Marantz officially launched its new 10 series reference source and amplifier in Eindhoven, Holland last week. Designer Ken Ishiwata mentioned that the original Model 10 from Marantz was an FM tuner designed by Richard Sequerra, a tube design that was so complex it effectively bankrupted original owner Saul B Marantz. Let’s hope this new 10 series is less disruptive!
KI demonstrated the SA-10 SACD player/DAC and PM-10 integrated amp at the Munich High End in May but it has only now been formally launched. The PM-10 (£6,999) takes flagship position in the Marantz range, replacing the SC-7 preamp and MA-9 monoblocks, so the move to a single box is pretty radical. This is by no means a cost saving design however, it’s a fully balanced, dual mono design with a bridged output specified to deliver 200 Watts into eight Ohms and double that into four. Marantz is describing the power amp section as an “analogue switched mode design”, a radical move for a brand that has not used this technology before. KI explains that it’s partly necessary because "today's speakers are all current hungry". But it has also been done because he feels that Marantz has managed to get sound quality out of the design that matches expectations for a Reference product.
The SA-10 (£5,999) is a disc player and DAC with a difference, in fact several, but it can play FLAC, AIFF and DSD from a DVD-R disc, which separates it from the pack as much as any. It also incorporates the Marantz Musical Mastering filtering system that turns PCM signals into DSD style bitstreams using oversampling and a DAC "that's not a DAC" according to Rainer Finck who works with Ishiwata on digital electronics. The other interesting angle is the presence of alternative filter setting options to optimise music and measurement. The default slow roll-off setting is said to sound best but Marantz has included a sharp roll-off option that measures well. The same applies to the noise shaping where the third order shaping set as default doesn’t look so good on paper as the fourth order option but again is more musically convincing in KI’s view. As he puts it “we have to keep the tech journalists happy”.
I got to hear these products in Ken’s enviable listening room designed by the late W Vier. A stretched hexagon shaped room that combines surfaces that provide absorption, diffusion and reflection in order to provide an analytical yet enjoyable listening experience. On this visit the speakers are the Q-Acoustics Concept 500 floorstanders that were launched last week, Ken is a good friend of the speaker’s designer Karl-Heinz Fink and is clearly impressed with this new model. And they do sound pretty fabulous with the new 10 series electronics in this remarkable room. Ken used JRiver on a Macbook for most of the demonstrations so we got to hear the DAC rather than the disc spinner for the most part. It sounded very good indeed, imaging in particular is in another league with remarkable front back layering and as much height and width as each recording allowed. After the reference tracks it was possible to play some discs and I put on the copy of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones that I’d picked up second hand in Eindhoven the night before. Never has it sounded as well separated and precisely laid out, but then I’d only heard the vinyl up until then.
The PM-10 is effectively three amplifiers in one box, a preamplifier with linear power supply and two bridged mono power amplifiers each with its own switched mode supply. Being bridged means that there are two channels of amplification per stereo channel, an arrangement that delivers high power and keeps the return signal (from the speaker) away from ground. An arrangement that is usually expensive but delivers lower noise than the more common single ended varieties. The amp has both high power and a high damping factor so it should be able to control the majority of loudspeakers. The switched mode aspect of the design means that it is a Class D power amp but Marantz is keen to point out that D does not stand for digital, they’re not wrong.
The SA-10 follows a line of reference disc spinners that started with the first bitstream DAC design, CD-15 in 1994, went through the multibit CD-7 in 1998 and was last seen as the SA-7S1 in 2006. Its DAC uses two clocks to oversample all incoming PCM signals up to 11.2896MHz or 12.288MHz using sample rates up to 256. This allows the converter proper to work at a one-bit level. But Marantz says that it has replaced the critical element of the converter with technology that is at patent application stage so not much was said about it save that it solves the problem of square wave issues caused by multiple 1 or 0 signals in a row. We hope to reveal more when the review sample comes in.
The Marantz SA-10 and PM-10 will be available in February, 2017.