Marantz SACD 30n / Model 30 Review
David Price tries out a new generation of modern Marantz music makers…
SACD 30n SACD Player
Model 30 Integrated Amplifier
USD $2,999 RRP each
Meet Marantz's new mid-market silver disc spinner and network music player, and its partnering integrated amplifier. To those who wondered where this illustrious marque would go after the sad passing of its long time Brand Ambassador Ken Ishiwata in 2019, here's your answer…
It's an interesting one, and a fair way visually from the world of KI Signatures, Pearls and Rubys. Instead, Marantz has gone about subtly reimagining itself stylistically, taking aesthetic cues from vintage models like the original Audio Consolette, Model 2250 and Model 9 amplifier. Even the nomenclature has changed, so wave goodbye to SAs and PMs and say hello to the new SACD 30n and Model 30. According to the company, all this springs from a modernisation programme that first began in 2017.
Joel Sietsema, SVP of Brand at Sound United, parent company to Marantz, told us:
Our main goal in updating Marantz was to effectively capture the timelessness, musicality and passion the brand has brought to the world for nearly seventy years,
In my view, the previous ranges were getting a little tired visually – or perhaps they were just over-familiar? Although lovely things to have and to hear, they hadn't really moved on stylistically for decades. These two new separates look recognisably Marantz yet a good deal more modern, so to my eyes, this refresh works very well.
This striking new bit of kit continues Marantz's tradition of producing an SACD spinner that also plays CDs, rather than just the latter. It might seem a little quaint, but Super Audio Compact Disc soldiers on in Japan – where you can still buy quite a few new titles. Personally, I love the format and welcome the continued faith in it, even if it is now seriously niche. It uses the company's own SACDM-3L transport mechanism rather than a bought-in one.
Rainer Fink, Senior Acoustics Engineer Europe, added:
We started using this with the launch of the SA-10 about five years ago. There have been a few minor modifications done to the tray and firmware, but the basic specifications are the same.
This machine also has network playback functionality. This comes courtesy of Marantz's established HEOS platform, which gives access to the usual streaming suspects such as Amazon Music HD and TIDAL, plus voice-control functionality via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri to play music Internet radio and NAS drive playback. The unit also offers multiple digital inputs, so it can be used as a DAC; Marantz was one of the first companies to offer this on a disc player, and it makes great sense. It can play FLAC files from 44.1kHz to 192kHz at up to 24-bit resolution, DSD 2.8MHz and DSD 5.6MHz, ALAC (Apple Lossless) and MP3s.
Interestingly, the PCM data stream going into the unit is converted to DSD at 11.2MHz; this is done by the company's Marantz Musical Mastering (MMM-Stream converter and MMM-Conversion stage) system inside the player. This technology is proprietary and was previously seen in the SA-10, SA-KI Ruby and SA-12SE. MMM substitutes the generic oversampling filters normally used in digital-to-analogue conversion for Marantz's own custom-developed items. One gives a slow roll-off and short impulse response, and the other has the option of a medium roll-off with short pre-ringing and longer post-ringing. They're basically the same as those used in the reference SA-11 disc player and NA-11 network music player but implemented at a higher oversampling rate.
When I asked Rainer why upconversion is used, he pointed out that since the early nineties, DACs haven't worked internally in pure multi-bit PCM:
Nowadays, PCM is internally transcoded to 3-5 bits with all kinds of fancy algorithms, and then converted at very high speeds. In the case of nineties Philips designs like DAC-7, PCM was converted to Bitstream, which we now call DSD, and this needed only a switch running at very high speed. The system had much better linearity than standard PCM, and today's converters are so much better still. So true PCM converters could never reach the specs of today.
The engineers have worked hard on those “fancy algorithms” of which Rainer speaks. “We developed Marantz Music Mastering because we found some weak spots in the signal processing chain, similar to what we figured out with digital filters in the late nineties”, he adds. “So we improved the oversampling algorithm and developed our own noise-shaper – which is the trick part of the algorithm where PCM gets a bitstream. The outcome is DSD256, where 44.1kHz is converted to 11.2MHz and 48kHz to 12.288MHz. Because we want to avoid any sample rate conversion, we decided to work with two master clocks – one for 44.1kHz and multiples, and another for 48kHz and multiples.” All digital audio fed into the DAC gets the same number-crunching treatment – regardless of source and ranging from 44.1kHz to 384kHz.
As you would expect, the SACD 30n sports Marantz's HDAM amplifier modules in the output stage, and there's a dedicated amplifier module fitted to power the headphone output. Headphone gain can be adjusted to three established presets – low, mid and high – making it possible to drive high impedance headphones. When the disc mechanism isn't being used, its power supply is turned off. For most parts of the player's circuitry, a linear power supply is used – “especially around our Sharc DSPs we use some DC-DC converters”, explains Reiner, “which are kind of switch-mode supplies.”
The new integrated amplifier continues Marantz's move to Class D, first seen in the PM-10 of a few years back; the PM-KI Ruby and PM-12SE then followed this path. It has been a controversial step, as like 'LP vs. CD' back in the nineteen-eighties, folk have tended to fall into one of two tribal camps. Ten or more years ago, Ken Ishiwata himself was highly critical of switching amplifiers but was quick to acknowledge the major leaps forward that have been made in Class D power modules since. Like many in the know, he was a big fan of the Hypex N-core range, and sure enough, we see NC500s fitted to the Model 30.
Interestingly, they're used in an unusual way; the amplifier's topology is well worth examining, and one key facet of this is the type and position of the power supplies employed. Marantz describes the Model 30 as a “real pre-main amplifier in one enclosure”, and you can see why when you look under the hood. The inside has been divided up into separate preamp and power amp areas, with dedicated power supplies for both, custom-designed to fit in the box and to deliver the appropriate type of power. There's nothing radical about this concept, but Marantz has taken the idea further than many rivals, all the same…
The preamp section gets an oversized toroidal transformer inside a double-shielded steel case, the power amp part a beefy switched-mode sitting on a copper base inside the chassis. The dual power amplifier modules are mounted right at the back of the amplifier, connected directly to the speaker binding posts on the back panel. “The high current power supply for the power amps is separated from the preamplifier power supply”, Rainer notes.
This keeps all kind of switching noise away from the delicate small signals we have to amplify, for example in the phono stage. Having these two supplies in one enclosure brings us the benefit of an integrated amp – short signal paths. Instead of running one metre interconnects from the pre- to the power amp we have everything under control inside one enclosure. But this layout cannot be done with conventional power supplies, which is why the small footprint of a switched mode type is key to realise the concept.
Marantz didn't just throw any old switched-mode power supply into the Model 30, though. As you'd expect, the company tested many types, and when a suitable one was found, “it got customised to our requirements”, says Rainer. “And because of its high peak current handling we found that we needed to do some measures to properly fix it to the chassis, and then decouple it as well as possible.” That's why a special copper mounting plate is fitted underneath this power supply, and also between the left and right power amps – for superior shielding. “The influence of mechanical engineering on sound quality is really underrated, and sometimes called Voodoo”, he adds!
The result is what Marantz set out to achieve with the Model 30; it's a powerful integrated amplifier putting out a claimed 100W RMS per channel into 8 ohms and 200W RMS per side into 4. “We are very conservative, and the Marantz power ratings are for the whole audio band (20Hz to 20kHz) and not just 1kHz,” says Rainer. “We do not have any official figure for 2 ohms. But the product works until the peak current and the internal temperature reach their limits.”
As per company tradition, vinyl playback is taken seriously – so the Model 30 comes as standard with the so-called Marantz Musical Premium Phono EQ circuit. This amounts to a phono preamp stage with moving magnet and moving coil compatibility, with two-stage amplification using HDAMs and J-FETs (junction field-effect transistors) in the input stage. This gives high input impedance and obviates the need for coupling capacitors. A three-way input impedance selector is fitted, which can be adjusted to low (33 ohms), mid (100 ohms) and high (390 ohms).
Manufactured in Shirakawa, Japan, both the SACD 30n and the Model 30 are the first Marantz products to launch with the brand's new industrial design language. In the flesh, I'd say it's an unalloyed success – these hi-fi separates look great and feel far more expensive than they really are. The paper-white ambient lighting coming out of the central fascias looks good and is far more tasteful than nineties-tastic blue. The displays are crisp, and the controls feel classy. Although not metal, the SACD 30n's damped disc drawer still oozes quality and is a very long way from a cheap plastic DVD-ROM tray. My only gripe is slightly slow disc loading and track access times, but 'twas ever thus the way for SACD machines.
Getting these two units going proved easy enough. You need to attach the two little Wi-Fi/Bluetooth antennas to the rear of the SACD 30n, or plug in an Ethernet cable. I then took advantage of the Airplay sync option that shared my router settings with the Marantz, and duly did the firmware update. At the same time, the HEOS app took a minute to install on my Apple iPad, and then went on to be a great centre point for controlling the player's extensive functionality – from streaming and internet radio to playing music off my Western Digital NAS drive. The Model 30 amplifier, on the other hand, is pretty much plug in, switch on and go.
Let's start with the Model 30 integrated, as it's the centrepiece of the pair. At the price, this amplifier is really hard to criticise; it does an awful lot, awfully well – with no obvious weak points to its overall performance that I can discern. It's a really solid, powerful sounding design with a most alluring tonal balance – smooth, creamy and sophisticated – as well as impressive handling of fine detail and expansive stereo soundstaging. Factor in a general sense of confidence and ease, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that you were listening to something a good deal more expensive.
The other thing that needs to be said at this point – as it's the audiophile 'elephant in the room', so to speak – is that it's one of the finest Class D amplifiers that I've heard. So many of the breed suffer from a plodding, disinterested character that – while impressive on some levels – just doesn't capture the music's natural feel. I've long been sceptical of this type of amplifier, but the combination of excellent, up-to-date power modules and the fact that they've been so well implemented speaks volumes. Class AB is far from perfect, of course, so ultimately the question becomes a trade-off between the relative merits of the two types of amplification; the Model 30 makes a great case for itself here.
The most recognisable aspect to the Marantz's sound is its velvety feel. Play a classic rock recording like The Who's Who Are You, and there's an eerie lack of edge to it. Don't confuse this for blandness, though, as the amp does well to convey the gnarly timbre of singer Roger Daltrey's voice and the graunch of Pete Townshend's guitar. There was a lovely tight, late-seventies feel to Keith Moon's drum work and a silkiness to the cymbals that makes things sound sophisticated and classy. Bass guitar was firm and full, but not leaden or plodding; there's very much the sense of a velvet fist to the way the Model 30 dishes out bass, by which I mean that it's powerful yet restrained.
This leads me to its next stand-out characteristic, its cathedral-like stereo sound staging. Instruments in the mix come across in a boldly constructed, expansive way. There's no sense that the music is struggling to get out of the speakers, quite the reverse. My reference Yamaha NS-1000M monitors were taken by the scruff of their metaphorical necks and clearly instructed to push images well out into my listening room, or hang them back where appropriate – whilst pushing far stage-left and right. The Doors' The Crystal Ship was a joy; that distinctive late sixties' stereo wide' production sounded all the more spacious, causing the speakers to dissolve into the room – something they don't often do with amplifiers of this price.
This was all the more transfixing with Anita Baker's Sweet Love; this classic mid-eighties soul standard was quite arresting to hear, with the vocals pushed forward in space but exuding a wonderfully rich, gutsy, tone. The Model 30 let me enjoy this more than with most amplifiers, which tend to zero in more on the chiming and rather glassy sounds of the digital synths going on behind her. Such was the Marantz's rendition that at high volumes, it seemed like I was listening to a giant pair of Stax electrostatic headphones! Anyone who knows these will instantly understand that unusual combination of tonal smoothness and stark immediacy.
This new amplifier is seriously smooth then, but that doesn't mean it's flat and boring. Sweet Love was animated and rhythmic and conveyed a keen sense of being in a hurry, but Maximum Style & JB Rose's Wake Up – a beautiful slice of modern urban R&B from 4hero's Marc Mac – really got a move on. The Model 30 was fast, crisp and responsive, striding along at a great pace whilst still managing to capture the sinewy baseline that has many mid-price amps tripping over their toes. The prodigious low frequencies seemed to have little effect on what was going on in the midband, and the amp was totally unfazed even when I upped the volume levels to something approaching structural damage levels.
The built-in phono stage is a quality item; downwind of my Marantz Tt-1000/Audio-technica AT-1010/Lyra Delos, it made a very nice noise with my dog-eared pressing of Wings' Maybe I'm Amazed. I dialled the impedance to the correct 100-ohm setting and was surprised by how natural things sounded. At the same time, this vintage all-analogue live recording bristled with detail. The sound of the cymbals, piano and guitar was delicious, as was the immediacy of Paul McCartney's voice – making for an unexpectedly expressive, involving and natural listen.
This amplifier is really hard to criticise at its price. It is possible that people with soft sounding sources and/or speakers might find it a wee bit too warm for their tastes. You can certainly characterise it as being more of a smooth sophisticate than a head-banging punk rocker – more Bryan Ferry than Sid Vicious, if you like. It doesn't quite have the raw musical edge of some more characterful Class AB designs. Also, in absolute terms, it's a little constrained in terms of depth perspective and bass grip – but you'd never expect it to match Marantz's high-end designs here.
The SACD 30n is no less impressive, doing so much so capably. For example, as a silver disc player, it reminded me why I still love SACD so much. Simple Minds' Hunter and the Hunted was great fun, the Marantz player setting up a vast cathedral-like acoustic and delving deep inside it to reveal huge amounts of information about the placement of instruments and what the musicians were actually doing. I loved the way the hi-hats fluttered away silkily behind a vast, punchy bassline, as the lead synthesiser glided smoothly and the rhythm guitar chirped away behind. SACD may be nineties tech, but it's divine even now when done properly.
Similarly satisfying results came from my NAS drive, packed as it is with hi-res PCM goodies. Chic's Le Freak was great fun, the SACD 30n reminding me what a seminal dance track this is. The digital inputs provided equally tasty; while they can't match a really good standalone DAC, they're more than capable of pricing most respectable entry to mid-level designs out of a job. A hi-res version of Rush's The Camera Eye from my Sony Blu-ray player was seat-of-the-pants fun, with oodles of power and vim. This machine is also well detailed, with a similarly refined sound to its Model 30 amplifier brother. The only thing that marks it down against certain pricier players is a slight lack of bass grip and a subtle softening of dynamics; at its price, though, it's churlish to criticise.
Together, Marantz's new SACD 30n and Model 30 pack a fantastic punch at the price. The money buys you a digital player that handles pretty much every source and every format – including SACD – very well. You also get an amplifier with mammoth power and load driving ability, plus real subtlety and smoothness. It's a gentle giant with great manners and a complete lack of fear for pretty much any loudspeaker. Factor in the superlative build quality, slick HEOS app interface, excellent phono stage, connectivity and versatility – and it's very hard not to like.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.
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