Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
I have to admit that I was somewhat lukewarm to the idea of reviewing the Marantz ND8006 Network CD Player/DAC in conjunction with the company's AV8805 preamp. I use and like both the HEOS and Sonos wireless music systems, and the HEOS lineup already has other sources in the lineup. I was not sure of the need for one with a Compact Disc player at this late stage of the game.
A few months into the review process, I am glad that I've had some timed to spend with the ND8006 in my system. It looks like many other traditional audiophile Compact Disc players. The $1,199 price point may seem a bit steep to some, but when you consider the ND8006's 17.6-pound heft, it becomes apparent that this is not some repackaged big-box silver-disc-spinner. This sucker is built like a Sherman tank. A rigid, double-layer base plate supports a well-shielded toroidal power transformer, which provides power to the unit. The power supply is particularly important for Marantz's proprietary HDAM-SA2 amplification circuits, which are fed by and augment the analog side of the popular ESS9016 32-bit/192kHz DAC chip. In order to further improve audio performance, the Marantz utilizes multiple clocks to reduce jitter and allows the user to turn off functions that are not being used, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, headphone circuit, etc., in order to minimize interference.
The DAC can receive digital signals from the internal Compact Disc player, as well as a plethora of external sources, as it is a virtual Swiss Army knife for audio. The ND8006 has an Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi network connections, as well as more traditional coaxial and Toslink inputs and even a USB Type A input for thumb drives. A USB Type B connection on the rear panel can accept a variety signals up to 11.2 MHz DSD files and PCM files up to 32 bit/384 kHz, if you happen to be one of the rare few who have such files. Most of the inputs can accept audio files with resolutions up to 24 bit/192 kHz and 5.6 MHz (or "Double Rate") DSD files. Compatible online and network sources include Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, internet radio, DLNA servers (such as a NAS drive), Spotify, Amazon Music, TIDAL, and much more.
In addition to all those sources, the ND8006's HEOS ecosystem makes it a truly multiroom product. This allowed me to play CDs in the ND8006 and listen to them on any HEOS speaker on my home. You can read more about the HEOS system's capabilities and ecosystem in our review of the HEOS 7 and HEOS 3 tabletop speakers. In addition to all of the HEOS app and voice control methods (Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Josh.ai), the ND8006 comes with a well thought out remote with direct-access source selection buttons and RS-232 and IR inputs, as well as a remote pass through connection for integration into other control systems.
Those of you who have read my articles over the years know that while I appreciate features and connectivity, if these come at the cost of sound quality, I can get a bit uppity. Thankfully, the ND8006 does not sacrifice sound quality as far as I could tell in my testing. I used the fixed level analog outputs and coaxial digital outputs to connect the ND8006 to the Marantz AV8805 in my multi-channel system.
Variable level outputs are available if you want to connect the unit straight into an amplifier or powered speakers, as is a Toslink output. I listened to Dire Straits' iconic album, Brothers In Arms, (Mobile Fidelity, CD/SACD) as well as several TIDAL tracks in HD resolution.
The ND8006 has a selectable digital filter, and I found Position 2 to sound best in my system, as Position 1 had just a hint of sibilance on some vocals, including Mark Knopfler's on the MTV classic "Money for Nothing." The soundstage changed slightly, bringing the drums closer to the front of the soundstage. When comparing Tidal streams, I found the ND8006's own processing sounded very similar to that of the flagship AV8805, despite the different DACs. Both units provide a warm, full bodied, and solid image in a well-defined soundstage. I suspect that this is due to the HDAM circuitry being in both units.
When comparing the ND8006 to my reference DAC, the PS Audio DirectStream, the ND8006 sounded a bit warmer, with a little less texture. The DirectStream was able to pull out more detail and provide a deeper soundstage, but the differences between the two were much smaller than anticipated given the steep price delta.
Lastly, the headphone output has its own dedicated HDAM-SA2 amplifier module with adjustable gain, and proved to be a significant step up from the typical headphone jack. The ND8006 headphone amp could drive often demanding cans such as my Audeze LCD-XC and Sennheiser HD700s without a hiccup.
Competition and Comparison
I am not aware of any other product quite like this in the market today. The most obvious competitor to any HEOS product is Sonos, but Sonos does not really have any components like ND8006. Yamaha has MusicCast to compete with HEOS, but I was surprised to see that Yamaha does not have a MusicCast Compact Disc Player, especially given that they have a turntable with MusicCast built-in.
My reference DAC, the PS Audio DirectStream, is also a network DAC. The DirectStream sounds noticeably better but costs nearly six times as much at $6,899, and does not come with a disc transport or a HEOS-type ecosphere.
The Marantz ND8006 impressed me when I wasn't expecting to be impressed. I was expecting a competent Compact Disc player that would also let me bring HEOS connectivity to a legacy system, but the ND8006 turned out to be much more. The ND8006 makes it easy to play back just about any audio file, whether it is on a network drive, thumb drive, computer, streamed, or even an old-fashioned CD. The variety of sources and wide range of compatible file types makes for a nearly endless supply of music.
More importantly, the ND8006 sounds really good regardless of input or file type. OK, low bitrate MP3s still did not sound great, but anything at 1440 AIFF (CD resolution) and above did. The sound was warm, natural, and cohesive, with good dynamics and detail making for enjoyable long listening sessions for that nearly endless supply of music. This player very well could be a solution for music collection of silver discs with an eye toward many of the cool features and formats of the future.