The Hub: The most influential amp ever?

It's been said that major advancements in science and technology are often made by amateurs because they are driven by passion, not profit. Profit may follow, but it is not the driving force. F.E. and F.O. Stanley, the twin-creators of the Stanley Steamer automobiles, were engineers but also dedicated amateur musicians, and inadvertently made their first fortune by designing machines for the automated manufacture of violins. Also obsessed by photography, their SECOND fortune came from the sale of a photographic dry plate business to Eastman Kodak. Similarly, Godowsky and Mannes, the creators of Kodachrome, were professional musicians, but obsessive amateur photographers. And then there's Saul Marantz.

Today, Marantz may be the best-known audio brand on the planet, but back in 1951, Saul Marantz began building his "Audio Consolette" (the mono preamp which evolved into the Model 1) because as a skilled amateur guitarist, he was frustrated by the poor sound quality of commercially-available preamps.Marantz made his living in sales and graphic design, talents exhibited in his elegant product designs, and the equally-elegant ads which featured them.

The Audio Consolette featured a number of phono EQ curves to cope with pre-RIAA-standard recordings (still an issue with record-collectors today, BTW). This first model showed some of the styling-points we associate with Marantz, but was designed as a chairside unit, small in format. Its $155 price was fairly steep in 1951, equivalent today to about $1200. As a point of reference, the McIntosh C8 was only $88.50.

Following the success of the Audio Consolette, Marantz made the acquaintance of Sidney Smith, who would become his Chief Engineer. Sid Smith was trained as an Army radio technician in WW II, and had created a Williamson-type power amp for Radio Craftsmen. The twist is that Smith earned his living as an audio engineer because he couldn't support his family with his earnings as an operatic tenor, which was his true passion. The two were well-matched, and equally passionate about music.

The Consolette evolved into the Model 1, which had the shiny, flat-faced knobs and square-cornered wood casework we associate with Marantz. Sid Smith came up with a Williamson-inspired power amp in the Model 2, utilizing 6CA7/EL34 outputs, and awitchable between 20-watt triode and 40-watt Ultra-Linear operation. A review of the 1/2 pairing in the August,1956 Audio magazine mentioned the excellent measured performance, the high quality of parts, and concluded "both of these units may truly be called 'deluxe'." Amusingly, not a word was said regarding what the units SOUNDED like.

A string of products rarely seen today followed: the 3 and 4 were an electronic crossover and power-supply; the 5 was a simplified 2, in smaller casework; the 6 was an adapter which coupled together two Model 1s for stereo. Then the most-famous run of models in audio history began: the 7 preamp, the 8 stereo power amp (initially, two model 5s on one chassis, then revised as the 8b), and the Model 9 power amplifier, a 70-watt "high power" model unit.

The Model 9 (above, and for sale here) came along in 1960, just as the power-hungry Acoustic Research 3 appeared, and the 9 was one of the few amps with enough juice to really make it sing. Model 9s utilized four 6CA7s/EL34s to produce 70 watts in Ultra-Linear mode; good ones produce a fair amount more. The 9 will drive almost any kind of load; Marantz himself used to demo using finicky KLH 9 electrostatics with his Model 9s.

It's hard to say which aspect of the 9 has been copied more: its circuitry, or its appearance. Schematics of many well-known amps look AWFULLY familiar when placed next to that of the 9; similarly, the big round meter in the center, looking almost like an old mantle clock,has become iconic. Keep in mind, too, that the 9 was the first power amp designed to be seen, indeed displayed. Previously, power-amps were tucked into the backs of consoles and shelves.

For a 21st-century audiophile, used to the milspec-and-beyond standards of today, looking inside a Model 9 (or virtually any piece from the '50's or '60's) may well induce spilkies. Wiring is essentially point-to-point, but sometimes seems as though it's jumping from Point A to Point Z, with a detour at the Slauson Cut-off. The phenolic circuit boards do not inspire confidence, nor do the loosely-spec'ed carbon resistors, clustered around flimsy-looking pots and switches. The most horrifying parts of old gear, viewed with new-millennium eyes, are undoubtedly the back-panel connectors. Here the 9 shares the same lightweight, riveted-to-the-back-panel noise-prone connectors common in the era, with the inputs so close together that bulky modern connectors may pose a problem.

As good a unit as the Model 9 is, sonically (and a good one is very good indeed), one can't help but wonder how the same circuit would perform given New Age construction standards. Wouldn't it be ironic if it turned out that the flimsy sheet metal, steel leads and carbon resistors actually made it sond better? Stranger things have happened.

For Marantz, things went downhill after the Model 9. The Model 10 tuner, which followed, was a design tour de force from Sid Smith and his protegee' Dick Sequerra,a tuner of such beauty, complexity and extraordinary performance that its only rival appeared a decade after it ceased production, and was designed by none other than Sequerra. The 10 featured a built-in oscilloscope as a tuning aid, and even at the extraordinary price of $555 in 1964 (think close to four grand today), Marantz supposedly lost money on every unit. The top of the line McIntosh MR67 cost $299, in comparison.

Unfortunately, the huge developmental costs of the Model 10 left Marantz undercapitalized. In 1964, Superscope bought the ailing Marantz company, and moved it to California the next year. By 1968, Saul Marantz was out; with him, the era of Marantz as a leader in state of the art audio, came to an end.

The classic Marantz pieces,as we see here, continue to be desired. A pair of 9s can now approach $10,000, and a premium 7 can go over $4,000. Reissue units of the 7, 8b and 9 built for Marantz by VAC in the mid to late '90's have done nothing to diminish the value of the originals, unlike comparable reissues of the C22 and 275 from McIntosh. As Marantz approaches the company's 60th anniversary, the past is honored, and the future is once again bright.
Excellent article, Bill. Thanks!

During a period of several years in the early 1990's, I owned examples of most of the pieces mentioned. I hesitate to make statements about the performance of particular models of vintage equipment, because it is obviously very dependent on the condition of the particular example. But fwiw I will say that by far the one model that for me was an absolute treasure, fully competitive by modern standards, and which I greatly regret selling, was the pair of Model 2 power amps I had. Just gorgeous sound, emerging from a background of total silence.

I also had a pair of 9's, which in the case of those particular examples did not come close to the sonic quality of the 2's.

The 2's are considerably more difficult to find than the 9's, but go for a somewhat lower (although still very high) price, which I assume is due to their lower power rating.

At the other end of the price spectrum, you mentioned Radio Craftsmen, at which Sid Smith worked in his earlier years. Audiogoner's interested in vintage equipment for a second or third system might want to consider some of their early 1950's stuff, which was generally made on very nice looking chrome plated chassis. I have a 1952 Model 10 am/fm tuner, bought some years ago for $25, which produces beautiful and very liquid mono sound through my second system. I don't know if Sid was involved in their tuners, or just their amplifiers. I believe that Radio Craftsmen later evolved into Sherwood.

-- Al
Hey, Al--thanks for the stories.

I once had a mono system (story to follow, someday) with a 1 and a 2. In some ways, I've never heard anything since as sweet and effortless. Sigh.

I haven't seen any 2s since then, and that was in the late '80's. Obviously, I can't comment on prices, except to say that what I paid would make you hurl.

That system also had the first Sherwood tuner, which was a gem. BTW, my understanding is that Sherwood was founded by a guy who left Crafsmen--as Sid Smith did. His name will undoubtedly come to me as soon as I post.
Sherwood was founded in 1953 by Ed Miller

Thanks, Bill, for fun and interesting reading.

Bill -- I did a little Googling, and it looks like his name was Ed Miller. He apparently left Radio Craftsmen and founded Sherwood in 1953, a year or so before Sid Smith left to join Saul Marantz. So I was incorrect when I said I believed Radio Craftsmen "evolved into" Sherwood.

I also found what appeared to be a credible writeup indicating that Radio Craftsmen was founded in 1947, by a former Hallicrafters employee named John Cashman. It also indicated that Sid Smith's role at Radio Craftsmen was assumed after he left by Robert Grodinski, who I assume is the same person who later (ca. 1980) had his own audio company named Robert Grodinski Research.

-- Al
Yup. Bob Grodinsky certainly got around, and didn't Ed Miller later start GAS with Jim Bongiorno? Can't verify that.

Someday I intend to make family-tree charts of US high end companies, just as CREEM magazine used to do for rock bands. It's astonishing how interwoven and inbred the history of this little industry is.
Correction to my previous post: It should be "Grodinsky," not "Grodinski."

I also found in researching my previous post that the legendary designer Stu Hegeman was also a Radio Craftsmen alumnus.

-- Al
This has been a great ride down memory lane. I enjoyed owning a pair of Marantz 9 amps for over 25 years that I acquired for a song as an impoverished grad student in the late 70's. After making some conversative (and reversible) upgrades to the power supplies and selected capacitors and resistors, I rarely heard anything that could improve upon the wonderful mid-range naturalness and accuracy of timbre that these amps could deliver. Set in triode mode, the liquidity and naturalness of the sound was captivating.

The fellow who did the update on my amps, Bill Thalmann, was a senior engineer for Conrad Johnson at the time and moonlighted doing repairs and upgrades of high end tube equipment. Bill was so taken by the results of the Marantz 9 amps run in triode that a year or so later he convinced C-J to release their then current Premier Eight amplifier in a triode version: the Premier Eight XS.
Nice write up on the Model 9s. The black phenolic boards used by Marantz had silver plated turrets and did not warp or deteriorate with heat and age. Compare this to the eyelet brown phenolic boards used by McIntosh. The Allen Bradley carbon resistors were of excellent quality and were often accompanied by MIL-SPEC deposited carbon resistors in critical areas. Potentiometers were MIL-SPEC 2 watt units. Competitors used consumer grade 1/4 watt types that got noisy very soon. Coupling capacitors were epoxy dipped Mylar, with performance unmatched for the time. Impervious to humidity. The electrolytics were Telephone Grade Spragues which last forever. These construction features were shared with other Marantz tube amps such as the Models 2, 5, 8 and 8B.
The 8B has as simpler circuit that yields superior sonics. The Model 9's often were modified to address certain issues. Bascom H. King of Audio Magazine was famous for having a pair modified Model 9s as his reference amps.

The Audio Consolette and Model 1, are the same. And the original preamp was introduced in 1953. There were many variations over the years, mostly in appearance. The original knobs being bakelite.
Thanks for the details; I was probably a little harsh in my comments on build-quality. As you mentioned, the Marantz gear was better-built than most.
Still, by today's standards, they look a little home-spun.

Having said that: these amps were not just wonderful-sounding, they were tough: I've heard 8Bs drive wicked loads, including MartinLogan CLSs, and do it well. There is something magical about them, and that something has NOT made it into modern copies. As I said somewhat ironically, maybe what we think of today as "cheap" parts had something to do with that magic.
Bill, thanks for your writeup on the Marantz units -- they're close to my heart . . . both my posted systems feature Model 2s, and I've owned 1s, 8s, and 9s in the past; truly inspirational stuff.

A quick response to your comment on the internal wiring . . . sometimes what may look haphazard at first can actually reveal some beautiful subleties upon further examination -- an example is the power-supply and ground wiring inside the Model 2.

The Model 2 (and 5 also) use an arrangement that I view as being in between a choke-input and a cap-input topology; it's cap-input, but the first capacitor is a low-value (8uF) oil-filled industrial type, with aluminum electrolytics used only after the choke. In practice this gives much of the superior load regulation of the choke-input type, but closer to the voltage-efficiency of the cap-input approach. Rectifier tube life and inrush damping are much better with this design, as the rectifier tube(s) only directly see a small amount of capacitance.

But my favorite subtlety of this design is the fast that the vast majority of the ripple current, especially the higher-frequency harmonics, are bypassed with a capacitor that is well suited to the application - the industrial oil type. The ripple current across the aluminum electrolytic is then far lower, dramatically increasing their life. And if you take a look at how the ground wiring is laid out through this section, it's immediately obvious that they understood this - because it's laid out in such a manner so that the ripple current (even on the ground side) is kept out of the plate supply.

I think this is one of the many reasons why my Model 2s are absolutely dead quiet, with no hum, even with my ear within a couple of inches of a reasonably sensitive loudspeaker.
Saul Marantz was not known for effusive praise, but he supposedly once said of Sid Smith, "He's a genius."

I tend to agree. It's a shame that there's no written text by Smith describing the reasoning behind the types of design elements you mention.

And thanks: now I'm even more PO'd at myself for letting my 2 go!
Kudos on another stellar thread!

We grossly underestimate the knowledge, ability, creativity, and genius of the folks from the postwar era. As I like to ask, in real terms, have things actually improved since?

In my opinion, no product, let alone, tube, more represents what high-end audio is supposed to be than the EL34. If it ever came to that, deny me any/every other component, leaving me only with a good EL34 amplifier, and I'll gladly ride off into the sunset. And, no amplifiers have done more to instill that legacy than Marantz.
It's interesting to note that Dick Sequerra uses EL34 outputs in his megabuck amps, and no less an authority than John Curl has said that Sequerra's amps can do things his own designs cannot.

That's saying a LOT.

Thanks for all the interesting comments, gents.