Marantz MCR 610 – A Review

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As mentioned in my introduction to the review of the of the B&W 686 S2’s, a separate review of the  Marantz MCR651 would follow.

The Marantz unit was a replacement for the incredibly talented Yamaha A-S700 and CD-N500pairing that had served me well for around 12 months. There was nothing wrong with their performance – I simply had an itch to downsize my system and not sacrifice on sound quality.

When I was looking around at options under a budget of £500 there were a number of options from the likes of Teac, Onkyo, Yamaha and Denon to name but a few. Most of them had an iPod dock built into the top which, to me, made the system less appealing. I also wanted a CD Player built in which excluded a number of options.

The system that really caught my eye was the Marantz MCR 651. In terms of features it seemed to cater for virtually every eventuality (and more): CD, DAB, FM, Internet Radio, Wireless/Wired Network Streaming, Two Analogue inputs, Two sets of Speaker Outputs (for Bi-Amping as well as multiroom, optical digital input, Spotify and Last FM capabilities – the list went on.

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The dealer I discussed the unit with suggested that the performance of the CD Player and built in amp rivalled that of an entry level Marantz separates system and I was therefore intrigued as to how this box of tricks would perform and duly bought one.

Once I got the unit home I was truly surprised by how small it was. I set it up on a wooden unit and, at first, it looked truly lost.

I connected the speaker cables, ethernet cable and power chord and switched the unit on. I was stunned to find that within a few seconds it had synched with my home network and recognised my NAS drive. From the Marantz App I put in my user name and password for Spotify and I was good to go. It all seemed too straightforward.

As an aside I tried the Marantz in wireless mode and again all was good. It found the wifi signal with no problems and worked well.

So, 10 minutes after unboxing the MCR 610 I was listening to a Spotfy playlist and thoroughly enjoying the sound and convenience of having millions of songs at my fingertips.

I then access the music on my NAS drive and played some hi-res FLAC files. Again no problems. In fact all the functions on the unit worked flawlessly and I could not be happier with the performance.

I have read that it has a typical “Marantz” sound but having not owned any Marantz products previously I had nothing to compare it too.

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For a full description of the quality of the sound please look at my B&W 686 S2 review as my thoughts on sound quality are pretty much summed up there.

So all is great? Actually no. Here are the gripes:

· First of all the app is slow. Really slow. Whether it is selecting a new track or going between functions it seems to take an age. The Yamaha network player was far quicker as was the Squeezebox touch.

· And if it isn’t being slow the app crashes more than it should. Two or three times over a 2 hour period which I find unacceptable whilst using the app. If for some reason you come out of the app and restart it (especially when using a music server)  the music stops and you have to start again selecting the Marantz through the app and finding your music again. Very frustrating. To my mind Marantz need to put this at the top of their list to sort or it will put customers off.

Other than the above issues with software I am delighted with this little unit. Whether in the long run the app  drives me to distraction remains to be seen but for now I will simply enjoy it’s music making capabilities.

 

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Bowers and Wilkins 686 S2 – Small is Big

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I have long been a huge fan of standmount speakers and have owned and, or, reviewed speakers from mainstream companies such as Wharfedale, and Kef to more esoteric brands like Sonus Faber, Harbeth and Totem.

It was change again this last week with the at home with the Yamaha set up I have been enjoying thoroughly for the last 12 months being sold and shipped to pastures new for me to enter into the 21st Century with (takes a deep breath) a one box system from Marantz.

A Marantz MCR610 to be precise and this will be the subject of another review where I will cover off my findings with this little unit.

The subject of this review as the introduction alluded to is a pair of standmount speakers: the new B&W 686 S2’s.

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The motivation for getting these speakers was the same as purchasing the Marantz – to downsize the hi-fi system and try and replicate something that would cater for my audiophile sensibilities without dominating my lounge.

I auditioned a number of speakers and for one reason or another these were discounted due to the fact they didn’t have the musical balance or performance I was looking for. So what did I have on my wish list?

Basically, I was looking for a musical hybrid which would offer something close to the performance of two of my favourite speakers of all time – the midrange and vocal capabilities of the Harbeth P3ESR’s and soundstaging and the stupendous bass from a small box capabilities of the Totem Model One’s.

Oh, and all for less than £350. Or at a quarter of the price of the above two speakers.

A tall order and to be honest I was not holding out much hope of achieving anywhere near my goal.

As previously mentioned, I listened to a number of speakers and compared them to the existing Wharfedale Denton 80th Anniversary speakers at home including Dali’s Zensor 1 and 3’s, Monitor Audio’s BX2 and Q Acoustic’s 2020’s.

They all sounded fine – the Dali Zensor 3’s being the best of the bunch (albeit the biggest) – but were not as good as the Wharfedale never mind the Harbeth and Totem’s. I could never have lived with them over the longer term.

The dealer then suggested I push the budget slightly from the £200-£300 range to try the B&W 686’s S2’s. At just £50 more than the Dali Zensor 3’s I did not have much hope.

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These speakers are the latest incarnation of B&W’s entry level offering and have a number of changes from the previous model including improved tweeter, woofer and a smaller cabinet. Specifications taken from B&W website are:

Technical features: Decoupled Double Dome aluminium tweeter with Nautilus™ tube loading
Flowport™
Description 2-way vented-box system
Drive units 1x ø25mm (1 in) aluminium dome high-frequency
1x ø130mm (5 in) woven Kevlar® cone bass/midrange
Frequency range -6dB at 54Hz and 50kHz
Frequency response 62Hz – 22kHz ±3dB on reference axis
Dispersion Within 2dB of reference response
Horizontal: over 60º arc
Vertical: over 10º arc
Sensitivity (84)85dB spl (2.83V, 1m)
Harmonic distortion 2nd and 3rd harmonics (90dB, 1m)
<1% 110Hz – 22kHz
<0.5% 180Hz – 20kHz
Nominal impedance 8Ω (minimum 5.2Ω)
Crossover frequencies 4kHz
Recommended amplifier power 25W – 100W into 8Ω on unclipped programme
Max. recommended cable impedance 0.1Ω
Dimensions Height: 315mm (12.4 in)
Width: 160mm (6.3 in)
Depth: 229mm (9.0 in) cabinet, grille and terminals
Net weight 4.6kg (10.1 lb)
Finishes Black
White

The star of the above show is arguably the Decoupled Double Dome tweeter. Full technical details are on B&W’s website but it seems clear that the application of this technology works amazingly well.

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So how do they sound?

Set up on their dedicated stands in my lounge I connected them to the Marantz MCR610 one word truly sums them up: remarkable.

It is hard not to start each sentence with: for their size they are…… and then insert a description relating to an element of their performance which simply stuns you with it’s scale or clarity or soundstaging. Considering their diminutive stature they simply sound significantly bigger than they have a right to. My lounge is not exactly small (20ft by 13ft) yet the 686’s filled the room with music.

The way that they can three dimensionally portray a singer between the speakers is spooky. And there is height to the image which adds to the sense of realism. Turn the volume up and the image get’s bigger and bigger.

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I started my listening session in earnest once the speakers had been running for a few hours with one of my favourite test tracks that I have used dozens of times before: Broken Wings by Dougie MacLean from his Marching Mystery album. The track though the 686’s starts wonderfully with a fantastic ring and resonance to the acoustic guitar.

The bodrhan providing the beat, though, was the initial surprise. It was deep and authoritative and maintained it’s rhythm beautifully. The bass performance was easily the equal of the larger Wharfedale Denton’s.

The next surprise was when MacLean started singing. His vocals were startlingly real and set clearly and precisely in their own space. I was genuinely taken aback.

I tried track after track and the speakers simply disappeared leaving performers perfectly placed in my living room. From blues to classical and folk to heavy metal these speakers continued to astound.

Admittedly, they are unable to move air on rock tracks in the same was a bigger speaker can but the bass performance always carried a significant punch and stunning weight for the size of the speakers.

Suffice it to say that they totally fit the bill in terms of the original brief. Are they as good as the Harbeth’s? No, they lack a some of that’s speakers refinement and midrange warmth and they way the P3ESR’s portray vocals is uncanny in it’s realism – more so than the 686’s.

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If I had one slight criticism with the little B&W’s it would be that, just occasionally, the treble would stand out slightly but this was mainly at lower volumes. Not a problem in the slightest but a noticeable difference with comparing with the Harbeths.

But the Harbeth’s retail at nearly £1,500!

How about the Totems? These, to me, are the soundstage kings. Width, depth, height. They have it all. They are remarkable in terms of bass too (for their size!). But they have a new contender.

The 686 S2’s.

The only area (and to be honest this is more from memory from when I had them) is in terms of soundstage width where the Model One’s have the 686’s beaten. Having said that I have not played around with positioning too much and so I may be to gain improvements in this area with some experimentation.

So the bottom line is at £350 these speakers are bargains. I would put my money on them being able to compete with speakers several times their price and show them a clean pair of heels in many areas. I am not familiar with the previous models and so could not offer an opinion here.

I would have loved to have pushed the budget for the 685’s but it wasn’t to be so. I suspect they would be even better in my lounge but for now I will enjoy the 686’s thoroughly.