What is the Marantz Melody X?
The Marantz Melody X (or the M-CR612 to use its actual model designation) is a compact stereo all in one system. Marantz has been making compact all in ones for many years now and they have traditionally been rather good at it. The category itself has proved curiously durable too. In the face of wireless speakers, soundbars and affordable separates, a subset of customers still heads out to buy these compact devices and most of the Japanese house brands retain at least one on the books.
In recent years though, these little systems have learned some interesting new tricks. Where once they were CD based devices with a tuner and an extra input if you were lucky, they now have some very clever extra bells and whistles and the Melody X has a very comprehensive spec indeed that still has some old favourites in there too.
Do these little systems make sense though? As consumers, we have more choice than ever before and some of these other options are very compelling. From Marantz themselves, the NR1200 with its HDMI functionality can be had for the same price and for the cost of a suitable pair of speakers to add to the Melody X, you could have a Naim Mu-So QB2. Is this still the smart option for audio thrills in 2020?
Specification and Design
The Melody X is not a completely clean sheet piece of design. It replaces the preceding M-CR611 which is extremely similar in overall design (although, perhaps mercifully, the two tone colour scheme of this model has been binned). The differences (aside from the rather snappier ‘Melody X’ name) are evolutionary rather than revolutionary but no less interesting for that.
The first and most notable aspect of the Melody X is that if you have managed to keep a trusty Denon DM-30 from the first year of AVForums up and running until now, the Melody X can slot exactly into this role without a second’s thought. It has both a CD mechanism and a DAB/FM tuner (AM has been discarded so, in this specific regard, some progress has been made). This is joined by DAB+ for a more up to date fitment. There is then, an RCA line input for the external analogue source of your choice.
From here though, the Melody X starts piling on the features and the modernity. A pair of optical inputs join the analogue one to give a greater spread of connections. There is also wired and wireless network streaming that is carried out by the Denon and Marantz HEOS system. This means that as well as being able to stream PCM to 24/192 and DSD128, the Melody X has access to all the major streaming services bar Qobuz and will form a happy partnership with other HEOS devices, all controlled via the iOS and Android app.
Neither is this the only form of multiroom available. The Melody X has AirPlay 2 so can be grouped with other suitably equipped products if you don’t want to go all in with HEOS. The Melody X is additionally compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. There’s no direct microphone input but the various devices can be connected to it and ‘Skills’ implemented to make it responsive to them. Given that the Melody X has front panel controls, a remote handset, a control app and the ability to respond when you shout at it makes this about the most controllable device I think I can remember reviewing.
Connectivity is finished off by Bluetooth (SBC only) and a pair of USB-A connections that can read USB sticks and drives. In addition to the speaker level outputs (more of which in a moment), there is an RCA line output and a dedicated subwoofer preout for 2.1 use. The long and the short of it is that the Marantz does almost as much as the NR1200 (swapping a CD mechanism for the HDMI connectors) and does rather push on from the compact systems of old. What I find quite clever about this is that if you don’t want anything to do with the modernity, it’ll keep working in exactly the same way as systems of old.
Given that the Melody X has front panel controls, a remote handset, a control app and the ability to respond when you shout at it makes this about the most controllable device I think I can remember reviewing
Nowhere is this more apparent in the amplification and speaker outputs of the Melody X. There is a 60 watt internal amplifier - giving the Marantz the scope to handle a good selection of speakers. What is rather more ‘old school’ is that this amp is also happy to run in a 4 x 30 watt configuration and allow for a second pair of speakers to be wired into a different room. This is a feature that has been on devices like this for some years but I can with all honesty say that I’ve never seen it used. Of course, with various suitable bookshelf speakers available from £150 and up and the option of app control, it makes as much sense as it has ever done. Marantz has at least had the good sense to put a speaker A/B toggle on the remote to make it easier to access although it isn’t in the app.
That is about the only piece of functionality missing from the app though. Like the NR1200, Marantz has cleverly taken the HEOS ‘base’ and added the ability to control the CD, Tuner and additional input functionality of the Melody X present on the app. Inserting a CD - something which, unless you’re very good at throwing the disc just so, still needs you to be somewhere near the unit - before controlling it via an iPad feels weird but it works well. Once again, the option of having several different points of control over the Marantz makes using it day to day entirely painless. As before, HEOS isn’t perfect. I don’t like the queue/replace queue functionality and it can take a moment to render my library but it hasn’t fallen over or suffered any serious glitches on any test device in the time I’ve been using the Melody X.
As noted earlier, the Melody X is a very similar piece of design to its predecessor but this isn’t a bad thing (especially, as noted, now the two tone finish has been binned). The aesthetics ape the Marantz ‘design language’ of the moment but does so in a way that doesn’t interfere with the Melody X’s day to functionality. The display is clear and easy to read and scrolls at a rate that doesn’t have you nostalgic for Ceefax.
The build quality is perfectly acceptable if not truly outstanding for the price. Like a few devices of this nature, the Marantz is better from a few feet away but - given it can spend its life solely using network and on demand audio, you will most likely be a few feet away. Other aspects of the design are also pretty good. The remote is a bit of a button fest but the major controls fall to hand. The rear panel controls are also reasonably sturdy and well laid out.
How was the Melody X tested?
The Marantz was connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner and wired directly to my network, with control largely being undertaken by a 2019 iPad Pro. Network audio material came from a Melco N1A. An LG 55B7 OLED has also been connected via optical. Speakers used have been the Spendor A1s but some limited testing also took place with the Acoustic Energy AE500. Material used has included CD, FLAC, AIFF and DSD, some Tidal via the HEOS embedded version and AirPlay, Spotify, internet radio and broadcast and on demand TV.
Find out more: Audio Formats - What Does What and What It All Means
As someone always teetering on the edge of (or well beyond) deadlines, it would be tempting to cut and paste the findings of the NR1200, alter it so it acknowledged the CD mechanism instead of the HDMI connections and complete this review in fine style. What is quite interesting is that as well as being a fairly obvious thing to spot, it wouldn’t be accurate. Both the Melody X and the NR1200 wear a Marantz badge but they are not carbon copies of one another.
Connected to the same sweet but revealing pair of Spendor A1 speakers as before, the Melody X goes a long way to showing that the name hasn’t simply been chosen because it sounds nice. Listening to the peculiarly titled One True Pairing (both artist and album title), the Melody X is impressively immediate but balances this with a little extra midrange energy that really elevates vocals. The euphoric, energetic I’m Not Afraid is far more engaging than you might reasonably expect a dinky all-in-one to be, even one benefitting from a supremely talented pair of speakers at its disposal.
The Melody X is undoubted helped by the use of an AKM DAC in the same manner as the NR1200. The silicone in a decoding stage is not the final arbiter of the performance (far from it) but there is still a sweetness to the way that the Melody X presents material that works brilliantly with less than perfectly recorded material. A spirited blast through the Archie Bronson Outfit’s Derdang Derdang (a magnificent album that puts the edge in edgy), the Marantz is a truly engaging partner. It isn’t presenting the last nuances of detail but it delivers the musical message rather well.
It isn’t perfect of course. The bass extension of the Marantz is not as potent as some affordable standalone amps and moving to the rather more low end endowed Acoustic Energy AE500 doesn’t really change this. Some of this is symptomatic of using these rather more expensive speakers with the Melody X. This slight reticence that becomes apparent here is almost certainly quite handy at controlling the urges of less refined speakers that might be the more common partners for it. You can of course bolt a subwoofer on to boost this low end output too.
Something that becomes apparent the longer you listen is that the Melody X, more than the NR1200, feels ready to handle a musical diet that includes as much Deezer and Spotify as it does Hi-Res (although with support for basic Amazon Music in HEOS already, the scope for access to affordable Hi-Res looks promising) and it manages to sound completely happy playing compressed material in a way that some more bespoke hardware doesn’t always do. Granted, this also means that feeding it a diet of exquisite 88.2kHz Dead Can Dance masters doesn’t really result in it sounding significantly different to how it does with the same files in Spotify but it leaves the bulk of things you play on it sounding very reasonable.
If you are shopping around for a product to delay the necessity of ripping for another few years, the mechanism in the Melody X is a confidence inspiring device
This includes CD too. It feels weird to dust off discs that I ripped to my server years ago but the performance with them is completely in keeping with the ripped file. The mech itself is quiet, quick loading and seems able to cope with a worn disc here or there. If you are shopping around for a product to delay the necessity of ripping for another few years, the mechanism in the Melody X is a confidence inspiring device.
There’s also the small matter of its performance with TV and broadcast material. Now, for the avoidance of all doubt, the NR1200 is more talented still but, sat plain as day in the web literature is the simple comment ‘Better audio quality than a soundbar’ (sucks to be the HEOS Soundbar in this instance but there we are). It has to be said, with a remotely capable pair of speakers, the Melody X is a fine partner for broadcast material. That slight lack of fine detail does mean that really subdued dialogue can suffer slightly but for almost everything else, there’s a space, scale and composure to how the Marantz delivers material that can make some of the straight 2.1 soundbars sound a little less than ideal, with the added proviso that the Marantz can go on to slay them with two channel.
- Very comprehensive specification
- Warm and engaging sound
- Well made and easy to use
- Not the prettiest thing going
- HEOS is slightly clunky
- Stiff competition
Marantz Melody X All-in-One System Review
When the Melody X arrived, as the first such system I’d tested in quite a while. I didn’t fully understand why you might go out of your way to pick a compact all-in-one system but having spent some time with it, the Melody X has rather won me over. As a halfway house between a standalone speaker and a conventional system it works really rather well. For the price of a Naim Mu-So Qb2, you can have it with speakers that should ensure that it delivers on some of the sonic talents it clearly possesses with more expensive speakers and while the Naim is an awesome second room device, it can’t match the Marantz for expansive stereo joy. The compact all-in-one category still has life in it and the Marantz has to be considered a Best Buy.
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