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Marantz NA6006 Network Audio Player

07-14-2021 | By Ed Kobesky | Issue 116

This is too much streaming player and not enough at the same time. It feels like something only a forty-something could love, which I am, and I do. I love that it's a very good DAC, especially since my Rega Apollo will likely be my last CD player; when it dies, I'll just wade into the basement and dust off an old DVD player to connect as a transport. I love that it's a very good headphone amp, which allowed me to sell off my space-hogging HeadRoom rig. I also love that, even when streaming via AirPlay at CD quality, it sounds like a nice Marantz CD player, which is to say quite satisfying indeed. To me, it's a lot of functionality packed into one component-sized box.

Yet it lacks some important compatibility (more on that later) and at the end of the day, it's still too big and doesn't do nearly enough for younger people, who probably wouldn't even consider something this large that doesn't include a built-in amp and speakers. Still, at $699, it's one of the least expensive, highest-value options for someone like me, who really only fully committed to home streaming during the pandemic.

Given how long I've been a Netflix subscriber, I'm not sure why it took so long to come around to the idea of doing the same with music. Perhaps the ghosts of foul-sounding MP3 files still haunted my eardrums. At the office, I clung to my old HiFi—turntable, receiver, CD changer and speakers—until 2019. It wasn't until a new job, complete with a severely downsized Herman Miller work pod thingie, spurred me to ditch it all for the bare essentials: an iPad streaming Amazon Music Unlimited, AudioQuest Dragonfly Red USB DAC/headphone amp and some nice Philips headphones. I liked it and wrote about it HERE.

Then, in March 2020, we were sent home with our MacBooks for two weeks that sprawled into 15 months. Pennsylvania winters with nowhere to safely go are enough to make anyone consider expanding his entertainment options. More often than not, I turned to music, since movies and TV shows depicting a normal world served as an unpleasant reminder of the glorious pre-pandemic life we were suddenly robbed of. Time to make a move.

Luckily, the lights went back on at audio dealers nationwide, so it didn't take long to settle on a solution—and a compromise. By this time, I'd left Amazon for TIDAL, which I liked better in terms of interface, sound quality and a general sense that it was more single-mindedly focused on music lovers. The world (and stock markets) being particularly shaky at the time, spending thousands on a player felt both reckless and selfish. The Marantz's $699 price seemed eminently reasonable. Unfortunately, while TIDAL offers MQA tracks for Premium subscribers like me, the Marantz doesn't speak MQA...and judging by the subsequent absence of firmware updates, doesn't much want to. That was a bummer. I know there are ways to MacGyver around it, but I'm not crazy about patchwork solutions from third parties.

Marantz NA6006 rear panel

There were two consolations, though. First, the NA6006 is basically a Marantz CD player minus transport, and therefore it promised the customarily mature, incisive and suave quality I've come to enjoy from the company's long history of quality disc spinners. Second, the HEOS by Denon app appears to stream directly from TIDAL's servers as opposed to the controlling device. That's good enough for CD quality sound, which has always been more than good enough for me when it comes from Marantz. Adding those two pluses together with the NA6006's huge feature set and low price erased any doubt that I should've spent more.

Setting up the NA6006 is very easy, with the exception of entering the username and password of my home Wi-Fi network using the unit's remote control, without the benefit of a full keypad. Installing the HEOS app was no harder than any other app, and pairing my iPad with the Marantz was accomplished sans hiccups. It's really no harder than setting up a new smart TV with your streaming services, if that's something keeping you from streaming music.

Marantz NA6006 remote control

The HEOS app, while cleanly designed and very intuitive, is also not the richest experience going. If you want to search for an artist or track, you better type it exactly right or HEOS comes up with bupkis in the search results. You can scan playlists and browse new music, but TIDAL's ability to serve custom suggestions does not carry over. I also couldn't figure out how to configure it to continue playing an album if I don't start from the very beginning. Select track three, for example, and when it's over, HEOS moves to something else entirely on your playlist rather than track four. So, if you don't want that, instead of selecting track three directly, you need to select "Play Album" and then advance to track three. Plus, look at the photo below and tell me why the same album is duplicated in the search results. The TIDAL app displays the difference between editions, but HEOS doesn't. 

HEOS by Denon app

Before we get to how it sounds, there's still more worth quickly mentioning. Besides TIDAL, it supports internet radio, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer and more. The NA6006 uses the same ESS9016 Sabre DAC as their $1299 ND8006 SACD player/streamer, which means it also supports DSD (2.8/5.6 MHz), WAV, MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, ALAC file playback via streaming and USB. There's Bluetooth, if you're so inclined, and even Amazon Alexa voice control for those who prefer screaming commands at inanimate objects like a deranged moron versus simply tapping a button. Fixed and variable level outputs are present, so theoretically, a Millennial audiophile could simply connect a pair of active speakers...wired active speakers, but still.

My favorite 'added value' feature is the headphone jack. Yes, it's op-amp based as you'd expect. But Marantz aimed it at serious users, as evidenced by the three-level adjustable gain settings for compatibility with low- to high-impedance cans. It's competitive with sub-$1000 headphone amps I've heard over the years, and more than satisfying with everything from my revealing Sennheiser HD800 to the relaxed but warm and fun Philips Fidelio X2HR.

It's a good-looking component as well, in Marantz tradition, but sadly there was no room for Mr. NA6006 near my other components. I eventually perched it unceremoniously at the bottom of a nearby bookcase, topped it off with some books for visual camouflage, connecting it to my PrimaLuna integrated amp using a 15-foot interconnect from a company called UGREEN that cost all of $15. A word about this cable: not only is it cheap, it's sonically okay. Considering a 5-meter run of Kimber Hero wires would've cost more than the Marantz, I'm sticking with UGREEN.

Can you spot the network player in this photo?

And after all that, the Marantz played with the same liquidity and grace I'd expected. It's midrange-focused, but not at any real expense anywhere else. High frequencies had finesse and lifelike accuracy, and bass notes were well-defined without bloat, though the Marantz did tend to imbue them with generous warmth and roundness that veered a bit from total accuracy.

Soundstage-wise, it opened a pretty expansive window onto larger scale performances, aided and abetted by the player's low noise floor. In Marantz style, it's detailed, but never in-your-face. It's dynamic but perhaps not grippy and pacey in any standout way. What it does instead is give real space and heft to voices and instruments in a way that never slows down the fun, and the music thumps along with palpable aliveness.

If this thing were merely a DAC, it would be worth all of $699. Likewise, I'd happily pay $699 for this as just a headphone amp or streaming box. The kicker, though, is this: compared back-to-back, the $699 Marantz running TIDAL with good source material often sounded way better than some of today's haphazard, muddy LP pressings on my $1000 Technics SL-1200MK7 turntable equipped with a $750 Dynavector 10x5 cartridge and $2499 Avid Pulsus phono stage. (No wonder I buy so few new records.) Were I just getting into high-end audio, the Marantz NA6006 and a streaming subscription would be my priority #1 for a source.

Excepting the lack of MQA compatibility, the Marantz NA6006 is crazy good and an insane bargain. For budget-minded music lovers taking the full-size component route, I can't imagine a better package. Highly recommended.

Marantz NA6006

Retail: $699

Sound United

5541 Fermi Ct

Carlsbad, CA 92008