Best bang for the buck UNIVERSAL Player for Audio.

I was looking to upgrade a Marantz DV 8400 after a year and just got DV 9500.

(Had the top denon dog in the house for one bark.)

Again I was looking for a value for sound, I play DVD movies of my HTPC.
For that reason I only have S-Video hooked up, just so I can use the setup menus and DVD-A menus.
(So DVD-A is supposed to be for audiophiles, right? Then why are they forcing us to have a display on to play the disk? I only have a projector in my room! Rightfully so. Someone please tell these DVD-A monkeys that if they want us to adopt their format they need to make it easier to play, in an audio file environment! I don't want a big piece of glass in my listening room right where it shouldn't be! We must be able to select the track from the disk we want and play it without video!) Then we could have a truly audiophile Not so Universal audio only player!

Upon unpacking the unit, I knew it was a very different animal form the 8400.
The 8400 was based on the Pioneer 47i transport, this bad boy seem to be the first real fruits of D&M holdings morphing.

The 9500 is based on (IMHO) a much better Denon Transport (Appears to be the same base as the Denon 3910).
Many people have commented on the much better Video, I would think it is exactly the reason. The denon's always had much better video, I guess.
So, the tray feels better, the buttons feel harder, the display is more informative.
Interesting how many people ask why Denon players are so popular to mod.
Well I think it's because of their superb layout and design.
In the 9500 the DA and the output stage are all on one single board, getting it's own power and just data and clock from the rest.
So moding, this unit is as easy as the denons.
The best mods you can get for a denon players are all based on the notion, that the OP amps they use are crap. True.
So they swap the IC's with nice discreet or sometimes tube outputs.
Now, Yes this player is easy to mode, but if it's already got a super nice DAC, and a nice discreet output stage (No OPAMPS here baby!) when why mod?
So if you like the robust nature of the denon players, but hated the sound and wanted to mod, here it is for you.
A factory moded denon player that does it all for $2000k.
Can't be beat!

Now lets look at what the Marantz Player is all about.
So the transport and video is all taken care of, the Dacs are the new CS4398,s (The 8400 has cs4392. Most denons have high end BB).
It is a nice dac, I have some of the BB high end dacs on home made boards with different OP amps on the back, so I'm pretty familiar with both.
I think this new CS part is probably the best DA on the market now. Little less resolution then the BB, but it has a bit more analog quality to it.
The analog output appears to be more or less the same as it was in the 8400. 3 pairs of transistors, nice caps, 1% resistors a new nicer layout.
Gone is the copper shield. (Interesting that the board actually has the holes and the markings for the copper shield.)
However because of this new layout (top board) and a nice steel plate under it, I don't think we miss much in shielding.

I really think the main objective of Marantz with this player was to really hit a home run in terms of VALUE for the audio enthusiest with video quality on par with the best.

Lets see what we got, We have the $10k unidisk from Linn, we have the $5k DV50 from TEAC and then a bunch of real crap.
(Again I'm talking in terms of sound only! I know that the top denons are loved for video and all the connections they got, but they all sounds like they were designed to be sold for video.). The Dv8400 was the fist player to sound decent for less then $2k. As good as it was I knew that I was missing a bit, it was just still a bit digital a bit shy, a bit slow...

So I played a few disk on the 9500 and the 8400 side by side. But only a few.
It was immediately obvious that the 9500 is a MAJOR upgrade in sound.
I think some most if can be attributed to the new CS 4398 dac and a bit less to the new discreet output stage.

All and all, less grits and more soul!

For all those honest (work for the money!) audiophiles who could not bare to try SACD or DVD-A, this player may do the trick.
The first time ever, I felt like I was hearing the analog masters or may I even say vinyl in my home from a digital source.
Only in quiet passages when the noise floor just drops bellow my feet you recognize this ain't analog.
I will not claim it has the detail and finesse of EMM, or the resolution of the ESOTERIC (I would like to try those, anyone in the bay area willing to risk an test against the 9500 let me know.), but it is one fine player.

I set both players up for two channel mode, since I have some critical recordings (Like Thriller! :) ) on two channel format only. And because my mains are far superior to my center and surround. So most of my listening was done on two channel but some DVDA I played in surround.
In comparison to the 8400, that reverb tail of the bell on Art Of noise opening track is distinctively longer and better defined.
Diana Krall's singing makes me feel like I'm Elvis Costello! It is so intimate so silky and smooth and so direct, she is singing to me!
The impact of Frankie's bass line is so much more immediate, slaps me in the chest. Good old analog sourced SACD's like the new Quincy Jones import all sound like the are just fresh off the oxide. But only when you play Linss uber Scottish demo disk you recognize the value of serenity.
Very free of the usual digital artifacts we all moan about.
R.E.M 192khz 2 ch track is possibly the best pop dvda recording, and indeed it shines. Reno made me sign along. Gordon Goodwin's big phat band was so fat, it almost could not fit it in the room.
I ended up listening till 5 am! Mostly on Mahler and Dvorak on TELARC DSD. And that was the beauty! I Play loud! Usually at 80db or more. And never really enjoyed listening to music all to quiet till now.
While we are on DVD a once again, I think this is the first player that can truly demonstrate why DSD and SACD is superior to the PCM format.
Although all the DVD-A sound better indeed and more like the real thing, they still don't let me believe I'm listening to instruments and performers.
SACD's especially analog and pure DSD do that.

I do not listen to CD's (I play them off a music server) so I will not be making any comparison based on 16bit 44khz, but I would suspect, that it will do just as well as any player in this price range.

It is amazing, how far DA converters have come, it is also amazing, that they can't seem to make op amp IC's sound like discreet.
Very little goes into analog R&D now days, so I understand. But now days you can get a superb (relatively cheep) DAC and mate it with a simple discreet output and get real music. You have had to spend $20k for sound like this just a a few years back. I think the resolution and depth all come from the new DAC and low noise and silky smooth aspect from the discreet output. (Much like the combination of a winning moded player.)

So do yourself a favor and take the Marantz Dv9500 for a spin!

Here are some gotchas.

To use time alignment for SACD's you will have to convert the signal to PCM.
This is insane. But once again I understand. DSD processing is very different from PCM and to do it right you need an ASIC or an FPGA, both expensive, so to have this feature you would have to pay a lot more.
I for one time aligned my speakers the old fashion way, tape measure. All my speakers are within inches on a circle including my 3 subs.
Converting DSD to PCM is sacrilegious. The thing that sets DSD apart from PCM will be lost for good. If I had to characterize it, it makes SACD's sound like a pretty good dvda. While the same disk in pure mode is the sound of music. But who cares....

There is no DVI out (But there is HDMI Video only). Then again who cares...

I think D&M is making excellent moves with their brands! All those who were worried about where Marantz products may go can rest now.

This player is truly an excellent value. Much more so then the 8400 was in any respect.
And I think the price is also right, $2000k is about the top of what most of us is willing to spend on something like this.
Every other square inch in the size of the sound stage will cost you $1000 more / per.

Given that it is already a nicely "moded" player I think if you want mods' you will still better off with a denon player. Since the 3910 is much cheaper.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we have a value champ in uni players for audio files.

Like I said anyone in the bay area with fancier player for a shoot out let me know. (I would be very interested.)

Associated Gear.

All DH Labs Cables.
Classe SSP75 Pre pro.
(Various home made DA's of high end BB)
Marantz DV 8400
Infinity IRS Omega (AuriCaps, and upgraded cores resistors.) Main (1000w amps/)
Infinity Ren 80 (Center, rear) (500w amps/)
2x 12" NHT Custom subs.
1x 12" NHT SA3 sub
Before I even read you review I had DV9500 in mind. Over the 8400, I would have the 9500 just for audio alone.

One thing... I thought the 9500 and the SA11 were now Marantz transports.