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Still crazy after all these years

AUDIOFILE (The Philippine Star) - September 17, 2016 - 12:00am

In its June/July 2007 edition, The Absolute Sound (TAS) magazine featured what its editors and senior writers — Chris Martens, Harry Pearson, Paul Seydor and Jonathan Valin — thought were the 12 analog components that shook the world.

These are: The Golden Age of Stereo Recording, Acoustic Research XA Integrated Turntable, SME 3009 Tonearm, Rabco SL8-E Tangential Tonearm, Shure V15 Phono Cartridge, Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine, Decca London International Pick-up Arm, Linn Sondek LP12, Audio Research SP3 Preamplifier, Supex SD900 Moving Coil Cartridge, Goldmund Studio Integrated Turntable and analog accessories.

I agree with TAS that most of its choices have affected the way we live today. What I’m baffled at is why it glossed over an audio gear that should have been, in my own list, on the top of the heap: the Marantz Model 7c preamplifier.

I believe that if there is one person to be credited with the growth of the hi-fi industry and the way the world spun during and after World War II, it is none other than Saul Bernard Marantz. He had a reputation for excellence, simplicity and economy, and most of his products remain classics even today.

In the late 1940s it was the young Marantz’s unflinching dedication to good music that gave birth to a sound system that he believed cured a basic flaw in the early LP records playback. At the time, Saul was a classical guitarist, an accomplished photographer, a freelance graphics designer and a collector of Chinese and Japanese art. But it was his passion for good music which drove him to tinker with electronics in his basement.

The story went that Saul was so disappointed with the way equipment in those days reproduced music recorded on LPs. So, in 1952, he created what in that era was a groundbreaking preamplifier. It was outfitted with each equalizer curve essential to handle the inconsistent recording characteristics of that time. He called it “Audio Consolette” and it was a resounding success. His wife persuaded him to make and sell 100 sets, but in a year the order book build-up had swelled to over 400 units.

Nonetheless, it was his association with audio engineer Sidney Smith and physicist Richard Sequerra that propelled Marantz Co. to greater heights. Their partnership prospered and produced several audio equipment embraced by both audiophiles and music lovers alike, but the Model 7c preamp was to be biggest selling high-end audio units of all (130,000 pieces in all its variations). Not only did it set the standard for superb sound quality, it also became the benchmark for aesthetic appeal.  Saul’s products looked like they will sound good because his approach to design was holistic: the product must improve performance, be easy to use, and fit into the home. Indeed, the products he created in the 60s were not only affordable, but were the finest in their class.

In 1964, Marantz Co. was sold to Superscope Inc., and today is owned by Philips Electronics N.V. Saul Marantz was its president until 1968. In 1972, he co-founded the Dahlquist Co., maker of high-quality loudspeakers, serving as president until 1978. Had he not die in January 1997 at the ripe old age of 85, Saul would have been ecstatic to see how sought-after his products are even in this so-called digital age. A Model 7c re-issue, for instance, is being sold for over $3000, and the original — which has become a collector’s item — is selling for much, much more.

But what really is the Model 7c made of? Aside from other high-quality electronic parts, those who are still lucky to possess the original Model 7c may be surprised to see that the six vacuum tubes inside the preamp are not the 12ax7 that can be found in the re-issue. Those tubes are 803s (not to be confused with EL 803) and are believed to be the reason the Model 7c trounced the competition. Aside from the fact that it can be rolled or replace the 12ax7, little is written about the 803 and not much information; even in the Internet, is available. After almost 50 years, however, some 803s are now being sold in limited quantity for $700 per piece.

It is my firm belief that the Marantz 7c preamp is one audio component that has influenced the way we live today. While it could be argued that there are other branded preamps that may have surpassed the Model 7c’s sonic signature, legions still go understandably crazy over the Marantz 7c after all these years. 

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For comments or questions, please e-mail me at audioglow@yahoo.com.

 

 

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