Equipment Review No. 1  •   March 2003

Marantz DV8300 Universal Disc Player

Formats Played: CD, SACD stereo and Multi-channel, DVD, DVD-A, MP3, DVD-R and RW.
Outputs: 5.1 audio, digital coax and optical, stereo RCA (2), composite video (2), S-video, 480i/480p component video.
Processors: 108MHz/12 bit video, 192kHz/24-bit audio, Dolby Digital/DTS for 5.1 decoders. Cirrus Logic Inc. chip

Special Features:
Progressive-scan output
Bass management for multi-channel SACD output
THX Select Certified
HDAM audio output circuitry
Parental Controls
Display Dimmer
Zero impedence copper ground plate
Double-layer chassis
Video-Off & Display-Off functions for audio playback
Fine-Tuneable Video Adjust function
Multi-disc resume
Program Play

Outputs:
Component video
S-Video
Composite video
6ch analog audio
2ch analog audio
Digital audio, coaxial & optical
Remote In & Remote Out

Specifications:
Audio signal to noise ratio 118 dB
Dynamic range 108 dB
Power consumption: 19w
Dimensions: 17.3 inches wide, 3.5 inches high, 12.1 inches deep
Weight: 16 pounds
Price: $1600


This is a highly-anticipated unit by the audio community in general and by myself in particular. Since it was touted as the first real audiophile omni-player I wanted to get one to review multi-channel SACD and DVD-A discs. I first got interested in the unit in September. After a couple of months of trying to get a review unit, I heard from a contact with Marantz that review units were in very short supply. He said it would be faster to buy a unit. I checked with Marantz and made sure that the unit did not convert DSD to PCM before decoding to analog. This was used in Pioneer universal players previously. I ordered a unit, and three months later I finally got one. During the wait I read several reviews of the unit, mainly from Europe. They were all positive, but not by publications I felt would be very critical about sound. During CES I got my first listen to the unit. It was used in three of the better sounding systems at the show, including my chose for best sound. I asked the representative in the Sound Labs Speaker room, what he thought of the DV8300. He said he had a $24,000 CD playback system and the Marantz blew it away. This made me feel better about my purchase. I talked to the national sales representative for Marantz about the wait. He said they were months behind in orders. This was due to the unit being hot in the Americas, the Orient and Europe all at once. This usually didn’t happen.

First Impressions

The unit seems well built. It weighs three times as much as the Sony 755 I reviewed last month. The faceplate has a quality finish. The display is useful and informative. Unlike the Pioneer units you can tell which media you are playing on a multimedia disc. The power cord is non-captive, so a better cord can be easily used. This is recommended for any component. The remote has a nice gold finish and is more user friendly than most. The manual is well written and easier to use than the Sony manual. The cables supplied, as usual, are worthless junk. Track access is very fast. Disc access is faster than most SACD players. Another negative point is that there is no button to go between different formats on the same disc. You have to go into the menu screen to choose CD on a hybrid disc. This is also true of selecting stereo SACD over Multi-channel SACD.

Special Features

The main feature that separates this unit from the others is that it has HDAM. This means it has separate discrete multi-channel outputs for each channel. It also has a separate power transformer for the audio circuit. It has both video off/on and display off/on. It also has a CD direct mode for increased sound quality on stereo play. This allows the signal to skip unnecessary circuitry for stereo playback. It is THX Select certified. It also has a virtual sound circuit called TruSurround, which adds a virtual surround in systems using only a stereo receiver and speakers. There are 16 different video parameters that can be adjusted for the best picture. They adjust various noise reduction levels; sharpness; detail; white and black levels; gamma, hue and chroma levels.

Setup

The unit was put into my 7.1 surround system. For information on the system see the Meet the Staff section at www.positive-feedback.com. There has been one change in the system. I am using a Pioneer as a processor for DTS and Dolby Digital. I also use the 5.1 by pass to go to the Citation 7. The DV8300 was put on Apogee feet on a Bright Star Big Foot base. The 5.1 cables were from Jena Labs. I used the Jena Labs coax digital out to the Pioneer. I used a Cardas Hex gold cable for stereo from the 8300 to the Citation. I used Jena labs component video cables. The Citation processed the surround from a 5.1 to 7.1 output. The setup of the 8300 is menu-driven. To set up any kind of surround, you need to hook up a monitor. Installation can get very expensive with a unit like this. You will need 6-8 RCA audio cables or one of the new 6-channel color-coded cables. All need to be good quality or better. You will also need component video cables (3) and a digital cable. For the 5.1 output you will need a receiver or preamp with 5.1 input. I used an API power chord on the Marantz. You must also make sure the 5.1 settings of your preamp inputs agree with what is set on the Marantz. You can set which speakers are going to be used in the surround. You can also set the size of all the speakers, the distances from each speaker to listener and the level and balance for each speaker. A test tone output by the player is used to set sound levels. The Marantz has more versatility than the Sony 755 in channel levels and speaker distance. I ran the unit on repeat play for a couple of days before listening, to break it in fully. The unit, unlike the Sony DVP-NS755, was a quick setup. I used the Sony S9000ES for comparisons of CD, DVD and SACD stereo playback. After I finally got everything right, I could listen to the system.

Video Performance

Using the 9000 for comparison was a good test. It is known as one of the best DVD-V players under $2500. The picture on the DV8300 right out of the box was slightly better than the S9000. This was an area I was concerned with, because early reviews said the picture was good but not great. The specs show that they are using a 54 MHz 10 bit video processing chip. I thought this was funny since the 2 year-old S9000 had a 54 MHz, 12- bit video processor in it. The description of the unit says it uses a 108MHz, 12-bit processor. I think that after initial reviews they might have changed the processor chip. On my 55-inch Mitsubishi HD rear projection set, the picture was flawless. The only picture that I thought was better was on the Blue Laser prototypes. I always thought that the S9000 had a great picture. The DV8300 was slightly better. Using the Sony Superbit version of The Fifth Element every facial feature was clearly delineated. Black levels were really good. The sense of depth was great. A large front projection setup would be a stronger test, but I am not lucky enough to have one. When I get time to play with the video setting I might be able to coax even a little more quality out of the player. With 16 parameters to adjust, each by varying degrees, ultimate setup will be very time consuming. I do not feel any real need for this, since the picture is already extremely good. The one down side is that the fast forward is very slow. To make up for this you can search by time with the DV8300.

Audio Performance

The DV8300 was an easy victor in its audio performance over the S9000. First on standard CDs, a whole layer of grunge was removed from the sound. I did not even know it was there before I heard the Marantz. This is a real feat. The S9000 sounded better than any standard CD player under $3000. It beat many separate DAC-Drive unit combos at $5000 plus. Some people who heard the S9000 against the Sony SCD-777ES, felt that the S9000 was better on CDs. Compared to the S9000, the Marantz was clearer and more dynamic. There was more detail and depth. At the same time the sound and images were more solid. There was more sense of presence and life. Dynamics were noticeably stronger. The S9000 had a good sense of depth, but it had a more laid back presentation. The DV8300 had even more depth and a greater separation from front to back images. On DVDs the Marantz showed the same sort of improvements as on CDs except to a lesser degree. Let us face it, a DVD is lucky if it has as good sound as a mediocre CD.

The same sort of improvements were made on stereo SACD as on CD. On John Coltrane's A Love Supreme SACD the S9000 sounded very good. It was like hearing the recording for the first time. The Marantz put the recording in a whole different world. Dynamics were greatly increased. The sax sounded more reedy and gutsy. The bass was tighter and more defined. Image placement was better and stronger. High frequency detail and carry out were fantastic. One person listening to it said that the carry out went on forever. The DVD-A sound was very variable. I think that this is because of the quality of the sound on the discs and not the sound of the unit. DVD-A engineers seem to go for the gee-whiz mix. This is very detrimental to the sound. I only have about 8 discs. The Blue Man DVD-A disc sounds good, but not up to SACD level. The same sound quality was noted with Fresh Aire 8 and the AIX sampler DVD-As. There was one disc that did sound nearly as good as SACD on some cuts. This was Donovan’s Fairytale DVD-A. The bonus cuts are very good sounding. I have not had any other DVD-A players at home. I know of no one building a true audiophile DVD-A player. [Meridian is, but who can afford it? - Ed.] From what I have heard at stores with other combo players, the Marantz is a better player for DVD-A.

Now for the real treat, listening to the sound of SACD multichannel sound reproduction. It clearly gets much more off the discs in the surround channels than the Sony 775. In a review of Roger Waters’ In the Flesh SACD, I complained about not having enough sound effects in the surround channels, using the Sony 755. The Marantz showed me that I was premature in this judgement. There was a lot more on the disc than the Sony produced. On SACD multichannels that were done right, the sound was a good as a stereo SACD, but enhanced by the surround. The surround gave much more feeling of being at a live concert. I especially like hearing well-done classical music in surround. I feel that as they use multichannel more, it will get even better. I compared the onboard DTS and Dolby Digital processing with that of going through separate processor. The processor had newer DTS-ES and DD-EX chips. On DTS the Marantz had a more refined sound, with more accurate sound. The processor sounded more powerful and had a rounder sound. I would use the processor for movies with a lot of explosions and the Marantz for everything else. The separate processor had a definite advantage on Dolby Digital. The Marantz sounded a little wimpy.

Conclusions

The Marantz DV-8300 is a great sounding and great looking player. It plays all current common audio formats and is an excellent video DVD player. This player does everything and does it well. The price makes it a very good buy. I feel that this is just the right player. With multi-chassis units with outboard DACs and blue laser coming within a couple of years, I cannot see spending huge dollars for an ultimate unit at this time.

- Clay Swartz

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