Power plays in the budget sector continue to revolve around 'killer' integrated amplifiers. The lower reaches of the catalogue can make or break a brand, especially one of the quasi-mass market variety and particularly if it's british or Asian. It's an indictment of the present hi-fi market that such mundanery should remain the staple for entry-level audio, and that only hi-fi customers should still expect everything to be available at 1979 prices. So the likes of Pioneer, Rotel, Arcam and Marantz should be applauded for forcing consumers to face reality. Fact: you cannot buy a pseudo-NAD3020 for £89 in 1993.
But given that price must be addressed, it's interesting to see how a company can shave costs while offering maximum performance. Marantz's latest contender in the 'Let's Get Pioneer' battle is the PM44SE, which replaces the much-loved PM30SE. And it's adorable. But what about those who need more grunt? Especially those who won't sacrifice their street cred? How do you take what is ostensibly a sop to the impoverished audiophile and turn it into a monster?
Enter the PM54 Special Edition, which is described as 'a successor to the PM40SE in real terms'. It looks dearer than its siblings, it isn't short of features and it costs about £100 more than the smaller amo (which will find favour for both its lower price and greater delicacy). The '54, though, delivers a lot for £299, and not just its healthy 70W/channel instead of the typically weedy 30W or 40W which seems to be the norm for budget amps.
To protect its credibility, the '54 features massive transformers, top quality ingredients, enough binding posts to support either two pairs of speakers or easier bi-wiring, a proper moving-coil input, four line level inputs, direct input, a mono button (hoorah!!!) and most intelligent manufacturers having given up on £99 loudspeakers. And triety and particularly if it's B(Most other countries have, wisely, given up on the pocket money brigade.) by making 'the next amp up' substantially better than the bottom linedget sector continue to revolve around 'killer' integrated amp
Had NAD done that ten years ago, the company would still be ranked among the leaders. acceptablepand a larger market because of hefty power suppliestweako a real metal chassis, copper plated shielding, a t and a mono button (hoorah!!!). I'd also like to point to Marantz's optimism (or its blood link to Philips): this is the first amp I've used which has the audacity to include socketry labelled 'DCC'. Heh, heh...makes me think of a tuner I own which has a Dolby button.
So, in terms of bulk and buttonry, you definitely get your money's worth: a handsome, smooth, tidy, black box which will do everything necessary to handle the myriad sources likely to be found in a modern system, while offering enough power (and this really is where the '54 finds its edge) to widen the choice of loudspeakers available to the owner. It will power speakers which are wa-a-ay beyond the baby amps, whatever anyone tells you about 70W being on 3dB greater than 35W. That's because the '54 is tough, Baja tough like an off-roader.
Read more about the MP54 SE on Page 2.
Having been scolded enough times for not using like with like, I
spent most of the listening period with the Marantz connected to
affordable speakers like the Monitor Audio Ruby 3 and a cluster of
pocket-money Italians. But I also fed the Marantz into a couple of
Sonus Fabers and even the Apogee Stages. And it drove them without
issuing plumes of smoke à la the Editor's Hornby. Which is what
surprised me the most. Ordinarily, I find budget integrateds about as
interesting as an Andrew Lloyd Webber show, suitable as doorstops or
for loaning out to friends in need of some kit. The '54? It actually
But so do a lot of amplifiers, even at 299. In order to make it
stand out from the Pioneers and Denons and Rotels and Arcams it has to
have something, a signature, an area of expertise. Without wishing to
portray this amp as suitable only for kick-ass material, I cannot
ignore the impression it gives about being happiest with loud, dynamic
material, especially with a lot of bass content. You will not fall in
love with the '54 for its finesse. Marantz, wisely, opted for power
over politesse; remember that the '54's baby brother will provide the
delicacy if that's to be preferred.
But does this mean that the typical '54 customer is a Essex Man to
the '44's Sussex Woman? A headbanger rather than a longhair*?
*Old, pre-hippie definition
Yes, I'm afraid. But why should you be apologetic for preferring Metallica to audiophile CDs? to Mary Black?