Marantz has its eyes firmly set on the quality conscious consumer, the people who are prepared to pay more for things that are well built and well designed. We’re talking upper end BMWs and Audis, Apple products and Santa Cruz mountain bikes among others, these are the people that don’t necessarily know much about audio equipment but want better than they get through their Bluetooth earphones and might be tempted if they saw products like the pairing under consideration here.
They are very well executed pieces of kit too, beautifully finished and solidly built with a luxury feel that you have to pay an awful lot for if it’s in a car. If anything might lure music lovers away from Sonos, the Hoover of the audio world, these pieces should do it. All Marantz dealers have to do is find a small and sexy enough speaker to complete the package, Audel and Vivid bookshelf designs come to mind.
The SACD 30n is Marantz’s most ambitious disc player, DAC and streamer, they call it a digital music player because it can deliver music stored as 1s and Os almost regardless of format. Despite appearances there is a disc spinner hidden in the front panel that will play CD and SACD discs, even CD-Rs if anyone still has them, but not Blu-ray or my favourite of the hi res formats, DVD-Audio (does anything play these anymore?). It also has a full complement of ‘legacy’ digital inputs including USB for the onboard DAC alongside an ethernet connector with which to stream music stored on a local drive or from streaming services. The latter is controlled by the HEOS system originally developed by sister brand Denon which proved to be highly reliable throughout the review period. Its only foibles being an inability to play AIFF files, a strangely limited range of internet radio stations on the usually comprehensive TuneIn service, and the absence of my preferred streaming service, Qobuz.
The SACD 30n is ready to roll with Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and even Soundcloud which is a rarity. On the wireless connectivity front it can accept Airplay 2 and Bluetooth, and Google Home compatibility suggests that it should be possible to cast anything that has that facility, including Qobuz of course. It’s also conversant with Alexa so if you want to talk it will listen. The old schoolers among us will prefer to stick with the supplied handset which, once you figure out which end is which, turns out to be distinctly unfussy about where it’s pointed. Many IR handsets need to have a precise line of sight but this one will bounce off the walls and ceilings to get to the receiver.
There are various set up options that can be accessed via the front panel including brightness of the lights around the front panel (the display is dimmed with the remote) and filter options of which there are two.
The matching amplifier is a straight analogue device with none of the set up features available on the SACD 30n, you can dim its lightning with the handset but that’s it, so possibly no processors onboard. It has five line inputs including one marked CD that has better sockets and wider spacing, plus a phono input in front of what sounds like a pretty serious phono stage. The majority of phono stages on integrated amps are MM only and pretty basic affairs with no adjustments to suit different cartridges. This is a different breed with three impedance settings for MC cartridges selectable with a knob on the front; that’s right they’re not hidden on the back or underneath but easily accessible.
There are some more controversial controls on the front as well, tone controls in fact which are still a radical idea in high end audio especially when not accompanied by a button to defeat them. However, there are many among us who realise that not all recordings are fabulous and many that are downright poor. And of those many will have a tonal imbalance that can undermine enjoyment of the music, so the facility to tweak treble and bass to produce a more accessible result can be very useful.
Unlike the amplifier beneath it in the range, the Model 40, this has a Class D output stage based on Hypex N Core tech. Marantz use this in their most ambitious amplifiers so clearly consider it to be superior to Class AB which is considerably more popular among other high end brands. The Model 30 is specified to deliver 100 Watts into eight Ohms and twice that into four Ohms, which is not something you can achieve with Class AB at this price, but one suspects that Marantz chose this technology for reasons others than price per Watt.
Both the SACD 30n and its matching amplifier are eco warriors to a degree, they switch themselves off after half an hour if not used. Not very audiophile but quite a useful feature in an age of energy shortages and excessive electricity prices, they warn you that they are about to go into standby too, if you haven’t completely dimmed the display that is.
Listening commenced with the SACD 30n alone playing music files from a Melco N10 library via the HEOS streamer. The immediate impression is of refinement and smoothness, it is almost buttery in its delivery which is quite a contrast with the starkly transparent sound found with many streamers. This could result in a dull listening experience but it soon became apparent that this Marantz manages to combine finessed presentation with a degree of musical coherence that makes it hard to put down. This comes down to an excellent sense of timing, something that has long been a Marantz hallmark and is in evidence on everything that this player streams.
The smooth tonal character means that edgier recordings and instruments are that much more easy to appreciate, blazing saxophones for instance can be hard work on many systems but here you get the energy and power without the sharp edges that this instrument brings out in electronics and loudspeakers. I was using the Vivid Giya G1 Spirit speakers which are also excellent in this regard but it was clear that the SACD 30n was delivering in full effect while avoiding the problems found in many other products of this ilk.
Hypex Ncore class D module Marantz style
I tried the alternative filter setting for a “slightly brighter” balance but soon came to the conclusion that the default option was the better of the two, filter 2 is starker and has greater leading edge definition but loses a lot of the charm you get with the standard option. I love its mellow musicality, it makes tracks that much easier to enjoy, which might sound like a strange thing to say but in the pursuit of every greater resolution many engineers lose sight of what really matters when it comes to reproducing a wide range of musical styles. An analytical presentation might sound impressive in the short term but doesn’t necessarily engage the emotions as well as the fluency that Marantz have gone for with their “exquisite sound tuning” as achieved by sound master Yoshinari Ogata (below). He has managed to tune the SACD 30n so that it makes both mixtape type releases like Nils Frahm’s Late Night Tales and more polished productions sound equally engaging whilst preserving all the detail that gives recordings their individuality.
I’ve not played CDs for quite some time because I prefer the results you can get with a very good music library combined with a decent streamer, and this remains the case with the Marantz. It’s an excellent streamer/DAC which makes it very hard for any disc spinner to compete, even the one onboard. That said I played a few discs of familiar tracks and got some fine results, Herbie Hancock’s Gershwin’s World album delivering some great rhythm, melody and dynamics and that’s before Joni Mitchell comes in and turns on the pathos for The Man I Love. You get all the energy, subtlety and timing of each piece along with CD’s slightly forward midband, SACD manages to avoid this last quality by virtue of its remarkably finessed presentation. This format gets you as close to the result with high res files on a notably refined music server like the Melco.
Adding the amplifier to the system and connecting up the turntable proved a very rewarding experience, the phono stage in this amplifier is of a calibre that you’d have to pay around £600 plus for if it were in a separate box which in the context of the asking price here is remarkable. I had been listening to an Adrian Belew interview which inspired me to put on some of his work with Talking Heads (Remain in Light) and King Crimson (Discipline), both of which revealing how inventive his playing is and what great albums he was involved with. In both cases the power of the rhythm was infectious, Born Under Punches from Talking Heads is a blinder in this respect and the Marantz made it abundantly clear, so much so that I was forced out of my seat to cavort around. Something I generally avoid for obvious reasons.
Inside the Model 30
Michael Franks’ Art of Tea which is a more relaxed affair was also distinctly engaging, the plushness of the playing balanced by excellent timing and lovely tone. If Marantz hadn’t mentioned it I wouldn’t have guess that this is a Class D amplifier, presumably this is because of the way they have implemented the technology and the use of their HDAM tech in the preamplifier circuit. There is none of the hollowness I associate this Class D but it does explain the nimbleness that the Model 30 delivers, it’s valve like in this respect but has a lot more power and a much more neutral balance than you get with most glass powered designs.
Results were equally good with the SACD 30n which continued to shine with both onboard streamer and an external digital source plugged into the optical input, clearly the DAC is top notch, in fact I’m having difficulty thinking of a standalone DAC that competes at this price let alone something with the breadth of functionality of offer here.
Marantz have an advantage of scale that very few in the high end can get close to, this means that they can build products that both sound fabulous and look and feel equally impressive. If anyone is going to emulate what B&O did in the eighties then Marantz appears to be the brand, affordable luxury may be an overused phrase but it clearly applies here.