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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 3
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marsh sound design

A200s amplifier and 2000t preamplifier

as reviewed by Ed Morawski, Greg Ewing, John Brazier, and Danny Kaey

 

 

 

 

ED MORAWSKI'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Alon Capri.

ELECTRONICS
Plinius CD-LAD preamplifier and SA-102 amplifier.

SOURCE
Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player.

CABLES
Synergistic Research Kaleidoscope interconnects, AudioQuest Slate speaker cables, and DIY power cords.

 

one.jpg (6551 bytes)This is a review I was looking forward to, as I was intrigued by Marsh's low price for an audiophile-grade component. After all, the power amp is the simplest part of the audio chain. The design of an amplifier is well understood, and there are no moving parts. The ideal amplifier, in my estimation, would use the highest quality parts in a dual-mono design and, most importantly, would have a huge, overbuilt dual power supply. The A200s is quite attractive, with a silver faceplate and blue power LED. Of course, I had to look inside. Guess what? In no way does it conform to what I would consider ideal. The construction and workmanship are quite good, but the parts lack name brands. The output devices are made in Mexico. It uses a toroidal transformer, but only one. At least the transformer is beefy, and mounted on its own rail. Well, so much for theory—on to the review.

My reference system consists of a Plinius CD-LAD preamp and SA-102 power amp, so I replaced my power amp with the Marsh. After letting everything warm up overnight, I sat back for some action. First, the volume seemed extremely low. I had to crank up the preamp over halfway to get a decent listening level, even in my small room. The sound didn't impress me either. The best I can say is that the Marsh was competent. Actually, it sounded laid back and muffled.

I played Keiko Matsui's Deep Blue, and while the soundstage was really wide, the imaging was barely passable. Cymbals and brushes are good tests, as it is difficult to reproduce them correctly. On the Marsh, cymbals sounded indistinct. I was pretty disappointed, as you might guess, and was about to move on, but there was a peculiar noise in the left channel on the fourth track of Deep Blue. I reconnected my Plinius amp and listened again to the same CD. Aside from the fact that it was much more enjoyable, the noise was gone. Then, while reconnecting the Marsh, I noticed that the toggles to switch between balanced and single-ended operation were in the wrong position! With the switches properly set, I went back to listening. The Marsh seemed a little better with the correct setting, but still not wonderful, so I decided to try a different approach.

My Resolution Audio CD Player has an analog volume pot, so I hooked it up directly to the Marsh with a set of ZU Cable's Varial RCA interconnects. Wow! The difference was nothing short of amazing. Apparently my Plinius preamp and the Marsh amp do not work well together. The soundstage was now even wider, and the imaging was fantastic. For the rest of the afternoon, I played around with cables. Three different sets of XLR cables sounded really good, but all introduced a hum in the left channel, so I put the ZU RCA cables back. This was the first component I had heard that the Empirical Audio cables didn't make sound good. The ZU cables provided air and transparency around the music while maintaining solid bass and incredible detail. The Marsh is advertised as "high resolution," and this is certainly true. With the right cables, I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the Plinius SA-102 and the Marsh—it's that good. Perhaps the Marsh has a bit less warmth and a bit more grain, although nothing objectionable.

Where the Marsh really shines is in the width of the soundstage, the imaging, and most of all, the detail it is able to pass along from the CD player, all the while maintaining a nice, musical glow. As is my custom, I walked away from the Marsh for a few days to give my ears a rest, then settled back for another long listening session. My opinion didn’t change. The Marsh A200s exceeded all my expectations.

In summary, watch those switches on the back, and try different cables. With the right ones, the Marsh is a great amp at a great price, with imaging and soundstage way above average. Bass is solid, well controlled, and deep. Highs are detailed and pleasant, and never harsh, with lots of air. Mids are well controlled, and also very pleasant and musical. Marsh has hit one out of the ballpark with the A200s! I could easily live with this as my main amp. Ed Morawski

 

 

 

GREG EWING'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Bohlender-Graebener Radia 520DX ribbons bi-amped and two 12-inch Audio Concepts subwoofers in spiked sealed enclosures.

ELECTRONICS
Sonic Frontiers Anthem Amp 1 tube amp (BG ribbons), Audire Crescendo amplifier (subs), Audio Control Richter Scale III 24 dB/octave electronic crossover (set at 72 Hz, low pass only), and an Antique Sound Lab AQ2004 tube preamplifier.

SOURCES
Sony SCD-CE775 SACD player (ongoing mods), JVC XL-Z1050TN (modified) CD player, and an Adcom GTP-350 tuner.

CABLES
Canare Star Quad interconnects and Kimber 4PR speaker cables.

ACCESSORIES
Taddeo Digital Antidote (latest passive version), AudioQuest RF Stoppers, Bright Star Audio IsoNode isolation feet, marble platforms, Blutak, Cascade Audio Engineering room treatments, and an Elfix Polarity Tester.

 

two.jpg (6646 bytes)Designer Richard Marsh needs no introduction. It is no coincidence that the man who pioneered the concept of the "sound of capacitors" now designs amps that are DC-coupled and servo-controlled—i.e., no capacitors in the signal path. The Marsh A200s amp is modest in size and weight, but the build quality is superb for the price. The parts quality is outstanding. I tried a few different interconnects (all unbalanced), to which the Marsh seemed more sensitive than speaker cables. As usual, I settled on my Canare Star Quads. The amp sounded much less clean with some Monster and Supex interconnects that I tried.

After swapping the Marsh for my current Anthem Amp1 tube amp and giving it a few hours warm-up time, the Marsh immediately blew me away with razor sharp detail, transparency, and control, which it had in spades. Going from the Anthem to the Marsh was something of a shock. What detail I have been missing! The resolution in the rear of the stage is what instantly told me that this amp deserves to be a legitimate member of the high end. It made my tube amp (loaded with Mullard NOS tubes, no less) seem too warm, and slightly bloated. The Marsh (120 WPC into 8 ohms, 190W into 4 ohms) also had very good dynamics and headroom. It absolutely refused to break up or sound congested, no matter how hard I pushed it. I have heard very few amps that sound essentially the same whether playing low level background music or cranking out massive SPLs.

I drove the Marsh with the little ASL tube preamp (again, Mullard NOS tubes). They got along fine. The Marsh, in turn, drove my Bohlender-Graebener Radia 520DX speakers. These 50-inch ribbon/cone hybrids are fairly easy to drive at 88 db, and are also transparent, particularly between the frequencies of 500-18 KHz, where the ribbon is doing the work. Since the BG ribbons only go down to 80 Hz or so, I also tried the Marsh driving my 12-inch Audio Concepts subs with an electronic crossover. The result was superb low-end control, with seemingly effortless dynamic range and a lack of compression artifacts. Although I think it would be a waste, the Marsh would make a stunning subwoofer amp.

A CD that I have to thank Editor Dave Clark for exposing me to is the American Beauty Score by Michael Newman. This is a superb recording, and one that has seemingly unlimited low end. The Marsh showed this stunning recording to very good effect. The soundstage depth and bass transients were first rate. The Marsh has that fully fleshed out and full-bodied sound that I normally associate with tubes, and that very few solid state amps deliver. Listen to the sax solo on the Phil Collins ballad "If Leaving Me is Easy," from his Face Value CD. The sax has the correct proportions, body, and just plain realness that I usually associate with tube amps.

Where is the typical solid state high frequency grain and glare? Not in this amp. The only attribute that I noticed after a time with the Marsh was a slight coolness. Not hardness, glare, or grain, just coolness from the upper midrange on up. In direct comparison to tubes, this characteristic is fairly obvious, but by no means a flaw. The only question is: Will it work synergistically in your system? As much as I loved the Marsh’s speed, control, and transparency, I found it slightly too clean. Bias alert! I am somewhat addicted to tube electronics. Over the past dozen or so years, I have switched between valves and transistors. I always wander back to tubes for the warm, lush sound they offer, but it’s always a tradeoff. The Marsh is clearly more transparent and faster than most tube amps, but it also possesses a cooler sonic signature. If I have to choose between soft/lush/warm and fast/cool/clean, I’ll take the valve road every time, particularly with digital sources.

At its price, I can’t think of another solid state amp with the muscle and finesse to challenge the Marsh A200s. I truly believe that this amplifier is knocking on the door of state of the art. Greg Ewing

 

 

 

JOHN BRAZIER'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Sennheiser HD 600 headphones.

ELECTRONICS
EarMax Tube OTL headphone amplifier.

SOURCE
Rega Planet (transport only), Perpetual Technologies P1A Digital Correction Engine and a Perpetual Technologies P3A Upsampling DAC (both with IS2).

CABLES
Acoustic Zen Silver Phantom digital cable and Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference interconnects.

 

three.jpg (8484 bytes)"Nice fit and finish" were my first thoughts as I hoisted the Marsh A200s amplifier and P2000t preamp out of their boxes. There were indications of care taken in their construction, something I have usually found to be a sign of good things to come. The first CD I popped in was Herbie Hancock’s Gershwin’s World, a disc that has become a reference for me. The tunes are adequately balanced and reasonable staged, though the recording is not perfect. There is a definite forwardness, and though it’s not bright, it is a bit thin. With the Marsh electronics, I noticed this most with Hancock’s piano playing. There was a lack of depth and air to the strikes of the keys. For the most part, strings were sufficiently well reproduced, but at one point in which a violin is heard, I had to stop and think about it for a second before I realized that it was in fact a violin.

What distressed me more was my all-time favorite track, Summertime, as sung by Joni Mitchell. I take this disc with me on most of my trips to other people’s homes for listening sessions or to audio shops. As you might imagine, there is a certain amount of variation in Mitchell’s voice from one setup to another, but I have never heard it sound anything like the way the Marshes reproduced it. Typically, it is the smoothness and sweetness of her singing that takes center stage. With the Marshes, I once again had to consciously recall that this was Joni Mitchell. Her voice seemed throaty and, well, just not right. Could it be that every other setup had it wrong and the Marshes had it right?

Next came the new Willie Nelson, The Great Divide, and although there were no severe problems, the sound was still a bit thin and narrowly focused. The soundstage was not overly deep or expansive. Bass was good, yet lacked control at the deepest points. I found the separation of instruments a bit confused; they often blended with each other more than I would prefer. I asked my wife, who was sitting in, how they sounded to her. She replied with one word, "distant." That is a pretty good description. As I hear it, when there is "distance," we lose detail. The plucking of strings, the snap of a snare, and other individual events were not the problem, yet as the music became more complex the Marshes lost focus. Curious to research this "complexity" issue, I dusted off a BBC recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, in which, in addition to the orchestral segments, there are emotional choral passages. The simpler the music, the better it was conveyed via the Marshes. "Gloria Parti Domino," laden with choral and orchestral complexity, was not handled well. The music lacked cogency and the orchestral sections were not sufficiently distinguished. I also could not hear whether there were ten, a hundred, or a thousand members of the chorus. I have not listened to this disc in some time, but do not recall this problem being inherent to the recording.

The Marsh combo did quite well with CDs that are not such benchmarks. I dropped in The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Spirit of the Century, not a great recording but not a bad one. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, and was much less distracted by the thinness and narrow soundstage. Next it was Kelly Joe Phelps’ shine eyed mister zen. The Marshes handled this dynamic recording with ease. It was, again, a bit thin and narrow, but not so much as to prevent me from enjoying Mr. Phelps’ fine guitar playing.

The retail price of the A200s amp is about $1500, which, in the scheme of things audio, is not a ton of money. The amp has good balance and a decent soundstage. Do I like it considering its price? Sure. Is it the best I have heard in this price range? This is where subjectivity comes into play. It is not the amp for me, but it might be for you. If this is your price point, I recommend that you decide for yourself. Finally, I would like to add some thoughts about the P2000t preamp. The amp did not romance me, but it was the preamp that allowed me to hear so clearly what the amp had to offer. The P2000t seemed to let the music pass on through without too much being lost in the translation. Its hybrid design brought a nice smooth tone to the mids without verging into syrup. Considering that the preamp is also about $1500, it is the better value of the two pieces, although I cannot see why anyone makes a remote-less anything anymore. Am I getting that lazy? John Brazier

 

 

 

DANNY KAEY'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Reimer McCullough GS.

ELECTRONICS
In transitiont!

SOURCE
Audio Note CD2.1x CD player.

CABLES
Analysis Plus Oval One interconnects and Oval Nine speaker cables.

 

 four.jpg (6893 bytes)When you first glance at the Marsh 2000t preamp, you will have no clue to the fact that it was manufactured in the Far East. It appears to be as solid as any other high end component, including ones costing thousands of dollars more. The machined aluminum is precisely cut, the plates perfectly matched and aligned. Strictly based on its appearance, a lot of effort was put into this product. But is its beauty only skin deep? I was really curious about this preamp—was it possible to offer a superbly engineered component at such an extraordinarily competitive price?

My musical taste varies greatly. Most of the time, I pick a CD based on the quality of the recording, not the artist or performance. Many great CDs in my collection have been purchased on that premise, but I also have CDs that I keep as background music. It never ceases to amaze me what a high-resolution system is capable of revealing, including the fact that most commercial releases are nothing more than marketing ploys, and serve no real musical purpose. What a shame!

I usually start review sessions with a healthy dose of Yello. Dieter Maier and Boris Blank, the Swiss duo that make up the group, are responsible for some of the most memorable synth/electro/funk/pop from the early 80s to the late 90s. The music floated in space, completely free of any influence from the equipment it was being passed through. The Marsh is a truly high-resolution preamp, with no hint of congestion. If anything, it ruthlessly reveals flaws in your system, though when things are just right, there will not be a trace of harshness. One of my favorite CDs, Chesky’s Women of Song, features a number of prominent singers, and is of true reference quality. Again, the Marsh shone. On Rebecca Pidgeon’s "Spanish Harlem," the Marsh put everything in its proper place, from her voice to the surroundings to the air in between. No harshness, just real-world resolution and first-rate soundstaging.

"Everyone’s" favorite track on Hell Freezes Over, "Hotel California," starts off with that instantly recognizable guitar melody. The Marsh unraveled its full glory, and I never felt that the music was being bound by the equipment. The Marsh does its job in a manner unheard of at this price level. Once the conga drums kick in and the crowd goes wild, you feel you are in the midst of the performance. On Keith Jarrett’s mid-70s concert in Koeln, Germany—another favorite of mine—I could again close my eyes and imagine being transported to the concert. The piano had just the right amount of body and soul. As Jarrett worked his magic, I got drawn into his mystique more and more. Soon, my feet were tapping, my fingers were snapping, and I was part of the performance. Amazing.

The Marsh engineers have accomplished something really special with the 2000t—the ability to reproduce music the way it was intended to be heard. I still can’t figure out how they were able to meet the price point AND deliver such an abundance of refined music playback. Information flows through the 2000t without any hang-ups or delays, as it should. Having the Rogue Magnum on hand gave me the opportunity to do a comparison to the Marsh. While similarly priced, the similarities end there. The Rogue was never really able to catch up. It’s a solid, well-engineered product, but it does not achieve the level of refinement of the Marsh. My only gripe is the fact that, unlike the Rogue, it lacks a remote control. I’m by no means a couch potato. It’s just that the functionality of this component could be increased with a well-designed remote. Still, the 2000t has no competition at its price point, or at least none that I am aware of. Its real competitors are priced in the luxury range of high end audio. Well done. Danny Kaey

 

 

 

A200S amplifier
Retail $1500

P2000t preamplifier
Retail: $1195

Marsh Sound Design
TEL: 415. 927. 4672
web address: www.solspeak.com
e-mail: dberman@solspeak.com

 

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