Marantz Model 7 Reviewed

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Twist my arm. Go on. me to review a couple of products I've been dreaming about owning for years. What's that? If I've actually been waiting for 'years', did I suddenly find some mint originals? Not quite: Marantz took it upon itself to emulate Radford, Sennheiser, McIntosh and other companies which realised that there's gold in them thar classics. Right down to the colour of the faceplates.

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Not having been informed of the time frame leading up to the re-release of the Marantz Models 7, 8B and 9, I don't know if the success of McIntosh's reissued MC275 stereo power amp and C22 pre-amp embarrassed Marantz into reviving their own classics, or if the company had planned it all along. Readers with long memories (or subscriptions to Japanese magazines) will know that a kit version of the Model 7 pre-amp was available in Japan in the late 1970s, but they're even more scarce than mint originals, so the reincarnated versions should win lots of friends who've grown tired of poring over the world's classified ads. Even if the prices of the reissues are not dissimilar to those demanded for mint originals: �3500 for a Model 7, the same again for an 8B and �8000 for a pair of Model 9s.

'The Legend Series' is the name given to the reborn Marantz tube components because Models 7, 8B and 9 were legends in every sense of the word, worthy of inspiring exact replicas. The Legends programme restates the company's role in the history of high-end audio, at the same time dealing with a demand for 7s, 8Bs and 9s which will never go away. While a number of magazines eagerly seized pre-production samples, we held out for the same products you'll find at your local Marantz dealer's; at the time of writing, the production version of the 8B has yet to appear, so I reviewed just the Model 7 and a pair of 9s. 'Just'? Did I say 'Just'? Hey, I'm not complaining.

For a vintage component, the Model 7 is a remarkably modern approximation of the perfect pre-amp. Facility-wise, that is. Admittedly, the replica, like the original, doesn't have an input marked 'CD', and the inclusion of no less than two phono and two FM inputs smack of a bygone era. But the '7 does feature a prescient 'TV' input, bringing the total number of sources it can handle up to eight, while three outputs - two main and one tape - also fit in nicely with what we consider to be a pre-amp capable of handling the vast array of contemporary sources at our disposal. Still, it does conflict with that other form of modern audio thinking: minimalism. But that's to confuse its purpose. The Model 7 was born in an era when audiophiles wanted to control their own destiny, not have it controlled by some masochistic audio cranks living on another planet.

As per the original, the hand-built reissue is hard-wired and contains a half-dozen ECC83s. So close is the attention to period detail that the '7 is fitted with the rather nasty phono sockets of the era, and the toggle switches for tape, filter and mode selection are as clunky as I remember. (Hell, the reissue is so close to a perfect copy that the valves even wear those ill-fitting tube covers which have a tendency to fly off and find their way down behind one's equipment rack.) But the rotaries for volume and balance are smooth and the stepped selectors for source and tone control are positive and nicely weighted; volume is set through a pot with a 90dB range, tested for '2dB tracking at any position down to 65dB attenuation.' The filters operate at 9kHz and 5kHz for high, and 50Hz and 100Hz for rumble. The tone controls are separate step-type feedback controls with identical curves; the steps occur in 3dB increments centred at 50Hz for bass and 2.5dB increments centered at 10kHz for treble.

Again looking to a bygone age, the Model 7's back panel contains a half-dozen AC convenience outlets (blanked off in the UK) and pots for fine-tuning the output levels or equalising the tape heads. Selectable phono settings include RIAA, 78 and 'Columbia LP', there are high and rumble filters, and you can choose between Mono, Stereo, Reverse, Left-Only or Right-Only, and the separate left and right tone controls have bypass positions. While it may not be as to-the-decibel precise as a Cello Palette, you can see where the Model 7 would have special appeal to someone who necessarily a collector of audio classics: this is the kind of pre-amp you need if you own a lot of 78s, old tapes or any other vintage media. Through judicious use of the filters, tone controls and level adjusters, you really can fine-tune any source you might wish to access.

So, too, the Model 9, a monoblock with enough features and facilities to confound those who feel that power amplifiers should have an on-off switch and nothing else. The Model 9, the bearer of two ECC88s, one 6CG7 and four EL34S per chassis, has terminals for 4, 8 or 16 ohm speakers, screw settings for bias and tube balance in conjunction with the lovely round meter on the front panel and a seven-setting test switch, a gain control for direct input of a single source, phase inversion, a low filter and even front panel-mounted socketry. That flap just below the meter covers the aperture which houses the speaker terminals, the phono inputs and the valve adjustment screws, but you'll find that the cover has to be removed when the connections are made; there's simply not enough space to 'fold back' an interconnect once it's in place. Unless you have a source for phono plugs with a 90 degree bend...

Light as the Model 7 is at 5kg, a single Model 9 monoblock weighs a hefty 23kg, attributable to the oversized transformers. The front panel is deliciously thick and luxurious, the terminal cover is a reassuringly tight fit and even the screw holes in the valve cage line up perfectly with those on the chassis. And you will take the cage off if you want to experiment with the triode mode. I preferred the full 70W complement, but then I'm a miserable old bastard who wants all the power he can get. And a quartet of EL34s on each channel just about delivers a fair minimum. (A perverse thought: anyone got eight KT-77s to try out in these babies?)

Despite the complexity of the two components, due mainly to the myriad operational options, set-up is absolutely straightforward. It's only when you start tampering with the level settings to match outre vintage sources that you'll need to refer to the owner's manual. Given that the inputs all differ in amounts of gain - between 22.5dB and 64.5dB - you really can use this to balance out level differences between components. I fed the system with the output of the CD12 to test the line inputs, although it meant sullying this relic with digits, but used the Garrard 401 turntable, Decca arm and Decca cartridge to assess the phono stage, in an attempt at recreating a system of the correct period. Speakers? Original Quads, of course. And suddenly Elvis wasn't dead, the Beatles were on tour and the Gallaghers were still sperm.

What a trip - backwards, that is. Nestling in-between the Quad IIs and the McIntosh MC275 as far as the modernity of the sonic character is concerned, the Model 9 leans toward the Quad in the midband - warm and rosy -- and toward the far more commanding McIntosh at the frequency extremes. Add to it a Dynaco Stereo 70-like coherence - only with double the power of the Dyna. In a way, it's what I expected, but it's almost too perfect and too convenient when you consider that the Model 9, the Quad II, the Dyna and the Mac 275 form the quartet of the greatest amps of the Golden Age and that all have been reissued (well, the Dyna has 'sort of' been reissued).

But the Marantz stands out, and for the kind of reasons that will appeal to listeners rather than hoarders and collectors of old gear. Independent of the speakers used - and I tried LS3/5As and WATT/Puppies alongside the Quads - the Marantz sounds richer then the McIntosh, leaner than the Quad or the Dyna. It's the most powerful of the group, and this manifests itself in greater dynamic swings, punchier lower registers and slam with a very modern character. But the McIntosh MC275 sounds more like something with a 1990s pedigree because of its drier bottom end, while the Quad and the Dynaco are very much of the Fifties and Sixties because they demonstrate less absolute precision. The Marantz? Sonically if not quite chronologically it fits in-between the two. Alas, chronological placement would stick it in the Seventies, Hi-Fi's Dark Years, so let's say that the Model 9 conveniently spans the decades.

Given that I had, during the review period, both old and new Quad IIs, the reissued McIntosh MC275 and C22 pre-amp, a 'brand-new' Dynaco PAS3 pre-amp and a refurbished Stereo 70, I was able to swing between the four great contenders, leaving out only the Radford equivalent, because I admit to an unforgivable bias. If it's an anachrophilic shoot-out that you want, the leveller is that the modern Dynaco isn't an attempt at an exact replica, the supply of McIntosh MC275s is exhausted, and the Quads are nearing the end of the 600-pair production run. The Marantz 7 and 9, on the other hand, aren't going out of production until the sales run out.

Is Marantz's confidence well-placed? Yes, but with a proviso. To be fair to the Dyna, the Quad and even the Radford, the Model 8B is more of a direct rival for the smaller amps. The output of the Model 9 places it in opposition to the MC275, just like 35 years ago. And the Model 7 was the only real threat to the C22. The latter is quieter and cleaner, but the Model 7 is smoother and less forward. Amusingly, the MC275 benefits from a match with the Marantz pre-amp, but the McIntosh C22 doesn't really do the same favours for the Model 9. Still, if some kind of shoe-horning must be undertaken, it goes like this:

The Marantz combination is unbeatable with electrostatics, commanding enough to exploit all of the Quad ESL's virtues, yet delicate enough not to torture the old dame. It also adores the 15 ohm load of LS3/5As, delivering the kind of vocal realism for which the BBC ordered its 3000-plus pairs. This is the set-up you need if you want experience every nuance in a distinctive voice, like the smoky richness of Nat King Cole or the growl of John Lee Hooker. The two systems are on a par when it comes to resolving the fine details, but the Marantz's way with vocals is just a touch more convincing. The McIntosh pairing, on the other hand, had better control of the prodigious bass available from Wilson's Puppy and the LS3/5A-plus-AB1 subwoofer, but a cooler midband; the Marantz system is more 'analogue' and 'tube-like'.

But the Marantz (or the Quads or the McIntoshes) shouldn't be regarded as just another choice when hunting for a contemporary high-end package, even though the prices beg comparisons with modern rivals. This double-standard should apply to all reissues - including CD transfers of all-analogue recordings (which shouldn't be listened to as if they were LPs), wristwatches, cars, book reprints, digitally-remastered films. We are talking about replicas purchased as much for nostalgia and simple availability as for an approximation of the original function. And as objets d'art, the Model 7 and Model 9 are as impressive as the McIntoshes in all but absolute build quality.

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