Marantz PM8003 Integrated Amplifier Review 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Friday, 02 October 2009

It was 1976, I was 9 years old and having my first experience with “high-end” audio gear. My dad had just brought home a stereo system for our living room, including a receiver, cassette deck, turntable and speakers. The heart of it all was a Marantz Model 2235 Receiver. By audiophile standards, the 2235 was modest, but it still carried a hefty price tag of $450 – roughly equivalent to $1,700 in 2009. At 35 watts per channel, the 2235 wasn't going to shake our house, but it was the source of much enjoyable listening in a living room that really became the “entertainment” room.

More than anything the receiver just looked cool. I loved how the blue light illuminated the front panel and how you could tune in radio stations with the Gyro Tuning Wheel – the wheel that defined Marantz receivers in the 1970s. Those Marantz receivers – and other Marantz gear – still fetch respectable sums on eBay and other audio venues. Marantz gear had a magic about it that stuck with a lot of folks through the bumpy decades to come.

When home theater became all the rage, many audio manufacturers jumped ship from traditional two-channel stereo and onto the 5.1 bandwagon. Many Marantz contemporaries finally abandoned home audio gear altogether and became shells of themselves. Persistently, though, Marantz carried on, refusing to give up the promise of delivering great stereo sound for those still listening to music.

More than 30 years later Marantz is still leading the charge, offering consumers a variety of two-channel products across price points within reach of most. The PM8003 Integrated Amplifier is the upper-end amplifier offering in the company's “Hi-Fi” line. Retailing at $999.99, the PM8003 is not “cheap” but it sports an array of features found in products costing thousands more, such as Marantz's SC-11S1 Reference Control Amplifier (MSRP $3,199.99).

Design & Features

Lift with the legs not the back when pulling the PM8003 from its box. At 26.5 pounds, the PM8003 is a substantial piece of gear and built like a tank. Its hefty chassis is reinforced with a triple-layer bottom plate for extra stability and to reduce vibrations during playback. Certainly, there are many auxiliary isolation devices on the audio market designed to prevent vibration; kudos to Marantz for incorporating it directly onto the amp. Place the PM8003 on a flat, solid surface and it's not going anywhere.

Maratnz PM8003 side

Elegant and simple describe the PM8003's front panel. Six rotary knobs provide control over device selection, volume, speakers, bass, treble and balance. The power button, headphone jack and remote infrared sensor round out the face. Oh yeah, Marantz didn't forget the blue light – a blue LED indicates the chosen input. I'm gone on record before, saying that black is not my color when it comes to audio gear, but the Marantz design softened my stance. The sleek curves and angles make the PM8003 a very stylish and artsy amp, one that would perk up any listening room.

Under the PM8003's hood lurks a hefty, double-shielded toroidal transformer optimized to minimize vibration and reduce leakage flux, which can produce voltage drops in the presence of an electric current and affect sound quality. Borrowing from its upscale brother – the SC-11S1 – the PM8003 employs the same Higher Definition Amplifier Module (HDAM) SA3 and phono equalizer as its much pricier sibling. The PM8803 also incorporates a CD-Direct Buffer Amplifier, solely for CD, that sends the signals directly to the pre-amp. The pre- and power amp both incorporate all-discrete current-feedback circuits for improved resolution. The PM8003 is rated at 70 watts per channel into 8 ohms or 100 watts per channel into 4 ohms. The amp features six gold-plated RCA audio inputs and two RCA audio outputs. The inputs are labeled for Phono, CD, Tuner, AUX/DVD and Recorder 1 & 2.

It's difficult to get excited about something as mundane as speaker binding posts, but those of the PM8003 are some of the best I've used. Newly developed and a Marantz exclusive, the PM8003's posts are large and make connecting speaker cables a breeze, particularly if you prefer bare wire. The posts also accept pins and banana plugs.

Although other audio manufacturers offer optional external or internal phono stages, Marantz has consistently kept vinyl lovers in mind and the PM8003 is no exception. The amp comes with a moving magnet phono input, turntable ready. Audiophiles will appreciate the detachable power cord, making it a cinch to swap or upgrade cords. Should users experience technical problems, a solid three-year warranty covers any unexpected blips.
PM8003 Back

Versatile

The PM8003 is a three-in-one amp, capable of serving as integrated amp, pre-amp or power amp. Most will use it as an integrated, but if you want to mate it with another pre- or power amp of choice the option exists. The supplied remote controller is well labeled and intuitive to use. It's even beveled at the “balance” point, where most folks will hold the remote, and rests nicely in the hand. If you use the amp with other Marantz components, such as a CD or DVD player or tuner, remote control jacks on the back of the unit accept other remote-controlled devices and allow for control of the amp and auxiliary devices with just one remote. Two sets of speaker posts make it possible to hook up a single pair or two speaker systems. For those wanting to squeeze out the most performance from a pair of speakers, the PM8003 facilitates bi-wiring. Simply connect the right channel speaker to both pairs of right channel posts (A & B), and do the same for the left channel. Set the front panel speaker knob to A+B, and you're set to listen.

Listening

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.

RemoteLed 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.

Final Thoughts


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.

 

System Setup

  • 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

Testing Music

Jade Warrior's NowLed Zeppelin's How the West Was Won CDNeil Young's American Stars & Bars (DVD-Audio) Hotel California (180 Gram Vinyl) Alone, But Never Alone VinylJulius Katchen II

Manufacturer Marantz





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