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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 10
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marantz

DV8400 CD/DVD/DVD-A/SACD/MP3 player

as reviewed by Robert H. Levi

 

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ROBERT H. LEVI'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Avalon Eidolons and REL Stadium III subwoofer.

ELECTRONICS
Marantz 17 tuner, Pass XONO and E.A.R. 324 phono preamplifier, E.A.R. 890 amplifier, Pass X1 preamplifier, Pass X600 monoblocks, and an Adcom 750 preamplifier for secondary sources.

SOURCES
VPI Scout/JMW 9 tonearm, VPI SDS Controller, and Benz Ruby2 H cartridge. Sony SCD-1 SACD player, Theta Gen. 5a DAC, Theta Jade transport, Alesis Masterlink, Theta Data II DAC, Marantz DV8400.

CABLES
Kimber Select balanced, Kimber TAK phono AG, Kimber Hero balanced and single ended, Kimber KCAG/KCTG. Soundstrings Interconnects and speaker cables, and AC power cords.

ACCESSORIES
Power Wing line conditioning,
Tice Power Block, Kimber Palladian power cables, Tara RSC and Decade power cables, Tiff power cables, Tice power cables, Tice Clock, and Audio Prism Quiet Line IIs.

 

This is the fiftieth anniversary of Marantz, now Marantz America, Inc. I met Sol Marantz in 1979, when he and Dick Sequerra were promoting a joint venture in manufacturing speakers and tuners. He had sold his company more than ten years earlier with few regrets, and was ready to go on to new challenges. He offered sage advice to anyone interested in good music and exceptional gear. He explained lightheartedly how he would sit in his old Marantz office while Sid Smith diddled with the circuits, only emerging for a listen when invited. Sol was a musician, not a technician. Sid would ask, "What do you think?" and Sol would say, "Needs a bit more fullness in the bass or a bit more sparkle, please." Sometimes he would not be invited back to listen for a week or more. Sid would continue this process until Sol said, "That’s it!" and the circuit would be finalized. Sid made sure it was electrically right, Sol made sure it sounded right. Sol also liked a beautiful product. He knew it was expensive gear, so it had to be constructed and finished to the best standards.

The Marantz DV8400 is a multi-channel omni-format player. If you are interested in audiophile two-channel playback of the various formats, read on. If your interest is in surround sound, please go on to the next review.

All listening was done using single-ended Soundstring interconnects. The power cord is replaceable, and I again used Soundstring. I gave the player more than 100 hours of break-in with all formats. It reads the TOC of each format quickly, which will please many. I got the best sound from each format by running the disk in a Bedini Clarifier before playing. Also, serious listening must be done with the front panel illumination set to "off." You can do this from the remote or the unit. I also recommend a good platform. I put softshoe/tiptoe pairs under the unit to eliminate any feedback. In reviewing the DC8400, I used the following discs:

CDs

Hillary Hahn, Bach Concertos (DG 986-02)

Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Wilson WCD-8722)

Lauridsen, Lux Aeterna (RCM 19705)

SACDs

Stravinsky, The Firebird Suite (Telarc SACD 60587)

John Coltrane, Blue Train (Blue Note SACD 41757)

Rachmaninov, Piano Concert No. 2 (Pentatone 5186-114)

Stravinsky, The Firebird (Telarc SACD 60039)

Orff, Carmina Burana (Telarc SACD 60575)

SuperBass2 (Telarc SACD 63483)

DVD-As

Paul Simon, You’re the One (Warner 9-47844-9)

Four Play (Warner 9-26656-9)

Dvorak, Symphony No. 9 (Teldec 3984-25254-9)

Beethoven, Symphony No. 6 (Teldec 8573-83061-9)

Let’s start with the player’s performance with CD. The sound impressed me as being delicate and tuneful. Delicacy is a new virtue in CD Land, and is a byproduct of advanced technology. Just a few years ago, you had to pay more than $3000 to get delicacy. The Marantz gives it to you from the first disc you insert, giving robust and deep bass, textured mids, and smooth, detailed highs. The player did best with the CD format, in my opinion, falling short of the Theta Gen 5a by no more than 15%. It was a bit leaner, but very enjoyable. Its errors were ones of omission, not commission. The Theta had more meat on the bones, but at a cost of $5500. I’d rate the DV8400’s CD sound at very, very good to excellent.

The player’s SACD sound was very good. On the positive side, detail and texture were well done, bass deep and taut, mids nicely fleshed out, highs smooth and detailed. Overall, however, the mids were somewhat laid back and the sonic perspective slightly distant. I’m used to more slam and swagger with many SACDs, and the Marantz was somewhat soft. Some definition was missing. My five-year-old Sony SCD-1 bested it in every parameter. Unless chamber music is your forte, "very good" is the best grade I can give for the DV8400 in SACD format. It won’t insult the music, but it won’t reveal all there is to enjoy with this superb format.

DVD-A sound was very good to excellent. This may be the DVD-A machine to buy to experiment with the format. The sound, while very disc-dependent, was very detailed and robust, especially with 96/24-recorded disks. I know good PCM sound, and the DV8400 produced it. The player lagged only a very small bit behind the Theta with 96/24 decoding, and bested the Alesis. This was my first experience directly comparing DVD-A to other formats. I heard glimpses of real music, and will explore the new DVD-As on the market. There was an exciting lack of grain in these PCM discs that I liked very much, and I am buying the Marantz primarily for this purpose. I very much liked the left/right main speaker 5.1 channel sound versus the stereo/two channel mixdown track. I have no idea why this happened, but the 5.1 decoding sounded involving, textured, and musical, with no hole in the middle. The stereo mixdown sounded squashed and small by comparison. You will have to experiment with the various modes and adjustments. The manual is almost three quarters of an inch thick, so there’s plenty to entertain you.

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By the way, the picture looked great with the 8400 connected to a video monitor. It is adjustable to fit any monitor in the world. You will need a monitor, by the way—at least a small one—in your hi-fi room, to be able to dial in the format menus and tweaks. The remote control is useful, but it does not do everything.

I did not try MP-3. I did not try CDRW. I did not watch a movie, but everything functioned properly with a standard DVD. I do not have surround capability, but the Marantz is ready should you expand to 5.1 in future.

Though a bit more costly than some omni-format players, the Marantz DV8400 was musical with every format I tried, and sounded very good to excellent based on comparisons with my much more expensive references. It could only be surpassed by high end specialty players dedicated to each format. I liked it better than the Pioneer DV 47A omni-format unit, as it had more flexibility and better sound. You pay more, you get more! Happy fiftieth anniversary, Marantz, and R.I.P., Sol, my friend. Robert H. Levi

DV8400 player
Retail: $1599

Marantz USA
web address: http://www.marantz.com

Follow-up

You can achieve nearly state-of-the-art sound with some DVD-A discs on the Marantz DV8400 in two-channel stereo! I found three of them.

I had sixteen DVD-As on hand when I wrote my review of the DV8400, but all of them output only 24/96 in stereo. (You have to read the fine print on jewel boxes carefully—they may be 24/192 in surround, but only 24/96 or 24/48 in stereo.) The downsampled discs sound more or less like very fine CDs, but are not as airy, dynamic, or textured as SACDs or LPs. After searching through Tower Records, reading dozens of DVD-A jewel boxes, I found a handful of discs that specifically stated 24/192 stereo. I am reporting on three that sounded astounding on the Marantz.

Linda Rondstadt with Nelson Riddle, What’s New (Rhino/Elektra R978241) is a reference LP that I use often. With the DVD-A, you must carefully select the "stereo" playback on your TV monitor to get 24/192 or you will be hearing 24/96. You must also turn off the display on the face of the Marantz and turn off the video out to get the sound I am describing here. Listen to "What’ll I Do" and be transported to the studio for the recording session. The sound is vast, open, clear, and smooth. Not a veil to be heard. The sound is similar to the LP, but lower in distortion. The LP makes the violins a bit wetter, but the DVD-A is more detailed. This is see-through sound, and every bit as good as SACD on my Sony SCD-1. DVD-A at 24/192 is very much like listening to the master tape.

Guarneri String Quartet, Ravel et al. (SBE Inc. 1004-9) brings the quartet to life in your room! This is the best string quartet sound I have ever heard in my system—no kidding. Incredible clarity and smoothness is yours, with no grunge or echo, just studio sound at its very best, produced by none other than Max Wilcox in 2001. You have to get this right after you buy this player.

Sinatra at the Sands 1966 with Count Basie and his Orchestra (Reprise R973777) is a big recording with a big audience and a big star. It also has you-are-there sound, but be careful to select the stereo list and just play the disc—hitting "play" seems to give you default surround and 24/96 or less in stereo. This is a wow performance, with no compression or distortion. The sound is very close to that of master tape. Even the clapping is natural and wall-to-wall. This is a must-buy, and a lot of fun.

The discovery of 24/192 software and the resulting sound on this (relatively) bargain-priced omni player leads me to give the DV8400 a top-buy recommendation. Its CD and SACD performance are very good, and its DVD-A performance in 24/96 is excellent, but in 24/192 it is near state-of-the-art. Only a dedicated DVD-A machine at triple the cost may—and I mean may—outperform the $1700 Marantz. Robert H. Levi

 

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