I was not an audiophile, yet.
In fact, I didn’t know who would be the ideal audiophile, in the present consumer market. In most forums, a person spending a ton of money on Hi-Fi equipment is considered an audiophile? That’s the impression I got.
Who’s an audiophile?
The reason behind this little rant is that when I started looking for a basic stereo amplifier, 2 years ago, all these entry-level Marantz and Cambridge Audio weren’t recommended a great deal on popular hifi forums. Reason: They’re not considered as audiophile amplifiers.
Do you even need to be an audiophile? If you have a pair of good speakers, and if your favorite music sounds fantastic to your ears when these speakers are paired to an amplifier — you’ve found the best sounding setup at a price that makes sense to you. I have a pair of JBL Control One speakers, and I had them paired to my 8-year old Onkyo home theater amplifier (also known as, AV receiver). Pure stereo mode. The output was quite decent. Of course, I had an Onkyo sub-woofer connected to compensate for the lack of low frequencies from the JBLs. It made a good 2.1 setup. Though music sounded good with this setup, it wasn’t good enough. Clearly the Onkyo amplifier didn’t sound musical enough for my ears. Stereo image separation was evidently missing. The voice and instruments were peanut-buttered — spread flat.
Stereo imaging and the quest for the amplifier
Before the Onkyo, I had a Kenwood stereo mini system, and have an idea what stereo imaging and separation mean. The Kenwood served a good 13 years, before giving up.
So, in the quest to find the right amplifier, I signed myself up on a few high-quality audio forums. This was 2 years ago. And, until a couple of months ago, after following a few posts, and getting umpteen recommendations, I was still undecided. These were some of the recommendations:
- Go for a high-end audiophile system — Arcam, Rotel, NAD, Marantz 6000 series, Cambridge Azure series, etc.
- If you can’t afford a high-end system, look at the used market.
- I wouldn’t buy an entry-level amplifier, if I were you — because, they may not drive some of the floorstanders that you may buy in the future
- Get a pair of brand new floorstanders (starting at an insane price of INR 27,000/-) and get a used amp at less than INR 10,000/-
None of these convinced me. I auditioned a high-end Marantz AV receiver. It sounded like crap. I was able to infer instantly that the amplifier-speaker pairing wasn’t making any sense to my ears. There was no punch, no fidelity, no richness. The sound was super-bright. The amplifier was paired to Klipsch speakers, all around. It was painful.
Anyways, didn’t want to spend anymore time and headed straight to another AV showroom, near Adyar. Another mistake. Finding their place was a challenge by itself. First impressions: shady. Their website said they deal with Marantz, Denon and Cambridge Audio products. I was interested in Marantz, and asked if they had one. The manager said they don’t deal with Marantz because they are problematic. Marantz has power supply issues. Marantz has quality issues. Marantz is no better than Cambridge Audio. And so on. When I asked for Cambridge Audio AM10, this is the answer I got: “AM10 is very entry-level, and they don’t sound good. We don’t even deal with such entry-level products. We’re specialists in audiophile amplifiers and we have amplifiers starting only from INR 35,000/-. If interested, we can show you one.” When I asked about Cambridge Audio service support, he said “there’s no need for one. Cambridge Audio products are not problematic”. May be Cambridge Audio should use this guy’s testimonial and stop giving warranty support. I didn’t spend another minute inside that shady place.
Back to square one.
A few months passed, and a few articles/reviews later on audio forums, What HI-FI, Crutchfield, Richer Sounds and Amazon, I decided to take the plunge. Not at all the recommended way of buying audio equipment. But heck, I decided to buy — Marantz PM5005.
Marantz PM5005 paired to JBL Control One speakers. It may not be anywhere close to the ‘audiophile’ category. But, specs first.
JBL Control One: [read review]
- Drivers Bass/midrange (video shielded): 100mm
- Drivers Tweeter (video shielded): 12mm Titanium Laminate
- Frequency Response: 80Hz – 20kHz
- Power Handling (Peak/Continuous): 200W/50W
- Maximum Recommended Amplifier Power: 100W RMS
- Sensitivity: 89dB/2.83V/1m
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Power output: 40W into 8 Ohms
- Total harmonic distortion: 0.01% (20Hz-20kHz)
- Current feedback topology: Yes
- Signal-to-noise: 103dB
- Supported speaker impedance values: 8 Ohms and 4 Ohms
WiDAC WiFi audio from Crystal Acoustics (primary source), and an old Sony DVD player.
Quite happy with the way this setup sounds, for the price.
Connections: Plenty of connections, including a Phono stage. I was using the network (WiDAC), CD (DVD) and Tuner (TV) inputs, and the most used being the network.
Power: Plenty of power to drive these JBL Control Ones. I hardly go beyond the 9 O’clock position. Of course, you have to be realistic here. If you have a 300 square foot room, your listening levels are gonna go up for sure. May be you need more than 40W RMS to retain the loudness without distorting the signal.
I really don’t believe in the amplifier ‘burn-in’ tech myth. This amplifier sounded fantastic right out of the box — of course, with a few tweaks to the bass, treble tone controls to suit my listening preferences. If the ‘burn-in’ myth is true, this is going to sound even better after about 100 hours of listening.
I play a wide genre of music, in many languages, via SoundCloud and 8tracks. Thanks to Airplay on WiDAC, this is a breeze. To my ears, Marantz PM5005 is very warm sounding, and pairing it to the bright JBLs only made it a better setup. There are going to be folks that say JBLs don’t produce bass. Wrong. The bass is decent, and the punch is evident.
The amplifier just shines. Stereo separation is very likable to my tastes, and in some original CDs, I can even visualize the stereo imaging in full steam.
Marantz has a way with voices. Listening to Kimbra’s Settle Down and Love in High Places, the mid-range is inexplicably sweet and the instruments don’t mess-up with her voice. Mind you, this is not some lossless FLAC or CD audio — just some random stuff (bit-rate) from the Internet. Listening to Thrift Shop (Macklemore) was a totally new experience — the voices were separate, bold and clear. Unnai Kaanadhu Naan (Viswaroopam) revealed how good the recording was — Kamal Haasan and Shankar Mahadevan sounded so true, so melodious, so rich. I repeatedly listened to these songs from Indian Ocean — Indian Ocean and Mohit Chauhan-Maaya and Bandeh – Indian Ocean.
Luxuriously rich, smooth mids, tight bass, and solid punch — to my ears. Value for money integrated amplifier from Marantz.
A couple of years down the line, I may pair this with Q Acoustics 3020 bookshelf speakers to unleash the full potential of this amplifier. Or, may be a Dali Zensor. Until then, the audiophile in me will be content with the current setup.
Cheers to Marantz for taking me back to good old, pure 2-channel stereo music!