Marantz DV-12S1

By 2002, the DVD-Audio versus SACD war was raging. Many manufacturers first nailed their colours to one format’s mast, but soon realised they needed to cater for both new hi-res disc types. This was before the era of so-called ‘universal’ players, so what most companies did was to offer a choice of two models which were to some extent the same. In the case of Marantz, it was the SA-12 for CD and SACD playback, and the DV-12S1 you see here for CD and DVD-Audio – plus, of course, DVD-video.

Lest we forget, we were only two years past the introduction of Marantz’s first ever SACD spinner – the SA-1 – and eighteen months later the SA-12S1 followed, complete with multichannel SACD and DVD video playback. The £2,500 DV-12S1 launched just a year later brought DVD-A. Ostensibly it was designed to be plugged into a TV and used as part of a 5.1 channel system but does sport two channel RCA phono outputs and the facility, via its on screen menu to output stereo, downmixed, if need be. Aside from the on-off, open/close and play buttons, the most vital control on the DV-12S1 is the ‘video off’ switch. Used in conjunction with the ‘display off’, it turns a decent sounding DVD-A player into something altogether more serious.

As per Marantz tradition, the 458x110x392mm case contains more copper than a jukebox full of small change. The outsides are solid diecast aluminium sprayed the ‘house’ shade of champagne gold. Inside, the player is divided tidily up into various areas (audio, video, power supply, etc.), all separated by copper divides. Two 24/192 digital converters take care of the front channels, whereas 24/96 DACs are used for centre, surround and sub channels. Marantz’s Super-Ring toroidal transformer supplies the juice, while selected passive componentry, high grade internal wiring, copper HDAM op-amps, copper grounded circuit boards and an ultra low jitter master clock complete the picture.

Outside, the DV-12S1 is classy looking item. It’s solid – as the 13.2kg kerb weight attests – and beautifully suited and booted with tactile metal buttons, a nice clear blue display and a lovely metal remote control. The overall effect is of something at least as well turned out as the CD-17KI Signature of a couple of years back. It’s a little slow to access discs admittedly, but plug it into a TV and you’ll be impressed by the On Screen Display which is identical to that fitted to Pioneer machines of the period.

Feed the DV-12 a standard 16/44 Compact Disc, and as soon as the video circuitry is rested this player really impresses. Suddenly its rather vague and pleasant manner becomes tight, punchy and powerful. Its bottom end is full, weighty and tuneful too – if not the tightest around. Midband is also commendably smooth and detailed, while its treble performance is the epitome of good breeding – cymbals and female vocals have none of CD’s customary brittleness. This is in marked contrast to the vague, rolled off, sat-upon sound of Denon’s DVD-A1 spinning CDs.

It’s a very neutral performer. Denon’s then rival DVD-A1 injects a little additional pizzazz into things, but suitably primed with a decent recording and you can expect a powerful bass – albeit just a tad on the warm side, as per Marantz tradition. It has a clean, smooth and even midband, with strong imaging and depth perspective, plus sweet treble. There’s a nicely varied tonal palette, with real subtlety in its dealings with the texture and grain of voices and instruments it is asked to reproduce. True, the DV-12 does still sound digital, but it’s less so than rival DVD-A spinners of its age. Interesting to note however that its SA-12 SACD stablemate is smoother still – the latter sounds considerably softer around the edges.

Marantz’s DV-12S1 was a deeply impressive performer in its day. It span CDs with a fidelity not that far behind an Arcam FMJ CD23T, which was a very classy CD-only machine. These days they’re pretty rare but if you’re looking for a period piece, a couple of hundred pounds will bring one to you.

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