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Made in Japan: Marantz’s Sonos-tackling Model M1

  • The one where Marantz enters the Sonos race…

    The Japanese company’s newly announced Model M1 is a low-footprint streaming amplifier aimed at home installers (hello Crestron and Control 4) and home listeners who don’t care for separates and instead prefer a visually unobtrusive all-in-one to which they just add loudspeakers and hit ‘play’.

    The Model M1 is also for those who don’t fuss over the differences between Class A/B and Class D amplification. I asked Marantz why someone would buy the Model M1 instead of the similarly-priced Class A/B Stereo 70s (review here) and they told me the Model M1 is aimed at a very different customer.

    The press release states that the Model M1 can deliver 100wpc into 8 Ohms but I had to ask about its 4 Ohm rating: “125wpc” was the reply. However, this isn’t a traditional Class D amplifier. It’s a ‘direct digital’ design where the streaming signal arriving over wifi or Ethernet journeys through the circuit in the digital domain before directly switching the output stage that drives the loudspeakers. Direct digital’s giveaway is the absence of any DAC stage but – of note to hi-rezzers – DSD and 24bit/192kHz PCM are still supported by the Model M1’s implementation.

    Let’s talk about the Model M1’s hard-wired connectivity. The back panel features TOSLINK and HDMI eARC sockets for TV hook-ups, including Dolby Digital+ decoding. The USB-A socket is for direct playback from a USB storage device — not PCs/Macs. Vinyl lovers should connect their phono stage to the line-level input but the purists will want to know that an ADC digitises those incoming analogue signals. Without digitisation, the signal cannot be passed down the chain to the direct digital amplifier and DSP wouldn’t be possible.

    DSP powers the subwoofer output’s bass management system where the low-pass filter applied to the subwoofer and the high-pass filter applied to the loudspeakers can be adjusted independently and an optional +/-15dB trim applied. DSP also powers the “Marantz Music Digital Filtering” (MMDF) used by Marantz’s Sound Masters in Japan to voice the amplifier with the “characteristic warmth and musicality of any Marantz product.”.

    How the M1 stacks up against the competition will fall as much to its software capabilities as its hardware and sound quality — because software is where a Future-Fi product’s rubber meets the road. The streaming engine inside the M1 is built around the recently reworked HEOS platform for a range of streaming services (Qobuz excepted) supported by the HEOS app itself plus Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect on the side. Tidal Connect and Roon Readiness are reportedly on the software development roadmap.

    Considering possible side-by-side comparisons, the M1’s direct digital topology puts it closer to Bluesound’s Powernode Edge (review here) than the Powernode (review here). Readers and viewers might also want to know how the M1 compares to the less costly WiiM AMP (review here). I no longer have a Sonos AMP to hand, so you’ll need to hit-up another reviewer for that side-by-side.

    For some customers, the software suite won’t be as important as the device’s country of origin: the Model M1 is made in Japan — not China — and is shipping from 1st June for US$1000, £900 or €1000.

    Further information: Marantz


    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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    TEAC loads UD-507 DAC/pre-amp with abbreviations