Marantz PM6005 Amplifier

Here we have an illustrious company that started in the US as a purveyor of some of the best-sounding valve amplifiers ever made. Then Marantz's ownership ended up with Philips for several decades, where it became famous for excellent Japanese-built affordable hi-fi separates. Now it's partnered with Denon and is offering an ever broader and more interesting range of products, with the PM6005 being the company's entry-level integrated amplifier. This is a smart-looking device that offers five line-level audio inputs plus a built-in DAC with a choice of optical or coaxial in. Unlike the Cambridge Audio, it's a full-fat 24/192-capable chip, although it doesn't have USB connectivity, which is rather puzzling. Most other things are fitted to the Marantz, however, including an MM phono input, tone controls and two pairs of (rather flimsy) speaker terminals.

It's not quite as heavy as the Cambridge Audio Azur 651A, but is still very sturdily built considering the modest retail price. Inside, Marantz says the preamp and power amp sections are kept separate and feature discrete components rather than integrated circuits, which can sully the sound. Specially selected components - including custom main capacitors - are fitted, as is a shielded toroidal transformer. A Crystal Semiconductors CS4398 DAC is used - which is also seen in Marantz's higher-end products - and this is carefully shielded.

The Cambridge Audio is a hard act to follow, but then again Marantz is pretty good at doing affordable amps that sound great - and so it proves with the PM6005. Overall, it ranks very close to the 651A, with almost all the good points of the Cambridge Audio offering, but a few key distinguishing features. First, if anything the Marantz sounds a little tidier and better polished; its tonality is slightly warmer, slicker and more expensive sounding. By contrast, the Cambridge is ever so slightly rougher and more raucous. Second, the Marantz has a slightly wider soundstage, with better depth perspective too. Vocals hang back slightly rather than being thrown at the listener, for example. Third, it seems to be fractionally better on global dynamics; loud bits sound louder, quiet bits quieter. And this works with the amp's fine timing to give a very open and fluid sound for such an inexpensive design.

The result is that whatever music you play, the Marantz seems able to get to grips with it, and let it flourish. It doesn't editorialise quite as much as the Cambridge, and compared to the other amplifiers here it is a revelation in its transparency and naturalness. It certainly gives a neutral yet highly enjoyable sound. However, as the Squeeze song proves, it's just a little bit less emotive than the 651A. This aside, it beats all the others here, and some into a cocked hat, but just can't quite convey the drama of a song like the Brit. Rather like your suave, posh cousin, the Marantz is a real charmer that lacks a certain edge! I find that across all its sources, this amp simply sounds better than it should at the price, and delivers a hefty punch with one of the strongest bass performances of the group, too. What's not to like?

Marantz PM6005 Integrated Stereo Amplifier, Power output 45 Watts into 8 ohms