We Didn't Start the Fire - 60 Years of Marantz

This year marks a very different diamond jubilee and to celebrate we take a look at the triumphs and disasters of one of the most recognisable names in audio

by Steve Withers Jun 13, 2013 at 2:25 PM

  • In the mid-seventies Marantz ran a famous series of adverts in the States that centred on a 2270 receiver of theirs that had been caught in an apartment block fire.
    Despite damage from fire and smoke, falling three stories and being buried under the rubble, when it was retrieved the 2270 in question still worked! Well, all we can say is that they definitely don't make 'em like they used to but in many respects the story of that receiver serves as a perfect metaphor for the company itself. Marantz has been in business for sixty years and it's been a bumpy ride, with plenty of triumphs and disasters along the way, but the manufacturer is still going strong. Here is the story of one man's obsession and an industry that has changed beyond all recognition.

    In the late 1940s Saul Bernard Marantz began working on a new audio product in the basement of his house on 81st Avenue & Austin Street in Kew Gardens, New York. He was unhappy with the equipment available at the time and spent hours in the basement constructing amplifiers to play his cherished collection of LP records. Finally, in 1952, he created the Audio Consolette, a revolutionary preamplifier for the time, which his wife convinced him to make and sell to 100 people. Within a year he had made and sold 400 units and both Marantz the man and Marantz the company were off and running. Just as Saul loved LP records, so music enthusiasts in the early fifties began a love affair with his products. So much so that by 1953, Saul had officially established the Marantz Company and opened a factory in Woodside.
    Saul Marantz spent hours in his basement constructing an amplifier for his cherished LP collection.

    In 1954 Saul Marantz launched the Model 1 Mono Preamplifier (marketing was clearly still in its infancy), which was a commercial extension of the Audio Consolette. This amplifier included a sophisticated phono equaliser that met the RIAA equaliser standards introduced that same year. It also had seven inputs, including one for TV audio, thus pre-empting home cinema by about four decades. The Model 1 retailed for $168, a substantial sum at the time, and is still highly praised by collectors today, who are prepared to pay considerably more than the original asking price. In 1956 Marantz employed Sidney Smith as chief engineer and before long the range starts to grow with the launch of the Model 2 Power Amplifier in 1956. The Model 2 was years ahead of the contemporary competition and featured two power modes. Using a simple selector, it could be switched from 40 watts output power in pentode mode to 25 watts in triode mode. In 1957 the Model 3 Mono Two-way Channel Divider and Model 4 Power Supply were added, and a year later saw the launch of the Model 5, a less powerful but more accessible version of the rather expensive Model 2.

    Until 1958 all Marantz components have been design for monaural systems but the company realised new products are needed and that year they launched the Model 6 stereo adapter for use with two Model 1 preamplifiers. At the end of the year Marantz launch their first true stereo preamplifier - the (you guessed it) Model 7. The circuitry was different from most preamplifiers of the day because the Model 7 used a unique three-stage phono preamp/equaliser that later became known as the ‘Marantz circuit’. This model, in particular, dominated the high fidelity industry, selling over 130,000 units and becoming one of the biggest-selling high-end audio units of all time. At the start of the sixties, Marantz launched its first stereo power amplifier, the 30 watt per channel Model 8. Along with the soon-to-follow Model 8B, it was the only tube stereo amplifier that Marantz ever produced. The Model 9 monaural power amplifier was released in 1960 and used EL34 tubes which produced 70 watts of power - quite an achievement at the time. This increase in power was the direct result of a strong rivalry with McIntosh, whose power amplifiers were generally considered more powerful. The design of the Model 9 included a meter on the front which allowed a user to easily compensate for different tube characteristics. It was an early example of integrating functionality with style and the round window remains an aesthetic feature of Marantz products to this very day.

    In 1963 Marantz launched the 10B, it was their first FM tuner and its use of an oscilloscope instead of a tuning meter created the basic model upon which all present day tuners are based. However, for all of its technological innovations, the 10B has one major downside - it was so expensive to make and so under-priced that its success put the company in severe financial difficulties. The situation became untenable and in 1964 Saul Marantz has no choice but to sell the company he founded to Superscope Inc. for $3 million. Superscope was originally founded to provide wide-screen camera and projector optics to Hollywood but the company’s president, Joseph Tushinsky, saw a fantastic opportunity in acquiring the Marantz name. Tushinsky reasoned that the brand could be used for more affordable components manufactured in Japan and so Superscope moved from being simply a distributor to also being a manufacturer. At the time of the sale, Saul Marantz signed a contract that prevented him from being involved in electronics in the audio field for 25 years!
    ...it was so expensive to make and so under-priced that its success put the company in severe financial difficulties.

    The blue star that adorns all Marantz products to this very day is a trademark that originated from the Superscope era. It is influenced by the Star of David and the Jewish origins of the Tushinsky family. In 1966 Superscope began exploring manufacturing possibilities with several Japanese manufacturers with a view to producing lower cost Marantz products. Ultimately the Standard Radio Corporation was chosen as a partner and by 1975 Suoperscope had purchased a 50% interest in Standard Radio, eventually creating Marantz Japan. In 1967 Marantz released the Model 18 receiver, which was the last product to benefit from Saul Marantz's direct input. Model 18 was a collaborative effort that featured Saul Marantz’s cosmetic design, Sidney Smith’s audio circuitry and Richard Sequerra’s tuner expertise. Unhappy with the direction that Superscope was taking Marantz, in December 1967 Saul Marantz resigned and had no further direct relationship with the company he founded. During the 1960s, Marantz had embarked on a programme to develop a straight line tracking turntable - one that would, in theory, eliminate most of the problems caused by trying to track a record groove with a pivoted tone arm. Saul Marantz had argued vigorously against this product prior to his departure, citing mechanical problems in the initial design. Regardless, the company introduced the SLT-12 in 1968 and the mechanism proved to be as cranky as Saul had predicted, so by 1970 the turntable was out of production.

    In the early 1970s, Marantz amplifiers were designed and manufactured in California, using products that are often manufactured in Japan. However, by the mid 70s, whilst the basic design was still developed in America, the majority of production had been moved to Japan. The strategy during this period was to produce more affordable B line products, which meant that Marantz amplifiers had to revolve around integrated amplifiers - the first of which was the Model 30 Pre-Main Amplifier (PM) launched in 1970. In 1972 Marantz released the Model 4400, which was a powerful quadrial receiver that offered 4 x 50 watts and 2 x 125 watts - it was both stereo and 4-channel! In 1974 Marantz launched the 2270 receiver, which ended up unintentionally starring in the famous ‘fire’ advert. In 1978 Ken Ishiwata joined Marantz Europe as their technical co-ordinator, beginning a five decade relationship that would see Ken become one of the most influential personalities in the high-end audio industry. He was quickly appointed Product Development Manager and today no newly-designed Marantz unit is released without his approval. Due to the more affordable nature of Marantz products in the 1970s, they were not comparable to the models released during the golden age of the 1950s and 60s. As a result, Marantz developed the Esotec Series in an attempt to return to the high-end audio market. In this period Marantz also released the TT1000S turntable which featured an ambitious design that employed an external power supply, a three-ply solid base made of 8mm-thick aluminium sheeting and 15mm-thick high-density glass. The weight of the aluminium die-cast alone was 2.7kg! This year also saw the release of the Model 2600, the most powerful FM receiver that Marantz ever made.
    In 1974 Marantz launched the 2270 receiver, which ended up unintentionally starring in the famous ‘fire’ advert.

    In 1980 it was all-change again as Superscope ran into extreme difficulties and was forced to sell all of its assets except those in the US and Canada to Philips Netherlands. As a result for the entire decade there were three different companies using the name Marantz - Superscope in North America, Philips in Europe and Marantz Japan in Japan. Philips, along with Sony, was a co-developer of the CD and the final specifications for the new format were agreed in June 1980. In the December of that year Philips acquired Marantz as a subsidiary. The launch of the CD in 1982 was a turning point for audio that started the digital revolution that continues to this very day. Despite the marketing presence and development power of Philips, it did not have a name as a hi-fi audio manufacturer and so the first Philips CD players were sold under the Marantz brand. Although Sony were technically the first to market with their CDP-101, the CD-63 from Philips & Marantz was the first publicly announced CD player in the world. In 1983 Marantz products started to feature the 3-panel design which, whilst not immediately obvious to everyone, was based on the look of the original Model 7. The clear distinction of 4 control knobs on the left and right with a third monitoring panel in between, clearly matched the earlier design.
    During the 1980s there were three different companies using the name Marantz in various parts of the world.

    In 1986 Marantz & Philips introduced the CD-45 Limited Edition, which was the first time that Ken Ishiwata came up with the special edition concept for Marantz. Ken dreamed of creating budget products that could be true hi-fi components, thus making them more affordable for younger people. He realised this dream with the special edition concept, launching the CD-45 LE in 1986, which shipped 2,000 units in its first two weeks of sale. For a while, Marantz North America was still managed by Superscope but in 1989 it could no longer be supported and was sold to Dynascan. Coincidentally, Saul Marantz’ 25 year non-compete clause in his contract with Superscope had expired and, released from this restriction, Saul created a new audio brand called ‘Lineage’. Sadly his financial backers proved unreliable and the Lineage project quickly became an obvious attempt by them to exploit the name of Saul Marantz. In 1990 Philips acquired Marantz North America and reunited the brand, outside Japan at least, bringing to an end ten years of destructively schizophrenic co-existence in the west. In 1991 Marantz launched the MusicLink Series developed by Ken Ishiwata and they also released the world’s first CD recorder, the CDR-1.

    In 1992 Marantz launched the TT-42 turntable, which combined a classic turntable design with modern technologies. Thanks to the continued and increasing popularity of vinyl, the TT-42 is still produced today and at 21 years, it is Marantz longest running product. In 1992 Marantz released the DD92 and DD82 Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) recorders, which were developed by Philips. In the end this format proved short-lived, losing out to Sony’s Mini-Disc (MD) format and being discontinued in 1996. It was in the early 90s that the emergence of laser disc players began to make home cinema into a reality and Marantz entered this growing market with the SM-80 THX-certified amplifier in 1992, followed by the SR96 THX-certified receiver. Marantz also introduced a LCD video projector in 1994 and in 2000 they introduced flat panel TVs. A 40” standard definition flat panel TV would have cost you over £10,000 back then; suddenly OLED and 4K don’t seem so expensive. The mid-nineties saw the return of valve amplifiers, with Marantz launching the T-1. This was a very special project, as the brief was simply to produce the best amplifier possible without compromising, as a result they cost over £30,000 each. In 1996 the KI Signature models were released, these had the personal signature of Ken Ishiwata on them and were designed to be optimised for the best possible performance. Included in this range was the CD-63 Mark II KI Signature CD player, generally regarded as the most musical CD player Marantz ever produced. Sadly, on January the 16th 1997 Saul Marantz passed away at the age of 85, leaving behind a remarkable audio legacy.
    The mid-nineties saw the return of valve amplifiers, with Marantz launching the T-1.

    In 1999 Marantz released their first two-channel stereo Super Audio CD (SACD) player, the SA-1, and in 2001 they released the SA-12S1 which was their first multi-channel SACD player. In 1999 Marantz also released the SR-14 Mark II which included THX Surround EX, thus setting a new standard in surround sound processing by adding a matrixed rear centre channel. With the new millennium, Marantz became a truly unified brand again when Marantz Japan bought the Marantz brand and its rights, subsidiaries and assets in Europe and America from Philips, creating Matantz Japan Inc. In 2002 Marantz Japan helped create a new holding company called D&M Holdings, which also includes the Denon brand. The newly created company employs more than 1600 people in over 50 countries. That same year, Marantz Japan released their first high grade separate amplifiers in eight years with the SC-7S1 preamp and the MA-9S1power amplifier. These models also incorporated the distinctive round window and blue star that are synonomous with Marantz. This developed into the launch of the Premium Range in 2004, with the release of the PM-11S1 and SA-11S1, and in 2006 Marantz launched their first Full HD DLP projector, the VP-11S1.
    With the new millennium, Marantz became a truly unified brand again when Marantz Japan bought the European and US Marantz brands from Philips.

    During the first decade of the 21st century there was a revolution in the way people listened to music, thanks in no small part to the arrival of the iPod. An entirely new range of products developed around Apple’s game-changing device and Marantz were quick to respond by introducing the IS201 Docking Station. The launch of the M-1 style, in 2008, harmonised the design of the Marantz range from the Premium Range to the entry-level products, giving all of them a singular recognisable look and feel. That year also saw the 30th anniversary of Ken Ishiwata joining Marantz and to celebrate he introduced the KI PEARLS - two special KI Signature units that were very limited edition.

    The digital revolution has continued unabated and in 2010 Marantz launched their first Network Audio Player followed by the SR7005, which was their first DLNA-certified receiver. In 2013, to celebrate their 60th anniversary, Marantz decided to go ‘back to the future’ with the release of the Consolette - the first audiophile grade wireless streaming speaker. Whilst much of the music remains identical and people still derive the same pleasure from it, they way that we listen to music has changed beyond all recognition. Back in the early 1950s as he worked away in his basement, Saul Marantz couldn’t possibly have imagined the digital world we now live in and you can't help but wonder what technological miracles the next 60 years will bring.

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