Given that nearly all of today’s hi-fi amplifiers and multichannel receivers are equipped with DACs and streaming modules, it might seem pointless to own an optical player, network player or external DAC. Do hi-fi separates still have a future? With this review of the Marantz ND8006 CD player, streamer and DAC, we hope to provide some insight into this matter.
One thing seems certain: a CD player which is only capable of playing optical discs isn’t enough to satisfy the modern listener. Today, much of our music takes the form of digital audio files stored on a computer or streamed from an online music service, whether this be in compressed format from Deezer or in CD or HD quality from Qobuz. Marantz has understood this well, and the brand’s new network audio player, the Marantz ND8006, can not only play CDs but is also equipped with a DAC which may be used with external sources. In other words, the ND8006 is an attractive, all-in-one digital audio player. And while the nearly €1300 price tag makes it a rather hefty investment, the very efficient Marantz CD6006 CD player and Marantz NA6005 network player would cost almost as much if purchased together, and a USB DAC would need to be purchased separately. What’s more, the Marantz ND8006 is an audiophile model which stands a head above your average midrange model. Weighing in at 17.5 lbs (8 kg), it boasts a heavy chassis and a large transformer.
Marantz ND8006: presentation
In addition to CDs, the Marantz ND8006 CD player can play digital audio files stored on a TV or computer and HD audio files stored on a USB drive, smartphone or home network, as well as music streamed from online music services such as Deezer, Spotify and Tidal. And, since it is HEOS compatible, the Marantz ND8006 can be integrated into a multiroom system (Marantz and Denon connected speakers and amplifiers). Marantz has chosen the ESS Tech Sabre ES9016 DAC to convert digital signals to audible sound. This DAC has the particularity of being able to process 8 channels simultaneously. With our installation, the left and right channels were each sent over 4 parallel channels. Thanks to this technique, the conversion of the incoming digital audio signal is flawless, and background noise is significantly reduced.
The Marantz ND8006 is equipped with fixed and variable line level inputs to which a power amplifier may be connected.
Marantz ND8006: jitter elimination
Jitter is the bane of digital audio transmission. This phenomenon is caused by flawed timing in the delivery of data packets sent by the source to the DAC, resulting in harsh, inaccurate timbres and a disorganized soundstage. Ideally, the delivery of digital data should be precisely timed. In practice, however, data packets overlap frequently, if not systematically, and jitter is the result. With the ND8006, Marantz was very careful to eliminate jitter for all digital inputs: USB-A, USB-B, S/PDIF, network and even Bluetooth. Two internal clocks handle digital audio stream sampled at 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz. As such, a 16/44 CD-quality signal is handled, as are DSD files stored on a USB drive and 24/192 FLAC files. This is, at least, what Marantz has promised us.
Marantz ND8006: inputs and sources
CD: to play audio files on CDs and CD-Rs (MP3 only). SACDs are not handled.
USB-B: to connect a computer (Windows driver available for download) and use the ND8006 as an external DAC. PCM files up to 32-bit/384 kHz and DSD up to 11.2 MHz are handled. For these, DoP encapsulation is necessary (the option may be activated in Foobar, Jriver Media Center, Audirvana, etc.).
USB-A: to connect an iPhone, iPod or USB drive and play FLAC, DSD, ALAC, AIFF, WAV, MP3, WMA and AAC audio files stored on these devices. Gapless playback is ensured for FLAC, WAV and DSD files.
Optical/coaxial: to connect a TV or any other device equipped with a digital output (PCM signals up to 24-bit/192 kHz).
WiFi/Ethernet: to use an iPhone or Mac in AirPlay mode, or to listen to audio files shared by a computer or NAS (DLNA protocol). Streaming tracks from online music services or from your smartphone’s music library is possible via the HEOS app for iOS and Android.
Bluetooth: for wireless audio playback at a distance of up to 10 m with a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone or tablet. Anecdotal for a high-end device.
Marantz ND8006: outputs
Optical/coaxial: to connect an external DAC–for example, one integrated into an AV receiver–and use it as a complement to a hi-fi model. These outputs may be deactivated.
Line Out: two pairs of RCA stereo outputs are available, one of which is variable and may be deactivated.
Headphone output: in 6.35mm format, with a dedicated dial for volume control. The gain may be adjusted (3 levels) in the Marantz ND8006’s settings menu. Powering high impedance headphones should be no problem at all considering the high output volume.
Marantz ND8006: user experience
Is the Marantz ND8006 practical? Overall, yes, and the good news is that a large number of settings may be adjusted via the remote control and the LCD screen: firmware updates, digital-to-analog converter selection (there are two), gain level adjustment for the headphone output, DLNA servers, etc. The remote control itself benefits from the sleek design Marantz and Denon have been favoring for some time now. Not much else to say, except that there are a lot of buttons. The controls on the Marantz ND8006’s front panel are intuitive. On the other hand, the Marantz Hi-Fi Remote app for Android, with which the ND8006 is supposedly compatible, never managed to detect it. Fortunately, the ND8006 is compatible with HEOS, and the HEOS app for iOS/Android granted us access to most of the device’s controls via our smartphone.
We had no trouble at all with the HEOS app, which instantly detected the Marantz ND8006 (connected with a network cable) and allowed us to power the device on and off, adjust its network settings, update its firmware and stream tracks from online music services.
Marantz ND8006: test conditions and listening impressions
We used an Ethernet cable to connect the Marantz ND8006 to our home network. The remote control and LCD screen may be used to establish a WiFi connection, either manually (choice of SSID, password entry) or automatically using WPS (you’ll need to push the WPS button on your set-top box). However, we’d recommend a cabled connection in order to take advantage of the ND8006’s ability to play hi-res audio files (24/192, DSD256). We called upon our DLNA server to listen to FLAC files and our computer to play a few CDs, FLAC files and DSD files via a USB connection.
We used Viard Audio Premium RCA cables to connect the Marantz ND8006 to a Hegel H190 network amplifier. For its part, the amplifier was connected to Tannoy Legacy Cheviot speakers with Viard Audio Silver HD12 cables.
Now back to our original question: why own an external player when an amplifier such as the Hegel H190 is itself equipped with a DAC and a streamer? It could be tempting to assume that the RCA cables connecting the ND8006 to the Hegel amplifier would degrade the signal and be, in all cases, inferior to the ultra-short link between the Hegel’s internal network controller and its DAC. However, our comparative listening experience with the same FLAC files streamed via a DLNA server proved the opposite to be true. Using the Marantz ND8006 as a source, high frequencies are totally transparent and suffer no harshness or excessive brightness. Moreover, the dynamic range is widened. There’s no doubt about it: a rigorously implemented DAC, accompanied by high-quality power and pre-amplification components, can outperform the DAC of a considerably more expensive amplifier.
The Marantz ND8006’s restitution is characterized by remarkable neutrality in the upper end of the audio spectrum (mids/highs), thus ensuring accurate timbres and an expressive midbass/bass register.
Our attention was thus not overly focused on the mids/highs–to which the human ear is very sensitive–but, rather, it was drawn to less conspicuous registers, whose richness is often overshadowed. This ability to extract unexpected micro-details from the midbass and bass register is the mark of a very good system. The Tannoy Legacy Cheviot–which we will review in the near future–are impressive speakers with an ability to uncover the slightest detail. As such, they allowed us to fully appreciate the finest traits of the Marantz ND8006.
Marantz ND8006: conclusions
To put it simply, the Marantz ND8006 allows listeners to sit back and enjoy the music. The abundance of sources is a real advantage, and the variable line output and headphone amplifier are welcome bonuses. The verdict is undeniable: electronics of such outstanding quality have a rightful place in any hi-fi system.
What we liked:
- The coherence of the restitution
- The tonal balance
- The reactive HEOS app
- The efficient headphone output
- The abundance of digital sources
What we would have liked:
- A functional Marantz Hi-Fi Remote app.