Marantz Model 30
Stereophile|January 2021
INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
HERB REICHERT

DeKalb, Illinois, 1971: When I was in college, my anthropology professor would invite me and a few of his other favored students to his house for fondue parties. We sat on shag carpet around a glass-topped coffee table, drank wine, and dipped vegetables in molten cheese. The stated purpose of this rite was to discuss Margaret Mead or Franz Boas, but that was obviously a ruse. The gathering was really about excessive pot smoking accompanied by coughing fits and the telling of ridiculous stories, all while playing LPs on his top-of-the-line Dual turntable/record-changer.

I can’t remember any stories, but I will never forget how one ceiling-mounted spotlight illuminated his record player and another highlighted a gleaming Marantz Model Thirty “Console Stereo Amplifier.” To young me, his Marantz amplifier looked glamorous, like something out of Playboy magazine. I was mesmerized by its symmetrically arranged knobs and sliders. Its thick wood case almost matched the brown wood of the floor-to-ceiling bookcase, which almost matched the brown wood of the AR-3a loudspeakers nestled on shelves below.

I felt honored to be included in these cheesy soirees, and I remember thinking how my professor’s extensive record collection and the upscale audio system added an aura of worldly sophistication to our anthropology studies.

That was 50 years ago.

Since then, I’ve become a fully initiated audio tribesman, and today I am reviewing the new, futuristic-looking Marantz Model 30 integrated amplifier. As far as I can tell, the only thing it shares with its legendary ancestor is its name.

Description

On its back panel, the $2499 Marantz Model 30 says it’s “Made in Japan.” That declaration is surrounded by RCA pairs for CD input, Tuner input, Recorder input, Line 1 and Line 2 inputs, and Amplifier input. There is also a Recorder output and Preamplifier output. According to the Marantz website, the Model 30 drives loudspeakers with a class-D amplifier using the Hypex NC500 module, which is specified to produce 100Wpc into 8 ohms and 200Wpc into 4 ohms. That NC500 power exits via sturdy, expensive-looking speaker-wire binding posts.

The Model 30’s back panel looks ordinary, even drab, but the front panel is visually striking in an appealing, understated way. It features a “floating” control panel with a centrally located circular display that harkens back to the meter on Marantz’s uber-classic Model 9 amplifier. This floating, flat-panel hovers in front of a larger, concave, moiré-patterned backplate illuminated by LEDs situated on the front panel’s back edges. The power button sits discreetly on the backplate’s left side, mirrored by a 1/4 headphone jack on the far right.

My review units were black, and the control-panel knobs would have been invisible except for their discreet white labels, which were neither too big nor too small. The far-left knob selects inputs. To its right is a smaller knob, labeled MM, MC Low, Mid, High, for phono cartridge loading. To its right are Bass, Treble, and Balance controls. The larger knob on the far right is a smooth-moving Volume control.

Listening with Falcon LS3/5a

I have spent most of my audiophile life, more than 30 years, listening to recordings through either my vintage Rogers or, lately, the new Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a loudspeakers. I admire these little BBC monitors now more than ever because their tone character is so perfectly right on: They show me how different each recording sounds from all the others. They show me how different amplifiers sound.

Up to now, though, the Falcon LS3/5a’s have not responded well to class-D amplification, typically sounding dry and low-contrast. In fact, I might not have even tried the Falcons with the Marantz except that the Falcons were set up and running when the Model 30 arrived. I played a small bunch of fun records and soon realized those Hypex NC500 output modules were driving the LS3/5a with a lively, delicate, well-balanced ease.

The most fun record I played was the 1972 classic, Free to Be … You and Me—Marlo Thomas and Friends (16/44.1 FLAC Arista-Legacy/Qobuz). This recording and its associated That Girl TV show were many Gen-Xers’ first exposure to the issues of gender stereotyping. I like the recording because it is filled with spoken word and rhyme sing-alongs, which I find to be a handy litmus test for assessing audio quality.

“Boy Meets Girl,” with Mel Brooks and Marlo Thomas playing newborn babies debating whether they are boys or girls, is one of my favorite tracks. With the Model 30, Mel and Marlo’s familiar voices sounded crisp and unprocessed, fresh and direct to their respective studio microphones.

With the Falcon LS3/5a’s, the Model 30’s sound was distinguished by a sense of beautifully drawn, a highly articulate delicacy that urged me to listen closely. The Model 30 was the first class-D amplifier that made me genuinely happy with how it drove the Falcon LS3/5a’s. An auspicious start.

Listening with GoldenEar BRXes

I was grateful that GoldenEar’s $1599 BRX standmounts were still in my studio. I figured they’d make a good, virtue enhances-virtue match with the Model 30. The BRXes’ inner detail, transparency, and effortless low-level dynamics were the exact traits I enjoyed with the Marantz powering the Falcons.

The first recording I tried, Lars Vogt playing Schubert: Piano Works (24/48 FLAC Ondine/Qobuz), completely confirmed those expectations. The BRX–Model 30 combo generated an invigorating, detailed sound with a water clear transparency that framed a full palette of finely shaded piano tones.

On a second album, Stravinsky Conducts Histoire Du Soldat Suite (LP, Columbia MS 7093), the Marantz and BRX did everything an amp and speaker could do to let me enjoy this brilliant piece of music history. With the Zu-modified Denon DL-103 moving coil driving the Model 30’s phono stage, the BRX’s beguiling transparency and octave-to octave frequency balance made this dynamic recording the high point of my Model 30 auditions. If you desire a modest sound system that plays all genres with lively, natural ease, incredible three-dimensionality, etherlike transparency, and vintage-Leitz-Leica focus, this is it.

Marantz phono

On their website, Marantz shows pride in the Model 30’s phono stage, which they call Marantz Musical Premium Phono EQ. It uses JFETs and Marantz’s HDRM modules in a passive, two-stage (no-feedback) configuration.

I continued my Marantz phono-input auditions with the $755 Ortofon 2M Black moving magnet cartridge because, like the KEF LS50 speaker, I’ve had it since it came out, and I know its character well. The 2M Black’s copiously detailed, well-sorted presentation is widely admired among moving magnet aficionados. Therefore, it seemed like a potential top choice for Model 30 users.

Mobile Fidelity’s well-executed reissue of Miles Davis’s Jack Johnson (LP, MFSL 1-440), which is stronger and more vivid than the original release, is an album I go to for inspiration. It is a pure, direct artistic testament that feels like the Reverend Miles ministering to me personally, sharing his desire to form something real and lasting using little more than his exquisitely reverberant notes framed by driving sounds from his most heavenly band lineup.

With the 2M Black and GoldenEar BRX speakers, Miles’s trumpet and John McLaughlin’s guitar were hauntingly pure. The first traits I noticed with the Model 30’s phono stage were its openness and sharp focus, followed by its uncommon naturalness of tone. Tempos and melodies were well-sorted and easy to follow.

The Model 30’s phono stage sounded awake and luxuriously detailed with the $755 Shibata-tipped 2M Black. I wondered how it would fare with the $199 Shibata-tipped Audio Technica AT-VM95SH.

The next record I played, Black Uhuru’s Sly & Robbie– produced 1981 album, Red (LP, Mango ZCM 9625), demonstrated that, with the right phono stage and record player, a modest cartridge like the AT-VM95SH is able to play some recordings more effectively than middle- or top-shelf cartridges. In this case, I thought the Audio-Technica’s distribution of force, bass weight, transient slam, and unbelievable pace, rhythm, and timing made “Sponji Reggae” and the whole Red album more enjoyable than with any of my fancy-pants cartridges.

I played “Sponji Reggae” once more, this time with the $49 (!) Audio-Technica AT-VM95E, the elliptical-stylus version of the VM95. Now the sound had even more pulse and reggae energy. The music was more powerfully there (in my room) than it had been with the Shibata-tipped version.

The Marantz phono input played moving magnet cartridges in a manner that would satisfy all but the most affluent and persnickety audiophiles.

But what about moving coils?

Unlike the Yamaha A-S3200 integrated, which provided a fixed 50-ohm load for moving coils, the Model 30 gives the user three loading choices: 33 ohms, 100 ohms, and 390 ohms. This made me curious how the popular and overtly musical Zu Audio–modified Denon DL-103 (from $499) (Zu/DL-103 Mk. II, Rev-B) moving coil might fare with the Marantz.

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