My entry into quality audio came in 1969 when I returned home from the war. I had saved some money from my combat pay and I wanted to upgrade my audio system. At the time I was listening to early Dynaco solid state electronics which I built as kits.
I had been researching all the great products that Marantz made, and they were clearly superior to any of its competition. I wanted to go Marantz separate components but all I could afford was their Model 18 receiver. So I bought one on a military discount while I was still overseas, without ever having listened to it.
What a beautiful product it turned out to be. Fortunately it sounded as good as it looked. It was a combination between the Marantz Model 15 power amp and the Model 7T preamp. These products were Marantz’s first venture into solid state electronics. Though many people still prefered the Marantz tube version of these products, the Model 9’s and the Model 7C, these new solid state models were heads and shoulders above any competing solid state components at the time.
The Model 18 receiver had a FM multiplex processor builtin which was modeled after the one in the Marantz 10B tuner. The 10B was legendary for its sound and still is. To get just a taste of that sound at a reasonable, but not cheap, price was a joy. Of course, the Model 18 was solid state all the way through, unlike the famous high end tubed Marantz components. It was, however, state of the art solid state for its day. (Years later I would buy a used 10B and two Model 9 mono-block amps. Now that was listening bliss!)
Like the 10B the Model 18 had an oscilloscope builtin. The scope was smaller but still very functional. It was a great aid in tuning-in stations as well as evaluating such things as stereo separation and phase. I once called a well-known Boston radio station to tell them that they were broadcasting out of phase. At the time I was listening more to FM than playing records. FM radio stations at the time offered exceptionally sound quality and program material. (I had a Garrard Lab 80 turntable which was not that exceptional.)
The Model 18 brought me great joy. It was beautifully made and offered quality sound at a not too unreasonable price. This was the last product that Saul Marantz was personally involved in designing and making. He had to sell his company to help pay for the development of this product and recover some of the losses he experienced from having to sell the 10B at a price below what it actually cost him to make. Today, the Model 18 is considered a classic. Used ones in good condition, especially if the scope still works, will require a substantial investment.
Reflecting on the Model 18 made me think of young people just getting started in audio today. What should they buy? What is the entry level for them to the enjoyment of quality audio. Fortunately today, not everything is MP3. Vinyl has made a comeback. High resolution streaming is now on the scene. What is equally important is that the price of entry level has come down. I see two avenues: one vinyl and the other streaming or downloading digital music files. The vinyl path is a little more expensive, however. The Audio Technica AT-LP60 is an excellent turntable, but to get into a more emotionally involved sound would require a better turntable and preamp combination.
Let us start with the turntable, tonearm, and phono cartridge. The entry level product of choice is the $475 Rega Planar 1, which integrates all three components. Each component is exceptional. Not only that, but they have already been setup and optimized in advance. This combination offers an engaging and lively sound that outshines all of its peers. Other tables which might have more expensive phono cartridges do not have the precision bearings of the Rega. Rega spends money where it counts the most.
A separate phono preamp will be needed, however, since the Rega has no builtin preamp. A lot of money can be spent on a quality phono stage. Fortunately, the $129 Schiit Mani is more than adequate at providing superior phono amplification at a very reasonable price.
On the digital side, the route to take is MQA. It sounds great. We can stream music from Tidal for $20 a month with a pretty good selection of MQA files, or we can download the files. (See Time Smearing for further information on downloading.) What will be needed to fully unpack the MQA sound is a MQA compatible DAC.
The tiny but great $199 AudioQuest Dragonfly Red DAC will do just fine. Designed to plug into the USB outlet on one’s computer it will also work with smart phones as well. The Dragonfly Red will drive many high impedance headphones whereas the $100 Dragonfly Black does not have a sufficient output voltage supply. Moreover, the Red is an audible improvement over the Black.
One should also consider adding the $74 Audirvana Plus software in the equation as an added refinement. It only works with an Apple computer as of now.
We have some amazing options today for getting into good sound – not just good sound but very good sound. This will help introduce many young people to the quality of sound that, heretofore, could only be attained through very expensive audio components. If we do not bring young people in then great audio will just fade away because of the barrier of overpriced high end components that only rich people can afford.
Some of the high end speaker manufactures can almost justify their prices because of their expensive investments in R & D and the use of very exotic materials. (Fortunately the AudioEngine 2A+ loudspeakers coupled with a quality sub-woofer can hold their own against many of them.) But cables costing as much as automobiles? In some cases they do offer improved sound, but not that much improvement. Young people are not into buying products for vanity reasons. They are just too smart.