Remote Control & Listening Tests
The remote control unit was marginal. My biggest complaint is that it was not backlit. In my room all lights go off when the projector goes on so a backlit remote is necessary. Fortunately, the button layout is pretty good and I found my way around by feel for the main functionality. The button that I liked the most was the S.Mode button. This one lets you choose different formats of an SACD which is fairly important. You don’t want to have to go to the menu for this function mainly because SACD does not have a video menu like DVD-Audio. There were some buttons that should have been on the remote but were not. I’ll mention them when I get into those features.
Listening Tests: Stereo (Two-Channel)
As always, I like to start all of my tests with two-channel listening and began by using the digital outputs. First I used the coaxial digital out so it could be compared to the coaxial digital out of my Denon CD player. As expected, I could hear no difference between the two because the Integra Research RDC-7 was doing all of the clocking and digital to analog conversion. I then compared the optical output of the Marantz to the same digital signal of the Denon and again I heard no difference. That meant that I could hear no difference between optical and coaxial digital signals from the DV-9500. As you will see I was trying to set up a baseline for comparing CD to SACD-Stereo. After listening to several tracks from Yes, Enya, Flim and the BB’s, and Steely Dan I connected the analog Front Channels of the Marantz to a pair of analog inputs on the RDC-7. I also connected the analog outputs of the Denon to another pair of analog inputs of the RDC-7
I specifically purchased Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon Hybrid SACD so I could do an A-B-C-D comparison, Marantz digital out – Marantz analog out – Denon digital out – Denon analog out. Before I received the Marantz player I had already compared the CD layer of the SACD to the original CD and found them to sound identical. I loaded the original Dark Side of the Moon CD in the Denon and the SACD into the Marantz. I started both at the same time playing the CD layer of the SACD. In comparing the Marantz analog out to the Denon digital out the Marantz was softer and the Denon had a slight edginess and tinny sound. Comparing the analog outputs of both players I found that the Denon was more edgy, had less bass, and was less involving and more closed in than the DV-9500. The digital outs of both players still sounded identical. Now that I had a good baseline for CD listening, it was time compare the SACD to the CD. To switch from the CD layer to the SACD layer on the Marantz I used the provided S.Mode button on the remote but noticed the player did not retain the tracking information and started over at the beginning of the disk. Comparing the SACD stereo to the original CD was the only way to switch between them and what a difference there was! The Marantz in SACD stereo was a lot more open and airy and the bass was jumping out of the speakers. The sound stage was much wider; the music sounded more accurate with much more detail – quite impressive, though we have to allow for differences in the mixing mastering process for SACD. The DV-9500 performed beautifully. I had to listen to more music but first it was time to set up the multi-channel connections.
Listening Tests: Multi-channel
The configuration for multi-channel SACD and DVD-A has come along way over the last couple of years. Of course, ultimately there will be just a digital out and the receiver or pre/pro will be able to read direct stream digital (DSD) for SACD and PCM for DVD-A using its current speaker management for setup. That day has not been fully realized for a majority of products yet, so we must rely on our players to do the job and the Marantz DV-9500 does a pretty good job. It allows speaker configuration (Large or Small), speaker level settings and speaker distance settings.
The distance setting was pretty straight forward and could be set to the nearest foot. Also, the units of measure can be changed. The speaker level settings were a little quirky. The Owners Guide states that the drawer must be closed with no disk playing. When these instructions were followed with an SACD loaded, the Test Tone played through all channel simultaneously with no change when moving the cursor to each speaker icon. When a DVD-A disc was loaded the results got even stranger. The Front Left and Right worked fine but the Center channel could barely be heard and the Subwoofer Test Tone came on simultaneously. The Right Surround worked normally as did the Subwoofer tone, but when I got to the Left Surround the tone came through the Right Surround. This is yet another reason to read the manual I suppose – though it would be better if tones were disabled when a disc is loaded instead of allowing erratic output. All Test Tones did indeed work appropriately when no disk was loaded and the settings are accurate to ½ decibels.
Now that the multi-channel was set up, it was time to get back to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. First, I checked to make sure that multi-channel connections through the Integra RDC-7 sounded the same as the standard input. I listened to the SACD stereo for a while and then switched to the multi-channel layer. The multi-channel mix for Dark Side of the Moon is wonderfully unique and I encourage anyone who likes Pink Floyd to get it. So, how did the Marantz perform here? The channel separation was excellent and the detail was phenomenal. I heard things in “On the Run” that I have never heard before. After doing some quick research on this mix I found that James Guthrie who led the remastering only added a small guitar bit he found from the original tapes but I heard much more detail than ever before. All this great balanced sound showed that the Marantz audio circuits were superb.
Next up was Tchaikovsky’s Overture of 1812 from Telarc, performed by the Cincinnati Pops and directed by Erich Kunzel. The sound from the CD layer was detailed and clean with good bass response. The horns didn’t sound very natural, probably due to the recording not the Marantz. When I switched to SACD stereo the sound stage widened, the horns sounded more real and the bass was much more intense. I especially liked how much the chorus opened up. It is necessary to talk about the recoding of this disk before commenting on the multi-channel sound quality. When seeing a classical concert live, the orchestra is in front of you and the sound fills the concert hall - and that’s exactly how this disk was recorded. The surround channels were recorded to pick up the nuances of the concert hall and the center channel was used to fill the stage in more completely. This disk signifies what being an audioholic is all about. One caution, if you get this disk heed the warning about the canons. They scare me every time I hear them. If you are unsure if your speakers are large or small, set them up as small so the canons will go to the subwoofer. Once I switched to multi-channel I couldn’t believe my ears. The chorus and choir encompassed the whole room with unbelievable fidelity. The bass, of course, changed because now the subwoofer was engaged. Although my main speakers have great imaging and excellent sound stage, that stage became even fuller. The surround speakers could never directly be localized, only their effect. The DV-9500 played this disc just the way it was recorded, with nearly perfect fidelity. Again, the audio circuits and DACs that Marantz used attribute to this fidelity.
Next I tried the “Pure Mode” feature which only works for SACD and CD, not DVD-A. There are two configurable Pure Mode settings, Mode 1 and Mode 2, both have the option of turning off the Display, Video Out, and Digital Out. I am not sure why there were two equally configurable settings because the only way to get to them is through the menu and once you get there you might as well just change the settings for the Pure Mode that is enabled. Now if there was a separate button on the Remote for Mode 1 and Mode 2 (which there isn’t) it would then make sense to have two different settings. A Pure Mode button on the remote is one improvement that Marantz could make. I also found it strange that this feature was in the “Others” menu when it definitely should have been put in one of the Audio Setup menus. Pure Mode does not work for DVD-A because this format is menu driven and the video is turned off. By turning off the display, video, and digital outputs, the possibility of noise interfering with the audio circuitry is virtually eliminated. This feature alone showed that Marantz’s main focus in designing this player was for “High End” audio. Okay, you’re probably thinking “did Pure Mode really make a difference in the sound quality?” I had my doubts when I read about but I actually could hear some slight improvements. I did my comparison using the Telarc Overture of 1812 because this disk had such high quality source material. There was slightly more detail, the trumpets sounded more natural and there was more bass definition. Although there was only a sight difference in sound quality it is what “High End” is all about, squeezing out a little bit better sound everywhere you can. Pure Mode is a big feature in my book.