Stereo Amplifier

Review: Marantz PM-95 Stereo Amplifier

In parallel with what one might call their mainstream audio products, Marantz have for many years produced models for the specialist audiophile market, no-compromise units which represent the best that the designers can manage at the time and from whose technology the more accessibly priced 'bread and butter' fare can later benefit. A number of the major companies do this, perhaps the m.ost obvious contemporary example being Sony with their top-end Esprit range. Marantz's name for their esoteric range used to be, not inappropriately, Esotec (now it's Music Link), and although very few models were put into circulation in the UK, their amplifiers in particular acquired a fine reputation. I myself have had a pair of MA-6 mono block power amplifiers (30 Watts Class A switchable to 120 Watts Class AB) for three years now and as yet see no reason at all to move on to something else.

At £1,699 the PM-95 sits at the top of the current equivalent amplifier range, complementing the CD-12 Reference Compact Disc player. Unequivocally designed for today's 'high-tech' audio requirements it carries 'on-board D/A converters and can thus handle the 'raw' digital signals from a Compact Disc player transport, two DAT recorders, a DBS (Direct/Digital Broadcast Satellite) tuner and a digital signal processor as well as a number of conventional analogue inputs. What it doesn't have is provision for an analogue pickup cartridge, so LP listeners would need to budget for an additional stand-alone RIAA gain/equalization unit (a matching one is to be made available but any model would be compatible electrically). The amplifier is rated at 125 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms in Class AB mode but, like the MA-6, can be switched to operate at 20 Watts per channel Class A.

A further novelty which until recently would have gone against the purist grain is the inclusion of full remote control, including volume, via the supplied 'intelligent' table-top remote control unit, the RC-95. Intelligent means that, like a number of other so-called universal remote control units, the RC-95 can be made to learn the infra-red code signals of up to 13 other remote control command units in addition to the seven sets with which it is pre-programmed. Complete with an LCD display to tell you what it thinks you want it to do, this neat unit then becomes the control centre for TV, VCR, CD player, DAT recorder, etc. and all the other control units can be put away.

Despite the number and complexity of its input and switching options, the PM-95 is nevertheless a product of the minimalist school. It has no tone controls and the front panel is remarkably uncluttered, with just a single large knob for volume and 12 pushbutton pads (click buttons really, since they hardly move) for the selection of the main input functions, power on (the unit is normally left connected to the mains in a stand-by mode, like a video cassette recorder) and a mute. Of the five remaining 'pads', three are blank dummies (to preserve the aesthetic) one carries a display of the digital sampling rate currently in operation and the last doubles as the infra-red detector and Class A mode indicator. Underneath all this is a drop-down hinged panel which hides the less frequently used function switches which are arranged into three groups - basically for selecting analogue record out, analogue monitor input and digital record out, with comprehensive dubbing options - pIus speaker output selection (two pairs are catered for), headphones (one set) and a stereo balance control.

Fully laden, the PM-95 could cater for the following. Using digital muting: two Compact Disc player transports (one each via the optical and coaxial inputs), two DAT recorders (with a choice for one of optical or coaxial digital input/output connections), a DBS digital tuner and a digital signal processor. Additionally, using conventional twin-phono analogue leads: a third CD player, a normal FM/AM tuner, two ordinary tape machines (reel-to-reel, cassette or indeed the analogue connections of DAT recorders) plus an analogue signal processor (an equalizer, say). On top of all that there are two more analogue record outputs and a further auxiliary input. Given a clear enough head all the signal routing for this lot, and many of their individual functions too, could be controlled either from the front panel of the PM95 or remotely via the table-top unit. One last feature is that suitably equipped ancillary items from the Marantz range can be linked via control cables and operated via the RC95 without further ado.

The Marantz PM-95 is one of the most beautifully put together and lavishly made hi-fi units I have had the pleasure to use. The bulk of the inner chassis is of pressed copper sheet sections, with the various circuit areas logically partitioned off. The front panel assembly, pad-switch tops, lower switch flap and overall top cover are of champagne-gold coloured anodized aluminium while the massive side panels are of cast zinc (!) with a matching beige/brown coloured textured paint finish. The amplifier sits on four, apparently plaster-filled, cylindrical feet. A large number of circuit boards are employed but with remarkably few, and very neat, wiring looms running between them.