Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceI promise I’m here to review Marantz’s latest integrated amplifier, the Model 50, and not to relitigate a previous review. Before I get into the specifics of this evaluation, though, let me paint you a picture of what went through my head as I sat down to start writing it. A few years back, when my review of Marantz’s Model 40n network integrated amplifier–DAC went live, someone posted a link to it on Reddit, prompting a response from a Redditor named /u/mourning_wood_again, who thought he caught me slipping:

Okay this is funny. Dennis Burger, who wrote this review, has a podcast with Brent Butterworth where they were laughing at hi-fi amp reviews because all amps apparently sound the same unless clipping, and nobody can pass an AB according to them.

Yet here we go. Dennis is talking very descriptively about how this amp sounds . . . gotta keep the sponsors happy, which is fine . . . but such a hypocrite.

Bless his heart. If you’re out there reading this, /u/mourning_wood_again, this review is for you. Because before I start digging into the Model 50 itself ($1800, all prices in USD), I think it’s pertinent to explain why I don’t think that criticism is valid.


First off, I’ve never made fun of anyone for describing the sound of an amp in a review—merely for claiming that some bog-standard class-AB amp was a revelatory advancement in amp design. And I’ve never said all amps sound the same—just that blind ABX test after blind ABX test demonstrates that people can’t reliably identify one amp versus any other, assuming they’re all operating within their design spec. And that doesn’t only mean whether or not they’re clipping.

But here’s the biggest thing that this Redditor overlooks in his zealousness to call me out: the Model 40n isn’t an amplifier. It’s an integrated amplifier. And any integrated amp has features that, in my experience, can affect the sound in meaningful ways. The preamp stage is a big one. In the case of the Model 40n, there were also the reconstruction filters of the DAC, which I’ve heard some other manufacturers screw up royally. There’s also the power supply to consider, which is probably the most consequential element of the integrated amps I’ve reviewed in my career. And a dodgy volume control can, in my experience, also spoil the sound of a good system.

Now, unlike the Model 40n I so adored, the new Model 50 integrated amplifier doesn’t have a DAC built in. Nor any form of streaming capabilities. Those duties are off-loaded to its companion piece, the CD 50n streaming CD player. But still, the preamp stage can affect its sound quality, the power supply can affect its interaction with loudspeakers, and the volume control can have legitimate implications for performance and the consistency thereof.


In reading back over my subjective evaluations of Marantz integrated amps in recent years, I’ve noticed a trend that never occurred to me in the moment. They all sound pretty stunning even at low listening levels. I’ve never put a whole lot of thought into why, as my job is to describe what I’m hearing and hope the measurements corroborate that. But completely by accident, I stumbled upon this factoid in U.S. retailer Audio Advice’s overview of the Model 50 and CD 50n: “Marantz actually reduces the preamp gain when the volume control is set to lower levels, which means there does not need to be as much attenuation.”

Is that what causes this phenomenon I’ve noticed but didn’t notice I was noticing? Seems plausible. Does it have anything to do with something I described in my Model 50 unboxing blog post: the sort of stiff awkwardness of the volume knob itself? I wouldn’t rule it out.

At any rate, if you’re wondering why I’m going on so long about volume controls, it’s because there’s not a lot else to riff on with regard to the Model 50. It’s a straightforward analog integrated amp with preamplification, source selection, amplification, and volume attenuation. It has a prominent MM phono stage in (stereo RCA), five line-level inputs (ditto), a record out (same), a preamp out (déjà vu all over again), a summed-mono preamp out for use with a subwoofer (mono RCA, obvs.), and a stereo input labeled POWER AMP IN—which doesn’t mean you plug a power amp into it, but rather that this input allows you to use the Model 50 purely as a power amp, bypassing all of the preamp functionality. The output of the class-AB power stage is specified as 70Wpc into 8-ohm loads or 100Wpc into 4-ohm loads, and Marantz reports 0.02% THD and a frequency response of 5Hz to 100kHz (±3dB).


And last but far from least, the Model 50 sports the same aesthetic design we’ve seen on all of Marantz’s new gear since the introduction of the much costlier Model 30 from a few years back. I could wax poetic about the design—and I’ve done so at length—but truth is, it speaks for itself. This is some of the loveliest industrial design I’ve seen from any hi-fi company in ages, and Marantz is smart to Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V it up and down the entire line.

Setting up the Marantz Model 50

Given all of the above, it should come as no surprise that the Model 50 doesn’t require much in the way of setup. It doesn’t feature bass-management capabilities, so I didn’t bother connecting a sub to it. Its headphone output doesn’t have the selectable gain functionality of the CD 50n. All in all, it’s as plug-and-play as you would expect a fully analog integrated amp to be, with only bass/treble controls and a balance knob.


So for the purposes of testing, all I really had to do was connect the CD 50n to the Model 50’s CD input, plug my iFi Zen Signature One DAC into the Line 1 in, and connect my reference Paradigm Studio 100 v.5 tower speakers via a pair of Elac Sensible speaker cables to the Model 50’s ridiculously gorgeous and beautifully built binding posts.

How does the Model 50 perform?

The fact that the Model 50’s output doesn’t double into 4 ohms prompted me to start my testing with a track that I know from experience can thin out if an amp’s power supply can’t deliver sufficient current and quickly—not something I was overly concerned about, given the high-current design of the HDAM SA-3 circuitry, but still, it was worth testing.

Starting at around the 0:39 mark, Alice Phoebe Lou’s “She” has a driving, energetic bass line that needs to be one of the most prominent elements of the mix. I’ve not only heard the bass get lost in the mix with integrated amps that don’t have enough current to plow through the impedance dips of my Paradigms; I’m also used to having to crank the volume to get the exact right tonal balance with this one.


Feeding the Model 50 a stream of the song—specifically the version from Live at Funkhaus (24-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Alice Phoebe Lou / Qobuz) via the CD 50n’s USB-B connection—even with peaks hitting a paltry 72dB, I felt like I was getting everything this track has to give me: beautiful dynamic punch, bang-on tonal balance, oodles of detail, and a nice sense of energy. As I leaned on the volume control (via the remote—the volume knob of the Model 50 just depresses me), yes, I got more of a body-slamming sensation from the bass—especially at right around 3:43, when a brief moment of silence is followed by a full-throated sonic assault from the drums and bass. But the overall tonal balance held steady, and imaging/soundstaging didn’t waver a bit as I cranked the sound to nigh-offensive listening levels.

Another track that I couldn’t wait to dig into was the cover of “Harvest” featuring Andrew Bird and Chris Stills from Rufus Wainwright’s Folkocracy (24/96 FLAC, BMG Rights Management / Qobuz). I cannot find the provenance of this album, but I believe it was recorded to tape. Either that or Wainwright’s engineers have access to better tape-emulation plug-ins than I’ve been able to find, and I’ve got some good ones. The thing is, though, the telltale tape hiss in this recording is exceedingly subtle, to the point where you might miss it on anything other than headphones. But the noise floor of the Model 50 is low enough to reveal such subtleties while allowing every ounce of the recording’s high-end sparkle to shine through.

As I was listening, I was captivated by the tones and timbres of Bird’s fiddle, as well as the overall ambience of the studio in which the song was recorded. I do believe the performers were together in the room for this one, which—for me—makes the space as important as any other element of the mix. There’s such incredible depth to the decay of the reverberation of Bird’s vocals that I just cannot imagine it was faked. That soundstage depth was preserved and passed along perfectly by the Model 50 at any and all reasonable listening levels.


It was somewhere around this point when I realized how much I was leaving on the floor in terms of headroom, given that most of my listening was done with the volume control set to around -40 to -45. So I set up a torture test, cranking the volume to -28 (the absolute loudest I could tolerate) and cueing up “Hot for Teacher” from the 2015 remaster of Van Halen’s 1984 (24/192 FLAC, Rhino Entertainment / Qobuz).

I played the first 23 seconds on a loop for what must have been ten minutes, with Alex’s pounding drums registering 105dB peaks on my SPL meter, and although the Model 50’s chassis got toasty enough to serve double duty as a sous-vide cooker, it never got uncomfortably hot. Furthermore, when I finally let the dogs out and allowed the track to play, I was impressed by how unfettered and effortless the vocals and guitar were delivered—even against the onslaught of Alex’s impersonation of a small-block Chevy V8 with a really hot cam. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that the Model 50 isn’t lacking anything in terms of capacitance, to say the least.

Lastly, given my experience with the headphone output of the CD 50n, I figured the Model 50’s headphone out needed some extra attention. As mentioned above, unlike the network CD player, the integrated amp doesn’t have selectable gain for its HPA. Based on my testing, I’m guessing it’s even higher than the high-gain setting of the CD 50n, because it could drive my Audeze LCD-2 open-backs with headroom to spare. In fact, this is one of the very few built-in headphone amps I’ve tested in recent months that could drive the LCD-2 headphones without the volume control pushed to the max or nearly so.


In short, the headphone output of the Model 50 is delicious, entirely obviating the need for an external HPA unless you have some notoriously hard-to-drive cans. There are quirks, though. Plugging in a pair of headphones does not mute the speaker outputs; you have to do that with the A/B/A+B speaker selector on the front panel. There’s unsurprisingly no volume memory, either, so you might find that you need to remember to turn down the volume every time you plug in headphones.

What other integrated amps in this price class should you consider?

Trying to figure out which other integrated amps to short-list alongside the Marantz Model 50 is really an exercise in figuring out what your priorities are. Are you drawn to the emphasis on analog connectivity but maybe want one digital input? You might also want to audition the Musical Fidelity M3Si ($1679), which boasts a little more power, as well as a USB Type-B port on the back and a DAC with support for PCM up to 24-bit/96kHz. I haven’t personally auditioned the M3si, but I did review the M6si and loved everything about it except its USB-DAC input, which I found far too noisy to be usable. I’ve no clue if the M3si suffers from the same, but it’s also an Audio Class 1.0 USB device, so it’s not unreasonable to assume so.

Are you drawn to the aesthetic design and build quality of the Model 50 instead? Who could blame you? Every time a new piece of Marantz kit passes through my doors these days, I fall in love with the looks of it all over again. If you feel the same, but you want more digital connectivity and streaming functionality built in, I’d point you in the direction of the Marantz Model 40n integrated amplifier–DAC ($2499), which remains one of the absolute best values in hi-fi, in my estimation.

TL;DR: Should you buy the Marantz Model 50 integrated amplifier?

The answer to that question ultimately comes down to whether or not it does what you want it to. If you like the two-piece approach Marantz is developing, the Model 50 and CD 50n represent its most affordable iteration yet—and as far as I can hear, with no compromises in terms of performance. Or if you already have all the sources you need and simply want a good, all-analog integrated amp for source-switching, volume control, and amplification, this is a good’n, for sure.


There are a few little operational quirks, like the fact that plugging in cans doesn’t mute the speaker outputs. And if you’re not pairing the Model 50 with the CD 50n, the remote control is just nonsensical overkill in terms of buttons and layout. But if those little nits don’t bother you, my recommendation becomes a lot more enthusiastic. Because this truly is one of the best-built pieces of kit I’ve put hands on since I shipped the Model 40n off for photography and measurements many moons ago. And no, I don’t necessarily believe its amps sound any different from any other competently designed power stage with this much output and this little noise/distortion. In fact, I don’t think the Model 50 sounds like anything at all.

But as I’ve said before, when a piece of gear gets out of the way and delivers my music without editorializing, and provides enough current and a sufficient damping factor, the resulting sound can feel like magic. And the Model 50 delivered uncountable magical moments during my time with it.

. . . Dennis Burger

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers: Paradigm Studio 100 v.5.
  • Speaker-level connections: Elac Sensible Speaker Cables.
  • Line-level connections: Straight Wire Encore II analog interconnects.
  • Sources: Marantz CD 50n; Maingear Vybe PC; iPhone 12 Pro Max.
  • Power protection: SurgeX XR115 Surge Eliminator / Power Conditioner.

Marantz Model 50 Integrated Amplifier
Price: $1800.
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.

Masimo Consumer
5541 Fermi Ct.
Carlsbad, CA 92008
Phone: 1-844-298-5032