Announced late last year, the Marantz PM8005 integrated amplifier and SA8005 SACD player/DAC are the top models in the company's mainstream line of two-channel hi-fi components. (However, Marantz has more expensive models in its premium Reference Series.) They're updates of the well-reviewed 8004 series, which launched in 2012.

As the visuals here indicate, these are matched components, with signature Marantz cosmetics, including front panels with rounded edges and a three-dimensional etched company logo in the centre. The overall look is updated 1970s retro.

Each component retails in Canada for $1,399. A system remote control is provided with both components. And both have fully discrete headphone amplifier circuits behind their front-panel headphone output jacks.

Construction is robust, with multi-layer bottom plates (triple-layer on the amp, double-layer on the disc player). Whereas many AV components these days have plastic front panels, the SA8005 and PM8005 have metal faceplates, though these appear to be stamped as opposed to cast. The controls are solid and responsive, though without the assured silky-smooth feel of higher-end products. While the overall feel falls a little short of luxury, both components exude quality.

Rather than op-amp ICs, both components employ Marantz's HDAM (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module) technology: sub-boards populated with discrete components. This improves dynamics and detail, the company claims.

THE AMP

Rated at 2x70 watts into 8Ω and 2x100 watts into 4Ω, the PM8005 amplifier has a beefy power supply, employing a redesigned double-shielded toroidal power transformer rated at 625VA; and an output stage with high-speed high-current output devices. The point is to enable the amplifier to deliver large amounts of power quickly, to produce demanding short-term peaks.

The PM8005 has a full range of input jacks, including one for MM (moving magnet) phono, and two sets of audiophile-grade gold-plated speaker terminals. In addition to familiar bass and treble controls, the amplifier also has a midrange control. It also has a Source Direct function that bypasses all these controls. Selecting the Source Direct option resulted in greater clarity and solidity; and that is how I conducted all my listening tests.

THE PLAYER

The SA8005 has a centre-mounted disc tray, with an LED readout below, and transport and input controls on either side. There's also a USB input, for playing files from a USB drive or from an i-device.

The SA8005 is somewhat unusual among disc players in being able to play Super Audio CDs, though of course only in two-channel. While SACD had very limited success, the has have a faithful following of audiophiles, myself included. I disposed of my CD library after ripping it to a Mac Mini, but I've kept my SACD collection, and appreciate having a player for these discs.

The component also functions as a DAC. On the back are a pair of line-level analog stereo output jacks, coaxial and optical inputs and outputs, and a USB 2.0 input for connecting a PC or Mac. The USB DAC operates in asynchronous mode to all but elminate jitter, and has isolation circuitry to prevent transfer of noise from the computer via the ground plane.

All digital inputs will accept PCM audio at resolution as high as 192kHz/24 bits. In addition, the rear-panel USB input can accept single-rate (2.8MHz) and dual-rate (51.6MHz) DSD (Direct Stream Digital) streams. DSD is the codec used on the high-resolution layer of SACD. A growing number of online music stores are offering DSD downloads.

LISTENING

Over a three-week period, I spent many hours listening to the SA8005 and PM8005, through KEF LS50 speakers, plus a Sunfire Atmos XT subwoofer connected to the PM8005's preamp output to fill in the bottom octaves. I used the SA-8005's optical drive to play SACDs, and its DAC to play lossless and high-resolution files from my Mac Mini, using Audirvana Plus player software.

The amplifier's beefy power supply and high-current output stage seemed to pay real dividends on a 96/24 download of Paul Lewis playing Schubert piano sonatas (Harmonia Mundi via eclassical.com). It reproduced the big crescendos majestically and effortlessly.

And these two components could also be delicate and subtle when needed. Steven Stubbs' lute playing on a 44.1/24 download of Night Sessions by The Dowland Project (ECM via HDTracks) sounded gorgeous, with wonderful depth on the lower strings that expanded to fill my room and superb expression on the upper strings. Similarly, Morten Lund's brush work on the snare on "Edith" from Stone in the Water by the Stefano Bollani Trio (ECM 3080, CD rip) sounded just right.

The SA8005's DSD-capable USB gave me my first opportunity to experience DSD downloads through my home system. "Altar Boy" from Rickie Lee Jones' Traffic From Paradise (Geffen Records via Super HiRez) was captivating. There was a smoothness, and rightness to the sound that made it easy to understand what all the audiophile buzz around DSD is about. The two Marantz components conveyed Jones' slightly nasal, mumbly voice, and the lovely guitar and mandolin playing, with convincing detail, but without any unnatural glare or sharpness.

On another DSD download, Delibes' Coppelia Suite (Reference Recordings via Super HiRez), the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra was produced on a big soundstage that extended well past my speakers. Instrumental timbres were very convincing, again without glare.

Turning to another 19th century orchestral score, this time on SACD, the Marantz combination acquitted itself very well with Dvorak's Seventh Symphony, played by the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Ivan Fischer (Channel Classics CCS SA 30010). On this native DSD recording, the components conveyed the big dynamic swings of the opening movement with effortless ease.

COMPARISONS

From time to time, I couldn't resist the temptation to swap out the Manantz components, and compare them with my day-to-day setup: an Arcam A38 integrated amplifier, CD37 SACD player and (a new addition) irDAC.

On the Arcam A38 and CD37, Angela Hewitt playing keyboard suites by Rameau (Hyperion 67597) sounded a little more incisive, but also clangier; the Marantz PM8005 and SA8005 sounded warmer and more rounded, but also more remote. The Arcam combination struck me as being slightly more incisive-sounding than the Marantz, with more precise imaging.

Comparing the SA8005 and CD37 playing SACDs through the Arcam A38 amplifier, the Marantz player had more body and less glare on recordings such as Bolivian Baroque Vol. 2,a record of 17th century South American church music performed by Floregium (Channel Classics CCS SA 24806). On a performance of Vivaldi's Gloria by Boston Baroque conducted by Martin Pearlman (Telarc SACD-60651), the Arcam player portrayed subtle dynamic changes more convincingly; but strings were a bit more strident. While the spatial presentation of the orchestral and choral forces wasn't as large the Marantz player, it seemed more natural.

Overall, I preferred the Marantz SA8005 for SACD playback by a slight margin on most recordings, which is interesting, because the SA8005 is considerably less expensive ($1,399 versus $2,499) and it has DAC functionality that the CD37 lacks. However, the Arcam player is a five-year-old design, and digital audio technology is advancing very rapidly these days.

My preference was reversed for the amplifiers. On "Dr. Ra and Mr. Va" from The Words and the Days by the Enrico Rava Quintet (ECM, CD rip) played through the irDAC, Rava's trumpet had more bite through the Arcam amp. The presentation of the Marantz amp was fuller and rounder, but less energetic and engaging.

Comparing the SA8005's DAC with the Arcam irDAC, I thought the irDAC came out on top. On a CD rip of "The Ground" by the Tord Gustavsen Trio (ECM), instrumental attacks were sharper on the irDAC. The sound through the SA8005's DAC was a little fuller, but less precise. On "Dr. Ra and Mr. Va" by the Enrico Rava Quintet, transients like cymbals and trumpet were faster on the irDAC, without any harshness.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The comparisons between the brand-new Marantz components and the Arcam components are illuminating. The differences in sonic performance and feature content between the SA8005 and CD37 show how quickly digital technology is advancing. So, incidentally, do the differences between Arcam's new irDAC and its older rDAC, which I'll describe in greater detail in a forthcoming review.

But the most revealing and most pleasurable aspects of this review come from the many hours I spent just listening to the PM8005 and SA8005, as opposed to swapping components and obsessing about fine differences. As should be clear by now, I really liked what I heard.

Together, the PM8005 and SA8005 provide a thoroughly up-to-date route to serious two-channel sound that won't break the bank; and as such are enthusiastically recommended. For music-lovers with SACD libraries who are looking for a straightforward way to get into computer audio, my recommendation is even stronger.

[VIA WIFIHIFI]

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