Marantz NA-11S1: Much-Delayed High-End Network Player Was Worth the Wait

Gramophone, September 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Marantz NA-11S1: Much-Delayed High-End Network Player Was Worth the Wait


We should be getting used to extended lead-times in the consumer electronics world: such is the level of competition between brands that products are sometimes revealed by over-enthusiastic sales teams before they're actually ready for market. The major industry and consumer shows are usually a hotbed of such 'vapourware', which may take months before it's finally released in some form or other, or may never appear at all, being just a means of generating column-inches or website clicks. The manufacturer gets its publicity; the publisher gets its sales or traffic; everyone's happy.

I have to admit I was beginning to suspect the NA-11S1, the flagship network music player in the Marantz range, was just such an exercise in 'we could if we wanted to ...'. I first encountered it at the 2012 High End Show in Munich, saw it as an obvious rival to the high-end players then emerging from the likes of Linn and Naim, and immediately requested a review sample. However, within a month or two, the word from Marantz HQ was that the product was being held back while some rethinking went on, and as 2012 rolled into 2013, I got a bit fed up with pestering for a release date and moved on.

At the 2013 Munich show the NA-11S1 was back, now apparently ready for release and being demonstrated by Brand Ambassador Ken Ishiwata. In fact, it was the main Munich demonstration for Marantz and formed the centrepiece of Ishiwata's demonstrations to the press and retailers to mark the company's 60th anniversary a month or so later. What's more, the explanation for the delay of a year between announcement and introduction was simple: in the fast-moving music-streaming market, Marantz wanted to make sure its 3499 [pounds sterling] top-end player was both fully up to date with the latest formats and able to play everything to an exceptionally high standard.

Ishiwata explains more about the thinking behind the delay in the Design Notes panel accompanying this review (see opposite) but, suffice it to say, what has finally arrived is both a big and imposing network player, and--as Ishiwata intended--a thoroughly up-to-date one. Not only will it stream a wide range of music formats from computers or network storage, play direct from iOS devices and computers running iTunes via Apple's AirPlay, accept content stored on USB memory devices via a front-panel socket, and deliver internet radio and other streaming services such as Last.fm and Spotify, but it's also capable of functioning as a high-quality external DAC.

That means it has both optical and electrical coaxial inputs on the rear, along with an asynchronous USB connection for use with a computer. Use that last input and a suitable software player running on the computer and you can even play DSD files--the enabling technology behind SACD--via the Marantz, with these being converted in their native form.

Yes, DSD: Direct Stream Digital is yet another format of which the music listener should be aware, and perhaps about which some will obsess to the extent of dismissing any equipment not able to handle it. I'm taking a closer look at DSD, how it fits into the scheme of things, what's available and whether one should explore it further in this month's essay (see page 137). Ishiwata is certainly taking it very seriously, to the extent of holding back the NA-11S1 until the company's engineers were able to implement DSD capability to a high standard.

PERFORMANCE

Big and imposing the NA-11S1 may be--it's built with the solidity of the company's other 'Reference' Series components, weighs an impressive 14.6kg and is packed with telltale Marantz audio tweaks, including the company's HDAM Hyper-Dynamic Amplifier Modules, a reinforced, copper-plated chassis, custom-made transformer and symmetrical circuit layout--but it's simple to get up and running. You have a choice of conventional or balanced analogue outputs, and the only other connections required are via Ethernet to your home network, a USB-B input if you're going to use it with a direct computer connection, and the mains lead. …

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