Marantz PM15S2 Limited Edition, An Owners Review
I have waited a good deal of time before taking on the task of reviewing my Marantz PM15S2 Limited edition integrated amp. I first picked up this amp in October of 2013 to supplant both a Pioneer SC-35 AVR and a Yamaha A S500 integrated. The step up in build quality and performance over my two standbys will be noted with one crucial caveat. The retail price of this unit listed at Music Direct or Crutchfield was $2,500. Since this is a special edition as a part of Marantz’s 2012 offering, it would not take long for them to put out a new model in rotation, which is the current PM14S1. A custom installer had purchased this unit for a well-heeled customer undergoing a room remodel. As is the normal case with the well-heeled, they changed their mind well after the return window had expired. I was able to lay my hands on this factory sealed 40 pound beauty for $1,500. Please note price does play a significant role in my opinion against my other gear.
My Pioneer SC-35 is a fantastic receiver; it has the second generation class D amplification, 140 watts X 7 at 8 ohms, built in digital to analogue conversion and some pretty sophisticated room correction software. It retailed for $1,600 brand new, I was able to purchase it on sale for $1,100. Before this hefty AVR, I was using a regular low budget Yamaha AVR in my system. My Pioneer was with me for nearly three years as I changed out many other pieces of gear, and it is with this unit that I became accustomed to judging system improvements. To go from a 40 pound class D AVR to a 40 pound 2 channel only integrated requires this important digression. I only spent only $400 more for the Marantz yet the well timed bargain find prompted my entire two channel system to move to the next floor up in sound quality. The Yamaha A S500 was a fun experiment for its price of entry into the integrated amplifier segment, but it has no place in comparing it with these two brutes. I will write about it separately for those interested in great budget amps.
I never get critical with listening to new gear until I have had several hours of casual playing, break in and my own mental adjustments have taken place. The Marantz is very handsome sitting on my audio shelf, the curved black aluminum looks as solid as its weight suggests. The list of features are pretty standard, two channel operation only, one set of high quality WBT binding posts out back. It would have been nice to have balanced inputs for future upgrades, but I cannot complain, the CD and phono RCA connects are a little more robust than the standard brass line inputs. Marantz has a mini jack for a bi-amping stage if anyone were wishing to buy multiple units and daisy chain them. This unit also has tone controls and a tone defeat button. I found myself happy to have the tone controls during my pursuit of a new digital to analogue converter. There is a full function remote, heavy with a nice machined aluminum top plate. The remote can control other Marantz gear, such as their SACD players, yet, for this unit, only three buttons matter, volume and attenuate. Curious, there is no power button.
Not all watts are created equal, and with the amplifiers I’ve owned, I can attest to this. The Marantz is rated at 90 Watts per channel at 8 ohms, and 140 Watts at 4 ohms. However, upon inspecting the internal parts of this integrated, one can see two very large 20,000µf capacitors, a combination of heavy duty copper and brass strapping, and “screw down” not soldered cabling. The fully shielded toroidal transformer is very robust as well. Marantz also employs a different amplifier circuit from other comparable companies. Instead of using off the shelf IC amps that are cheap and can degrade sound quality, Marantz developed its own in house called Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module (HDAM) that claim better slew rates and voicing. I would compare these to similar op amps from Burson or Dexa, for which I’ve had firsthand experience.
Right off the bat, these 90 watts are so much more musical and muscular than my Pioneer, despite the Pioneer owning 50 more watts per channel. I must point something out right away that had me worried about “paper specs” and that was the damping factor of only “100” for the Marantz unit, whereas class D amps have very high dampening and therefor theoretical stronger control over bass and woofer behavior. The paper specs have no bearing upon what I heard and or how the Marantz handled my three way, four driver Monitor Audio RX8 speakers. Bass quality was immediately noticeable, let alone improving with extended play. I kept all the same cabling between the Pioneer and Marantz. Interconnects are Audioquest King Cobras, power cable is the garden hose thick Pangea SC9 (7 gauge monster). Power conditioning thanks to APC. Music comes from my ACER M5 laptop that serves as my music server, using JRiver media player V.19; fed via a Pangea solid silver USB cable to my modified Eastern Electric MiniMax Plus DAC with upgraded Burson op amps in the dual position and Dexa op amps in the single position.
Instead of using the analogy of ‘there is no replacement for displacement’, I would rather say that the Marantz represents the perfect example of getting what one pays for in terms of quality. Just as my Pioneer was a huge step up in sound quality from my old Yamaha AVR, the Marantz is another solid level up over the Pioneer. Volume was the key indicator; no matter what playback volume I sought, the coherence and stage would also increase. Where my Pioneer could play loud, it would lose composure the higher I pushed it, the Marantz could continue to increase volume while none of the instruments lost focus, or I would get distracted by some subtraction. Moreover the Marantz did not have this problem; those two large capacitors must keep plenty of power on tap and in the ready. Dial wise, to give an example, I could turn the Pioneer to just below zero (-3) for near reference level listening, I could not get the Marantz near zero, the highest I’ve played it is -19. I thought I would blow the woofers on my RX8’s if pushed further, which can handle 175 watts and are 4 ohm speakers.
Are you a Marantz Fan?
Soundstage wise, the Marantz is a clear and obvious winner. My biggest complaint about my Pioneer was it portrayed such a narrow front stage nor could it play very deep. With the Marantz, there are plenty of times where I stop and look up when I hear notes being played well to the right or left of my speakers. Listening to The Freshman from the Verve Pipe, the electric guitar playing on the right sounds very close to the wall and about two feet outside the speaker. My favorite standby is Rodrigo y Gabriela. Playing their cover version of Metallica’s Orion is sublime. The resonance of the acoustic guitars, Gabby slap drumming while strumming and Rodrigo bending out those notes sans whammy bar. What a feast for the ears. With this amp, I really feel like I have these two performers in my living room, Rodrigo to the right and Gabby on the left in perfect stage spacing. I’ve heard or read over and over how many critics call Marantz amps “dark”. I can agree with those that say Yamaha amps can get bright or shouty, I have experienced no such event with my music to call this amp dark or laid back. If retrieving detail in a non-fatiguing manner is called “dark”, then please sign me up as a fan of these amps…
If there are any limitations I have uncovered with the Marantz, it is in the quality of my other gear. Digital to analogue converters matter, speaker selection matters. Even after having modified my RX8’s with improved internal damping material, my new KEF R300 monitors are opening up even greater windows to the music. So far I would say I have found the perfect marriage between amp and speaker in my specific listening room. I intend to write a review of the KEF’s, diving into several music tracks and the differences in soundstage versus the Monitor Audio RX8’s. Regarding length of listening sessions, I recall often that I would need to get up and turn my Pioneer off to take a break from it. I have never felt this way with my Marantz, and now with the KEF’s, it is more difficult for me to actually get up and do something else; I want to keep the music flowing in perpetuity. The Marantz and KEF combination does a great service to all musical genres, embarrassing none. Add to these facts that I paid only 60% of the retail price, I can think of no amp, not the NAD 375, not the Primare that I auditioned my RX8’s with, none that will cause me to part with any more money over my new Marantz beauty.
Marantz PM15S2 Limited Edition Specs
Power Output (8 / 4 Ohm RMS) 90 W / 140 W
Power Output (8 / 4 Ohm DIN) 95 W / 155 W
Power Output (8 / 4 Ohm IHF) 100 W / 160 W
Frequency Response 5 Hz - 100kHz
Total Harmonic Distortion 0.05 %
Damping Factor 100
Input Sensitivity: MM 2.7 mV / 47 kohm
Input Sensitivity: MC 270 μV / 100 ohm
Signal to Noise Ratio: MM/MC 86 dB / 75 dB
Input Sensitivity: High level 240 mV / 20 kohm
Signal to Noise Ratio: High level 89 dB(500mV input)
Input Sensitivity: Power Amp Direct IN 1,7 V / 20 kohm
Signal to Noise Ratio: Power Amp Direct IN 104 dB
Clean, Seamless Construction
No Visible Screw Heads
Marantz HDAM-SA3 (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module)
Digitally Controlled Analog Volume Control
CD Direct Input Buffer Circuit w/ HDAM-SA2
Current Feedback Power Amplifier w/ Servo
Shielded Torroidal Transformer
New Power Supply w/40,000uF Filter Capacitance
Power Amp Direct Input
Double Layered Bottom Plate
Custom Aluminum Feet
IR Remote w/ Aluminum Face
F.C.B.S. (Floating Control Bus System)
Complete Bi-amp Option
Multi Channel System Option
Bi-Amp Mode Option