Network audio players (aka: streamers) appear to be taking over as the fastest growing category of audiophile gear from the (non-networkable) USB DACs that have dominated the audiophile landscape in recent years. USB and networkable DACs both provide the necessary bridge between computer-based music libraries, which are becoming the norm, and traditional stereo systems; however, the ability to connect the DAC via a network provides many more system options than USB alone.
The NA-11S1 ($3,499) is not Marantz's first network audio player, but it is the first to be part of Marantz's reference line. As physical media is being replaced by computer-based audio files, it is only prudent that Marantz's reference line include a network player. In addition to being a DLNA Digital Music Player / Digital Music Renderer, the NA-11S1 has AirPlay networking capabilities and built in SiriusXM, Spotify, and Pandora support. I know some will be upset by its lack of WiFi; but, for those who need a WiFi connection, you can easily add it through the use of a wireless access point. Users who prefer a more traditional wired connection can choose from USB type A and B connections and coaxial/Toslink optical connections.
Now that we've established that the Marantz can accept digital audio through just about any method you would like to transmit it, we should look at what types of digital audio formats it can accept and how they are handled. The NA-11S1 can accept digital signals up to 24-bit/192-kHz in the WAV and FLAC formats and ALAC up to 96 kHz. AIFF files are not officially supported, but DSD files (both original 2.8-MHz files and double-rate 5.6-MHz files), which are rapidly increasing in popularity and availability, can be accepted via the USB Type B port.
Ken Ishiwata, Marantz's well-known engineer and designer was very active in the design of the NA-11S1. Mr. Ishiwata is known for optimizing and upgrading components to wring out higher levels of performance. Rumor has it that Mr. Ishiwata was behind several changes to the NA-11S1 as the product was being developed. Revisions to the USB section in order to bring it to Mr. Ishiwata's standards allegedly delayed the release of the product. If this is true, I am happy to hear that Marantz would place a priority on performance over release schedule.
Despite the NA-11S1 not having any moving parts or any power amplification, its 17.33-inch by five-inch by 16.42-inch chassis weighs just over 32 pounds and feels remarkably solid. The chassis is dual-layered and copper-plated, with a thick aluminum top cover and die-cast aluminum feet. When I unpacked the NA-11S1 and moved it into place, "solid" was a term that came to mind more than once.
The majority of the NA-11S1's heft comes from a large toroidal transformer that is designed to minimize vibration and magnetic leakage. For what it's worth, I never heard any hum from the component, even with my ear right above the top plate. The power supply's transformer is joined by a large-capacitance block capacitor to form an overachieving power supply system. Marantz's proprietary HDAM circuits are utilized with the HDAM-SA2 devices handling the current-to-voltage conversion and HDAM devices on the outputs.
The NA-11S1 can be controlled by either the included remote or Marantz's control application, which can be downloaded at no charge from the Apple store. The remote is a simple device but is heavier and more solid than the typical plastic remote, making it feel more at home with a higher-end device. That said, I usually used the Marantz app running on my iPhone to control the unit.
The NA-11S1 found a home in the same Billy Bags rack as my PS Audio PerfectWave DAC MkII, both of which feed a Krell Phantom III preamplifier and older Krell amplifier. An Oppo BDP-95 was available for use as a disc transport, and B&W 800 Diamonds were used for all critical listening. I was also able to do some listening through B&W CM10s. Cabling was Kimber Select and Transparent Ultra. Of particular note, the USB cables were Kimber Select.
Related to setting up the unit, I noted that the screen on the Marantz was large enough to easily read the track titles from eight feet away, which came in handy when I wanted to see what I was listening to. No need to place the unit closer just to read the display. Also, the Marantz never ran hot; even after extended listening sessions in excess of four hours, the top panel was never more than slightly warm.
As a music streamer or networkable DAC, the Marantz needs to get the audio files from somewhere. My computer system includes a large Netgear network attached storage device upon which I have several hundred gigabytes' worth of audio files that are served via J River's Media Center installed on both Mac OS- and Windows 8-based machines. I also used a MacBook Air with locally stored files to provide audio files via its USB output to the Marantz's input.
The majority of my listening was done via the networked audio system. In addition to streaming files over the network, I also played music from Pandora, AirPlay, USB thumb drives, the coaxial input, and the type B USB inputs, which all worked without a hitch.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Performance, The Downside, Competition and Comparison and the Conclusion . . .