I had a satisfying experience of déjà vu upon unpacking the new Marantz PM8004 integrated amplifier, companion to the company’s SA8004 SACD/CD player about which I waxed so enthusiastically in TAS 211 (and Product of the Year Award winner in Issue 219). Like the digital player, the new integrated is priced at a reasonable $999 and inspires the same impression of real “quality goods,” beginning with its weight, a hefty 27 pounds owing to the beefedup chassis to help damp resonances and the substantial toroidal transformer. Styling is contemporary industrial, the severity of the black chassis softened by curved side cheeks and large feet claimed to help isolate it from external vibrations. Setup, even easier than the SACD/CD player, is so intuitive novices could almost bypass the manual. Scarcely five minutes elapsed between slitting the tape on the shipping carton and playing music.
There are several unusual aspects to the design for a component at this price. For one thing, quite a number of discrete parts (as opposed to integrated circuits) are employed throughout. For another, Marantz claims the 70Wpc amplifier section can supply over 25 amps of current for momentary bursts. Third, there is a built-in moving-magnet phonostage, again with all-discrete circuitry. And, fourth, while it’s not unusual to find integrated amplifiers with bass and treble tone controls, this is first I’ve seen in about forty years to include a midrange control (about which more anon). Attention to quality parts extends to the heavierdutythanusual speaker jacks on an amplifier in this price range. The usual complement of inputs and outputs are here, including preamp-out/amp-in jacks and a frontpanel “source-direct” button to bypass balance and tone circuits. A frontpanel headphone jack is also provided. The remote handset will operate the SACD/CD player as well, the two components together a matched “stack” to form the nucleus of a very fine twochannel system.
The PM8004 has a sound that reflects its genre: a solid-state amplifier of medium power, fully contemporary in design, that is tonally neutral, clean, clear, transparent, very low in perceived distortion and noise, rather more dynamic into lowefficiency speakers than its power rating might suggest, with nothing of tube personality as it is conventionally understood, including even the smidgen of warmth I detected in the SA8004. Its presentation invites adjectives such as “uncolored,” “impartial,” “even-handed” as opposed to “tasty,” “magical,” or “characterful.” Putting it this way I by no means wish to suggest that it’s cold, clinical edgy, grainy, or uninvolving—it’s none of those but neither does it have a particularly identifiable tonal “personality” as such. This is typical solid-state circa 2011, not thirty or forty years ago.
Which means among other things that it boasts considerable resolving capability, something I discovered early when I played Mitsuko Uchida’s coupling of Beethoven’s Opus 101 and 106 (“Hammerklavier”) sonatas. Although both pieces were recorded in the same venue, it’s obvious the setup was changed from one piece to the other, the 101 closer, higher in level, with less atmosphere and air. Of course even a modest system will reveal the differences, but the Marantz combination revealed them at once and unmistakably. I also appreciated how at low listeninglevels when Uchida plays really softly the atmosphere does not tend to dry up slightly as can happen with less that adequate resolution.
Whenever I review an integrated amplifier of moderate power I usually begin by testing its mettle with big stuff like operas and nineteenth-century symphonies. The “Forging Song” from the Solti Siegfried held no terrors for the Marantz, which placed Siegfried back and center, the hysterical Mime running about as the sword is beaten, both positioning and choreography rendered with great precision and stability. The sledgehammer and anvils the producer John Culshaw procured to simulate the forging can really frazzle some amplifiers, but the PM8004 reproduced them cleanly without letting go, as it were, of the orchestra behind and around them. And all this driving my inefficient Quad 2805s.
Even more impressive in some respects is the recording of the Mahler Fifth by Frank Shipway and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Dynamically this is one of the most astounding recordings of a Mahler symphony I know, all up and down the frequency range, with seethrough transparency. In the hair-raising opening of the second movement, with shrieking strings and piercing brass, there is a physical force and immediacy to the presentation that practically knocks you sideways, yet the sound of the orchestra remains at all times very beautiful and truthful in timbre.