Marantz DV-12S1 DVD-A/V Player 
Home Theater Video Players DVD Players
Written by Richard Elen   
Friday, 01 November 2002

In the moderately recent days when Marantz was owned by Philips, the company released two high-end players that were intended to be direct equivalents of one anotherr: one was a Super-Audio CD player (SACD), and the other, the DV-12S1, was a DVD player capable not only of DVD-Video playback, but also replay of the latest high-resolution DVD-Audio (DVD-Audio) discs. With the Marantz equipment of this period, the higher the quality of the unit, the lower the model number, and the DV-12S1 is as low as the numbers get.

The first thing you notice about the DV-12S1 is how heavy it is. The unit is big and solid, and has a large footprint – it’s nearly 16 inches deep and weighs 29 pounds. The unit itself has curved corners, in keeping with much of the Marantz gear, and elegantly complements their other equipment. The build quality overall is excellent.

The rear panel includes an S-video output, two composites and one component video out on RCAs (replaced by a D1/D2 output on a D terminal outside the US). There are two two-channel audio outputs and a six-channel analog out, all on RCAs, plus optical and coax digital outputs that will deliver up to 96 kHz sample rates. Remote control connectors complete the picture.

The front panel features a tray-loading slot for the single disc and a large fluorescent display, which clearly indicates the status of the unit, including how many audio channels the current disc is playing. Transport controls are included on front panel also, along with a button to disable video output for audio-only listening, in which case the machine behaves very much like a CD player and does not require an onscreen display. One early criticism of DVD-Audio was that you needed a TV display to listen to music – however, this was solely a player design problem and only affected the very earliest players. Later units like this Marantz can happily operate in audio-only mode.

The DV-12S1 will play most of the discs you throw at it, and includes Dolby Digital and DTS encoding on board, plus of course MLP decoding for DVD-Audio. There are both black and gold versions of this Marantz model.

The remote has an unusually long, slim gold design with gold-tipped buttons, all of which have a very positive action: you know when you’ve pressed them. Curiously, I kept trying to hold it the wrong way round. All the usual controls are provided, including a central five-way button for navigation and selection. An uncommon feature is the ability to store configuration information for up to 15 DVD-video discs, and “last memory,” which enables you to resume playback of a disc from a stored point, even if the disc has been removed from the player in the meantime. This feature did not seem to work for DVD-Audio discs.

Installation and Operation
The unit is easy to connect and set up, once you’ve lifted it into place. I hooked up the 5.1 output into my Outlaw Audio bass management system and also connected composite, S-Video and component video outputs, along with the coaxial digital out. Configuration is carried out by means of a series of onscreen set-up menus with a rather more elegant appearance than usual, including a “set-up navigator,” which steps through a number of fundamental configuration options one by one, so you are not likely to miss them. The unit includes a complete bass management set-up for the 5.1 analog outputs: bass management also appears to operate in DVD-Audio mode, an unusual capability. You can also set channel levels with a built-in tone generator and configure the channel delay to compensate for speaker distance from the listening position.

Another unusual capability is hidden away in a special “FL Menu,” which is only visible on the front panel display, and is actually a little temperamental to set. This determines the component video output as either interlaced or progressive (non-interlaced) with 3:2 pulldown (which I unfortunately cannot look at right now). It’s sensible to use the front panel display for this, because if your TV doesn’t handle progressive scan, you won’t be able to see the onscreen display. The same goes for another setting in this menu, which selects the TV system output by the player (NTSC/PAL). Unfortunately, this is not available on U.S. models and I couldn’t find a hack for it to enable multi-region playback, without which this feature has rather limited use.

In addition to DVD-Audio and DVD-Video discs, the player will also handle CDs, video CDs and (in the case of the U.S. model) DVD-RW discs, which are not tremendously common at this point.

There are two complete onscreen menus that determine what kind of audio signals are output at different times, enabling you to match the player to your A/V system’s capabilities, notably in the area of surround decoding. One interesting option, “CD Direct,” bypasses all extraneous processing when playing back a CD so as to maximize replay quality.

Separate from the main set-up menus is a video quality configuration system, accessed via its own button, which allows the video noise reduction and other characteristics to be configured. This requires a certain amount of knowledge to set up correctly. Three memories are provided to store your settings.

The Music
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 Downside
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.
Manufacturer Marantz
Model DV-12S1 DVD-A/V Player
Reviewer Richard Elen

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