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.