I had a feeling of cosmic irony while reviewing the new Marantz DV- 9500 universal disc player. A couple of years ago, when Marantz first introduced a universal DVD player, there was serious buzz about DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD. The hope was that the format war was ending with the advent of the universal player, and the future appeared bright with the Rolling Stones releasing its entire ABKCO catalogue on SACD and even Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon being re-mixed and re-released on SACD. Unfortunately, there was no such thing as the perfect universal player, which excelled in all four of the critical performance areas: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, and Red Book CD. Back then the pickings were slim, and in my opinion the best of the bunch with all of the audio formats (without spending obscene amounts of money) was the Marantz DV-8300, though it was distinctly mediocre in the video department.
Now it’s 2005, and the lack of buzz around DVD-A and SACD is deafening. There was precious little of either highresolution format present at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show. It seemed as if the recording industry had blown the chance to use a safe, encrypted, surround format as a defense against downloading, and audiophiles were crossing their fingers that Blu-ray Disc would bring a high-resolution audio format that the entire industry could get behind. So it is with great irony that we finally have universal players that promise to be good in all four of the above areas. Marantz’s entry into this arena is the new $2099 DV-9500.
For about six months Kevin Zarrow of Marantz tantalized me with the promise of a player that could do it all—and do it really well. He wouldn’t even tell me what the video system/deinterlacer chipset was (and still hasn’t). All I know is that he was right: The DV-9500 works, and works well, indeed. This player’s design is classic Marantz—tasteful, well-built, but definitely not flamboyant. It is bigger than the DV-8300/8400, and heavier. The rear-panel connections are better- spaced for convenience, and the 9500 sports an HDMI connector where the DVI connection used to be. As much as a step forward as the 9500 is at first glance, the remote is two or three steps backwards. Black, nonbacklit, filled with small buttons, and with transport controls placed in a non-intuitive manner, it is an immediate disappointment. The only thing I can say is thank heaven for my Philips Pronto universal remote control.
I hooked the 9500 up via a Wireworld DVI-HDMI crossover cable to my Fujitsu 50" plasma, a Wireworld Silver Eclipse 5 digital coaxial cable, and Silver Eclipse 5 interconnects for the 5.1 outputs. The rest of my system includes a Parasound Halo A51 amp, Anthem Statement D1 processor, KEF Reference speakers, with the Simaudio Orbiter universal player and Krell DVD Standard on hand for comparison. Basic video calibrations were accomplished using Video Essentials. The 9500 is an upscaling player, and I set it up to output a 720p signal to the plasma. I started off watching a DVD (Troy) on the 9500, as video was the weak point of previous Marantz offerings.
Imagine my surprise when the picture quality proved to be nothing short of superlative. The 9500 takes full advantage of transferring a video signal digitally via HDMI; the picture was superbly clean, crisp, and downright beautiful. Even the deinterlacing was quite good, with a distinct lack of visible artifacts. The chroma bug was not present, either. This player’s video output was the closest I have seen to the Krell DVD Standard, which remains the best DVD player for picture quality that I have ever seen. Kudos to Marantz, as it has managed to go from an also-ran to one of the best in picture quality.
Onwards to high-resolution audio formats. DVD-Audio performance is just plain excellent. The sound is open, warm, smooth, extended, with tight bass response (the Crystal Method DVD-A gets the floor shaking just fine), with a neutral-to-slightly-laidback midrange, and an extended top end that was just a tad harsher than that of the Orbiter, but actually quite good on its own terms. In fact, the comparison is almost unfair considering the price differential; it is actually a compliment to the Marantz to remark on how well it holds up next to the Oribiter. The overall soundstage is large and deep, and there is much more of a three-dimensional quality to the sound in comparison to the 83/8400. The 9500 has the ability to do time delay and bass management for both DVD-A and SACD, but the latter only by converting the native DSD signal to PCM. If you decide not to use these circuits, you can keep the native DSD for SACD. In this unconverted form, SACD sounds very, very good on the 9500; the performance is not all that different from Marantz’s own 8260 stand-alone SACD player (which I also own). Again, this is quite a compliment, as the 8260 is probably one of the better $1000 SACD players around. DVD-Audio sonic qualities were very much like those with SACD, and that is another major achievement of the 9500, as past universal players have rarely been equally accomplished at both audio formats.