Marantz DV6400 Universal Disc Player
Slowly but surely, more readers are asking questions about high-resolution, multichannel audio. They want to know what kind of progress the SACD and DVD-Audio formats are making. In most ways, I think they're right where we thought they'd be at this point, if not ahead in some respects. Sure, the naysayers are out in force, but it's entirely predictable that they would be. A technology's early days are the safest time for naysayers, as this is when all new technologies inevitably struggle. It wasn't so long ago that the DVD-Video detractors were out in force, and I think we all know how that turned out. Am I saying high-resolution/multichannel audio will ultimately have the impact of DVD-Video? Hardly, at least not in these videocentric times. Am I saying that SACD and DVD-Audio will change the world? Obviously not. But I am saying that it doesn't make much sense to dismiss a technology, or technologies, before they've had a chance to show what they can really do.
Universal disc players have done a great deal to increase the odds that SACD and DVD-Audio will be around long enough to reach their full potential. Even beyond the relative proliferation of universal players themselves—something that happened earlier than I thought it would—the fact that we already have universal players at several different price points is a bullish sign for SACD and DVD-Audio. As important as the high-end players are for showing the technology at its best—and the low-end players are for democratizing it—the key here in the early going may just end up being the mid-level players like Marantz's DV6400.
The DV6400 builds on the success of the DV8300, one of the best performing universal players at any price, in my opinion. While I don't normally summarize my view about a player so early in a review (I'm supposed to keep you on the hook for a while), I will here to help illustrate my point. The DV6400 may not be as refined as the DV8300 or the new DV8400 in terms of internal components, connections, and even build quality and aesthetics, but you get roughly 85 percent of those players' video performance and 75 to 80 percent of their audio performance at less than 40 percent of the price. When you consider that performance should be the most important aspect, you can see why players like the DV6400 have a powerful effect on the future of DVD-Audio and SACD, thanks to their ability to bring a higher performance level to a broader range of people.
The DV6400 has a solid list of standard features, headlined of course by its array of compatible playback formats. You can play just about anything on a 5-inch disc, including CD-R/-RW, DVD-R/-RW, MP3, videoCD, and even discs containing WMA files. You can output video via composite, S-video, or component connections, and the latter is switchable between progressive and interlaced. True 3:2- and 2:2-pulldown detection is aboard, along with a good selection of video tweaks. The player outputs digital audio from a coaxial or optical output, and multichannel analog outputs are naturally included. Bass management is offered for both DVD-Audio and SACD (not always a given, especially for the latter), but the delay settings only apply to DVD-Audio. There aren't as many bonuses, like RS-232 and DVI-D connections, as you'll find on the DV8300 and DV8400, but everything the standard user needs is here.
A quick run through Video Essentials indicated that the DV6400 provides full resolution for DVD, color reproduction that shows only minor anomalies, and a deep, stable black level. The DV6400 will pass PLUGE, and it downconverted anamorphic material to letterbox almost flawlessly. The DV6400's progressive component video output delivers solid, consistent images with only minor indications of border tearing and other motion anomalies.
Setup is quick and easy, thanks to a good onscreen interface and a comprehensive remote. The remote could use a little more diversity in button shape and size, especially since there's no backlighting (something it could use even more), but it gets the job done. I connected the player to Parasound's solid Halo C 2 controller and Lexicon's impressive CX-7 amplifier, as well as some quality speaker systems in different price ranges, including the Dali Suite system (see my review in this issue) and the Revel F50 system.
Out of the gate with two-channel music, the DV6400 delivered a smooth, free-flowing sound worthy of its family name. Marantz has always been an audio company first, and you can hear that in their DVD players. CD material was warm and rich, but without any sense of artificial sweetening. It also had its dynamic qualities; on a few different occasions, I noted the stability of the high frequencies and their resistance to ringing. The DV6400's two-channel performance may not have been as refined and effortless as that of the DV8300 or DV8400; however, when I compare apples with apples—the DV6400 and other mid-priced universals—the DV6400 is probably the pick of the litter so far for music.
The same held true for high-resolution material. The DV6400 uses 24-bit/192-kilohertz digital-to-analog converters on all channels (as does the DV8400), plus other first-rate internal components. Naturally, these components are a step down from those in the pricier Marantz players, and you can hear the difference if you're paying attention. That said, the DV6400 still does an excellent job with high-resolution material and is the cream of the crop in its price bracket. Through the DV6400, Bucky Pizzarelli's Swing Live (Chesky) was its dynamic, smooth-sounding self in both SACD and DVD-Audio form. The sound was solid from top to bottom, with a good strong punch from the bass drum and bass, all the way up to the crisp, clear highs of the clarinet and cymbals, which raised the excitement level without rattling my eardrums.
The first thing to grab me about the DV6400's video performance was its color reproduction, which was bold and consistent with everything I ran through it. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still a staple for me for color performance, as well as black level and shadow detail. The DV6400 was solid on all accounts, offering up vivid, lush colors in chapter 25 and excellent contrast and detail in the night scenes in chapters 6 through 8.
The DV6400 also proved that it could handle itself with motion scenes, showing only occasional evidence of artifacts and border tearing. Naturally, the progressive output generated the smoothest, most stable image that the DV6400 had to offer, but interlaced performance wasn't bad at all (it's hard to go back, though, once you've been spoiled by a well-delivered progressive image). I like the control it maintained over the erratic motion of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. You want a player that allows these films' intentionally choppy and disjointed camera effects to reach their full impact without getting carried away or losing its grip—and the DV6400 fit this billing admirably. As I said before, the DV6400's video performance is even closer to that of its pricier siblings than the audio performance is, which is another way of saying that its video reproduction is especially impressive for a player of its price.
Impressive is a good way to sum up the DV6400: impressive performance and an impressive lineup of capabilities at an impressive price. I like the percentages on this player—as in, a relatively high percentage of the performance of higher-end players at a relatively low percentage of their price. Add up that equation, and it means that the DV6400 plays its role just about perfectly in the grand scheme of universal players and high-resolution, multichannel audio. You can get better performance, build quality, and aesthetic punch, but you have to pay considerably more for it. There are also less-expensive players than the DV6400, but it won't take a trained ear to hear or a trained eye to see the significant difference between its performance and that of universal players selling in the low hundreds. If you're looking for the best that the universal market has to offer so far at well under four figures, this is a real good place to start.
• Excellent performance-to-price ratio
• Plays most anything on a 5-inch disc
• Bass management for SACD and DVD-Audio