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DACs have been a part of the Marantz lineup for some time but have been almost forgotten until the introduction of the HD-DAC1. This model is a DAC and preamp in one, offering outputs with both fixed and variable signal levels so the user can choose what is best for them. It has great looks, high volume, and performance over a wide range of frequencies and a very convenient front panel that gives you easy and straightforward control of the unit.
The Marantz HD-DAC1 is an example of a device that represents a very high standard of workmanship and has a luxurious appearance. This high-quality desktop digital-analog amplifier impresses with its elegant design and rich sound. The music is very lively, full of energy and vivacity, with a lot of power. The sound is slightly warm with minimal coloration, giving the music noticeable weight with pleasing timbre and delivery.
Marantz HD-DAC1 Top-of-the-line desktop DAC/AMP Review
DAC: Cyrrus Logic CS4398 | AMP: HDAM-SA2 headphone amplifier module | Frequency response: 2 Hz – 20 kHz | Dynamic range: 120 dB | Signal to noise ratio: 107 dB | Distortion: <0.0012% | Digital inputs: 2 optical, 1 coaxial, 1 USB A, 1 USB B | Analog inputs: 3.5 mm | Analog outputs: 1 x RCA unbalanced, 1 x RCA balanced | Headphone connector: 6.3 mm | Weight: 5 kg
Marantz packaging is simple and robust, molded from polystyrene with compartments for accessories such as
- Remote control with batteries
- Power cord
- USB cable
- 2xRCA cable
- RCA trigger cable (for connecting with other Marantz devices)
- User manual
The remote control is large, 22.5 cm long, 5 cm wide, and 2.5 cm thick; it is powered by two AAA batteries. The CD contains the drivers, and the two RCA cables are dispensable since they’re not of the best quality. The same goes for the trigger cable used to connect other Marantz devices. The power cable and USB cable are of good quality, and the USB cable has a gold-plated connector.
The design of the HD-DAC1 is classic. The circular display and surrounding symmetrical control buttons are easy to use and elegant. Wooden side panels give the HD-DAC1 a vintage feel, while the front panel finish and circular display are unique to Marantz. These elements escape from the market commonness in a good way.
Order and symmetry dominate the front panel, and the beauty of the material is an exhibition in itself. Symmetry is represented by three circles: the large center circle is the chrome display, while the two smaller circles on either side are beautifully polished stainless steel knobs. The one on the right is the potentiometer, and the one on the left is the input selector, which is also programmable.
Overall, we have no complaints about the appearance and build quality of the Marantz, which feels solid and compact. There’s also plenty of room on the back for connectors, and the buttons are perfectly balanced. Remote control is also included.
There are four digital inputs: coaxial, two optical, and USB-B. The DAC supports all the latest formats, including DSD128. There’s also a 3.5mm analog input and a front USB port for connecting iOS devices for added convenience. The unit is also designed to be used as a headphone amplifier and can handle loads up to 600 ohms. It should be noted that the unit does not have an RCA input jack.
There are two analog RCA outputs on the rear panel, one of which is balanced and the other not. There is also an analog input via a small jack. All in all, the digital inputs are typical of today: two optical, one coaxial, and one USB. At the back, there are connectors to plug in a computer, an electric or optical digital audio source, or a portable analog player.
The interior of the Marantz HD-DAC1 is quite cramped, mainly due to the large power supply that occupies the left side of the chassis. The transformer is housed in a shielded metal enclosure and separated by a heatsink from the gain control circuitry.
In terms of design, the Marantz HD-DAC1 is very good. It retains the characteristic flair of Marantz devices, which allowed the company to gain fame and reputation from the very beginning.
A way to avoid sync errors is to use bit-transparent mode when reading information from a computer. Here is a simple explanation:
A detailed analysis of the audio data stream from the computer’s memory to the USB output gives disappointing results: the quality is negatively affected when the signal passes through five software modules. Using bit-transparent mode and an asynchronous USB interface, at least three of the five modules were bypassed; included is the audio mixer, which is the biggest threat in terms of interference. This allows data to reach the amplifier’s DAC without any interference from the computer.
However, in order to fully utilize the potential of high-resolution files, the frequency bandwidth reproduced by the analog signal’s amplification path must be considerably expanded. That’s why the unit uses the HDAM SA2, a high-speed module with independent inputs. Its circuitry uses operational amplifiers with virtually unlimited operating frequencies. So far, the HDAM SA2 module is built with audiophile-grade discrete components to ensure full rendition of the rich nuances of HD audio.
The amplifier weighs only 5 kg, but it’s not heavy. Its digital core is a Cyrrus Logic CS4398 DAC with 120dB dynamic range and 107dB noise reduction, capable of sampling up to 192kHz and supporting single and dual DSD streams (up to 5.6MHz). Dual clock technology is responsible for jitter suppression, although no technical details can be gathered.
The USB input connector is particularly good at noise isolation and can, of course, operate in asynchronous mode. PCM 24bit/192kHz and DSD 2.8/5.6MHz are supported by the aforementioned asynchronous USB interface and a special sound card.
DSD is not a dominant format in most digital libraries, so we tested the HD-DAC1 first with PCM audio files and found the HD-DAC1’s audio to be quite rich and high-res. The music is carefully balanced and engaging. We tested the coaxial and USB inputs, and both were equally good, although the USB input offered a slightly greater sense of spaciousness.
The HD-DAC1 plays DSD music so well that some audiophiles consider DSD superior to PCM. Simply put, DSD has the organic appeal of an analog sound source, and when reproduced correctly, DSD is irresistible.
In the low registry, midbass, and upper bass rule more than sub-bass, HD-DAC1 does not accentuate the lowest frequencies. Bass is warm, tight, controlled, and detailed but not punchy or energetic. With brighter, more analytical headphones, the bass gains a bit more punch. The bass does not muddle; it has a lot of detail but lacks attack. On the other hand, it is not muddy and has a musical character.
The midrange is just as professional, lacking roundness and subtlety, while the upper mid-range is more punchy and takes a step closer to neutrality. The recording character is excellent. The older tracks sound as they should, the horns remain powerful and natural, and the vocals are close and direct. Female vocals are slightly warmer and richer, while sibilance is moderated.
The highs have good extension without being accentuated, and the frequency range is smooth. Trebles are precise and clean, yet natural. They’re dynamically balanced, not too cold or digital like the FiiO K5 Pro. They are not accelerated, so they do not suffer from artificially enhanced dynamics. Overall, the highs are clean and selective – and that would be it.
When the Source Direct mode is activated and multiple tracks are played from all inputs, all sounds and instruments are reproduced with great clarity, resulting in open and revealing sound quality. Everything about Marantz’s performance is organic. Some systems emphasize highs to make music more vivid; others emphasize lows to give it more depth; the HD-AMP1 does both, letting the music speak for itself with a natural, balanced sound.
The HD-DAC1’s only weakness is its ability to express a sense of rhythm and coherence during playback. The HD-DAC1 is most valuable for its ability to express a sense of scale and separation between instruments. When a recording needs to sound very large, the AMP delivers, and when it needs to sound almost indistinguishable, it doesn’t disappoint either.
Choosing the best headphones for the Marantz HD-DAC1 is fairly simple, as this amplifier is not pretentious. Whichever headphones you choose, it will give you 100% of its capabilities and technology. However, the best headphones for the job are the ones that can soften the roughness. Having listened to many different headphones, the AKG K712, known for its smooth, rich style, works very well for this setup, albeit at a lower price point. The Denon AH-MM400 is another set of headphones that works well with the Marantz HD-DAC1 amplifier. This combination makes for a light, full, transparent, and natural sound.
Marantz HD-DAC1 has many advantages: it’s adjustable and versatile. But more importantly, it’s a great amplifier in the sub-$1000 DAC market that can easily be recommended to anyone looking for a DAC with good dynamics, a very attractive look, and a great lineage.
If you are building a system around this unit, the functionality of the preamp and headphone amplifier is very important. The HD-DAC1 is a little less punchy and rhythmic, but it makes great equipment when paired with the right components in your system. Most listeners who buy the Marantz HD-DAC1 will not be disappointed with it.
With its delightful retro design and superb performance, the HD-AMP1 certainly won’t disappoint. It is a versatile, high-caliber desktop amplifier that can handle a wide range of speakers and supports any audio resolution. The high-quality hardware, compact size, and stunning build quality justify its price.