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As has been my practice with most equipment I've auditioned over the last year, I started off with Jade Warrior's 2008 album Now. This disc has become one of my references, as it features a dynamic range of instruments, excellent music and a gorgeous soundstage. The lilting “Talisman” comes to life through Dave Sturt's acoustic bass, Glyn Havard's sleepy vocals and Jon Field's flute twirls. The PM8003 provided excellent dimension and spacing as well as clear articulation of the arrangement. Few digital recordings match Now's openness and analog-like warmth, and the Marantz made a great good album sound very good.
Led Zeppelin's triple-disc set How The West Was Won is a powerful account of the band on tour in 1972 at the height of power, with guitarist Jimmy Page admitting, “This is Led Zeppelin at its best...” Tunes such as the mighty blues crawl of “Since I've Been Loving You” and the backcountry celebration of “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp” were propulsive and exciting through the PM8003. John Paul Jones' bass, at times, comes through the speakers like a hidden monster – a little scary, but fun.
Beefy bass and crystalline highs are hallmarks of the PM8003 sound. I was amazed at how good the bass is – plenty of pump but never muddy. I ran the amp through three different speakers, ranging from Audioengine's tiny AP4s (reviewed here ) to my dear old DCM KX-10s to Axiom Audio's M80 v2. Even with the limitations of the AP4s, the Marantz delivered surprisingly full bass. When I moved up to full-range floor-standing speaker, the bass got progressively deeper and fuller. By the time I hooked up the M80s – with their dual midranges and dual woofers - the hardwood floors in my living room were acting like bass backboards.
Kansas' “Peaceful And Warm” is 4-minutes and more of gentle acoustic guitar strumming and vocalist Steve Walsh pining for the memory of home. Then the track does an about-face and finishes with a swirling mix of violin and a beat driven home by Phil Ehart's booming drums. On tracks such as this, the Marantz does an excellent job presenting the rhythmic thrust behind commanding passages. Flip from progressive rock to Prokofiev, as the late, great American pianist Julius Katchen II tackles the Russian maestro's “Piano Concerto No. 3,” backed by the London Symphony Orchestra guided by Istvan Kertesz. The PM8003 again brought out the force and passion of the piece, whether the fierce bowing of cellos or Katchen's velvety tone.
Neil Young's American Stars 'N' Bars is a fascinating romp through country-tinged folk and barroom rock. The DVD-Audio version includes a high-resolution, 24-bit/176kHz stereo option. The arrangements here shade toward the spartan, but I was treated to several “I've never heard that before” moments listening through the PM8003. Of particular note were Ben Keith's pedal-steel flourishes and Frank Sampedro's acoustic garnishes.
I grant that we are living in largely digital world, but I'm still an analog guy at heart, so I had to spin a few records through the Marantz and test its phono stage. Starting with Rhino Records' excellent 180-gram reissue of The Eagles' Hotel California, I went to the album's two least-publicized tracks – “Pretty Maids All In A Row” and “Try And Love Again,” sung by Joe Walsh and Randy Meisner, respectively. From the quiet opening of “Maids,” with its half-time beat and Beach-Boys-esque harmonies, the Marantz perked up my ears immediately. This isn't some last-minute add-on to drive the price up $100; no, this is a fine-sounding phono stage that most folks – beyond serious vinylphiles – could happily live with. Again, the PM8003 presented a broad soundstage and gave surprising force to the stair-step-like moment when strings enter, punctuated by Don Henley's drums. The outro of “Try And Love Again” caught my ear, when Joe Walsh's old-school Gretsch guitar has a wonderful moment of its own, and you can clearly hear the instrument's pedigree as arpeggios flow under Walsh's pick.
Guitarist Larry Carlton's 1986 album Alone/But Never Alone showcases his clean, warm sound and impeccable technique on an LP pressed on KC 569 virgin vinyl as part of MCA's Master Series. The haunting title tune is a layered guitar masterpiece. Through the PM8003, Carlton's intimate composition has a vibrant presence, with plenty of air and space – I think I heard breathing at one point.
Many integrated amps now feature some variation of a “direct source” mode. Engaging this mode defeats the bass, treble and balance circuits and in theory offers the best sound. My ears have always leaned toward a bit more treble and bass than leaving the controls in a neutral position provides. Thus, I typically have not found direct source options to my liking, but the PM8003 gave me exactly what I wanted in direct source mode. It's closer to sparkling crystal than silk, with a slightly bright leaning.
Where I found the amp sometimes wanting was power – to hear delicate passages of classical music meant turning the volume to midway or higher. If such listening is a priority, a higher-power amp is probably the way to go; otherwise, the PM8003 offers a lot of sound and value for a fair price.
If an amplifier upgrade is in your future and you have a grand for budget, the PM8003 deserves strong consideration. Sleek design, excellent build and performance, and a better-than-expected phono stage, await. Listening to the PM8003 brought back many wonderful childhood memories and made me glad Marantz is still here with me, decades on. That Marantz sound and shining blue light are still magical.
- Marantz PM8003
- Marantz SA8003 SACD Player
- Yamaha DVS-5770 DVD-Audio/Video/SACD player
- Thorens TD 145 with Ortofon Super OM 20 MMC
- Audioengine AP4 speakers
- DCM KX-10 speakers
- Axiom Audio M80 v2 speakers
- Philips 14-gauge speaker wire