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Review: From Technics to Marantz (Amping K1000)

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Hello everyone. I bought a nice amp and I wanted to share a few bits about it. This little text got a bit silly because originally I was just going to write some kind words about my gear, now we've got a lengthy tale and adequate descriptions of two amps doing their job fine with the K1000. The text is overblown when compared to the actual results, well... you may go and read on. But if you ask me, there's not enough reviews of K1000 amplifiers.

If you prefer, you can read it in PDF (2.4 MB). It has more detailed pictures to zoom at.

From Technics to Marantz, an enhancement?

The First Six Months

After I graduated, matriculated, from high school in 2009 I got some money from relatives and other people (even in a form of a stipend) I found out I could put some money to -- surprise -- high fidelity. But there were some choices. There were a number of things I could put my money on. A cheap Stax LNS system with tubes (yummy!), some GPU to the computer or the coveted K1000. I put some of the money to quiet my PC and the rest to the K1000. It went so simply: the computer hum quieted down, which enhanced the dynamics in everything, and the K1000 was won in the German eBay in no time. It was love at first sight really, in the warm summer days at least, and the sound was something marvelous to begin with. My Stax SR202 was left behind for months: I didn't listen to it for the first month at all! When I did try it, things sounded oddly mushy even if Stax by nature is anything but mushy. One word that arose from the experience was veiled. The infamous V-word from the Sennheiser world. Ultimately the impression was caused by K1000's sheer brightness that's clear as crystal and colors absolutely nothing.

When I bought the Stax setup I secretly hoped it would bring some nasty and tasty crunchy guitaring to me, like Grado would do. Unfortunately Stax did something else, like the polite and gentle presentation of facts. The rock went on as greatly (or badly) as it did with the HD650. Since I listen to a variety of genres, I wasn't going to ditch anything to get the Stratocaster shine really good. The K1000 was needed to show how the guitar is meant to be played. My lower end Grados can't but learn from it. All the legendary rock anthems that pictured the guitar world absolutely shine when the K1000 is on. It was fun to notice that some headphones rely on the wow factor and soon, after a month of listening get boring and flawed. The both neutral cans that I've had for longer time show no signs of boredom and the K1000 also has this ''constant`` wow factor going on all the time! That keeps amazing me, really!

Equipment

Let's collect what my current rig is packing. My analog rig is not in the shape it could be played nor do I have money or will to fix it. Some things I just have to postpone for the time being.

Digital material: Redbook CD and FLAC files from these. Also some 24/96 material, and some MP3's if said independent artists (will mention, I think) have released only lossy content
Digital transport #1 M-Audio Delta 192. A tasty little PCI soundcard that focuses on digital I/O but also offers balanced and unbalanced audio if needed. Definitely bit perfect in my setup (Linux with ALSA audio)
Digital transport #2 Pioneer DV-757 Ai. A universal player, DV-757 Ai plays everything I feed it but unfortunately only redbook CDs are being output via S/PDIF
Digital/Analog Converter Electrocompaniet ECD-1 is a little miracle that doesn't only look good but has a sweet sound
Amplifier (old) Technics SA-120 is a stereo receiver that has seen better days but still works satisfactorily
Amplifier (new) Marantz PM-80 is the step I really hope fleshes the K1000 up. We'll find out.

Positioning and Taste

About my position and taste: I keep the K1000 wide open and it really does the trick better than any other way. I suspect my current amplifier has something to do with the fact the K1000 sounds super flat (flat as in no dynamics) when the wings are fully closed against my ears. It simply sounds worse than any iBud ever sounded. The dynamics, the bass and other goodies start to gain place as I move the drivers farther from my ears. It also seems to be the most transparent position because the sound waves get attenuated a bit during their 2-inch travel. But the bass gets too close, that is, I can clearly hear it comes from the drivers.

I used to be a basshead, then I had a thing for warm sound. After that, I started liking the highs and neutrality, and now a little bright sound doesn't harm anyone. It almost seems that my headphones define my taste for sound. That's not that black and white as it looks: I could be enjoying all the different schemas but since I've mostly upgraded upwards my gear, the new, better gear with its own highlights have converted me. The K1000 is not perfect at this state: the bass lacks a little. It will be up to you if the ``little'' actually means ``a lot'' or even ``none'' if you are into certain types of music. The benefit is that my Staxes now sound ultra sweet and bassy (in a good way). I didn't come this far to write a K1000 report because it's been covered by many of you in the past decade and before that. But on the other hand, I have time since at the moment, I'm waiting for the package to arrive. It's been my style earlier, too. To write the beginning of a report in advance, then take some time with the new gear and do the testing and write the actual information. I feel I can get a more honest historic this way. Perhaps I can't describe the old sound any more (perhaps the Marantz has a life changing sound) after getting hang of the new sound.

Technics SA-120

The Technics SA-120 is a stereo receiver from the mid-80s and has served me well during the first months. It made friends with the K1000 very fast. It's got some little flaws that hopefully have develop during the years. One thing is that it loses the line input sometimes. Its frequency band backlight has stopped working but it's not an issue. At a rated 35 W output at 8 ohms I really can't use its full volume scale: out of the scale of 1 to 10, after 2 it gets too loud.


Technics SA-120

I will describe some of my feelings before I get any point of comparison (I haven't heard the K1000 with anything else at this point) done in the next section. After that, I will probably spend a lot of time with Marantz only and the final thing will be to write some words on the differences. There is no point in comparing a semi good high fidelity amplifier and a mid level receiver, but maybe the Technics serves as a little reference in the $30 price category.1 What I'm about to tell you in the next section is more like general babbling about the K1000. It will be in the next sections after that what really contributes to my amplifier and what they share in common, i.e. what belongs to the K1000 itself.

When I come home and turn on my wonderful DAC, let it pop active (mechanical relays) and then press the power switch (a very soft switch, by the way) on my Technics, I can get to the music so instantly. That's part of the reason I don't like multi-function knobs. It is somehow more instant to press only one button than to slide a knob to ''on'' and then to the desired volume.

And what do I hear when I play, say Blue Train by John Coltrane? Very well separated and holographic imagery, really. The drums act up as real things and the saxophone gloriously places itself in the center. The SA-120 really has those things covered well. I can tell if something is placed slightly left to the center or if the audience gives standing ovation maybe bit to the right. I listened to some Roger Waters one night, and on his magnificent album Amused to Death I could tell how show hosts, sports casters and other ``extra voices'' were placed in the sound mix but also how they were in the physical room when they were recorded. I can only say it was amazing.



The behind of the SA-120 looks rather antiquated these days


The K1000 handles all kinds of genres very well, thanks to 3D imagery that makes sure everything has its place. Moving Through Time, by Angelo Badalamenti, for example makes everything just an eye opener: how the bells ring afterwards, the layers meet each other as music advances. It is all about the story and boy, the K1000 is one hell of a storyteller. As one could expect, jazz handles very well, rock too, and even electronica is done very greatly. That's no surprise: my tastes include clearness and good treble to be an excellent electro-player. Stax would perhaps do a little better since it gets the bass rhythm more obviously around. But the K1000 doesn't lack bass in say Téo & Téa by Jean-Michel Jarre. Also the more natural bass from percussion instruments is very realistic and impactful at times. For instance, I can't get enough of songs like Celt by Mike Oldfield or Mr. Jin by Art Blakey & Co. They're just more hilarious than ever, the impact and realness of the bass makes me very involved, even up to the process of making the piece; not just listening to it.



The old tower here.


With the K1000, you can't but hear if a singer breathes at the microphone too hard for it makes certain noise. I did check these new discoveries with my Staxes and yes, Staxes told me the same story but it was the K1000 that notified me. Some people don't like that their high fidelity emphasizes the details that don't have nothing to do with the music, but I always have had a thing for details because in live recordings it gets me there in the front row and in studio albums provide some fun memories to recall from an album. Getting memories is an important part of the listening process to me. It also happens with movies with music presented; if the soundtrack needles my grooves, I get good kicks out of it.

But the Technics is not all fun and games. I think it is awfully distorting even if the figures aren't most awful and I don't run the damn thing at the max anyway. The impedance mismatches and old circuits can of course increase the amount of noise and distortion. It must be a sum of all those issues. I also notice a great deal of increased distortion if I slide the volume just a little bit over two of ten in the volume scale. Clearly the Technics is not the best amplifier to do the job but oddly enough, it does the rest of the things well: the bass is well available, the mids come about and treble shines without any shrill. And like I said earlier, visual sonics2 (is that a term? Well it is now!) are well done by the Technics!

Compared to Stax, the K1000 can show some enormous brightness at times, but often just sheer transparency, comfort and snappiness. Overall the K1000 is very involving yet spacious and so imaging! The time begins to close in on Technics: it's just a matter of hours after the Marantz can be fetched and tried. I dedicate this wait time to some Pink Floyd. Their masterpiece Animals from 1977 sounds extra nice this afternoon as the drums hit in a very punchy manner and if someone was to say at this very moment that the K1000 lacks any bass, I'd be deeply happy to think to myself that he has it all wrong. Due to my happiness, I'm having second thoughts about the purchase: what if the Marantz does not enhance my experience? That the 40 times cheaper vintage Technics wins the match by a length? The wait is certainly a long one...



The ECD-1 had to give some room for Marantz to fit in.


Marantz PM-80


The Marantz looks stunning in the flesh. A large block of black metal. When raised, I can see the most of the upper space in the cage is empty for air ventilation purposes. The black front panel and red lights make a good pair, although I like the Electrocompaniet's blue/gold-on-black better. The front panel has some touch buttons I don't particularly like, but they are easy on the finger, so no harm done. Some more mechanical switches, like the lovely ``Class A'' button are soft to press and it's clear to see if it's up or down even if there wasn't a check light for it. The volume knob is big and has a cool resistance to the rotate. There are various knobs and buttons to select inputs and tape outputs. I didn't get a user manual so I can only guess how things work. The usual meanings do their effect just like in any other amp, so no worries there. I could easily chain up a couple of head amps if I wanted to: there are interesting choices to control the flow. Well, it's supposed to have a preamp built in and the PM-80 clearly has done a good looking preamp. Can't comment for the sound further, though.

I've run it in the class A and it gets a little warm, but not hot. There is only a half an inch of space for air to ventilate. I hoped it would suffice and thank goodness, it seems to.



The K1000s took a quick nap while the gear was being cleaned and moved.


The Sound


The very first impressions are quite positive. In my usual manner, the very first title I played with the new gear was Angelo Badalamenti's Mulholland Drive / Love Theme and boy, the first impression was to think it was a bit darker. It was to be found out that the particular piece sounds very good with anything I've tried so it doesn't make a good test track.

I quickly descended into my music collection and came up with titles like Wearing the Inside Out by Pink Floyd and The Lonely Shepherd by Zamfir. I collected some other excellent titles from Kill Bill soundtracks. What could I say, basing on a half hour of listening to a cold machine?

The very first and early impressions include mainly the point that Marantz sounds like the Technics with the clear exception of distortion levels. They sound very low and clear, snappy drums confirm my thoughts. But is this it? Certainly not. I will begin the real journey into the sound as the week progresses and I try to keep the stories compact here. Well, it just happened that I managed to enjoy my gear taking small notes once in a while for a fortnight, almost. Basing on these, and the collection of my current moods for the set up, I try to describe the new sound.

The most prominent enhancement is the bass section. I weren't very delightful of all of the side effects that an improved bass reproduction can create. The spaciousness usually gets hit by the increased body, and it can show negatively in the soundstaging and imaging. This was my early impression. Now that time has passed, I don't think any soundstage action is being compromised here.



The new rig in a clean environment.


I would go even that far to say that while the SA-120 does the 3D imagery quite well, it still sounds (even if by so tiny amount) tinny. I would say, the Technics gives you the exact position of the guitar. And the Marantz would give you the guitar at the exact position. The SA-120 is good at giving the right sounds, but the PM-80 clearly likes to give concrete things. I haven't done the compare yet (part of the plan) but I think the difference isn't that huge in bass department after all. The perceived extra bass also contributes to an impression of people getting more intimate to me. Me, as a soundstage man can find both good and bad sides of it.

What is huge, though, is the lack of distortion as I mentioned a paragraph or two, ago. Consider the fact that any bad amp (or an amp with bad impedance strain) might sound okay if the volume is kept low enough. I can do it, it sounds pretty wonderful at reasonable listening levels (and slightly beyond that too). But what happens when a non-compressed, dynamic track begins to hack drums prominently or something similar high volume peaks. Not only the transient speedings but the rise of volume and amplification. It is serious business. I know nothing about the factual going-ons of an amplifiers inners but I do know the distortion is easy on the ears here. Not entirely, though. The Marantz can break a chord or two if I get too excited about the music. But it is not everyday activity any more. Sure, this is an indication that the Marantz is not the ultimate goal but a step closer to Heaven.

Not only it adds to the snappiness of drums and percussion, the stage is open to events. Some tough rock anthems benefit greatly. The details keep their places but there are some examples where some clear improvement has occurred.

Some very interesting thing I noted is that songs with smooth instruments fading out don't seem to fade out that greatly any more. Take Wish You Were Here and the presentation almost seems to be slightly compressed to press out details. It sounds interesting but I don't know if it is a good move to do. Slow fade outs are certainly something new now. The PM-80 likes electronic music. I listened to some house one night and the synth patterns went crazy on my ears. My brain tried to catch the tail of falling synth voice. Due to compression, the decrease is unique and simply wonderful to this type of music. The grip is very hard here!

I had some off-days in the week because of my priority projects and other stuff. I thought I could still mention something about a certain Thursday. I sent my loved and trusted pair of Staxes away. Perhaps I finally feel ready to commit to K1000 entirely. The Stax -- I just hope I can get to hear it again some glorious day.

Back to business. I checked out my records of Kind of Blue and the likes the next day. I felt very secure about my choice, that the K1000 can handle my needs from this on. There's no doubt. It's excellent. I'm greeted with thick layers of music when I take jazz. Soundtracks, they aren't the same any more. Twin Peaks Season 2 soundtrack is simply a new album to me. Honestly speaking, Stax couldn't do the record justice because there were complex passages (artificial, though, but still) in the beginning. The Technics separated the layers clearly and the Marantz finishes this by thickening the layers to almost physical instances. Wow! The Wow factor ceases to end.

Also some more industrial and compressed albums such as the brilliant Assembly by Theatre of Tragedy has turned into a beast with its own will. I can see it. I can taste it. Assembly has awaken to such a full life I didn't even considered a valid dream. The early impressions showed some signs of reduced soundstaging but when I rolled the Cyclone by Tangerine Dream the singer's (Isn't that funny? A singer in a TD setup! Those were funny days, back in '78.) voice was for the first time properly distanced from me, the listener. Even though it is a close miked experience, there were decent space in the vocals. Brilliant! I thought, ``this is the breakthrough I've been looking for.'' Indeed, the Marantz has paid its place in my shelf.

Apart from the bass, soundstaging and imaging, the other aspects are pretty decent. The midrange works very well. I certainly don't have hard time separating instruments from each other, and vocals of both male and female act out naturally. The treble section has smoothed the K1000 out in a way there is no tough spikes in the treble. I liked the tough treble, always have liked. But the tamed highs have their benefits. Otherwise I wouldn't have enjoyed my basic Stax so much! The source is also reported to scale down the highest highs so perhaps I could do better (for myself) to try a more linear DAC. In the distant future...

Compressed pop music that tends to sound too bright gets very easy on the ear with the Marantz, that's for sure. And it simply is perfect in its naturalness. The Marantz does a lot of things good. I haven't noticed I would have had eargasms for a long time, but listening to the marvelous live performance of Echoes on David Gilmour's Remember That Night gig I realized the songs cause continuous eargasms really. Echoes does that but now everything were so much harder and better. I almost felt like having a smoke after they finished. This should be attributed to the K1000 that it may be the most electrostatic sounding dynamic headphone in existence. I'm in a wonderful position here: I know the Marantz is very satisfactory while driving the K1000, and on the other hand I know there will be better amps for this, because of the minor flaws described in this section.

I will conclude the review with the small jump to old system to hear the actual difference. That's the method. That's the spirit.


The Dark Knight is ready to have Technicses for breakfast.


Running Marantz Without Class A


I was about to forget about this one! The PM-80 has been playing on all these days with the class A knob turned on. While it is the better way, it is only natural to check out the alternative as well. This won't be a comprehensive head-to-head contest as I am sure it won't be the most beneficial for the PM-80 to be toggled on and off class A all the time.

I'm not sure how the A/B class acts here: one could figure it will operate in A for low volumes but on the other hand high impedance of K1000 can alter the load for any volume. Well, I can tell directly from a couple of hours that the A/B mode takes the Marantz mainly back at the Technics, nothing more. The frequency spectrum is about the same: bass has lost some of the body, the midrange too. The treble could have lost some of its smoothness in the process, but that's not something I attribute to every song I listened to.

What is really missing, is the clarity. Perhaps as odd as it may sound, the details aren't with me and even the normal duet in a song is all fuzzed up. Depends on the track and album, but the bass also can be very distractingly missing. I only suspect it will be about the same level as Technics. I'll continue to it in a moment. In both cases (A and A/B) the attenuation is ranging from -45 to -40 dB but not more.

This is very Technics-like, actually! Without the distortion of course. I can backtrace this fact by following my diary, and things have quite reversed. The singers step back from me, the bodies of guitars appear as mere sounds...This is quite interesting! The class A has actually quite much power to this thing.


The Headphone Output

Before we jump back to Technics, let's check out the headphone output. I have but a pair of Grado SR80 to try out the conventional headphone section of the Marantz. It is very unfortunate that I do not possess any other decent head-amp at the moment. So no comparison here, just a small and quick description.

The SR80 sounds absurdly bad against the K-1000 (so bad it was news even to me) and the Marantz can't help with that. However, the flat presentation with small soundstage likes the power its getting here. Not necessarily the best kind of amplification but what do I know? I sold my first and only ``real'' dynamic headphone amplifier years back because Stax didn't run on it. And the K1000 likes something bigger too. To compare is very useless. The background isn't black at all, the instruments flat and lifeless. I honestly don't remember if this is Grados fault or the amp's.

I liked the Corda Arietta driving the SR80 but that's about it. The PM-80 doesn't get away with this, but I have to give it some praise. The bass line and rhythm clearly separates in Mike Oldfield's Discovery and even though the sound is veiled by inches-thick velvet, compared to the K1000, I get the pop-ness and hilarious, playful beats very clearly. Back with the Stax era I was very satisfied with Grado as a playful mistress but the K1000 knows so good tricks the SR80 looks inexperienced and immature: no real sense of the real life with responsibility and other adulthood things.

So, we didn't go anywhere with this comparison, but what the heck. Now the beginning head-fiers can perhaps grasp what is waiting for them when their journey--and--budget permits.



Back to Technics

Now, it is time to get that Technics back from the closet, and see if all the differences accumulated have gained fruit. Unable to comfortably switch back and forth amplified feeds, simultaneous head-to-head comparison is out of the counts. Luckily the best alternative is still very useful and a working choice to do comparison with.

The first tunes were interesting. See, the test material Mulholland Drive that I used when I begun with Marantz, is the same. And this is one of the tracks that sound exactly as lovely as ever. The bass is plenty, the separation good and imaging excellent, even if the piece itself doesn't have very deep content in terms of space.

As you might have guessed, I headed quickly at the pop music section because there was difference with some of the harder material. However, I'm very pleased to hear the Technics isn't all bad. I switched to David Gilmour and his Remember That Night gig again. David Bowie is doing Arnold Layne. And how funny this is. I listened to the last 30 minutes of the show first with a slightly greater volume that should effectively increase the perceived sound quality, but I was left with a flat, dull presentation. The show sounds like I was listening to a nice pair of speakers. But with Marantz it is more like to be there, to experience the phenomenon by myself. Be part of the crowd and the show.

Needless to say, when I matched volume more carefully it did not get any better. The only remarkable exception is the symphony orchestra, but I bet it's due to the particular record. In that sense Mulholland Drive / Love Theme is a bad choice to try comparing with.

Alright, let's get sure Technics has it all flat. Try some harder pop beatings and like. My playlist got filled with titles like Comfortably Numb by David Gilmour on his other great gig Live in Gdańsk. This performance of C-Numb happens to be my favourite, excelling the earlier winner on PULSE. It sounds very good, in fact. So good, it surprised me.

This doesn't sound right. It doesn't even sound bad. When I tried a number of titles from various genres, I'm left with a less harsh impression. Electronic music sounds swell (and much of the ''lacking'' bass doesn't matter) and soulful. Club trance and other similar ''semi-demanding'' styles are handled with ease. However, besides pop and electronica there is the massive land of jazz music. I always thought the Technics and K1000 were a fine couple together doing jazz. Now I have to state that even the well mastered jazz classics simply sound flat like with the Gilmour I was playing in the beginning. But overall I'm deeply satisfied with both of them.



The brave Technics has so much behind the dusty appearance.


What's going on? What does this mean?


After an interesting three-four hours of listening to the old memories I would like to erase some of my remarks of Marantz from the sound review, but I won't. The Technics clearly beats Marantz in pure sound/buck ratio but it's not the same. I'm saying here that while the old SA-120 sounds surprisingly good, the best it gets is the base level of Marantz. I couldn't find examples of excels. Progressive rock, like the magnificent track Shine on Me by Kingston Wall approaches the quality of Marantz but only the PM-80 can climb a little higher. Marantz enhances the drumming in terms of punch. And the bass also. In fact, some people who enjoy a thinner musical experience could prefer the Technics by a small margin.

The Marantz at significantly higher price class simply delivers a bit too little more on the subject. I have no idea how much the Technics has cost back 25+ years ago but unless it flew in the same $300 - $400 category, it looks like a steal. But as you may know, rationality is not the main target I aim while enjoying music. If the 5-10 percent enhancement works for me, I can gladly pay for it, no pain involved.


Thoughts

A clever reader can notice that my review of the Marantz PM-80 actually has a quite good a coverage of the beta male as well. Perhaps it should be treated as a double-feature or a bad comparison?

I am actually quite confused about the new boy. The old one cost me nothing, and very little in second hand markets in general. The Technics does the rock better than I remembered. And I did say with the Marantz' early impressions that it sounds very close to Technics. Is it more true than I want to believe?

Well, I also said the Marantz isn't nearing the finishing point by any scale. It crossed my mind but I doubt I will sell the PM-80 in near future. The music simply isn't the same without it. But I won't recommend the PM-80 either. It appears to me that the Technics SA-120 is a very good entry level amplifier for the K1000. I'm basing this on thinnish ice but since people have had good experience with Marantz products, Technics must be up close there as well.

And as soon as I switch back to my lovely Marantz, everything turns alright. I don't have to care about the Technics.

Actually, what follows is that I keep looking for a better amp as time permits. That's how it should be done. The Marantz PM-17 could be a good one to try. Things like that. When the funds finally permit, I shall continue my hunting at the Pass Labs direction. There we will meet, hopefully, ultimately in the future.
post #2 of 7
Thank you for the excellent review!
Quite clear that you really appreciate the K1000, and that vintage integrated amplifiers is a nice way to go amplification wise. Especially one with a Class A circuit.
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by krmathis View Post
Thank you for the excellent review!
Quite clear that you really appreciate the K1000, and that vintage integrated amplifiers is a nice way to go amplification wise. Especially one with a Class A circuit.
Thanks
It's either that, or both amps suck equally. That's a hard one to buy since the K1000 wins the Stax pair easily.

I didn't try to write a K1000 report back in June because we already have enough of fine K1000 reviews. But I do think we lack K1000 / amplification combination reviews so this is my humble try at it. But yes, as you put it, I really love my K1000s and the review has the sound of them described as well.
post #4 of 7
Good stuff. I had the opportunity to buy a K1K but passed cause I thought they needed a $1000 speaker amp to sound good. Maybe in a year I will pick one up cause I have an old Technics reciever too!
post #5 of 7
Huge thanks to progo for his very open and honest impressions
post #6 of 7
Nice write up. Would have never thought.
post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tvrboy View Post
Good stuff. I had the opportunity to buy a K1K but passed cause I thought they needed a $1000 speaker amp to sound good. Maybe in a year I will pick one up cause I have an old Technics reciever too!
Yes! I say, why not? The multi-grand amps can be the best ones, but you can get veryy nice sound with a $15 Technics or others. Because they can be very cheap, trying out should damage the finances. It's only tedious and whatnot, I haven't tried that technique yet.
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