By Michael Levy
When a company like Marantz decides to make a statement player, they can really make a statement. In this case they have created The Universal Audio/Video Player for the analog audio lover.
From the moment I received the UD9004, I knew it was no ordinary machine. First, it is 17-3/8″ wide by 6-7/16″ high and 16-1/8″ deep and weighs in at a whopping 42.3 pounds net out of the box. The size and weight are impressive and so are the black metal faceplate and case which exude quality. The looks are sculpted and clean, feeding the desire try it out.
So, I sat it next to my DEQX based processor/amplifier, connected it up to power, and hooked it up to the digital input. At this point my only purpose was to let it warm up and get used to the environment. I knew it would sound its best after some break in time, so, I threw in a copy of Napua Davoy’s “All I Want” and started it playing with no intention of listening.
As I walked away, I turned for a moment to make sure everything was working properly, and was frozen to the spot. Ice cold, this unit was creating a level of clarity and musicality I had not heard before. Entranced, the disc was almost finished before I called my fellow Audiophilia reviewer, Martin Appel to tell him my system had never sounded this good. I could not wait to hear what it would sound like when the Marantz UD9004 was fully broken in.
Theory would tell you that, when connected digitally, all players should sound the same. Digital is digital after all. Well toss that theory to the wind. The quality of the UD9004’s transport had made an obvious difference.
I asked to review this universal player. Intrigued by the design of the unit, I wanted to know if the copper plated chassis, tri box construction, machine milled copper ”block” feet, oversized ring core toroidal transformer, dedicated audio power supplys and boards, and the six 32 bit DACs, would translate into a higher level of performance.
The Marantz UD9004 was designed to be state of the art in every way. I had not yet tried out the balanced audio outputs, the high definition video, the HD audio processing and the SACD playback. At this point all I wanted to do was listen to every CD I loved. It seemed to focus sound like the Hubble focused on the universe after its last repair. The time to compare and critically test, view, and listen would come soon, but for now I just wanted to enjoy it.
While listening I started reading through the manual. It has an impressive set of features.
Dual HDMI outputs allows Audio Video separate output for High Fidelity Playback
BD-Profile2.0(BD-Live), BD-Java, BONUS VIEW support
Plays SA-CD(Stereo/Multi), BD-Video/-ROM/-RE/BD-R, DVD-Audio/-Video/-R/-R DL/-RW/+R/+R DL/+RW, CD-R/RW and MP3/WMA/DivX(ver.6)/AVCHD/JPEG/Kodak Picture CD discs
Copper plated chassis and Tri box construction
Copper shielded Large Toroidal Transformer
Zinc Die-cast Enclosure, Aluminum Die-cast Tray Mechanism
Total 4 boards, Marantz HDAM-SA2&HDAM analog audio circuits w/ Custom audio parts
192 kHz/32-bit Audio DAC AK4399 for all channels
Dolby True HD, dts-HD MA decoder
REALTA HQV Video Processor
Support 24fps, 36-bit Deep Color
297MHz/14-bit Analog Devices Video DAC ADV7344 for Component Video Out
297MHz/12-bit Analog devices Video DAC ADV7340 for S-Video/Video Out
Anchor Bay Technology I/P & Scaler ABT2010, ABT1012 for Analog Video Out
SD Card slot for playback MP-3/WMA/JPEG
Firmware update capability via Internet
Aluminum Top Device Remote
Available Option Rack Mount Kit RMK9004UD
It is easy to understand why it is so heavy. The copper plated chassis, copper shielded large toroidal transformer and tri box construction, zinc die-cast enclosure, machine milled copper ”block” feet, and aluminum die-cast tray mechanism, all contribute to the solidity of the unit and its sound. Smooth is certainly the word. Of course, the 192kHz/32-bit Audio DACs and the 4 separate audio boards should make the analog output equally awesome. Yes, it plays all of the audio standards, and the list is long. It transmits all of them digitally through the HDMI outputs, although the SACD is converted to 44.1kHz/16bit.
It transmits all but the Dolby TruHD/Dolby Digital Plus/DTS-HD and the SACD through the standard wired and optical digital outputs (The HDMI is fed with a down converted digital signal while playing the SACD layer, but SACD signal is only provided through the standard wired and optical digital outputs when the CD layer of the SACD is chosen.)
The analog audio outputs include RCA connector outputs for 7.1 channel surround sound, and balanced outputs for the front left and right channels. Each output channel has its own 192kHz/32-bit Audio DAC.
All of this is just for the audio, but considering the 297MHz/14-bit Analog Devices Video DAC, the REALTA HQV Video Processor, and the Anchor Bay Technology I/P & Scaler, the video should be equally awesome, and, yes, it plays all of the video standards including 1080P and 1080P 24 frame to perfectly mimic the original film.
There are so many features that I could fill the entire review with them and how they operate. I will list them, but first, now that I have had the time to listen, let me talk about the sound.
I have several versions of certain recordings in CD, SACD, and vinyl, but it is important to understand that every version necessarily has its own master, and that the masters will differ in sound. Part of the final mastering process includes final equalization, which also frequently includes some compression.
I recently updated my turntable with the new VPI “Classic Turntable” which includes the JMW-10.5i unipivot tone arm (review to follow) [Can't wait - Ed]. With my Aqvox phono 2 CI II and Van Den Hul tipped Kuetsu Rosewood cartridge, I have a formidable sonic reference source. So, I was ready for some comparative listening.
It took a while, and several listening sessions before the analog sections of the Marantz finally broke in.
Suddenly, the audio through the analog outputs was easily the equal to the digital outputs. Also, when playing the SACD layer on an SACD or DVD-Audio, a greater extension and smoothness was evident in the high frequencies and a smoother and quieter sonic background in the imaging as compared to the CD layer played through either the digital or analog outputs.
Jennifer Warrens’ “Famous Blue Raincoat” The CD (01005-82092-2) on the Marantz UD 9004 sounds very close to the vinyl (Cypress Records 661 111-1), but the turntable sounded more defined and musically resonant. The male background vocals on “Bird on a Wire” were more palpable and had a greater sense of body. Both were dimensional, laying three-dimensional images out on a three dimensional pallet. They were both open, and musical, with the turntable winning by a nose.
I have five different versions of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon”, the original vinyl (Harvest Records SMAS 11163), the original CD (Harvest CDP7 46001 2), the Mobile Fidelity vinyl (MFSL 1-017), the SACD (Capitol CDP72435 82136 21), and the new reissue on vinyl (EMI SHVL 804). Yes, they all sounded different. Here, the SACD was the clear winner and the sounded best, but I was torn between the SACD layer through the analog outputs and the digital out on the Marantz while playing the CD layer. The masters were different! My first love was the CD layer transmitted digitally. The opening heartbeat rattled the room with its power and depth, and all of the images were remarkably clean, open, and dimensional. The air and the space around them were clear and each image stood out in space. When the clocks chimed in unison every little detail was there. I could sense the size of the body of each clock. It was an awesome sound to experience. I was overwhelmed.
Then I listened to the SACD layer through the analog outputs. While it was not as impressively powerful, the room still rattled on the opening, and everything was there dimensionally, but the high end had a smoother extension and decay, and images were standing in a smoother and darker background. None of the vinyl could compare with either layer. The original disc came the closest to the feeling of sheer power of the CD layer, but was so worn I could not listen to it. The Mobil Fidelity vinyl was close to the dimensionality and sweetness of the SACD layer, but lacked the same sense of power. The original CD sounded coarse, and the new reissue of the vinyl was clear and sweet, but lacked deep bass.
Jazz at the Pawnshop is a recording I have both on SACD (FIM SACD M034) and on vinyl (Prophone 778-79). On this recording the turntable was clearly more three-dimensional and musically resonant. The imaging pallet was larger and so were the spaces between images. The glasses could be heard tinkling on trays as waitresses walked by. The depth and clarity of the imaging made me feel like I was in the audience.
I just got the remastered Beatles collection on CD (Apple 0946 3 82468 2), and a new reissue of Abbey Road on vinyl (Capitol records C1 46446 1). When compared, the vinyl was not nearly as clear or detailed or musical, while the imaging was very similar, the palpability and resonance of each image were clearly better. The remastered CD was obviously superior.
I have Telarc’s “Pictures at An Exhibition” conducted by Lorin Maazel in three formats, the original CD (CD80042), the original vinyl (10042), and the SACD (60042). The special nature of this recording came out in all of the formats. It was warm and sweet with a natural resonance, while clearly defining the size, shape, and position of each instrument. While I still preferred the SACD through the analog outputs, this was much closer. The SACD was more three-dimensional with a smoother detail and high frequency extension, while the vinyl was slightly more musical and resonant, and the CD had the best feeling of power and presence.
Hotel California by The Eagles: I have this recording in DVD-A 96/24 (60509-9) and on Vinyl (Asylum7E1084). This comparison highlighted the mastering as the source of most of the sonic differences. Both sources imaged well and had a nice sonic balance. The turntable had a more realistic bottom end. The DVD-A on the Marantz was more musical with better air around the instruments, but the bottom end was slightly mid bass bloated. The comparison of the vinyl to this DVD-A recording convinced me that the Marantz could sound as sweet and image as well as the turntable.
The proof of the theory is Beethoven’s 6th symphony in F major, Op. 68, “Pastorale” New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Zdenek Macal, Musical Director (AIX 80006). This recording has all of the musicality and smoothness of a vinyl recording. It is open and dimensional while allowing the natural resonance of the instruments to come through. I kept on looking at my turntable to make sure it was not playing.
So, how do I describe the sound of the Marantz as compared to other CD/SACD/DVD-A players? It is simply the best I have heard. No other player even compared to my turntable in musicality before. There was always a digital signature that left me wanting. There is no digital signature from any of the standards with the Marantz. It is an incredibly musical and natural sounding player. When I played:
“All I Want” by Napua Davoy (Brave Cool World Records BCW004): She was suddenly standing in front of me singing. Her voice and each instrument had a solid three-dimensional image that stood apart with clear air between it and the other images. When the demon voices appeared all around her at the end of “For The Love of Money”, they stood out as individual images while the voices blended with an awesome musicality. It all sounded so sweet and resonated right through me in a way you would expect only a live performance at a club to sound when you were lucky enough to get a front row seat.
“Dear Heather” by Leonard Cohen (Columbia CK92891): The differences this player made were immediately evident in the crystalline clarity of each instrument and vocal. Leonard Cohen’s voice remained full and resonant without being too heavy or thick. Images were round and palpable while the width and depth of the sonic pallet seemed unlimited. “The Letters” and “Morning Glory” highlighted the smooth speed of this player by allowing clearly imaged separate vocal images to blend with a wonderful musicality.
Another Stoney Evening by David Crosby and Graham Nash (DTS Entertainment DTS1098): This is an incredible live performance from 1971 that can be played in either two-channel pcm, or 5.1 DVD-A, or 5.1 DTS. While I prefer the clarity and openness of the DTS, this recording sounds incredible any way you play it. The harmonies are sweet, and the feeling of being there in the audience on the DTS is amazingly realistic. It was like I had taken a time machine back to the original concert.
Symphony No.6, Nutcracker Suite: Tchaikovsky (Penta Tone Classics 5186 107): This remastered quadraphonic recording with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Orchestre de Paris was performed in 1974. It is on this recording that I can fully appreciate how close SACD is to analog. The imaging, clarity, dimensionality, sweetness, and resonance are all in the same level as the best vinyl I have heard, with more extension and smoothness than heard on most vinyl.
I could go on listing CDs, SACDs, and DVD audio discs. It made a similar difference in each case. I have much more to listen to on the audio side of this player, the sound of 7.1 for example, and wait….
Oh, yes, I almost forgot, this is a state of the art videodisc player too!
Blu-ray has advanced the quality of video playback to an amazing level and the quality of this player is at least as good as any I have tried. Gray scale metering shows it to be very accurate and linear. It also hosts a few interesting features. It includes video adjustments such as the usual brightness, contrast, but also a ten step gamma control and two ranges of sharpness control. Chroma level, black level, and white level are also available. There are even controls for horizontal and vertical position.
My usual preference is to watch any movie the way the director wanted it. So, I left the Marantz UD9004 in the unadjusted standard setting where it gave me a very accurate rendition of what is on the disc.
Blade Runner: The complete collector’s edition (Warner Brothers 118574): is a great example of the advantages of blu-ray. Video has now surpassed film qualitatively; the limitations of the original film become evident. The “Final Cut” of Blade Runner is about as fine a film transfer to video as I have seen. Also, the sound is amazingly full and deep. It draws you into the art deco future world created by the director. The DVD version comes across amazingly well through this player and motion is smooth, but you lose the feeling of infinite depth found on the blu-ray disc both in the video and the audio. There is a 24-frame function, which I have left on auto. I believe it is functioning on the blu-ray version of this film. In any case, the motion is film smooth.
The Fifth Element n(Columbia Pictures 21520): Again it was a nice step forward from the DVD. Both the video and the sound seemed smoother and more detailed. I was enveloped in a sound that was both larger and deeper than it had been before. Small details in the video were clear and smooth. The Marantz also has a first-rate video scaler and processor. This was most evident when playing the DVD as compared to the Blu-ray. Motion on the DVD was smooth and details were clean.
Negatives: The start time of this player could sometimes be long. Switching to the Quick Start position in the menu helped considerably. The price ($6,000.00) is high for a Blu-ray player, but not for a top line CD player, which this player definitely is.
In summary this is the audiophile’s blue ray player. When played through the balanced analog outputs it comes closer to analog musicality, smoothness, and imaging than any disc player I have heard. If you want audiophile quality sound, and you want to be able to play any disc, the Marantz UD-9004 should be at the top of your list, therefore I nominate this player for an Audiophilia Star Component Award.
[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the Marantz UD9004 Flagship SACD/Blu-ray/DVD-Audio/Video/CD Universal Player. Congratulations! - Ed]
Turntable: VPI Classic with Kuetsu Rosewood cartridge with Van Den Hul tip.
Phono pre: Aqvox Phono 2 CI
DEQX based preamp/processor/triamplification system. (2400watts digital amplification)
Levy Acoustics speaker system with Levy Acoustics subwoofers [Hell yeah! - Ed]
Acoustic Zen power chords and interconnects
The Marantz UD9004 Flagship SACD/Blu-ray/DVD-Audio/Video/CD Universal Player
Manufactured by Marantz America, Inc.
100 Corporate Drive, Mahwah, N.J. 07430-2041
Source: Manufacturer loan