|Marantz DV-12S1 DVD-A/V Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Friday, 01 November 2002|
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I started the listening tests with my first playback of a DVD-Audio/Video disc from AIX Entertainment, Luis Conte's The Latin Jazz Trio, via the 5.1 analog output. Like the majority of AIX discs, this has a DVD-Audio side and a DVD-Video side, the latter including multi-angle video of the recording session as well as both “audience” and “stage” mixes. The first thing everyone in the room noticed was the extended bass capability of the player. Even the AIX logo, which has a lot of bass end, sounded more impressive than usual – so much so that I immediately stopped the disc to check the bass management settings – but they were fine. I checked that my impressive little Sunfire sub was still in the right place and continued playback.
Not only was the bass end superior on this player, the surround localization was extremely impressive, indicating that the converters in this unit are of high quality. Factors like clock jitter, filtering and overall analog design can adversely affect stereo and surround localization: people think that the converter chips are the key to performance of a piece of digital equipment, but these parts, which seldom exceed $20 for a two-channel device, do not really define the sound quality. Analog design is much more important, and so is the stability of the clocking source in a player (i.e. minimal clock jitter). The “Latin Jazz Trio” disc is a very clear, clean recording with plenty of air around the instruments. There is also a wealth of HF information in the percussion, including bell trees and other tinkly items: this was all clear and very clean, with no evident intermodulation or squawking. In addition to the tight bass playing, which evidenced a bass sound that was very nicely in balance – string bass notes had a good attack, as well as plenty of well-controlled body – and overall extremely natural.
Transients on piano and percussion were beautifully handled and again, clear and clean. Piano is always a good test instrument for listening evaluations, as long as the intent has been to get as natural a piano sound as possible. The midrange is perhaps the most difficult to capture accurately, but highs and lows also present their own challenges. You should, for example, be able to tell what type of piano is being utilized on a good recording properly replayed: if a Bosendorfer sounds like a Yamaha, you’re in trouble (in this case, it’s a Steinway).
I turned the disc over and selected the DTS soundtrack, and immediately noticed that the bass handling was rather different to what I had experienced on the DVD-Audio side. I went into the speaker set-up and experimented with the subwoofer setting, and ultimately came to the conclusion that there is a difference in the way LFE information is handled between DTS and Dolby Digital playback on the one hand and DVD-Audio on the other. You may need to go in and make adjustments when moving from one type of replay to the other, which is a little tedious.
To explore this further, and to examine the surround localization on a known excellent recording, I switched to the Chesky Swing Live disc, recorded with a single Soundfield microphone in a New York jazz club.
The DVD-Audio 4.0 mix, which is the normal mix to replay on a 5.1 system (the other surround mix provided is a 6.0 mix in which the center front and LFE are used for height information) sounded excellent, and started playing by default. The bass end was fine, and the surround localization was impeccable – this player has some of the best DVD-Audio surround localization of any player I’ve heard.
I also ran into a problem: I could only find the DVD-Audio material on the disc – the DVD-Video-compatible Dolby Digital version was not evident, and I could not call up the DVD-V menu. Some players have a set-up selection to determine whether the DVD-V or DVD-A portion of a combination DVD-A/V disc appears as default, and this player does not seem to have one. I was able to play the DVD-V track by using the Search mode and entering the Group number manually (which I had to guess at) – but even then I had to press the Audio button to confirm I was actually listening to the Dolby Digital 4.0 mix. It would have been useful to be able to choose the DVD-Video aspects of a combination disc, even if it is almost never needed (except by reviewers wanting to make comparisons).
Next I switched to CDs and listened to some tracks from the BBC TV album Rick Stein – A Musical Odyssey, particularly the second track, “Theme for Heroes,” from the “Food Heroes” series. A combination of synthesized and natural instruments, this track again showed off the bass end of this player, and also its superb transient-handling capability. Switching to “CD Direct” cleaned up the sound even more, not that it was bad before: I would put this unit in the top five CD players I’ve had connected to my system (though I have never had the really top-end units in here).
An important point that I noted, as I pressed "play" on Alan Parson’s On Air and was greeted by a burst of white noise, is that if you want to listen to a DTS CD with the unit’s built-in decoder, you can’t do it with “CD Direct” switched in – this disables everything except the basic stereo path through the unit. The Marantz revealed some subtlety in this record that I had not noticed before, notably the change in repeat echo settings at the end of the first verse of “I can’t look down,” which brings the vocal much closer and renders it more intimate as required by the lyrics at that point.
Next, I transferred to DVD-Video to check out the Marantz’s capabilities in this area. I put on “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” The picture quality was immediately noticeable as excellent, especially (as might be expected) from the component output. Small text was easily readable with minimal artifacts. "Rings" only offers Dolby Digital Surround, but this was again excellent (listening on the analog outputs), and once again, the bass end was full and impressive, with appropriate dynamics, notably on the battle scenes at the start of the movie and the rumble of dark deeds (and Mount Doom) at the start of chapter 7. Howard Shore’s music, recorded by John Kurlander at Abbey Road, was rendered flawlessly. The subtlety of the voices in the music at the beginning of the end credits was excellent, as was Enya’s song “May It Be.”
The rather different magic of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone” and John Williams’ score was also handled well. The thunderstorm (and Hagrid’s entry) in Chapter 4 showed excellent dynamics, and the music over the end credits, which contains quite significant dynamic range, was smoothly reproduced.
The difference in bass handling between DVD-Audio and DVD-V sources – a function of the bass management system on the 5.1 analog outputs - is curious and requires you to remember to check settings when switching modes, but is no more than an annoyance that is easily compensated for, in my case by adjusting the LFE level on my Outlaw Audio bass management system. You could also do it by toggling the sub on and off in the player’s loudspeaker configuration and seeing which sounds best on a given source. If you are using the digital outputs for DVD-Video replay and the analog for DVD-Audio playback, you will be able to set these separately and never worry about it – the player’s bass management only affects the analog outs and not the digital ones, while your receiver/preamp’s bass management will take precedence in the latter case.
The inability to view DVD-Video content easily on a combination DVD-Audio/Video disc is also a pain, at least in theory, although there is an argument that says that in the vast majority of cases, you only need to use the DVD-Video content if you can’t experience the DVD-A content – and of course with this machine, you can.
As might be expected from the top of the line Marantz DVD player, the DV-12S1 offers exceptional performance. As a DVD-Audio player, the audio performance is particularly impressive, with better detail, surround localization and frequency range than other players I’ve experienced. Although there are a couple of minor curiosities in the player’s behavior as far as bass management and ability to play all of a disc with mixed content, the audio performance of this player makes it an excellent choice if you require top of the line sound from your DVD collection. The picture quality is also excellent, although I was not in a position to experience the highest quality it can provide.