My listening notes refer to this as a “deserted island sound” meaning that it seems just the tiniest shade off of perfectly neutral, but in a way that lets the music shine through. You’d choose this kind of sound, I think, if you were living on a deserted island and had to choose your last preamp.
Impressed as I was with the Parasound Halo, I found the Marantz moved one step farther toward neutrality, with a bit more definition in the treble, though it sacrifices the Parasound’s enchanting musicality. Some of that feeling of neutrality also may come from the very slightly lighter bass presentation of the Marantz. It would be hard to prove which is right, but in any event, we’re talking about very small differences. And we’re talking about very good performance.
But the real shocker for me came when I pitted the Marantz against the mbl 6010D. Try as I might, I really couldn’t reliably say what the difference was. With the 6010D, trying multiple discs, about all I could say was that the mbl sounded a little more stable – in the sense that subliminal noise and distortion modulated the music less on the mbl. Another way of putting this is to say that the Marantz had the sense of a miniscule low frequency grain when compared to the mbl. This is a very subtle effect.
At this point in my listening tests, I remembered some experiences I had last year when reviewing a group of CD players for our sister magazine, The Absolute Sound. At the time, differences between players would often seemed non-existent until I found a certain section of a certain disc that could expose and highlight performance differences, suddenly making them seem night/day obvious. One of the important things about testing equipment is that you have to remember certain rules. One of them is that “the object under test can’t show a behavior unless there is a stimulus than triggers that behavior.” An obvious example is that of a speaker without significant output from 20-40Hz. You can’t expect to observe that particular weakness until you play music that you know has instruments that are playing down in the 20-40Hz range.