Some issues ago, I reviewed Marantz's millennium model CD 6000; I was sorry then not to have its bigger brother available for review. Well, that's settled now - here's the OSE version.
Quick reminder: the OSE (Original Special Edition) is in fact model 6000 with several changes, intended to make it still more attractive to the more purist among us. However, Marantz has gone down its usual route and introduced a KI Signature model over and above the OSE unit, "KI" standing for "Ken Ishiwata", Marantz' design guru. Therefore, model OSE is some sort of a middle ground model, or a poor man's KI edition, if you like.
It costs about 23% more than the standard model, so the obvious starting point is to see where the money went. Dual differential DAC configuration is firmly in place here as well, using the same DACs as in the standard model. The power transformer appears to be exactly the same as in the smaller model, at least judging by size. The outside is also the same, save for a small moniker on the right side, proudly proclaiming this to be an "Original SE" model. Just for the kick of it, I borrowed a black version; both models are available in black or champagne colors, so if you want to know what the other finish looks like, just look it over in the CD6000 review.
But there's no denying there are differences between the two models, and all of them are inside. They include:
1. The power transformer is basically the same, but instead of commercial quality copper wire, this one is said to use better quality OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) wire. This is said to improve imaging and high frequency sound in particular;
2. The standard model uses NJR2114D op amps in its low pass filter (LPF) stage, while the OSE model uses Marantz' proprietary, all-discrete HDAM (Hyper Dynamic Active Module) for both the LPF and the output stage proper electronics. This is said to improve speed and therefore overall dynamics of the unit. Also, here HDAM modules are enclosed in copper shielding, which is intended to protect them from stray interference pickup;
3. Some capacitors, and especially those filtering the analogue section, are said to be much improved in quality in the OSE model. And, sure enough, one 4,700uF capacitor has been replaced with two very substantial audiophile Elna 1,000uF capacitors; also, there are now a total of eight Elna Silmic filter capacitors in evidence, where standard, commercial quality capacitors were used in the regular model;
4. The case now has a double bottom, consisting of the regular case plus an additional metal plate firmly fixed over it. This is intended to make the case more rigid and less prone to vibration, and
5. Upon opening the case, I discovered an additional side, left-to-right, stabilizer metal bar. Again, this is intended to make the case structurally much more rigid and less prone to vibration, both airborne and mechanical from the inside. I was impressed by the thinking behind this bar - it is constructed so that it will slide and firmly stand in place even without screws, evidence of good mechanical thinking and construction, something I don't often have the opportunity to see in commercial products. Of course, once the four screws are tightly bolted on, the whole becomes a very rigid structure.
All this makes the OSE version about 1.3 kg (app. 2.2 lbs) heavier than the standard model, now weighing in at 5.8 kg (app. 13.3 lbs), or 33% more. While hardly impressive, this is comfortably above the norm in this price class, on average I'd say by about +25...35% above the norm. Good show.
In operation, model OSE was the smooth performer we have come to expect of Marantz, rather silent in operation, especially true of the tray, which is uncommonly smooth and silent by any standard.
Upon closer inspection, I found discrete small signal (TO-92 package) transistors marked as "SJ" and "SK" on all HDAM modules; these would appear to be either FET or MOSFET transistors of Japanese origin, but unfortunately, the rest of the markings were so bleak I found it impossible to reliably read them. Either way, they seem to be in line with the rather bombastic "Hyper" part of the module name.
A Word Of Caution
Most of us know a brand new, straight out of the box product needs to be "broken in", used for a longer period of time so as to settle down. It's no news in this enlightened age that practically all products do change their sound after that period, some more and some less. For CD players, a typical routine would be to put in a disc, select complete CD play and then put it in repeat mode, leaving it to itself for 72 hours or longer.
I have experienced quite some changes before, but never before have I experienced such a profound change in sound as in this unit.
Upon taking it out of the box, I was curious enough to throw in a well made Chesky CD, just to hear it for the first time. I paid for my impatience dearly, as what came out was only a little better than nasty screeching you're not likely to find in even the most obscure product. Saying it was a shock is an exercise in understatement! Nevertheless, I gave up and inserted a CD and did what needed to be done. So it went for not three but four days.
I was rewarded by a totally, and that's TOTALLY, different player. Again, I was shocked - never before had I witnessed such a profound change in one and the same unit after 96 hours of non stop work! I could not even imagine such a change, had I been told by someone else, I simply would not have believed it. But there it was, staring me in the face.
So, before making up your mind about it, make very sure it has been well worked in, the difference is nothing short of amazing. Which brings us to the post 96 hours of work sound.
Lovers of fine detail will like this one. Play it at very low volume and you will miss out only on what your ears and system will miss out anyway due to physiological reasons, our hearing being non-linear and volume dependent. It will dredge the CD clean of any and all detail the recording can muster, and will do so with aplomb. By the same token, put on a poor recording and it will mercilessly show up all its faults, right down to the last one, without even trying to cover up or go easy on faults.
It struck me that politeness is not one of OSE's character traits. It's by no means brash, but it has no patience with poor recording work and makes sure you hear as just that, a poor recording work. It makes no attempt at euphony.
But it sheds some very good light where others will let it go at mere shadow. It doesn't gloss over anything, but seems very thorough in its work. Everything is there, you just need to hear it, but by the same token, you need some quality electronics to pass it through to the speakers.
Turn the volume up and you will be rewarded by a wealth of detail, which is good, and by first class ambience as well, which is better yet and much more rare. For example, I played Ry Cooder's soundtrack title song "Souther Comfort" from the same movie over and over again as I just couldn't get enough of the roaming guitar ambience. The OSE managed something I don't expect in this price class, and that is to render life to music, making the guitar appear threatening and relaxing, as the music moves on.
Perhaps that's the best way to put it down - the OSE manages to capture a fair share of the life of music, the emotion behind the notes. It made me feel the music as well as listen to it. This is something I prize very much, both because it's so rare in this price class and because that's what I want from music, that's why I listen to it, to be emotionally moved. If it fails to move me, I don't want it. This one did a better job than most in its price class, in fact, it put in a hard fight for the first place.
While the OSE is very good, even excellent, it is not perfect. Obviously, it cannot compete with the Wadias and Meridians of this world, so I compare it only with its own price class, more or less. In that context, it offers some very strong virtues and a few minor vices, though both criteria will necessarily be very subjective.
I already noted its extremely strong ambience content, quite above its class; in truth, I've never before heard a CD player in this price class with such ambience capabilities. The bass lines are clean and deep, this one really digs deep. The midrange is clean as a whistle, there's hardly anything to criticize at all.
However, I have somewhat mixed feelings regarding the treble. To my mind, the treble range is somewhat sharper, even harsher, than with the standard CD6000. It seemed to me that it was a little too sharp in general, though I do like well defined metallic sounds of the rhythm section when required. This nagged me enough to try it out with much more equipment than I usually do.
My AR94 speakers, driven via van den Hul 352 Hybrid cable and powered by Harman/Kardon HK680 integrated amplifier, generally deliver a slightly soft, just barely but still discernibly rounded off sound, with a literally thundering bass when required. Now, if this system has sharper treble than I think it should have, a typical system will suffer from this even more. So I borrowed a pair of small JBL LX2 speakers, a very merry and jolly little speaker, not too linear, but as ever with JBL, full of life. It also gave me sharper treble than necessary in my view.
In came the JBL Ti600 floorstanders - again more treble than ideal. I changed rooms, but produced no great change. I swapped the H/K for a Yamaha AX592 integrated amp, and got even more treble, partly due to Yamaha's own balance, which while not bad at all, is still strictly commercial class.
With no other option left, I reached for the Ultimate Weapon. I reasoned that a good friend's system, which is a Conrad-Johnson tube preamp, two VTL tube monoblocks, damn expensive Kimber cable to speakers and two enormous Infinity four way speakers, would sound just about right with this player, given that his system is somewhat treble shy, while being very open and ambient. So I took the OSE with me, and indeed it was so - his somewhat mellow system, a little lacking in treble sparkle (and true deep bass as well, my most frequent objection to tube gear), came alive with this one. One pronounced and one depressed treble came together and canceled each other out, putting the overall balance just about where it should be.
So, my only real complaint about the OSE is that in my view, it has a treble range which is not at all hard to listen to, which is not grainy or insubstantial as it all too often is with commercial quality CD players, there's just subjectively a little too much of it. To get a good balance, you need a system which has a relaxed treble range. Buy it with a system which is already strong and lively in the treble and you might well end up like me, feeling you have too much of a good thing.
This may well impress you at first hearing at a dealer's showroom, especially if he has a well set up system, but may disappoint you later on at home, so bear this in mind when shopping. It was so using van den Hul's D102.Mk3 interconnect cable with Neutrik plugs, itself a warm sounding component.
Marantz CD6000 OSE is no doubt a CD player with many virtues to recommend it and only one real failing, a little subjectively pronounced treble range; as ever, this must be resolved by your own listening. I advise you heed the Belgrade 2000 audio fair slogan: "Trust only your own ears!".
This is a well mannered CD player, with bags of detail and ambience, far in excess of its price class norm (but still not in the high end class), with very credible and creditable bass lines, again better than usual for its price. The price difference has been put to good use - where the sound is - and has produced a CD player with an output very much alike a typical MOSFET amplifier.
The bottom line is - would I buy it? Well, yes and no.
"Yes" if I was a typical audio equipment consumer, with no ambition at tweaking. I'd be very careful about the balance, yes, but I would still buy it. Ultimately, if you have tone controls on your amplification device, just turn down the treble a bit and you're home and dry. If your system is a little treble shy, this is just what the doctor ordered to get it just right. It brought the B&W DM601 Mk.2, which have a slightly recessed high treble, to true life; these two are good partners, I think.
A resounding "Yes!!!" if you have a tube based system. It will very probably make the most of OSE's ambience capabilities and very likely tame its treble range to just about, or possibly exactly right. And you will still be free of most CD nasties.
"No" if you are a junkie tweaker like myself. With tweaking in mind, I'd buy a standard CD6000, then exchange its NJR2114D for an OP275 - do just that and you get a hell of a player (I tried, so I'm not speaking out of turn). You'll get better resolution (OP275 is about 50% faster than NJR2114D, but more important, its settling time is about 8-9 times shorter than NJR2114D, so falling edges are much more alike to the leading edges), a warm and pleasant sound and God knows what you'd get if you changed caps and possibly inserted very fast diodes in the rectifier. Follow that with 1-2 kg of blue tac. Take its feet off and insert three SoundCare spikes. Take off the Marantz badge and stick your own. And then, just before the boys in white come to take you away, you could ...
But it would be churlish not to say it loud and clear - well done, Marantz.