Marantz Launch new reference CD player and amplifier
A DAC-less DAC - whatever next?
Marantz has launched its most advanced Hi-Fi combination to date, the Premium 10 series comprising the SA-10 SACD/CD player/DAC and PM-10 amplifier.
The SA-10 replaces the SA-7, the previous Marantz Reference disc player. The SA-7 was purely a disc player but, with the changing audio landscape, including the rise of high-resolution audio and computer-stored music, a change was inevitable, says Marantz. So, as well as being a high-end disc player for CDs, SACDs and even high-resolution music burned on recordable media, the SA-10 is a digital-to-analogue converter using unique technology to extract every nuance from digital music files, using a combination of tried-and-tested Marantz audiophile practice and some innovative solutions developed specifically for this flagship product.
Today’s digital technology has made it possible to replace conventional digital-to-analogue conversion with something much more advanced, says Marantz, allowing the SA-10 to become the first player/USB-DAC that doesn’t actually have a DAC! The secret is Marantz Musical Mastering, a brand-new approach to a problem almost 35 years old – making the most of music stored in digital form without introducing artefacts requiring extra processing after conversion. A two-stage process, MMM-Conversion and MMM-Stream, draws on Marantz's experience extending all the way back to the first days of CD.
To play SACD, CD, DVD-R/RW and CD-R/RW discs, the Marantz team avoided the usual route taken in players of this kind, using an ‘off-the-shelf’ DVD-ROM drive of the kind commonly found in computers. Instead, and in their quest for ultimate sound quality, they built their own: the new SACD-M3, the latest in an a range of disc mechanisms built for Marantz players, is unique to the SA-10, and can play not just CDs and SACDs, but also high-resolution audio stored on either CD or DVD recordable media.
The digital-to-analogue conversion process, available to both discs and external sources connected to the player’s digital inputs – which include asynchronous USB for the connection of a computer – is innovative. Rather than down-converting ultra-high-resolution files to suit a conventional digital to analogue converter, as happens in some rival designs, the SA-10 upconverts everything to DSD256, in a process known as Marantz Musical Mastering – Conversion.
Two dedicated master clocks are used to ensure all digital signals are upsampled directly to DSD 256 – or four times the SACD standard – without any need for sample rate conversion, and there’s a choice of two filter settings to allow the listener to shape the sound. The output from the MMM-Conversion process is, in effect, already an analogue signal, being a very high-frequency stream of single pulses
Partnering it is the PM-10, which replaces the company’s previous Reference amplifier, the SC-7/MA-9, which was a pre/power amplifier combination. The PM-10 retains a purist all-analogue design, completely balanced throughout its signal path, and using a dual-mono construction with differential amplification delivering 2x400W. Even the continued interest in vinyl has a place in this New Reference system, as it does in most Marantz amplifiers: the PM-10 has a specially designed all-discrete phono stage for both moving coil and moving magnet cartridges.
Effectively a preamplifier and a pair of monobloc power amps in a single unit, the PM-10 uses switching power amplification to deliver its power – 200Wpc into 8ohms, and 400Wpc into 4ohms – to ensure it can drive a wide range of speakers, and instant high-current power supplies to ensure it can deliver the dynamics of the most demanding music.
The PM-10 has separate supplies for the preamplifier and each of the power amplifier channels, to ensure the delicate signals passing through the preamp aren’t affected by the demands of the high power output stages. There’s also a dedicated supply for the microprocessor controlling volume adjustment, input selection and so on, ensuring no noise from the control section finds its way in to the audio path. The layout is fully balanced, from the input section all the way through to the final power amplifier section: it has two sets of balanced inputs, and also conventional unbalanced line-level inputs (plus a high-quality phono stage), the signal from these inputs being converted to balanced working before being passed through the amplifier.
The preamp uses Marantz Hyper-Dynamic Amplifier Modules (or HDAMs), which are tiny amplifiers in miniature, built from discrete components, rather than using the ‘chip-amps’ found in some rival designs. To make the most of that purity of design, the PM-10 has also been designed with the option of working in ‘Purest Mode’: when engaged, this deactivates any superfluous circuits, giving the signal the cleanest possible path through the amplifier. There’s also a Power Amp Direct input, taking the signal straight from the input section to the power stage to allow the PM-10 to work as a pure power amplifier.
Marantz Brand Ambassador Ken Ishiwata explains that ‘From the time of CD players the transport was one of our strengths, and with SACD it’s the same. Of course doing things this way is expensive, but if we want something special we have to do it. And besides, there aren’t many SACD mechanisms available today. However, there really is no way of making this kind of mechanism cheaply, so it’s limited to our top-of-the-range model.’
Senior Electronics Engineer Rainer Finck has been working on Marantz Reference CD players for two decades, and was central to the SA-10 project: he says that, ‘As I was one of the Philips engineers way back in the late 80s, and worked on the company’s Bitstream converters – the last one was the DAC-7 – we could draw on all this knowledge to build our own bitstream converter for the SA-10.’
The SA-10 retails for £5,999 and the accompanying PM-10 is £6,999.
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