The mid-price separates market is hi-fi’s most competitive, so Marantz’s latest SACD player and integrated amp must be special to ensure the company’s future success

Some might say Marantz has achieved the impossible, pulling off the unusual feat of being a mass-market manufacturer while consistently making quirky and interesting products. As this SA8005 CD player and PM8005 amplifier combo shows, the brand is able to offer something just a little bit different from its mainstream $1,600 rivals.

Not only does it sound quite distinctive, it also features two-channel SACD playback – which is all well and good of course, but any modern self-respecting digital source and amplifier duo has to have DAC functionality these days. With this Marantz pair it comes via the SA8005 player rather than being offered on the amplifier; the PM8005 provides six line inputs with a nice MM phono stage thrown in.

Marantz PM8005 front view

DSD capability

These days it seems the only kind of digital input that matters is USB; this lets you play your PCM computer music files at up to 192kHz/24-bit resolution. The SA8005 has a twist though; like many of the latest crop of machines it also plays Direct Stream Digital (DSD), which is of course the native coding system for SACD.

Some folk think that DSD sounds better than PCM; SACD fans certainly do, and now we’re seeing some action from its creator Sony with the advent of DSD5.6. Effectively this runs at twice the data rate, giving (theoretically) superior sound. The SA8005 is one of the few machines currently on sale that is built for this, so one fine day, when enough music goes on sale in this format, this machine will be chomping at the bit (‘scuse the pun) to play it. Until then, if we’re honest, then its performance on CD, SACD and at 96kHz/24-bit is what really counts, as this is where the vast majority of digital music can be found.

Marantz SA8005 front view

The player is pretty well made for a one thousand pound design. For example, the chassis is strengthened with an extra metal plate to cut case resonance, making for an 8kg machine which feels sturdier than price rivals such as the $2,080 Roksan Kandy K2. The USB DAC circuit also sports a special (galvanic) ground/signal isolation system designed to remove computer¬borne noise, Marantz says.

As per all rivals these days, the SA8005 works in asynchronous mode, clocking the computer’s audio stream for lower jitter. Mac users needn’t bother, but PC owners will have to install a driver to enjoy music from their computers. Inside, a Crystal Semiconductors CS4398 digital filter, noise shaper and DAC chip does the number crunching, and it feeds an analogue output stage using Marantz’s proprietary HDAM op-amp modules.

Three main PCBs (left to right) carry a switchmode PSU (for CD transport); S/PDIF and USB digital input reception; analogue PSU, DAC and preamp stage (black chassis version shown)

Every good $1,600 digital source needs an integrated amplifier to live happily ever after with, and to this end Marantz has come up with the new PM8005. It’s the more conservative of the two products, offering a claimed 70W per channel into 8ohm, but no fancy DAC functionality. Oddly though, it does have three tone controls instead of the usual two.

Midband tone control too

Yes, this integrated gets a midband level control, which isn’t likely to be top of most people’s shopping lists for a thousand pound amplifier I’d suggest – not least because at this level customers tend to like to switch the tone controls out altogether. Inside, there’s a large double-shielded toroidal power transformer that sits on a triple layer bottom plate, investing this amplifier with real sturdiness and weight.

Marantz has paid attention to individual component selection with Schottky diodes and other componentry; the company’s proprietary second and third generation HDAM amplifier modules are used, and there’s a discrete input buffer circuit.

As a pair, this Marantz combo is very pleasing to use. The brushed metal finish is excellent, the action of the controls slick and the overall feel is of a high-end package. It has just the right amount of features to keep most users happy, without cluttering up the fascias to the extent that they’d look gauche. The main omission is a Bluetooth input; many purchasers won’t see this as a problem but rivals like Roksan’s $2,030 Kandy K2 BT could steal some sales here. There is, however, discrete headphone amplifier circuitry.

Bouncy and enjoyable

First, taken in isolation, both machines present a very fine face to their respective rivals. The SA8005 is a big, confident- sounding silver-disc player, which gives a slightly warm and rose-tinted view of the world. No matter what disc you feed it, you can be sure that it will deliver the music in a bouncy, enjoyable way. The soundstage is curtailed slightly in absolute terms, the Marantz pulling in things from far left and far right to make a stronger, bigger – almost larger than life – central image between the speakers. You could almost say it’s like a classic tube amplifier.

Tonally the SA8005 is slightly dull, albeit in a nice way. The upper bass of Thomas Dolby’s ‘Airwaves’, from The Golden Age of Wireless [EMI CDP 7 46009 2], is more fulsome than it should be, but at the same time the lower bass is a little softer and lighter. Moving up into the midband, the player sounds warm and smooth, and further still, treble is sweet but a little lacking in sparkle and extension. The overall effect is of a disc player that seeks to sugar the pill somewhat – it’s not dramatic, but certainly errs on the side of euphony rather than absolute neutrality.

The player has USB, optical and coaxial digital ins, plus optical and coaxial digital outs; RCA line outs and remote bus sockets too

Given the typical buyer of a $1,600 machine, this won’t be wholly unwelcome: for at this price point it’s all about giving a nice, impressive sound rather than performing a CSI-style forensic study of the scene of the recording.

Interestingly, you’d have thought the PM8005 would be just a touch more neutral, given the warming tendencies of its partnering player, but it is not. Dub Pistols’ ‘Gangsters’, from Speakers And Tweeters [SBESTCD16], showed it to have a strong and deep bass by the standards of its price rivals – although it isn’t as taut and well damped as the similarly priced Creek Evolution 50A, for example. It certainly sounds bigger and more impressive, but again is less accurate, yet proves in some ways more fun.

The amp has pre-out and power amp direct sockets, plus RCA inputs and binding posts for two pairs of speakers

The PM8005 has less upper bass warmth than the SA8005, but is fractionally fuller down in the bottom octave; it gives a very confident sound, apparently untroubled by any lack of power, and again makes the rhythm zip along and everything flows beautifully. Move up to the midband and the PM8005 pulls back a little – it’s not as direct as some, nor is it as transparent. This isn’t to say it is opaque, it’s just that it’s been given quite a ‘stylised’ sound.

The upper mid and low treble is shiny and well defined, but a little lower down there’s less intensity to the sound. This is great with reggae, for example – Gregory Isaacs’ ‘Night Nurse’, from Night Nurse [Island 314 586 768-2], was consummate fun, the Marantz amp seemingly having a big smile on its face!

Again, the PM8005 just got into the groove, preferring not to focus too much on soundstaging, image location, depth perspective and the like, and just serving a big, punchy, sound with a good deal of sparkle to snare drums and hi-hats. It presents like a quintessential big Japanese transistor amp – all thunder and lightning – but is far more musical than many.

Putting them together

So what of the two together? Unsurprisingly they do gel rather well. That slightly laid-back upper mid and treble of the SA8005 seems to be brought forward a bit with the PM8005’s more lively higher octaves, while the bass seems to work better than expected: the amp adds a bit of heft right down low as the source component warms the upper regions of the bass.

Grooved, rounded fascias look distinguished, not too radical. Generous facilities aren’t allowed to spoil the clean lines. Blue display and backlighting feels contemporary too

The result is a very big sound – it’s enormous compared to some, and has a wonderfully confident and naturally musical attitude. Whatever you feed it, whether it’s Wings’ Band On The Run in 24-bit/96kHz FLAC via an Apple MacBook Pro running Audirvana, Alex de Grassi’s The Water Garden via DSD [Blue Coast Records] or the Human League’s ‘Seconds’ on SACD, from Dare [Virgin SACDV 2364], this dynamic duo really takes control of the situation and boogies.

It’s only when you sit down and dissect the sound or do direct A-B comparisons with more expensive references, like the Marantz Premium range which inspired these 8005 products, that you begin to realise what it’s not doing quite so well.

Its weakness is a tendency to muddy things across the midband, smearing the bass slightly and lopping off some upper treble energy and finesse. While it’s very good at the little musical inflections that make things sound so satisfying, it does also sit on major dynamic peaks just a touch too much.

Finally, there’s a slight reduction of soundstage depth – but overall the Marantz SA8005/PM8005 pair proves a pretty hard act to beat at the price.