Physical media is not dead. Far from it. In fact, in 2017 vinyl sales have been the highest since the mid 80’s and CD sales have started to go up again. And while we are on that matter, CD sales have actually been higher than digital downloads for the past several years too. Streaming, on the other hand, is a a different case altogether. Personally I see streaming as a glorified radio. An extremely fabulous sounding one but a glorified radio nevertheless. So I “get” some of the old-school musicphiles (myself included) want to stick to their CD collection. I myself own about 2,000 CD titles and last month alone I purchased 38 CDs from around the world. This is something that in many cases I can not do with streaming and digital downloads due to region restrictions. On the other hand, I also want to experience the not-so-occasional streaming… and no, I don’t have the space to put a network client on my rack.
Thankfully, Marantz recently released the ND-8006, a CD player that is also a network player AND a multi-input DAC into a single unit at an affordable price.
The ND-8006 is sized at a typical Marantz CD player but with a lot more connections at the back. There are two connectors for the included antennae which works for wifi at both 2.4, 5 GHz, and also Bluetooth. Of course a physical ethernet input is available and highly recommend for stability in streaming. There is an S/PDIF coaxial input and two Toslink optical inputs. Oh, a USB-A connector is also available to use this unit as a computer DAC too!!
The USB-B works in a synchronous mode to support 384kHz/32bits high-resolution audio, DSD 2.8MHz, 5.6MHz and even 11.2MHz formats for maximized performance. To safeguard quality when connected to a computer, Marantz built extended isolation around the USB-B input to eliminate the chance of high frequency noise generated by the computer entering the ND-8006. The internal DAC within the ND-8006 contains audiophile-standard ESS-9016 Sabre DAC with dual crystal clocks to ensure accurate handling of all digital signals. Included analog circuitry combined with famous Marantz Hyper-Dynamic Amplifier Modules (HDAMs) creates wide dynamic range and lower distortion. In place of the all-in-one “chip amplifiers” used elsewhere, these miniature HDAMs are built from separate, hand-picked and optimized components for the very best sound quality.
If the above is not enough for you, The ND-8006 features the unique Marantz Musical Digital Filtering (MMDF), inspired by their audiophile reference class technology. For Marantz, using standard digital filter solutions is not an option, as this filtering is crucial to the sound reproduction of digital input signals. Our audio engineers developed highly-acclaimed Marantz Music Mastering technology, used in award-winning Premium Range 10 Series products. Custom adapted specifically for the ND-8006 hardware design, this advanced technology is referred to as Marantz Musical Digital Filtering. Two selectable digital filter characteristics easily cater to different tastes, with each one handling the minutest details with the utmost care in the digital audio signal, transforming new media files into the finest of high-resolution playback. This way, your “regular” audio will be up-sampled and scaled to near Hi-Res quality.
As for outputs, there is a fixed output if you are going to use a pre-amp, and there is also a variable audio output if you want to output the unit directly to a power amplifier.
In the front, there is a USB input so you can plug in a USB key (or external HDD) to access your music and a headphone output that can be completely disabled should you don’t want to use the headphone output to minimize the internal EMI and RFI that may be caused by the headphone amplifier to absolute zero.
Furthermore, this unit can also be used as a HEOS whole-home audio source. If you don’t know yet, HEOS is a wireless music system that allows you to control all your music effortlessly from anywhere in your home. All you need is one or more HEOS speakers (also called “client”) and the free app. Every HEOS client features compatibility with high-resolution audio files for the ultimate listening experience over network or USB all in the convenience of your home. With this unit via HEOS you can listen to uncompressed WAV (PCM), ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) and FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) music files up to 24-bit/192-kHz and coming soon DSD (DSD is the audio coding format of SACD) and AIFF (Audio Interchange File Format) audio tracks. Note, there is no mention about MQA just yet.
For my review purpose, I am using Pioneer Elite M-10X MOSFET power amplifier fed directly to Vermouth Audio Little Luccas mk II Limited Edition speakers using Raal ribbon tweeters without any pre-amp whatsoever to eliminate any pre-amplifier sonic colourization. All cables (RCA, power cables and speaker wires) are of Vermouth Audio’s Red Velvet line.
NETWORK & HEOS SETUP
Before I began, I started by setting up the ND-8006 to my network. Everything can be accessed through the setting menu and very easy to set up. The same goes with HEOS. In order to create a HEOS ecosystem, all you need is a free HEOS app downloadable for both iOS and Android OS and follow the on-screen instructions. Very easy and straightforward; I actually asked my neighbour whose English is somewhat limited and he created the ecosystem with two Denon HEOS-1 I borrowed from my brother within ten minutes.
I’m still wishing, however, for the front USB to be able to be connected to a USB keyboard so toggling up/down, typing, etc can be faster and easier. Or at least, since the Bluetooth connection is available, users should be available to sync their USB keyboard to the streamer making searching radio stations, songs, albums, artists a breeze. No manufacturer seems to think of this. Yes you can use an app control but why not give an option? After all, all the hardware are there (USB and Bluetooth).
I began my listening by streaming various songs in various genres either from my networked hard-drive, networked laptop, Tidal and USB-connected hard-drive. The sound was impressively wide, with solid-sounding bass and clear, upfront voices that had a good sense of body (depending in the recording material itself, of course) without any exaggeration. The guitar in my usual Judas Priest album “Ram It Down” was crisp and upfront without being harsh. Overall, the Marantz sound was veeeery slightly on the mellow side, with a notable sense of spaciousness and dynamic ease.
I also played the Muzak Jazz rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” from Hudson (16/44.1 FLAC, Tidal), by a jazz quartet comprising guitarist John Scofield (one of my favourite guitarists) keyboardist John Medeski (another one of my favourite lounge-jazz keyboardists) with bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Here again, the ND-8006 delivered a great sonic imaging and smooth sound.
Switching to HiRes file streaming, I streamed a download of Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” (24/96 FLAC, MCA purchased from HDtracks) from my Dell Inspiron laptop. The ND-8006 easily delivered the crisp, near-studio-quality sound I’m used to hearing from this track: drums attacks and bass dynamics were delivered as intact and detailed as I can remember while the keyboard and vocals had the articulation and depth as they were meant to sound like.
An even higher-rez download, of Miles Davis’s “So What,” (24/192 FLAC, MCA/HDtracks), also had striking detail, along with a compelling sense of the space surrounding the trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones, piano, bass, and drums. Even the room reverbs within the recording were reproduced as faithfully as I know of. When compared by playing the same album remastered and released on a limited-print gold CD I purchased in Munich from a collector two years ago, the ND-8006 upsample and scaled the already greatly mastered CD to near HiRes quality that is very hard to distinguish between the original 24/192 vs 16/44 upscaled to 24/192. Please note that I own multiple versions of this album including CrO2 cassette, vinyl, 180g vinyl, 1992 CD, XRCD, SACD, and HiRes FLAC file (out of the approximately 24 different releases of this same album, some even on reel-to-reel and minidisc formats). This is just to say that I’m more than extremely familiar how this album sounds characteristics.
Now it’s time for the hardest test. From my studio recording days, Kiwi House Studios produced “Jangan Tinggalkan” performed by me, recorded and mixed by Christian Ravera on 24-track E-mu Darwin in 16-bit/48 kHz and mixed down to Tascam DA-30 mkII DAT recorder at the same bit and sample rate. I still own the original DAT master and CD master (the CD is of course at 16/44) and all the monitoring system (amp, speakers, even the speaker and interconnect cables).
First I played back the original DAT master from the DAT recorder and then comparing it directly with the CD master from the CD recorder, after which I played the same CD master on the Marantz ND-8006. The result? Wow! What a lack of difference! It is very difficult to differentiate the difference between the CD-master played back on the machine I used to produce it versus the ND-8006!! I heard very near identical panoramic sound on the effects I used (I used Roland Sound Space hardware during recording to create the three dimensionality effect of the harp sound in the beginning of the song), the identical low and high frequency responses and the same tautness of those frequencies. The only part that is lacking is the immediacy of the higher frequencies of the recording that is already mastered to be laid back to sound even more laid back albeit not too noticeable.
For a CD player (and a streamer and a DAC and a pre-amp) at much much less than the CA$3,000 price I paid for the HHB CDR-800 PRO back in the day (around $4,000 in today’s money), this level of performance makes the Marantz ND-8006 at far far less than $2,000 a bargain. Don’t forget, if you add the streaming capability, a standalone DAC and a pre-amp, it makes the ND-8006 not only a bargain but a steal.