Marantz DV8400 Universal Disc Player 
Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Written by Matt Evert   
Tuesday, 01 June 2004

Marantz has long been a revered manufacturer of quality high-fidelity audio (and now video) equipment. Saul Marantz founded the company in 1953 and was responsible for the production of the Model 18 receiver. The Model 18 was the world’s first example of a receiver that combined a preamplifier, power amplifier and tuner all in one chassis. Marantz was owned by Philips (one of the pioneers of the compact disc) for some time and made the world's first CD player in 1982. Recently, Marantz merged with Denon and established a joint holding company, D & M Holdings, Inc. Needless to say, Marantz is a familiar name in the home theater industry and has a solid track record for its CD players, receivers, projectors, plasmas and more.

The latest DVD player from Marantz, the DV8400, is no disappointment to their legacy of making quality CD players. The $1,699 DV8400 is a THX Select certified “universal” DVD player, capable of playing SACD and DVD-Audio formats, along with every other permutation of CD, CDR, DVD-Video, DVD-R and many others as well. As a DVD-Video player, it features both interlaced and progressive scan outputs with 3:2 pulldown and numerous video adjustments, making it one of the more versatile, mid-level players on the market today.

The DV8400 appears similar to other DVD players in its class, featuring a brushed black aluminum face plate and steel frame as the others do. The gold lettering and cool blue LED CD tray light is also pretty standard. The front controls are simple and feature the basic stop, play and track advance controls that are standard with other players. This is where the similarities end. Underneath the steel frame is a completely redesigned audio section featuring a “zero-impedance” copper chassis for superb sound reproduction. Adding value to the impressive sound is the fact that Marantz uses separate power supplies for the video and audio sections of the player. The audio section also benefits from the use of Marantz HDAM output devices in place of the normal Op amps. A DSD-based SACD chipset is used instead of the multi-bit chipsets, which down-convert DSD (the technology behind SACD) to PCM for playback. Clearly, keeping your DSD pure is a top priority for a top universal player and the DV8400 does just that. The sum of all these extra efforts by Marantz has resulted in increased dynamic range and overall quality of sound playback.

When the unit is powered on and a disc inserted, a DOT matrix display lights up a gaggle of symbols and characters. These helpful icons tell the user what type of disc is inserted (DVD-Audio, SACD, VCD, etc), what type of audio format is featured (Dolby Digital, 5.1, 192kHz/96kHz, downsampled two-channel, etc.), and which channels are recorded on the disc playing (left, center, surround left, etc.). It certainly takes the mystery out of what settings are being used and what the disc actually supports, without having to go into the onscreen display (OSD).

The construction of this player is sturdy and at 13-and-seven-tenths pounds, you can tell the engineers did not skimp on quality (or at least heavy) components. The design, although beefy, is relatively sleek at only three-and-a-half inches tall. Soft rubber feet mounted on circular legs provide a nice dampener to the 17-and-five-sixteenths inches wide and 12-and-one-eighth inches deep player. The CD drawer opens and closes smoothly. The drawer is a little more flimsy than other players I have used. The drawer will shift and move if you touch it while the drawer is closed. Not a big deal unless you have a frat party at your house and Biff the sumo wrestler is your DJ. Do not fear, skips will not be common, even with Biff walking around.

There is a vast offering of audio/video connections on the back of the player. The back panel is nicely laid out into four sections: audio, video, digital output and remote control. All the RCA connectors are gold-plated and a removable EIC power cord is present for future power cable upgrades. Video outputs include one S-video, two composite video, one component video connector and a DVI-D output (25 pin with HDCP). The DVI-D connector is awesome. It is much easier to manage one cable than three (i.e., component video) and offers great digital video output to the latest Plasma or LCD monitors. I had to log in to a Marantz web site to get the special key press sequence to unlock the DVD-I connector (a standard for the connector was not finished at the time my product was purchased). The procedure was easy and well worth the trouble. The audio outputs include one optical digital, one coaxial digital, one analog set of RCAs and a set of six-channel analog outputs. Remote inputs and outputs and an RS232c terminal allow for many control options either from remotes from another component or a computer. There is no HDMI output (this is quickly becoming the hot connection for HDTV sources).

The term “universal DVD player” is appropriate for a product like the DV8400. This player will play CDs, CDRs, CD-RW (closed session only), DVDs and DVD-Rs. Compatible video and audio formats include CD audio, MP3s, DVD-video/audio, DTS-video/audio, video CDs and SACD formats. The MP3 ID3 tags are limited to eight characters (like many DVD players), so Dr. Demento – Fish Heads.mp3 will actually appear as DRDEME~1.MP3.

Other noteworthy items about the player are that it features quality chipsets for video and audio, such as a 192 kHz/24-bit Audio DAC chipset by Cirrus Logic, a Mitsubishi MPEG video decoder, and 12-bit 108 MHz video DACs are from Analog Devices. The DV8400 uses a DSD (Direct Stream Digital) method to decode SACD audio information. The DSD format has a dynamic range of 120 dB and supports a playback frequency that extends up to 100 kHz, enabling playback that is nearly exact to the original signal. The addition of a bass management feature lets you control the amount of bass sent to your speakers, for better multi-channel sound with your DVD-Audio and SACD recordings. Also featured is a 2:3 pulldown output for progressive scan, which converts 24-fps film-based material to 60-fps TV/video playback, while also being able to handle video-based material. This results in a superior home theater experience that looks as close as possible to how it would at the movie theater. Marantz uses a Noise Shaped Video (NSV) feature to reduce noise in the video signal frequency band in order to enhance video signal linearity. The web site says it does not have this feature, but the manual and rest of the product information confirms that it actually does.

The remote, like many remotes for DVD players, is critical to using and setting up the player. The remote is ergonomically well designed and fits well into your hand. The buttons are soft and responsive (and glow in the dark). Most of the buttons are the same on any player, but there are a few differences. One worth noting is the function memory key. This allows you to program a macro that will allow you to quickly change multiple settings (even the ones buried in the OSD submenus) at the touch of one button. This is a much-needed feature, especially when switching between two-channel and 5.1 channel source material. The OSD features a helpful set-up navigator that quickly walks you through setting up the language, type of monitor, amp connections, digital formats that your amp supports and number of speakers. This feature saved me a ton of time and was much easier than hunting for all the settings that I need to change and getting frustrated in the process. There is an expert mode of the OSD that allows you to adjust just about everything from color saturation to the size of the speakers that you have in your system (for bass management). Bring some bread crumbs, though; it is easy to get lost in all the options and settings.

The Music
Bring on the music! I have always been drawn to the blues, so why not use a legend in the business, Robert Cray. His album Time Will Tell (Silverline Records) is rich with emotion and tells stories of perseverance and hope. Leave it to the blues to remind you of the bad times and to be grateful for the good times. “Survivor” is a prodigal example of just that kind of reminder. Cray’s electric guitar work, married with the classic blues-style piano work from Jim Pugh, really demonstrated the midrange details that the DV8400 is capable of. Some of the guitar picking danced near the edge of the high-frequency range of the audio spectrum, yet still remained lush. A cool demonstration of the soundstage was revealed as the gradual sound of marching feet slowly became noticeable towards the left of the stage and floated to the right side of the stage. The marching sound eventually became so prominent that the lows began to shake my couch. Nice, the neighbors love that.

Cray’s electric blues sitar work “Back Door Slam” really was mind-numbing. Extensive whammy bar and pick work on this track was so sweet. A walking bass guitar with a punchy bass drum and snare really got my butt moving in my couch. I was especially enamored of Cray’s solo at the end of this track, his jam with the organ player was pure bliss. This song was much busier with a larger array of instruments than his other tracks, yet still the DV8400 was dynamic enough to display all those melodies to the satisfaction of my ears.

The prior music selection was a little light on the bass elements of music, so naturally a hip-hop selection such as Behind The Front (Interscope Records) by the Black Eyed Peas would more than cover for it. “Fallin’ Up” was a powerful display of bass and snare drums. I had to turn my subwoofer down a bit, since the dominant bass was starting to impact my ability to hear other elements of the track, like the sample of a sick frog or toad that would chime in periodically. That is the thing with hip-hop: not everything is an instrument so you kind of have to guess where it might have originally come from. Some bold chirping of the trumpets and crisp sounds of high hats managed to dazzle my ears at the high frequencies. It seems all the rappers got some air time on this track and, surprisingly, I was able to place their positions in the soundstage. If you can hear soundstaging on a hip-hop record, it’s a decent recording.

“Clap Your Hands” was rich with dozens of different samples and instruments to create a complex symphony of music. Tamborines jiggling, an old-school pipe organ, a chorus of men chanting and clapping their hands, and some impromptu mouth noises and clicks that Biz Markie would be proud of. I will admit that chorus of “clap your hands now” was a little harsh on my ears. For some reason, the background chorus’s lyrics became fatiguing on my ears. Having tried the same track on my NAD CD player, the issue appears to be with the recording and not the player.

The Transporter (20th Century Fox) was one action-packed flick. The nerdy guy from Snatch, Jason Statham, somehow takes a complete role change and becomes Jean-Claude Van Damme. There’s Hollywood for you. The film does not take too many breaks from the action and begins with a car chase sequence that now is part of my demo for friends coming over to check out my system. It has it all: killer driving, sirens, puking, humor, one-liners, car stunts, and of course lots of destroyed cop cars. There was a splendid bit of rap music with record scratching jamming as background music throughout the scene that I thought was tastefully done. The thumping of the BMW 735’s tires as Statham tore up a flight of terraced streets in Nice was brilliant. The subtle sounds in the scene were never obstructed by the excitement of the more dominant sound effects. An example of this was that even as sirens were screaming and tires were squealing, you could still hear the gear shifts, the passengers talking in the background, and distant honks of horns. I detest BMWs, but even I would consider getting a 735 (and displacing some yuppie from his car) after watching this film.

The color palettes used in this film were amazing for an action film. The end of the “butt-kicking time” scene was a perfect example of this. The inside of the villain’s house was mostly done in shades of red, the hospital was all shades of blue, the outside of Statham’s house was mostly tan hues, and lastly, there were vivid greens inside Statham’s house in the morning. The DV8400 really wowed me with this impressive display of colors. Unlike the Pioneer Elite DV47Ai, there were no green flashes or other video issues encountered when using this player. The sound on this disc was amazing. The scene where Statham’s house is used as an artillery range and blown to pieces was a fine example. The thugs shot a rocket into the tower of the house and sent it crashing through the ceiling and onto a table in the kitchen where Statham and the heroine were hiding. The crash of the tower and the falling of dirt and building materials enveloped the listener. It really seemed like a tower had fallen next to me and dirt was raining down all around me, a very convincing sound effect and one that reminds us all why we spend our hard-earned money on home theater gear.

On the humorous side, the Wayans Brothers are hard to beat. I’m Gonna Git You Sucka is a classic example of their warped sense of humor. The young gang competition featuring events such as the senior mugging contest and the stripping a car clean contest was a crack-up. The all-star cast includes ex-football great Jim Brown and Isaac Hayes of Shaft theme fame. The fly buzzing around the listener when Jack Spade enters his old bedroom that was kept literally as he left it ten years ago was very convincing. I needed to double check that my cat had not killed some poor rodent and left it as a present again. The soundtrack was awesome and it did feel like someone threw me into some ‘70s time warp with all the pimps and zany outfits used in this film. The funky theme music was full of wha-wha-ed guitar and orchestral instruments to challenge the mid-range portion of the audio spectrum.

Michael Jackson has always been surrounded by controversy, from his hair catching on fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial to his pet chimpanzee, to his nearly inexplicable relationships with young children. It is easy to forget that he is also a gifted singer and magical dancer. History on Film Volume 2 (Epic Music Video) is a collection of some of Jackson’s revolutionary music videos. Before the boy bands and Britney Spears, Jackson was making MTV videos that had everyone was trying to figure out the dance moves (okay, at least I was). “Thriller” is simply one the best videos ever with its great music, revolutionary special effects and awesome choreography. The crickets chirping in the background as Jackson and his date walk down the dark streets only to discover Jackson’s hidden secret: he is a werewolf. Major drag, right? Not to fear, he is a werewolf who can dance. Whew! The eerie dark set contrasted against Jackson’s red leather jacket bled a little, but I am sure the recording of the film had something to do with that (it was 1983, after all). Jackson’s glossy jheri curls and tight pants are well reproduced by the DV8400, not to mention his lighting fast spins and robot-like popping. The “ows” and the “whoo-hoos” emanating from the King of Pop span both the mid and high-frequency range, all the while sounding smooth and detailed.

“Smooth Criminal” keeps up with Jackson’s legendary singing and dancing skills in this 1920s speak-easy spoof. Zoot suits and flapper girl outfits are vivid in color and solidify the theme of the film: that gangsters can really dance. Naturally. The trumpets and keyboards are dominant towards the main dance scene at the end, but never harsh on the ears. The snapping of Jackson’s fingers and the atonal sounds of the piano keys being walked on by the black cat were also well-reproduced. Let’s not forget the flipping of the coin across the room and into the jukebox to kick off the dance scene. Smooth baby, smooth.

The Downside
The remote was one of the weaker elements of this product. The player normally has the remote included in its default setting, but this one had the switch in the back set to use a Marantz receiver’s remote instead of the supplied remote with the DV8400. This frustrated me as I replaced batteries and tried other troubleshooting ideas before figuring it out in the manual. The remote needs to have a setting to switch between two-channel and 5.1 channel sources. This is the third universal player I have closely evaluated and still not one of the manufacturers have figured this out. Hiding this in a submenu within the OSD is not good enough; make it a button, since it is a very common action to perform. There were no jog dial or joystick controls on this remote, as there are on less expensive players, such as the Pioneer Elite DV-47AI. This is a nice feature that one would expect from a $1,600 player. Lastly, I would use a CD drawer that is more securely fitted to the front opening of the player. I did not have problems with the drawer, but it made me nervous thinking about the longevity of the drawer operating properly.

Other competitive products to this player were the Denon DV2900, the Sony DVP-NS999ES and the Pioneer Elite DV59avi. The Sony and the Pioneer Elite both feature better remotes with Jog dials and LCD displays. The Sony does not play DVD-Audio discs as the others do. Only the Pioneer has a DVI-D output as the DV8400 does. The Denon is very similar to the DV8400, except that it uses a different progressive scan system and has different chipsets for video DACs, etc. If you do not need the DVI-D connector and do not care about some of the extra refinements with the audio components, the Sony and the Denon are good bargains at $1,000. The Pioneer Elite is a little closer a match to the offerings of the DV8400 and could be considered as well.

I really liked this player. The extra efforts that Marantz made to refine the audio components within this player make it a great fit for someone looking for uncompromising quality and versatility in a universal DVD player. With the exception of the default mode of the remote switch in back of the unit, this DVD player was so far the easiest to set up that I have seen. The sound reproduction was true and worthy of a place in my home system. Priced well under the $2,000 mark, this player is still a good bargain and should be considered as you look to move into a higher-quality universal DVD player.
Manufacturer Marantz
Model DV8400 Universal Disc Player
Reviewer Matthew Evert

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