[img]http://hometheaterreview.com/images/Marantz_pearl_intAMP.gif[/img]Marantz PM-KI-Pearl Integrated Amplifier
By: Brian Kahn
Marantz's reference line-up of products may not be as well known as its more mass-market offerings, i.e. receivers and sources, but they are still highly regarded in many circles and have garnered many critical accolades. The newest additions to Marantz's reference line are a pair of products with the Pearl moniker, including the PM-KI-Pearl Integrated Amplifier reviewed here. The "KI" in the name is for Marantz's European Brand Manager and audio designer Ken Ishiwata to mark his 30th Anniversary with the company.
Mr. Ishiwata personally led the creation of these special, limited edition products. The Pearl units get their name from the silk black Pearl finish of their aluminum enclosures which is unique within Marantz's reference line. The 90 Watts per channel, $3,599 PM-KI-Pearl Integrated Amplifier reviewed here is based upon the new $2,599 PM-15S2 integrated amplifier found in Marantz's reference line. One could view the Pearl version as a "modded" or "souped up" version of the PM-15S2. Mr. Ishiwata has gone through the unit and has tweaked the PM-15S2 with modifications that improve performance. The modifications and parts are done to maximize the performance available while keeping the costs out of the exorbitant, cost no object club.
Looking at the unit itself, one immediately can identify the high level of build quality. Beginning with the top cover which is made out of a 5mm thick piece of solid aluminum and moving down to the double layer base plate, one is sure to notice and appreciate the build quality of this unit with its nonvisual screw heads, tight tolerances and special finishes. Thankfully the beauty is not skin deep and the guts of this integrated amplifier are quite worthy as well. The design of this unit includes the use of Marantz's HDAM-SA3 technology, current feedback with servo control, a new "High Accurate Volume Control IC for Linear Control Volume" and a newly designed toroidal transformer with a non-magnetic aluminum case, and new custom block capacitors. In short, Marantz packed a lot of technology into the maximizing the performance of the amplifier section of the PM-KI-Pearl Integrated Amplifier.
In addition to the amplifier topology features described above, the unit has many features such as a fully discrete constant current feedback phono equalizer for the MC/MM phono input, a CD direct input buffer circuit with HDAM-SA2, two record/monitor loops, adjustable illumination, one touch volume control, the ability to use just the amplifier or pre-amplifier sections independently form each other and a Floating Bus Control System which allows the unit to be used in bi-amp or multi-channel modes when linked with other PM-KI-Pearl Integrated Amplifiers.
Sonically, one might confuse this integrated amp with a Marantz receiver which would be a mistake as this is a true audiophile product. Expect the controlled, smooth power that you know you will get with a Rotel, Arcam or even a Krell integrated amp. The highs are smooth and airy with control for the bass that you would expect from moderate level separate components.
• The build quality of the PM-KI-Pearl Integrated Amplifier is first class. It is built like the proverbial tank both inside and out with an industrial design that is deserving of proud display.
• The PM-KI-Pearl Integrated Amplifier places sound quality first and is built with the exact parts, specifically chosen to maximize the performance of this design.
• The Pearl line provides the enhanced performance of a "modded" unit at a reasonable price and without compromising the manufacturer's warranty.
• The PM-KI-Pearl Integrated Amplifier does not have any balanced inputs or outputs which I would expect to find on a product of this quality and in this price range.
• The unit has a limited number of inputs. Apart from the specialized, phono, CD and record / monitor inputs, there are only two more inputs.
• I would have liked to have seen the ability to custom name the inputs so that the display accurately reflects the chosen source rather than a generic input designation.
Marantz's Pearl line of reference products pays homage to brand manager and audio designer Ken Ishiwata and all those who have tweaked and modified their components to get the best possible sound for their dollar. If you do not need balanced audio inputs and are seeking something a cut above the already good reference line gear, the PM-KI-Pearl Integrated Amplifier deserves a close look. If you are interested, I recommend that you do not delay as production is limited to 500 units and will likely sell out quickly.