It’s one of three products under the Music Link umbrella, alongside the HD-DAC1 headphone amplifier and £379 HD-CD1 CD player – the latter we’ll be testing with the HD-AMP1 and featuring in a separate review.
MARANTZ HD-AMP1 – DESIGN AND CONNECTIONS
It isn't every day we can say this about an amplifier, but the HD-AMP1 is simply stunning. Its design oozes elegance thanks largely to the gorgeous glossy side panels with retro wood-style patterning. These, combined with the rounded corners, give it a friendly, lifestyle look that won’t scare off muggles. There are two equally sumptuous colour options (Black and Silver/Gold), but the side panels are the same on both.
Don’t be fooled by its beauty, however – beneath the pretty surface lurks some heavyweight hardware. It’s housed in a dual-layer chassis with an additional bottom plate to suppress unwanted vibrations, supported by feet with die-cast aluminium insulators.
The brushed aluminium front panel plays host to Marantz’s signature porthole display, which shows the current input and the sample rate of the incoming signal when USB-DAC is selected. You get two large dials – one for volume, one for input selection – that turn with a smooth, firm action.
A few buttons are dotted about, including setup and standby, plus USB and headphone output ports. The USB port supports direct music playback from USB sticks and Apple devices, up to 192kHz/24-bit.
Rear socketry aims for quality over quantity, with premium-grade gold-plated connectors and Marantz’s chunky, solid brass SPKT-1 speaker terminals. There are two pairs of analogue inputs, coaxial input, two optical inputs, subwoofer output, USB-B and remote control in/out. Phono input is the only notable omission.
MARANTZ HD-AMP1 – FEATURES
The HD-AMP1 thumps out 70W per channel into 4ohms, or 35W into 8ohms, courtesy of Marantz’s HDAM-SA2 modules (employed in three separate circuit blocks) and Current Feedback technology.
Interestingly, it’s the first ever Marantz hi-fi product to incorporate a switching (class D) amplifier, which Marantz’s engineers previously didn’t consider acceptable for a premium hi-fi product. However, combining it with HDAM technology and an overall feedback loop irons out the problems, guaranteeing a consistent performance with a wide range of speaker types.
This HDAM technology is paired with a reference-class ESS SABRE DAC, which (via the rear USB-B port in asynchronous mode) can decode WAV, FLAC, ALAC and AIFF up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD in 2.8MHz, 5.6MHz and even 11.2MHz.
Marantz Musical Digital Filtering (MMDF) uses proprietary filter algorithms to extract all the detail in hi-res tracks, with two selectable settings that cater for different tastes. The Dual Crystal Clock and a discrete DAC post filter ensure optimum digital-to-analogue conversion.
The elephant in the room is the lack of wireless connectivity. That means no Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, DLNA, app control or HEOS multiroom. If wireless is what you want, try Marantz’s £300 NA6005 network player instead – the HD-AMP1 is a more old-school affair.
MARANTZ HD-AMP1 – OPERATION
On the plus side, its simplicity makes the HD-AMP1 very easy to setup and control. Inputs are selected at the turn of a dial and tracks play at the touch of a button, not by sifting through menus on a smartphone. There’s something refreshing about that.
However, owners of Windows PCs hoping to use the USB DAC function will need to install the driver software (available to download from the Marantz website) and select the HD-AMP1 as their playback device.
The HD-AMP1’s large black remote sports a stripped-back array of responsive rubber buttons. At the top you’ll find keys for each input, while the playback, volume and menus controls below are well spaced out. The brushed black finish is attractive, too.
Use the setup button to toggle through the menu options on the porthole display. Here you can adjust the bass, treble and balance controls, select one of two filter settings and boost the headphone gain if you need to drive particularly demanding cans.
MARANTZ HD-AMP1 – PERFORMANCE
Marantz always strives for transparency from its products and that’s exactly what you get from the HD-AMP1. Playing a range of tracks across all inputs – all with the Source Direct mode engaged – it delivers an open and insightful performance, where every voice and instrument is rendered with outstanding clarity.
There’s an organic feel to the Marantz’s presentation. Some systems push the top end to engineer excitement; others overplay the bottom end for extra depth and impact. The HD-AMP1 does neither. It simply lets the music do the talking with a natural and well-balanced sound.
Most impressive is its ability to dig out fine top-end and mid-range detail. The Marantz sheds new light on elements of jazz compositions I thought I knew inside out; background noises, percussion patterns, guitar textures. It will breathe new life into your beloved classics, too.
Move to hi-res and the Marantz maximises the step up in quality, pulling out the extra sonic detail and turning it into something really rather beautiful.
But if the bulk of your collection is still of the standard-res persuasion, no problem. Paired with the HD-CD1, the HD-AMP1 makes CD-resolution material sparkle – during the perky jazz-funk of Lee Ritenour’s 'Bullet Train', the drums and slap bass are tight and focused, overlaid by rich, inviting piano riffs and sax solos.
And with George Michael’s Songs From The Last Century CD in the tray, the Marantz offers a sumptuous rendition of 'Roxanne'. Drums and vocals bristle with detail and it’s all gelled together by the solid double-bass and warm piano.
Next I gave the HD-AMP1 a workout with some fast-paced dance tracks. It conveyed the chunky basslines and busy kick drums with plenty of punch and agility. The system’s bass output is warm and seamlessly integrated, adding body without muddying up the mix.
What’s more, the Marantz creates a wide and immersive soundstage, with a clear idea of where instruments are placed. Shut your eyes and you’re whisked into the studio or live venue.
Despite its compact size, the HD-AMP1 is as comfortable driving large floor-standers as it is bookshelf or desktop speakers. I tried a few pairs I had lying around the house, from big Teufel and Tannoy floor-standers to Q Acoustics’ 7000i compact satellites, and it powered them all with aplomb.
With the larger speakers, it managed to convey the big dynamics of movie soundtracks at loud volumes without losing sight of the finer details. The amount of impact and poise on display here is terrific for such a compact and relatively affordable amp.
SHOULD I BUY THE MARANTZ HD-AMP1?
With its delectable retro design and gorgeous performance, the HD-AMP1 doesn't disappoint. It’s a versatile, accommodating amp, capable of driving a wide range of speakers and supporting any audio resolution you throw its way. Top-drawer electronics, clutter-busting dimensions and formidable build quality make that asking price seem thoroughly reasonable.
But its sparkling sound is the real story here. Transparency, insight, power and poise, the HD-AMP1 has it all, making your music shine, no matter the source.
In fact, the only bad thing I can say is that there’s no multiroom or wireless music streaming, but that’s scraping the barrel – as straight stereo amps go, the Marantz is a belter.
Marantz delivers the goods yet again with a stylish, sublime-sounding amp that redefines what compact components are capable of.