Marantz is a name that has been around for a long time; refreshingly they continue to produce quality two channel gear despite branching out into both budget and high-end home theater. My own listening experiences have found their budget home theater receivers to be the most musical for the price. Where other budget offerings can do movies well, most make for mundane music reproduction. Not so with the Marantz models and if you have ever sampled their two channel equipment, you will know why. Their new budget two channel line up includes three integrated amplifiers, a stereo SACD player and a few more goodies. They all share the same styling, brushed aluminum, flanked by rounded resin corners and some technology borrowed from the high-end reference series.
- Design: Stereo, Integrated
- Power Output: 70 Watts RMS x 2 into 8 Ohms, 100 Watts x 2 into 4 Ohms
- THD+N: 0.02% (20 Hz – 20 kHz, 8 Ohms)
- MFR: 5 Hz – 100 kHz ± 3 dB (1W, 8 Ohms)
- Inputs: Five
- S/N Ratio: Direct input: 106 dB
- Dimensions: 5.1″ H x 17.3″ W x 15″ D
- Weight: 26.5 Pounds
- MSRP – $999 USA, $899 Canadian
The PM8003 is a well-built flexible integrated amplifier. The chassis has a triple-plated copper bottom; the front panel has two large dials, one for source, which switches with a satisfying click and the other is a solid volume control. There are tone controls, as well as a source-direct function, which effectively removes the tone controls from the signal path. On the rear side you have gold plated inputs and outputs and the custom made binding posts while lacking in aesthetic appeal they are very easy to hand tighten and function very well.
Under the hood you will find a massive toroidal transformer powering this refined integrated amplifier. Volume is controlled by a high quality motorized analog pot and the source switching is all solid state. For vinyl users the PM8003 contains the same current feedback MM phono stage found in the Marantz SC-11S1 pre-amp which is mounted far from the power supply on its own circuit board. For everything else there are four additional inputs, pre-amp outputs and power-amp inputs. And that is where this unit becomes very flexible. The unit can be run as a pre-amp, power-amp or integrated amp. You can easily integrate it into your home theater system, driving your front speakers and handling your analog sources, even powering a second set of speakers, this is handy if you have different music and movie speakers.
The unit was installed in place of a Rotel Class D multi channel amplifier, connected to a pair of OB3X (open-baffle midrage) tower speakers. The PM8003 was connected directly to an Onix XCD-88 HDCD player, and home theater sources were routed first through a Rotel RSP-1069 processor. Holding the Power Amp Direct button on the front panel turns the integrated amplifier into a power amplifier. This removes the Marantz volume control and source selector from the chain (essentially a home theater bypass). So how does it sound? To sum it up, music sounded warm with great midrange and a nicely defined soundstage.
I focused on two distinctly different recordings with the Marantz PM8003 as a stand-alone integrated amp. First up is the funk-folk trio from Montreal, Okgiraffe. Their eponymous debut album is a delight to listen to. Dual upright bass players, interesting percussion and beautiful female vocals blend together to both challenge and reward your HiFi. “Yosemite Sam” is a delightful track about everyone’s favorite rabbit-hating outlaw contains some light shimmering percussive work that can easily be lost behind Rosa’s strong vocals. Not so through the Marantz, as there was clear definition of this instruments and a nice even weight to the vocals. The upright bass has depth, with only a slight reduction in the impact of the plucking at very loud volumes. Overall the track sounds excellent with great rhythm and dynamics.
“Jackson Said” is the last track on the album and is a nice melody bordering on slowed down surf-rock, with Rosa’s voice seemingly swaying in front of you between the front speakers. When Kevin Betram adds some harmony to the mix the soundstage is so well defined you can place his location in regards to hers. The songs slows pace and the upright-bass comes out in full force. Here the Marantz does an admirable job of reproducing the dynamic range of this instrument with clearly defined attach and release of the strings. This little integrated showed great control over the open-baffle midrange with this track. At loud volumes there was some loss of bass control adding a slight bloom to the lower mid bass, this only happened at volumes usually regarded as “too loud” by others.
Now to switch gears and really put this little amp to the test I loaded up Lateralus, Tool’s 2001 HDCD release. Never an easy task, heavy progressive rock can all too often cripple low-powered amplifiers. The large dynamic swings, heavy bass and complex percussions will often blend together into a muddy mess. It takes a decent amplifier to be able to hit hard, go loud and stay clean all at the same time. This is exactly why I like using this disc. First track up is “Ticks and Leeches”. This track has great dynamic range, plenty of layers and an very refined drum track. This track is a great indicator of the systems ability to define soundstage while under pressure. It is one thing to hear the individual location of the skins, it is another to hear this despite distorted guitars and assorted noise. Sure enough the opening drum sequence is tight and presents a wide sound stage. Even when the guitar kicks in followed up with the vocals by Manyard no instruments take over, all seemingly have their own space.
Next up was using this integrated as a power amp to drive my front left/right speakers in my home theater rig. In “power amp direct” mode the unit functions purely as a power amp, and is engaged by simply holding the ‘power-amp-direct’ button for 3 seconds until the light glows blue around the button. There is a separate input on the back that I connected to the front L/R outputs from a Rotel RSP-1069 processor. My HTPC uses Foobar as the software and an ATI video card with HDMI output sending both video and audio. For this test I chose two high quality downloads from the excellent B&W Music club, first a blues rock album by Little Axe, titled Bought for a Dollar, Sold for a Dime. The electric bass was controlled, decent, and well defined on the second track, “Soul of a Man”. While the harmonica infused track had good dynamics, the soundstage lost some detail when pushed very hard, perhaps in part to the slight upper treble roll-off. The next track, “Come Back Home”, has a solid bass line foundation and through the PM8003 the bass is tight and does not overwhelm the other instruments. The harmonica on this track seemingly floats right-of-center which creates noticeable depth. Compared to the Rotel Class D amplifier that normally occupies this position, the sound is smoother and the high-frequencies not as forward.
Second up was Gwenyth Herbert’s Ten Lives. “Narrow Man” starts out simple with just an upright bass and the sound is just plain gorgeous. The attack and release of the strings is clearly defined, the bass is tight and well controlled. There was some loss of detail when the track picked up the pace and added more instruments, and the sound was a tad strained under the complexity of it all. A minor complaint which was easily forgotten by the time the track had finished.
Flexibility and sound quality were my two big requirements for an integrated amplifier, and the PM8003 delivers. You can use it as a pre-amp, as a power-amp and of course as an integrated amp. Add in a decent phone stage and you can integrate this into most any system. And the big plus, the real deal-breaker is the sound. And here is where this little amp really shined. There was enough power to drive my speakers to loud clear volumes in my open and large listening room. The bass was controlled and effortless, the slightly rolled-off top-end matted very well with my open-baffle speakers, and even toned down the slightly over-bright ARE Audio bookshelves. Clearly Marantz still is committed to bring decent two channel gear to market, and if this is how good the budget line sounds I am eager to hear their Reference series.