it to yourself to hear your beloved music, on a system of this caliber, at least once in your lifetime. To appreciate what the “High-End” has to offer today, compared with even ten years ago, is simply stunning. It could even be a life changing experience!
Here are some comments from Saturday eve;
Listening to the Fidelity Acoustic Speakers with the Edge Integrated amplifier, via the Moon CD player: …from a male customer (who already has a partially updated high end audio system) “I’ve never heard anything like this before ever! …I think I’m in heaven”
Listening to the Totem Wind’s, via the Edge Integrated and Moon CD player: …comment from a woman… “OMG I can’t believe it! It sounds like they are playing right in front of us”
Listening to the PSB Synchrony One via the Edge separates and Sony ES Flagship CD Player: from a female guest… “I think I had an out of body experience listening to his voice” “actual comment altered for PC/PG rating”
Listening to the PSB T6 Speakers on the Hegel Integrated & DAC (Direct digital music files from our Network hard drive): …comment from a young couple… “wow this is totally awesome”
Listening to the Totem Mites (tiny bookshelf speakers) with all NAD electronics: …from a male guest… “where’s the sub? It’s got to be hidden here somewhere…I can’t believe your don’t have a subwoofer going, these speakers are amazing!?!”
Listening to the same system as above, Mites & NAD, this time from another female guest: “I don’t think I have ever heard such beautiful sound before, it just fills the room!
Once again, thanks to everyone who attended our show, and for all the heart felt comments!
We have the honor of hosting international artists works, from paintings and sculptures to functional “audio art”, which will be on display here for the duration of our show July 9th – August 27th.
And of course, we have works of real audio art, “high-end audio” from Totem, Edge, Hegel, Moon, Fidelity Acoustics, Luxman, and more, also graciously on lone for our event. Come soon, and enjoy some of the finest, most musical equipment, artistically designed by the industries very best artisans!
This awesome state of the art offering from Totem, is there Flag Ship “Wind”, in special gloss ‘Fire” finish!
Audio Zen it seems is a lesser known state, and surprisingly elusive. However, I firmly believe it is the true goal worth striving for when building a system for the pleasure of music!
Robert Reina’s May 2011 Stereophile review of our Totem Dreamcatcher speaker is a good example of Audio Zen, achieved. I’ve gleaned this from an occasional article at different times over the years, but ironically, the very authors themselves seldom comment on it? For example, in Robert’s review, he states that he enters into a state of utter musical delight every time he connects the Dreamcatchers to his system, then drops out again when swapping back to his old speakers. And though he admits knowing that the Dreamcatchers are not doing everything as accurately or as well, as his old “reference speakers” (four times the price), he admits that he doesn’t care because he can’t believe how much he “really gets into” his music with the Dreamcatchers. Obviously, his system mated with the these Dreamcatchers, (happens to comprise an ideal combination). Allowing him to achieve this rare plateau of complete and utter musical satisfaction, or, Audio Zen!
Now, in the current (July issue) of Stereophile Stephen Mejias writes what he thinks about two, (or actually three when counting his Klipsch Syn-B20), more components we feature here at the Sweet Spot, the Jolida FX10 and NAD C316BEE. The first thing I would like to point out, is how he compares the two integrated’s to each other making good points about the differences in sound. If you read his entire review, it becomes obvious that though he finds the Jolida “huggable and adorable” he feels the sound of the NAD is more detailed, accurate, and therefore better. This is where I have to disagree. Additionally, it should be noted these amplifiers take care of business very differently, as one is “tube”, and the other “transistor”, so the fact of the matter is, that they are absolutely going to sound “very differently”. Just as the sound of vinyl is “very different” from CD, and though CD is known to have more accurate attributes, rarely will you find anyone claiming it is “better” when comparing the two!
Stephen begins with his description of the Jolida, pointing out several things I’ve found to be true of many tube amplifiers. For example, he’s quick to realize that though the Jolida is rated at only 10 watts per channel, it seems like much more power. Then, when mated to a horn loaded speaker (typically very efficient) like his Klipsch, “in his words” it flat out ROCKS! He also marvels at how well the Jolida defines the various musicians in space, within a very large, yet well focused sound stage. He further notices how well brass instruments bloom effortlessly and cymbals sizzle gently into darkness. He notices that the Jolida out performs not only the NAD in these characteristics, but two other similarly priced competitors, a Cambridge Audio 340A & Exposure 2010. He concludes that the overall sonic characteristics make the Jolida’s presentation very life like, which he compares quite favorably to his experience of a live performance the night before.
Unfortunately, he goes on to point out several attributes common to solid state amplifiers, and how the NAD does these better than the Jolida. He even compares this particular NAD C316BEE to the coveted classic NAD 3020, commenting on how this amplifier may be everything it was, albeit, without quite as much power, and of course, without the cult AMP-GOD status the classic 3020 has earned over time.
I do agree however with his overall assessment of both amplifiers. However, what I disagree with is his claim that the NAD is “better”. He does mention that an idea popped into his head when consider what speaker would make the perfect match for the Jolida, and that is the Klipsch. I too had originally mated the Jolida to the PSB ALPHA B1’s as it made for the “King of bang for the buck systems”($729.00). But remembered the old audiophile fact that “horns excel with tubes” so quickly switch to Klipsch speakers. This took it from a system that sounded really good to “life like” by simply swapping out the PSB’s for Klipsch! In fact, I’ve since mated it to their largest “bookshelf” speaker, the RB8i which has “8 inch woofers.” This further takes you from a nice seat at the back of the hall (Stephen Mejias test Klipsch system) to Front Row Center (ours)! For me, this is a perfect example of Audio Zen! I’ll take front row center live any day of the week!
In summery. Be careful with what reviewers conclude, as what is actually better for them, may not be what’s better for you! If you are say, a classical listener, or perhaps musician, you may decide that hearing a greater amount of low level detail allows you a window into what the musicians are doing, and maybe that’s the sound for you. But if it’s a “you are there” live performance type sound that you’re looking for, than I’d have to go with the Jolida tube amplifier! Personally, the sort of “in the control room-studio sound” of many small solid state type amps has never been quite as attractive to me. But that’s the beauty of choices. Today more than ever before, manufacturers like NAD, Jolida, PSB and Klipsch, are making some just amazingly musical components that are really great in their own right, and seriously affordable! What more can you ask for? Cheers!
Right now we are auditioning a pile of cool new stuff from a number of internationally known brands. DAC’s, Interconnects, Amps, etc. Stop in soon and often so you don’t miss your opportunity to audition something you may otherwise have to go to Los Angeles or Europe to hear!?!
We also welcome our latest addition of the absolutely most flexible, and best made line of Audio Video Furniture, actually MADE IN U.S.A., from a company called “Salamander Designs” We’ve put three of their furniture models on display for your convenience!
Some of the brands we’re currently auditioning are Fidelity Acoustics of Vancouver Canada,
Moon from Montreal Canada, Hegel audio of Norway, and Nordost which sounds Norwegian, but actually hales out of the Far East – Massachusetts New England!
It’s hard to believe just how good some of this stuff is. Even the technology that goes into making the “wires” can, and from what we’ve heard DOES make a huge difference in how well the system can sound. When you pop off the stock wires and put on these the classical music I was listening to sounded as if it went from a Quartet, to a full blown Symphony!?! It’s just amazing what these little old wires can do!!! You have to try this. Heck, I’m so sure you’ll have the same experience that I’ll lend them to you to try it out.
But first, a quick look at recent history…
Having won The Absolute Sounds coveted Golden Ear award for 2010, and Editor’s Choice award for 2011, and with several more outstanding reviews to its honor, I thought I should give it an audition. I, quite possibly like you, hadn’t really been paying attention to the fact that “Teac actually has a Reference Line”. In fact, the Teac I knew from the 70’s was just a single line of high quality gear, who’s forte was tape recorders. If you wanted a best of the best Reel to Reel or Cassette deck, you needed look no further than “TEAC”. In fact, even those in the Professional Recording Industry depended on Teac’s fine line of tape machines, and other pro quality audio components. But as several factors in the 80’s & 90’s combined, to lighten our economic prowess, many of the higher end companies from Japan left the dwindling U.S. market, and some reduced their offerings to only their low end, “affordable” gear. And of course, many of us learned that what “affordable” meant was “cheap” and “disposable.” Not to mention poorer sounding. But thankfully, a handful of these grand old Japanese companies have since returned with some of their higher end offerings. Such is the case with TEAC REFERENCE. So please DO NOT confuse this with Teac’s regular line, which shares the cosmetic’s ONLY! There are Big differences here. For instance, their regular line includes several mini systems, CD Receivers, and even speakers, and they’re clearly as good as anyone else in that arena. However, in their Reference Series, they have just these two pieces, and the parts, build, and sound quality differences are substantial! So it goes without saying the Reference Line is neither cheap, or disposable.
And now onto the review:
The two units that comprise the Teac’s Reference 600 series are available separately, but form a system together that makes a lot of sense physically, functionally, and sonically. Plus, you get a ton of features for your money! A more than competent 75W per channel integrated amplifier, wired and wireless network connections for internet and podcasts, AM/FM and, an onboard Internet Tuner, a quality phono stage, and high integrity DAC’s for direct input of music files via memory card or USB ports. That’s a lot of a bang for the buck! Furthermore, I have not found a better performing CD player or Integrated Amplifier near either’s price, even those stripped down types that don’t include ANY of the extra features! So as a system, it’s quite formidable, and quite frankly, a true Audiophile Bargain, by any standard!
I must further comment on the obvious build quality. Both the CD Player’s & Amplifiers chassis are made from thick, heavy, rigid brushed aluminum. They look and feel as they are built to last. Smart features and styling is exemplary. Further, as I have gleaned from other reviewers (What Hi-Fi & The Absolute Sound, etc) I more than suspect there is a good bit of trickle down technology from their ultra high end division Esoteric. I more than suspect Esoteric technology present in the CD player, as it performs way better than any I’ve tested near its price! The fact that it shares the same “mini-style” chassis as the matching amplifier belies the fact that it performs like NO COMPACT component at all, and I would put it against ANY high end offering from the high end community at large.
As a system, the TEAC Reference sounds as good as any full size component in their price range, delivering on the true high-end experience one expects when visiting a specialty audio store. Serious deep, detailed sound stage, with excellent extension and weight. With expressive music like Jazz, drum kicks are deep and taut, string plucks are fast and detailed, bass is forceful and cymbals sparkle. With classical, which as the experienced listener knows, can be very difficult for modest systems to lend true justice too (typically you have 130 instruments all playing at once!?!), the Teac Ref. does quite well, fooling you into thinking you are listening to a larger system with a more robust amplifiers. Overall excellent tonal and rhythmic cohesion extending deep into the lower regions and high in to the upper ones. And unlike most mini’s, the Teac Amplifier will actually run floor standers with surprising authority and control.
In all honestly, I believe TEAC may have done themselves a disservice by making the Reference gear of Mini Stature, as its performance is anything but. So I must conclude that the TEAC Reference is simply more of a stunningly smart stealth design, with virtually all of today’s most desired features, in a sophisticatedly smart and powerful package. I highly recommend it with most any speaker system, large or small.
[/caption]Excerpts from three reviews/comments for some of our very musical Marantz Stereo components
>(My comments are bold and italicized)
New Products from Marantz
By Stereophile’s Stephen Mejias • Posted: Jul 22, 2010
Marantz has introduced four new, relatively affordable products: two integrated amplifiers and two disc players. All carry on the sleek, attractive design of the company’s reference components, featuring the classic Marantz star logo (cool), sculpted faceplates, and solid-looking build.
I’m most interested in the cheap stuff (me too).
The CD5004 CD player uses a Cirrus Logic CS4392 D/A converter capable of handling high-resolution 24-bit/196kHz PCM signals. But the player can also read CD-R and CD-RW discs with MP3 and WMA files. Interestingly, there’s also a front panel headphone jack and pitch control, perfect if you’re a musician and want to play along to your favorite tracks. In addition, the remote has a “Quick Replay” feature, which allows you to back up anywhere from 5 to 60 seconds to replay portions of songs. Other nice touches abound, such as the gold-plated output terminals, widely spaced for heavy gauge cables (Marantz is one of those companies from which you benefit as they will oftentimes use “technology” from their Pro or Reference Line, which of course is much higher integrity than you normally find at these entry level price points…).
The PM5004 integrated amplifier replaces the PM5003, recently reviewed by Bob Reina (also included below). It offers 35Wpc (but behaves like a lot more power) and has five line-level inputs, two Record Out jacks, and, most important, a moving-magnet phono stage (Thank god!)
For those who need SACD playback, Marantz offers the SA8004, the latest incarnation of the SA8001 which so impressed Jim Austin (and me too – very high end performance… suspiciously close to the Reference SA-15S2 $1999.00). The price remains $999. And for those who want more power, more options, and beefier construction in their amplifiers, Marantz offers the PM8004, also at $999 (of which I owned its predicessor, the PM8003, as it was the most musical amp available at or near its price then).
But let’s get back to the cheap stuff. The CD5004 costs $349. The PM5004, with phono stage(!), costs $449. Add a high-quality, affordable pair of bookshelf speakers, like the PSB Alpha B1 ($279/pair), (Definitely! See my March 30 blog review) speaker stands, and some cheap cables from (or “me” – we have em’ too) RadioShack or MonoPrice.com, and you’ve got an almost complete system—you’ll still need a turntable, of course—for just over $1000. Or, if you’re like me, and vinyl is more important to you, you can play your CDs with a Sony Playstation 1, and spend that $300 you just saved on a good turntable, like the Rega P1 (or matching “HELLO!?!” – “MARANTZ”..of course, that is just now coming out…hee-hee). You can upgrade the cables later. Remember: Marantz is doing a great thing by including that phono input with their PM5004, so you won’t need an additional phono stage. You’ll be all set to start spinning vinyl. The money saved can be spent at your favorite record shop (like Divinyl Revolution in Saratoga).
Marantz PM5003 integrated amplifier
By Robert J. Reina • Posted: Jan 27, 2010
We crotchety middle-aged (is 51 middle aged? – I sure hope so!!!) (and older) audiophiles frequently sit around and whine about the apparently rising median age of enthusiasts of two-channel audio. “We need to do something to attract the youts to our cause!” one of us will say. (Youts? See Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny.)
Well, that’s not giving the younger generation enough credit. There is a growing number of young audiophiles, many of them hooked on vinyl. In fact, one of them commissioned this review. When Stereophile’s own Stephen Mejias found out that Marantz was producing an attractive integrated amplifier with phono stage for only $449.99, he immediately lassoed John Atkinson to request one for review. Shortly thereafter, a sample of the Marantz PM5003 arrived on my doorstep.
How young is Stephen? Well, let’s just say that when Mikey Fremer was his age, Stephen hadn’t been born.
What do you get for $450?
A hell of a lot. (not to be repetitious but, A HELL OF A LOT!!!) but The Marantz PM5003, which puts out 40Wpc into 8 ohms (or 55Wpc into 4 ohms), doesn’t look like something that costs under $1000, let alone under $500. It’s rugged and hefty, and its elegant looks remind me of a cross between Audio Research gear and the most expensive Creek electronics. The PM5003 was designed in Japan and is made in China (as are most Marantz products (ACTUALLY NOT MOST, BUT WHO’S COUNTING?), and includes technology trickled down from two of Marantz’s flagship models: the SC-7S2 preamplifier ($8000) and the MA-9S2 monoblock amplifier ($16,000/pair) (Now who’s repeating themselves?)
The PM5003 (and PM5004) and its moving-magnet phono stage feature current-feedback circuits intended to exhibit faster rise and fall times and higher slew rates than voltage-feedback designs. According to Marantz, a current-feedback amplifier is better able to track music’s rapid changes, and should (does) sound more natural. The PM5003 is constructed with discrete components, (not just discrete outputs, now a popular buzz feature) and includes input buffet circuitry to optimize the signal/noise ratio and channel separation (old audiophile trick – less noise = more music).
The PM5003 is awash with features: five line-level inputs, two record outputs, two pairs of transparent screw-type speaker terminals, a balance control, and a headphone amplifier. There are also controls for treble, bass, and loudness—and, for audio purists, a Source Direct switch to bypass them, just as in my old Audio Research SP11 preamp. Those interested in custom installations will find triple command-code sets as well as an IR flasher input (our Custom tech’s loves it!). All of the preamp section’s functions are accessible via the rugged and well-laid-out remote control, which also controls Marantz’s CD and DVD players, tuner, and tape deck.
But how does it sound?
Quite remarkable, actually. (ditto)
The first phase of my listening involved only CDs, to test the line-stage and power-amp sections. The Marantz PM5003’s transparent, uncolored midrange made it a pleasure to listen to well-recorded classical woodwinds, such as Anthony Michaelson’s clarinet on his recording. of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, with Robert Bailey leading the Michaelangelo Chamber Orchestra (CD, Musical Fidelity MF 018). Throughout all three movements, Michaelson’s instrument was woody, airy, and vibrant. Jazz piano also shone through the PM5003—the rich, warm, sonorous midrange of Marilyn Crispell’s instrument floated naturally into my listening room on her rather minimalist phrasing in the title track of her Amaryllis (CD, ECM 1742).
Normally, I wouldn’t expect to hear extended, natural highs from such an inexpensive component, but Tiger Okoshi’s revealing trumpet on “On Green Dolphin Street,” from his Two Sides to Every Story (CD, JVC JVCXR-0004-2), was rendered without bite, harshness, or any top-octave rolloff. The burnished metallic bite of his horn sounded dynamic and as involving as I’ve heard through far more costly gear. Solo violin is the acid test of high-frequency realism, and Mariko Senju’s performance of Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin (CD, JVC JVCC-6504-2) was searing yet pristine, with no trace of discordant electronic artifacts. Throughout John Zorn’s “Orphee,” from his Mysterium (CD, Tzadik TZ8018), percussionist David Shimminer plays a variety of closely miked high-frequency percussion instruments. Through the Marantz they took on a shimmering, bell-like quality, with natural decay and transients that were quick but not too sharp. The Marantz’s articulation of transients also did an impressive job in unraveling the midrange textures in pianist Vijay Iyer’s angular, rapid-fire solo on “Revolutions,” from his Reimagining (CD, Savoy Jazz SVY 17475).
With either the Epos or Monitor Audio speakers, the PM5003’s reproduction of bass was natural, deep, dynamic, and fast, with no noticeable overhang. I analyzed Ray Brown’s double-bass solo in another cover of “On Green Dolphin Street,” this one, from The Poll Winners (CD, JVC JVCXR-0019-2), with Barney Kessel and Shelly Manne. The sound of the instrument’s strings and wood shone through, with a good sense of pacing and no trace of coloration or loss of dynamics, even in the lower-register passages. Similarly, the opening plucked bass on “River of Orchids,” from XTC’s Apple Venus, Vol.1 (CD, TVT TVT3250-2), almost startled me—the notes seemed to jump out of thin air with realistic bottom-end weight and effortless dynamics.
A fairly intense electric jazz group is a good test of an amplifier’s ability to render a coherent sonic picture with realistic pacing. The middle section of “Ice Crushing at All Speeds,” from my jazz quartet Attention Screen’s Live at Otto’s Shrunken Head (CD, Stereophile STPH020-2), features a forceful, driving rhythm from drummer Mark Flynn playing his entire kit, juxtaposed against a moaning ostinato bass line by Chris Jones that challenges Flynn’s rhythmic statement. It all hung together through the Marantz, just as it did on stage the night we recorded it.
But, you say, how well can a 40Wpc integrated produce high-level dynamic slam with such revealing speakers as the Monitor Audio Silver RS6 and the Epos M5? At one point I was playing the Marantz for an audiophile friend, Andy Slusar, who eyed it with suspicion: “How much is this thing? How many watts? I won’t be convinced until you put on some loud rock music that dynamically stresses the unit.” So I cranked up “Vrooom,” from King Crimson’s Thrak (CD, Discipline KCCDX01), at a level exceeding 95dB. After the thundering dynamic opening had almost knocked me off my seat, I was able to follow the individual lines of Trey Gunn’s bass and Tony Levin’s Chapman stick clearly and separately, with nary a trace of compression or congestion in the fortissimo passages. Mr. Slusar: “Okay, you convinced me. The amp is remarkable.” (ditto once again, please see my Monetarily Absurd Systems 101, April 14th blog)
Still, I was skeptical that a $450 integrated, however well made and with however many features, could also include a high-quality phono stage. I expected to hear the sound of a throwaway phono stage. I was wrong. I ended up spending nearly half my time with the Marantz listening to vinyl—I was so pleased with its sound that I just kept playing black disc after black disc. (can I say ditto again/PS, anti-up $150.00 more and our Music Hall mf2.2 TT makes this system sing like it’s $2500.00 not $1200.00…come in and I’ll demo for you)
Overall, the PM5003’s moving-magnet phono stage is cut from the same sonic cloth as the amplifier’s overall sound when processing digital signals. I was particularly taken by its rich, uncolored midrange as I reveled in the verisimilitude of well-recorded women’s voices. Janis Ian on Between the Lines (LP, Columbia PC 33394), Doris Day on Cutting Capers (LP, Columbia CL1232), Annie Haslam on Renaissance’s Scheherazade and Other Stories (LP, Sire SASD 7510)—all were rich and silky. High-frequency transients were as impressive as they were with CD sources. The broad range of timbres in Jamie Muir’s lightning-fast percussive passages on King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (UK LP, Island LPS 9230) were perfectly reproduced, with no smearing, blunted edges, or high-frequency rolloff.
At the other end of the audioband, Chris Jones puts deep bass synth and electronic percussion blasts front and center in his “Midnight Sun” (45rpm 12″ single, Surface Tension STNS002), and the PM5003 rendered them in true lease-breaking, cuff-flapping fashion (footnote 1). Finally, in densely recorded, highly modulated passages such as the interplay of saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Steve Gadd during Shorter’s frantic solo in the title track of Steely Dan’s Aja (LP, ABC AA1006), the Marantz’s phono stage exhibited perfectly clean pacing and a coherent presentation of the passage.
Why shouldn’t I spend more money on something else?
You can indeed spend more than the Marantz PM5003’s price of $449.95 and get much better sound. I compared the PM5003 to my trusty Creek 5350SE integrated amplifier (now known as the Creek Classic), which, at $1695, costs more than three times as much. The Creek was much more delicate throughout the entire audioband, with smoother, more extended highs and cleaner sibilants. Low-level dynamic nuances were more linear through the Creek, which also packed more of a wallop at the upper end of the dynamic spectrum. There was also a greater sense of ease with the Creek, most noticeable with vocal recordings. At the low end of the audioband, the 5350SE’s midbass was a bit cleaner and extended deeper than the Marantz’s. (…or you could step up to the Marantz PM8004 $999.00 mentioned in the previous review and easily run with the Creek, or in my opinion run past it…and for $695.00 less…again, get an even nicer Turntable)
Still, the Marantz sounded uncolored, with many strengths and no glaring weaknesses. Compared to the Creek, however, the PM5003 had, overall, a slightly grainy texture with all recordings—a relative lack of refinement (I love these guys that compare things which are 3 plus times the price, like that’s reasonable). The Creek and Marantz were both like dress shirts of fine Egyptian cotton, with the Creek professionally laundered and the Marantz hand-ironed at home. The Marantz is good enough to wear to work, but for the job interview, you’d want to dress up in the Creek.
Just keep in mind that these impressions resulted from listening to a system whose associated components are much more expensive than what the typical purchaser is likely to hook up to the PM5003; the differences between the Marantz and the Creek 5350SE will likely be less audible with less expensive associated gear (no kidding !?!).
If I buy the Marantz, how will I stand?
You’ll stand mighty proud. The Marantz PM5003 is a stunning achievement: an uncolored, revealing, well-built gem with more features than anyone could possibly ask for at the price. I’d almost go so far as to suggest that all well-heeled audiophiles buy one, just to create a benchmark in their minds for what’s available for $450 from today’s talented electronics designers. I plan to keep my sample around for a while, as I seek out other components to couple with it as candidates to be included in complete two-channel systems that are highly revealing and musical but that retail for a total of no more than $1000. That ought to keep you youts happy for a while. (a long while!)