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DV6600-U1B Universal SACD/CD/DVD Player
as reviewed by Max Dudious
At the Head-Fi meet this Spring Spring (see my PFO show report elsewhere in this issue at http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue26/headfi.htm), I was taken by how many really good-sounding, mostly not-so-pricey CD players were at the display tables of the members, as the prevailing ethos was one of frugality. I wondered out loud why some of the big CD player manufacturers were not present. I got no answer. At the meet, though some pretty expensive headphone gear was displayed, the emphasis was definitely on low cost. Just a few years ago, a "universal" CD player was only found in the higher-priced ($1500 or more) domain, but that is no longer true. Nice performing mid-fi "universals" have arrived, and it's part of my job to point that out. Mid-fi is usually the realm where a new technology brings the greatest improvement in terms of "bang for the buck." Think of Dolby cassettes, Stereo CD players, and now, by extension, SACD players.
Marantz, for one example, offers four different models of "universal" player. The least expensive (DV4600) plays every sort of disc using PCM 16bit logic/44.1mgHz sampling, Redbook CDs, DVD-A multi-channel music, DVD multi-channel surround sound movies, photographs, office programs, everything but SACD (stereo or multi-channel) CDs; and it costs only $300 (all prices are M.S.R.P.). The next more expensive (DV6600) costs $600, and it plays everything with its Bit Stream 20 bit logic and 192mgHz sampling rate: standard redbook CDs, SACDs, multi-channel SACDs and DVD movies, plus all the other usual suspects. Its audio is built on "op-amps." The next in the chain (DV7600) uses the proprietary Marantz HDAM modules in its six-channel audio section, among many more features, and it lists for $900. The $2100 top of the line (DV9600) has many properties of Marantz's all-out assault on the music CD player, its Reference Series (SA-11S1), that lists for $3500. The 9600 has many of the same build features (copper plated chassis, shock proof base), plus 6ch HDAM output, hi-definition video, a Dolby headphone circuit (and many more features), that the stereo-only Reference Series model lacks.
At Kevin Zarow's, one of the industry's good guys, urging, the $600 Model DV6600 passed through my lab on its way elsewhere, because he wanted some more opinions on it. I like good if cheap stuff, and this small, relatively light, relatively inexpensive (some retailers are giving 20% off, which brings it to $500), "universal" CD player has much of the right stuff. The progressive scan video is really pretty damn good, but the audio was the big surprise. Though it is only an "op-amp" circuit, it sounds like more. I don't want to build false expectations, but I have listened to this piece through the S-RA1 $350 Grado an op-amp-driven, battery-powered, headphones amp and it seemed to stretch the Grado out some, making it sound better than I've heard that piece sound with any walkman CD player I usually use. When I played it with HeadRoom's Desktop Millett Hybrid Amp ($600), which has a tubed output stage, I appreciated the DV6600 even more. And when I played it through my Single-Power SLAM amplifier ($750), a tubed Single Ended Triode model of slick design, I liked it about as much as I liked any combination I've had in the lab.
All my listening was done through Shure E4c ($300) earbuds, Grado ($300) SR-325i, or Grado ($700) RS-1 Headphones. These three are all very good at what they do. With some concentration they show some variation in performance that becomes apparent after a while: the Grado 325i's sound like the Grado RS-1s with its wonderful midrange, only with a bit more extended high end. The Shures also sound like the Grado RS-1s in the midrange, but with a bit of a Loudness Contour built in. Once I got a handle on how the Marantz 6600 sounded; pretty flat in the mids, as needed in the bass, with an extra notch or two of high frequency extension, but over-all, quite clean; I listened more and more only with the Grado RS-1s, my default headphone sound, to avoid introducing too many confusing variables.
The Marantz line, especially in its really good-sounding Reference Series, serves as a good example of what can be done with attentive off-shore manufacturing. The DV 6600 universal CD player is the kind of trickle-down I've been awaiting for a few years now. I guess what I'm getting at here is, you can do a hell of a lot worse than the Marantz 6600 "universal" CD player for $500, but you can also start shelling out big bucks to do only somewhat better. (The Bel Canto line has a $7500 universal player, for example.) For Audiophile purposes, and considering the circuits are driven by "op-amp" chips, the DV6600 is an excellent example of what mass production can do to keep quality up while driving price down. I think the way the Marantz marketing guys have scaled their line more or less mirrors the incremental jumps in price and quality in the lines of the other manufacturers.
Think of it this way: It costs $500 or more for a set of first rank headphones these days, and many good headphone amps can cost $400-$15,000, so purchasing a pretty damn good Marantz DV6600 to use as a CD player for headphone listening is not out of line. When you think you'll be getting an up to date, progressive scan DVD video playback section, and a six-channel audio section that will play just about any type of software; it's a nice value. In particular, it's a pretty good SACD player, doing well in stereo or in multi-channel, and very-well with regular Redbook stereo CDs. The 6600 is not as smooth as the Marantz 8260, which has held its own for four or five years in Stereophile's Class A category at $1000 (no DVD capability). But it isn't too far behind, sonically. It lags in some categories: it is a bit less mellow, the midrange doesn't quite capture the roundness of the woodwinds, and the highs are there but not quite as silky smooth on massed violins. If you only listen to jazz and rock, you won't notice. The Single-Power SLAM headphones amp happens to have something like an inverse frequency response curve that matches the 6600, so they sound great together. The Millett amp is a half-notch behind.
With the money you save, you can buy your main squeeze a pair of red & white high-heeled sneakers. (My wife pointed out a pair in a shoe catalogue that made its way into our little beach shack, recently.) So put some Mick Jagger on the box, grab your old lady, and start Walkin' The Dog down to your audio boutique, or just Slurry On Down to Your Stone Soul computer and punch up your favorite vendors, and shopping by price, find the lowest quote you can for the Marantz DV 6600-U1B Universal Player. (This model number is The One.) With a silky tubed preamplifier, I wouldn't be embarrassed, either, to have it at the heart of a high-res system. It's really something of a bargain.