Home Theater Review

 

Marantz UD9004 Universal Disc Player Reviewed

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Performance
5 Stars
Value
4 Stars
Overall
4.5 Stars

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Marantz-UD9004-v2.gifMarantz's newly released flagship UD9004 Universal Disc Player promises to be the answer for enthusiasts looking for a one box solution for nearly any type of five inch audio-video disc. The UD9004 is designed to do more than just play nearly every disc format available (other than the discontinued HD DVD format); it is designed to play each type of disc with reference grade quality and without the large compromises that have traditionally plagued other "universal" players. This type of performance doesn't come without a substantial price tag; in the case of the UD9004 the price of admission is $6,000. What makes the UD9004 worth $6,000 when you can buy another universal disc player for $500 or separate, high-end players for the formats you are using for the same or less money? Read on.

The UD9004 is designed to help those with a stack of components for each type of disc to simplify their system without compromising video or audio performance of signals from nearly any audio or video disc. One of the first things to catch your eye when you look at the brushed metal front panel is a pair of silver logos, the first one being SACD and the second Blu-ray. Marantz's Kevin Zarow states that this placement decision indicates Marantz's priority on placing audio performance first. By no means does this mean that video is neglected but it does give a hint as to the special care that was given to extract high quality audio from any source disc. I found this comforting, especially if this unit is supposed to replace several audio sources in a high-end system.

Read other Universal Disc players from the likes of Oppo, NuForce and Cambridge Audio as well as many others...

The UD9004 will play the following formats: SACD (Stereo/Multi), BD-Video (Profile 2.0) /-ROM/-RE/BD-R, DVD-Audio/-Video/-R/-R DL/-RW/+R/+R DL/+RW, CD, HDCD, CD-R/RW and MP3 / WMA / DivX (ver.6) / AVCHD / JPEG / Kodak Picture CD. If that is not enough, the UD9004 also has a SD card slot on the front panel and can read SD data cards with MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, JPEG, DivX, and HD/AVCHD files. The discs are handled by a transport that was custom designed by D&M for its premier players. This proprietary mechanism is exceptionally rigid, anti-magnetic, and vibration dampening and provides both noise and dust isolation from outside sources with its die-cast metal enclosure. This heavy enclosure also minimizes resonances with a double-layer top cover. All of these features help to ensure that data recovery can proceed with any disc in a stable manner with minimal interference. The better the data is to start with, the better the sound and picture can be. Even though this transport is shared with Marantz's sister companies, Denon and McIntosh, the Marantz UD9004 implements it in a different manner which sets this player apart.

Even before you touch the unit, its large seven inch wide, six and a half inches high and 16 inches deep chassis screams something special. When you pick up its 42-pound weight, the image of solidity is only further reinforced. There is much about the construction of the UD9004 that sets it apart from other disc players. Start with something as simple as the feet: the lacquered machine-milled solid copper feet were designed not only to provide a stable, non-resonant platform but also to lower the unit's center of gravity to further reduce vibration that could degrade data recovery or performance. A copper plated thick steel bottom plate forms the foundation of the Tri-box design chassis. Looking from the front, the chassis is made of three boxes: the left being the power supply box, the center for the mechanism and digital circuits and the right for analog. Each box is made of copper plated thick steel. Heavy reinforcing bars add rigidity and reduce resonances. A copper shielded power supply derived from the $7,000 SA-7S1 SACD player feeds the audio section with a separate power supply being used for video; both feed from a heavy, custom built transformer.

On the audio side of things, inside the isolated chassis compartment you will find four separate circuit boards: the first board handles the single-ended left and right front channels with signals from DAC 1. This board also has the power supply components. The second board handles the center, surround left and right channels with signals from DACs 2 and 3. The third board handles the subwoofer and surround back left and right channels and is fed by DACs 4 and 5. The last board handles the front left and right balanced outputs and is fed from DAC 6. The DACs themselves are 192 kHz/32 bit AKM model 4399s. Signal processing is performed by Analog Devices SHARC 32-bit processor which can either output the new high bit rate audio signals in their native bitstream format or can decode them internally and output them as a PCM signal. The stage-to-stage transfer of audio signals is handled by Marantz's proprietary HDAM (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module) and HDAM-SA2 modules, which are said to combine the benefits of integrated and discrete circuits into one module. The UD9004 truly benefits from "trickle down" technology as designers of the UD9004 looked to Marantz's reference line of products and utilized some of the components and designs from the reference line. The care taken in the selection of parts and their implementation leads to an audio signal that boasts a reported 125dB signal to noise ratio, dynamic range of 112dB and total harmonic distortion of less than .0008 percent at 1 kHz.

The UD9004's video credentials are equally impressive. The UD9004 can output 1080p, 24 frames per second, 36-bit Deep Color signals. Silicon Optix "Realta HQV" processor provides all scaling for the HDMI output. This well respected processor can upscale any HD or SD source to 1080p. Video and audio signals can be routed through separate HDMI cables to minimize any potential interference. Analog video outputs have their own processors: Anchor Bay Technologies 2010 for component signals and Anchor Bay Technologies 1012 for composite and S-video. Video DACs are Analog Devices 297 MHz units, 14 bit for component video and 12 bit for composite and S-video. A plethora of adjustments allows the picture to be tweaked to your heart's content.

The UD9004's large back panel is well equipped with 7.1 single-ended outputs that are made out of solid machined brass terminals that are then gold plated; stereo XLR outputs; digital coaxial (also a milled, gold plated brass terminal) and Toslink outputs on the audio side. Video outputs include S-video, component and composite video; the latter two are also milled, gold plated brass terminals. The last signal connections are a pair of HDMI 1.3a outputs. Other connections include a two-prong IEC power plug, RS-232 port, IR flasher input and output, and Ethernet. Of note, all outputs are concurrently active, which allows the UD9004 to feed multiple signal paths at the same time, which can make system integration easier.

The industrial design of the UD9004 will be familiar to anyone who has seen any of Marantz's newer products. While the general aesthetics are shared across the standard and reference lines, the construction materials most closely resemble the materials from Marantz's standard line. The thick, curved aluminum panels of the reference line would have resulted in a disproportionate increase of price over performance. A brushed black aluminum front panel is framed with curved resin side panels. The slim disc drawer in the middle of the front panel is flanked by two small transport buttons on each side and below the drawer. Below the disc drawer is a display under which is a drop down door, which makes for a very clean look. Under the drop down door are some lesser-used controls and the SD card slot. The included remote is a slim wand style remote with an aluminum top panel and no backlighting.

The Hookup
The Marantz UD9004 is designed to be used in both audio and video systems so I used it in both my reference two channel and theater systems, as well as another theater system in my living room that utilizes component video connections.

My dedicated two-channel system consists of a Conrad Johnson CT-5 preamplifier feeding a Halcro DM-38 amplifier and Martin Logan Summit speakers. All cabling was Kimber Select. All the components are situated on a Billy Bags stand and draw their power from a Richard Gray's Power Company 1200 power conditioner. I used the single ended outputs that are situated within the 7.1 multichannel output, as the analog outputs in the two channel section are balanced only and my preamplifier is single ended. If I were to permanently install the UD9004 as a source for both my stereo and theater systems I would obtain XLR to single ended converters so I could utilize both sets of analog outputs at the same time.

I later installed the UD9004 in my theater system, connecting it to my Marantz AV-8003 preamplifier/processor via HDMI and analog 5.1 cables. Other relevant components include a Marantz MM8003 amplifier, Marantz VP-11S2 projector, Martin Logan Summit/Stage/Descent i speaker system. All cables were from Kimber with the exception of the 5.1 cables. The 5.1cables were comprised of three pairs of Ultralink's Platinum series interconnects. As the installation was temporary, I simply placed the UD9004 on a shelf in my Middle Atlantic rack. For permanent installations, Marantz provides a rack mount kit.

Performance
Regular readers of HomeTheaterReview.com will note that we have recently reviewed another universal disc player, the Oppo BDP-83 so I used much of the same software for ease of reference.

If I were to use a single player for all my disc formats, the disc type whose performance would be most critical for me would be the plain old red book CD. My CD collection numbers in the thousands, many multiples more than any other type of disc, and I listen to more CDs than anything else. If a player can't do CDs well, I'm not interested. "Hallelujah" from Jeff Buckley's Live at Sin-e (Sony) was one of the first tracks I listened to after letting the UD9004 break in (Marantz recommends at least 100 hours of break in before any critical listening). The sonic images on the soundstage were clearly defined, more so than I had previously heard on my system. Bass notes were exceptionally solid and powerful. The leading edge of the notes was a bit less quick and sharp than my reference CD player, the Classe' CDP-202 ($6,500) but the differences were very slight. Overall the Marantz's presentation is relaxed and natural without any of the extremely analytical, etched sound that some players try to pass as detail. One of the other pieces I also listened to was Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol Records/ Mobile Fidelity). The powerful low beats in the opening of "Breathe" were reproduced with less emphasis than the Oppo BDP-83 and closer to my reference Classe CDP-202 CD player. The guitars on this disc were palpable; the sonic images were solidly placed on the soundstage with a good sense of space. The decaying notes from each string were appropriately long and well defined, further adding to the sense of realism. As noted before, the attack or leading edge of transient notes was not overly sharp, probably just slightly on the reticent side of neutral. I found that this quality made the UD9004 musical and a pleasure to listen to for extremely long stretches. Female vocalists such as Holly Cole, Rickie Lee Jones and Patricia Barber were reproduced with rich and full bodied (but not bloated) vocals and soundstages were properly sized with the individual images specifically and solidly placed within. The overall result makes for a relaxed and realistic presentation. However, if your musical tastes are more aggressive and you need to be the one who is in the pit, just a few feet in front of the band, this might not be the player for you.

I then listened to the UD9004 in my multi-channel system. My listening notes all refer to listening through the UD9004's analog outputs unless otherwise noted. I had R.E.M.'s album, In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 (Warner Bros. DVD-Audio) handy from another recent review. Michael Stipe's vocals on "Man on the Moon" seemed to emanate from a point above my center channel with such solid placement that I double-checked to make sure the speaker wasn't lifted or tilted up from its normal position. Overall the soundstage in multi-channel was not significantly different than with several other DVD-Audio players I have used but the individual sources were more solidly anchored and pinpointed. The overall character of the UD9004 remained unchanged in the switch from CDs to DVD-Audio discs but the level of detail and sense of realism was heightened. The extra resolution available on a DVD-Audio does not go to waste with this player. The UD9004's prowess is not limited to audiophile type recordings - I also listened to the Insane Clown Posse's The Wraith: Shangri-La (Psychopathic/DTS) and Crystal Method's The Legion of Boom (DTS). These discs feature deep, hard-hitting bass lines. The UD9004 did not disappoint and delivered rock solid and detailed bass. I also noted that the leading edges of transient notes seemed to be a bit sharper on DVD-A discs than with CD's. The DACs used in all channels, and just as importantly, their implementation, performed quite well. I would recommend carefully auditioning the analog outputs of the UD9004 before simply using the digital outputs.

Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company (Concord SACD) is a familiar album to me as I own a few different copies and often listen to this album when I am at work. Listening to this album through the analog outputs produced an incredibly solid and intimate soundstage. The vocals, whether they be Ray Charles', Norah Jones' or any of the other performers were rendered with great clarity and conviction. The piano was full of lush overtones, long decays that allowed me to easily think that I was in the same room as the performance. As with the other formats, I switched between the digital and analog outputs. Usually I preferred using the UD9004's DACs and the analog outputs, but the difference was even more dramatic with SACD. The Marantz UD9004's performance on SACD was noticeably worse through the digital output, not terrible but the warmth, detail and rock solid soundstage were greatly diminished. Turns out that the Marantz UD9004 will not output a high resolution DSD (or converted PCM) stream from the digital outputs. Aficionados of the SACD format should most definitely utilize the UD9004's analog outputs.

I began with DVDs as if my collection mirrors that of most readers - we have more DVDs than Blu-ray discs. I again used a disc that I had recently used in two other reviews, Heat (DVD - Warner Home Video). I used the UD9004 to scale the disc to 1080p, 24 fps. The scaling was extremely clean and produced no visible artifacts. The level of noise in the picture was lower with the UD9004 than with any other source unit I have had in my system. This was particularly noticeable in the darker scenes such as the one when DeNiro is hiding in the shadows while being watched by the police stakeout team. The Oppo BDP-83 also did a very good job at scaling but when comparing the images between the two players, the Marantz had less noise and was more three-dimensional.

I then played a disc that I had on both DVD and Blu-ray to see how big a difference there would be: Monsters, Inc. (Disney/Pixar) (I was lucky enough to be able to borrow a copy a week before the public release date.) The differences between the two discs were readily noticeable but the UD9004 did a good enough job upscaling the DVD to make the viewing experience enjoyable. The difference between the two was like lifting off the proverbial veil. While I will choose Blu-ray every time, it is nice to know I have the option that my large DVD collection can still look good.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Disney) on Blu-ray provides plenty of opportunity to test a video system. The many ropes and billowing sails of the pirate ships provide a tough test for many video processors, leaving smeared images or signal noise. When watching the film I noted that these details were very clearly reproduced. This series of movies has many dark scenes that allow a thorough evaluation of shadow detail, which was exemplary and, coupled with the extremely low noise level, provided a greater sense of depth in the darker scenes. The wide gamut of colors was vibrantly reproduced with good accuracy. If I were to keep the UD9004 in my system I would have it calibrated for my system to maximize its potential. The Marantz web site has the owner's manual for the UD9004 posted; a review of the manual will educate those who seek further detail on the available video adjustment options.

I watched several Blu-ray discs encoded with the new high bit rate codecs both through the HDMI output, letting my processor do the decoding, and through the UD9004's analog outputs, letting the player do the decoding. I turned off the Audyssey room correction for a fair comparison. I preferred the analog signal every time. Fortunately, all the outputs are simultaneously active so that you can set your processor to get video from HDMI and analog for the audio. Also, the simultaneous outputs were a plus for distribution as I could output HDMI to my theater room and component video to a distribution device to be routed elsewhere in the house. A nice touch.

Competition and Comparison
To compare Marantz's UD9004 against its competition, please read our reviews for the
Lexicon BD-30 Blu-ray player and the Goldmund Edios 20 BD Blu-ray player. You can also find lots more information in our Blu-ray Player section.

Read the Low Points and Conclusion on Page 2

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