Stereo Amplifier

Review: Marantz PM-80SE Stereo Amplifier

As befits a Japanese company which is owned by Philips and whose origins lie in 1940s America rather than Japan's post-war economic miracle, Marantz is a breed apart from its Oriental peers - a mass producer with genuine audiophile credibility. Not because it competes with today's American high-end manufacturers on price and pretension but rather because it is widely perceived as having a slightly quirky approach to product design and development which doesn't quite square with the marketing-Ied conservatism typical of its compatriots.

Which other Japanese major, for example, still offers an expensive turntable in its range (the £5,000 TT1000 MkII) and is prepared to promulgate such hi-tech heresy in its catalogue as "LPs can sound every bit as good-and often better-than digitally recorded sources"?

Marantz's reputation for individualism today rests primarily with its highly praised and consistently award-winning CD players, but it actually stretches back to the predigital era. Then it was amplifiers and tuners for which the Marantz name was best known and respected, a fondly remembered example being the MA-5 monoblock power amplifiers which, prior to the arrival of dreadnought American designs like the Krells, served as a rare reminder to British enthusiasts o f the benefits of Class A operation.

The MA-5 heritage lives on most obviously in the current MA-24, but lower down the range the traditional espousal of Class A is still to be found. In the PM-80, PM-82 and £630 PM-80SE - the subject of this review - the user is given the unusual choice of operating the amplifier either in Class AB mode, which maximises power output potential (110 Watts continuous into 8 Ohms), or in Class A, which drops the rated power considerably (25 Watts) but offers the potential of superior sound quality. In Class A the transistors in both halves of the push-pull output stage conduct throughout the signal cycle, thereby eliminating the various distortions which can arise in Class AB operation, where one half of the output stage is switched off for part of the time.

No Japanese amplifier, even a Marantz, is complete without a welter of proprietary features codified by arcane initials, and the PM-80SE is no exception. In addition to the Class A option it incorporates CCNE (current conversion noise elimination), LDPS (linear drive power supply) and HR (high resolution) circuits. The SE appended to the amplifier's designation stands for 'special edition' and signifies that its design was fine-tuned in Europe under the watchful eye and keen ear of Marantz International's respected Senior Product Manager, Ken Ishiwata.

Of more immediate significance to hard-bitten audiophiles than this plundering of the alphabet will be the PM-80SE's lack of tone controls and filters, the provision of a disc input stage with switchable sensitivity for moving-coil and fixed-coil (i.e. moving-magnet) cartridges, and Marantz's claim that the amplifier is delighted to drive low impedance loads (rated power in Class AB increases to 270 Watts DIN into 2 Ohms). Those who bi-wire their loudspeakers will also be pleased to note that two sets of (switchable) loudspeaker output terminals are provided.

Other design features lionized by the manufacturer are a copper-plated chassis, incorporated to minimize induced eddy current effects in the metal case, and a toroidal mains transformer - an item which British amplifier manufacturers have been using for many years but which is still an unusual sight in mainstream Japanese designs.

Class A entails high heat dissipation, which is one reason for the PM-80SE's considerable bulk (420 x 146 x 334mm) - large heatsinks are necessary. These are accommodated within the casework rather than mounted externally, a feature for which anyone who has suffered cuts and contusions from sharp-edged cooling fins will give thanks. Mounting the heatsinks internally also obviates the problems inherent in providing a high quality anodized finish and allows maximum case temperature standards to be more easily met, so the manufacturer benefits too.