Universal Players

Marantz UD9004 Universal Blu-ray Player

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

Now that the setup details are out the way, we can talk about the UD9004 in daily operation. The first thing you notice about the UD9004 is that it’s not a speed demon. I found the player to be quite slow in comparison to some players on the market. For example, it takes on average 45 seconds for the tray to open when the player comes out of standby, and another 34 seconds after that to start hearing music if you insert a CD. If you left a CD in the player when you turned the UD9004 off, it will start playing in approximately one minute when you hit play. The UD9004 offers a “Quick Start Mode” to compensate for the slow start-up speed, but this comes at the expense of extra power utilization.

In my experience, I was content to just wait rather than consume more power. The player’s tray mechanism was extremely smooth and quiet and easily the nicest I’ve ever seen on a universal disc player to date.

For CD playback, I started testing the UD9004 with Yo-Yo Ma & Friends Songs of Joy & Peace. This holiday album has been a refreshing change from all the same old traditional songs and renditions.

Marantz UD9004 Universal Disc Player

I first played the CD via the HDMI connection to my D2 processor. My first reaction was that while the audio sounded great, it didn’t really sound different from hearing any other PCM source fed into the D2. I switched the D2 processor to the XLR stereo inputs, and immediately noticed a distinct difference in the sound. The audio sounded so much more natural. I’ve been using Anthem’s ARC room correction software for quite some time in my listening room, so I decided to enable the room correction processing for the XLR input. In this configuration, the D2 processor was performing a 96 kHz/24-bit A/D conversion on the analog signals from the UD9004 and performing full bass management and room correction. The Anthem D2 is well regarded for its transparency in digitally processing analog signals, so I was curious how all this would sound. Putting it simply, I was just blown away at the sound from the UD9004 in this setup. The sound stage suddenly had much more depth. The resonance of individual strings and notes became well defined. When listening to Diana Krall play with Yo-Yo Ma on track two, it felt like I was sitting in my living room watching them perform. The piano and cello music just enveloped the listening environment and I could easily imagine John Clayton standing there playing the bass. On track 21, Happy Xmas (War is Over), the cello and ukulele performances make this one of the most stirring and soulful versions of John Lennon’s classic song. The subtle detail of the strings and the harmony of the instruments were just captivating.

I don’t have many DVD-Audio discs in my collection, but the UD9004 encouraged me to bring a few of them out for a listen. The multi-channel surround mixes from Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature and Diana Krall’s When I Look in Your Eyes reminded me of just how much fun multi-channel audio can be. The UD9004 did an excellent job reproducing the 96 kHz/24-bit tracks from these discs offering a consistently natural depth to the sound stage. In listening comparisons to multi-channel PCM via HDMI, I noticed that I was having a harder time differentiating between the multi-channel analog input and the HDMI input on the D2. Part of this may be due to the 96 kHz PCM input signals over HDMI giving the Anthem much more to work with.

In terms of SACD performance, I consistently preferred the UD9004 analog output to PCM output via HDMI. The UD9004 only outputs 44.1 kHz PCM signals when transmitting SACD over HDMI. To get the full benefit of SACD performance with the UD9004, you must use an analog connection. The UD9004 converts the DSD bitstream directly to analog. Selecting “Source Direct” as discussed earlier allows you to send up to the full 100 kHz signal during analog SACD playback. With disc after disc, the experience with the UD9004 was stellar. With Diana Krall’s The Girl in the Other Room, it was as if a real piano had suddenly been brought into the room. The subtle nuances in Diana’s voice and the sound of the piano, guitar and bass seemed so much more real with the UD9004.

Marantz UD9004 Universal Disc Player

For Blu-ray playback, I tested the UD9004 with a few new releases: Up, Angels& Demons, Star Trek and The Ugly Truth. The UD9004 did a fantastic job with all four movies. The picture quality was superb, colors looked accurate, and the detail in the images was outstanding. What I wasn’t expecting from the UD9004 was just how immersive the picture became. In Up the fine detail in Ellie’s goggles was just mesmerizing. The fine cloud mist that passes in front of the balloon during the title menu made me stop and think if that was really there. In the Ugly Truth, you could distinctly make out differences in the editing of the film. Some scenes looked as if the actors would step out from the screen while in the ending sequence you could clearly see flaws in the computer simulated balloons. When running the same scenes through the other players I had on hand, I was able to find the same details and flaws. What I consistently found with the UD9004 was that the picture was absolutely transparent reflecting every detail of the movie – good or bad. We’ll see how this stacks up in the benchmark section.

On the audio side of things, the UD9004 did a great job with the soundtrack from these movies. Angels & Demons was engaging as the characters ran all over Rome. In Star Trek, Chapter 5, as the ships leave space dock the sound track produces some excellent sub-sonic bass response. The UD9004 had no trouble producing this correctly via either HDMI or the multi-channel outputs. The same goes for Chapter 8 when planet Vulcan is consumed by the singularity. I was surprised that I often found myself unable to tell the HDMI input from the analog multi-channel input.

For DVD playback, I tested with Gladiator, Star Trek Insurrection, and the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The UD9004 did a great job upscaling all three movies and was easily the best I’ve seen them in this format. I did not see any obvious artifacts in the playback. I was once again surprised at seeing additional details in scenes that I had watched countless times before. Overall, the UD9004 was pretty responsive during playback. The player was certainly not the fastest in terms of menu transitions or layer change, but overall was acceptable.

Like the player itself, the UD9004 remote boasts exceptional build quality. The top of the remote is brushed aluminum. It has a very nice feel in your hand but I would trade the build quality for a backlit remote any day. I would also like to see the transport buttons be a bit larger.

The user interface during CD playback is very basic.

Pressing the Display button on the remote cycles the display through the remaining track and total playing times. With all the available space on the screen, I would love to see a progress bar with track elapsed time on one end and remaining time on the other. The display gets more useful with SACD playback where the player will display artist, song, and album title if available.

When playing media from the SD card, the player will also include the album art if it’s included in your media.

There were some aspects of the UD9004 that I did find frustrating. While I appreciated being able to play media and view photos off of an SD card, I really would have preferred to see a USB input on this player so I could access more media in a convenient fashion. USB flash drives are the norm these days and not everyone has SD cards. Many of my audio files are in WMA 9.2 Lossless format, and despite the player’s ability to play WMA, it was unable to process the lossless WMA files. This was a real disappointment for me and something I hope is enhanced in a future version. I also wished the player could just access the media on my existing network.

The Marantz UD9004 Universal Disc Player BD-Live Performance

In addition to the high resolution video and audio that Blu-ray offers, there are two additional features of the UD9004 that we need to discuss. The first feature is Bonus View which allows you to enjoy a picture-in-picture overlay on top of the actual movie you are watching. The Bonus View technology is part of the Blu-ray Profile 1.1 specification. Bonus View is a great way to get some perspective on the making of the movie itself, and the Bonus View technology helps you really keep the comments in perspective. The audio for Bonus View is found on the secondary audio tracks.

The term secondary audio refers to an alternate audio track which is available on most Blu-ray discs. This extra audio content may contain menu sound effects which play when items in the menu are chosen. The extra audio content may also contain useful information such as the audio for the Bonus View feature. In order to hear this secondary audio, the player must mix the audio with the primary audio track for the movie. In the case of the UD9004, the player does not mix the secondary audio with the primary high resolution audio track unless you explicitly select “Mix Audio Output” in the “BD Audio Mode” menu. So what does all this mean to you when you are watching a Blu-ray?

First of all, if you want to use Bonus View, you must remember to turn on the secondary audio mix. If you forget to do this, you simply have to press the Mode button on the remote which brings up an onscreen menu.

Selecting “BD Audio Mode” then allows you to switch between “HD Audio Output” and “Mix Audio Output”. While this may seem like a lot of trouble, it is really a nice implementation since there are many players out there that require the user to stop the movie, go back to the setup menu, find the audio menu, find the BD audio setting option, change the option, and then navigate back to the main menu and restart the movie! That adds up to a lot of time-consuming steps to take advantage of the Bonus View technology. Fortunately, the UD9004 makes that really simple.

You may be asking why not just leave the player in “Mix Audio Output” mode all the time. The reason for this is that you then lose another major benefit of the player – the high resolution audio. The UD9004 does not have the internal processing capabilities to actually mix the secondary audio with the high resolution audio track and leave it in high resolution. To be precise, if you mix the secondary audio with a TrueHD or DTS-HD audio track, the player will only output the low resolution Dolby Digital or DTS audio tracks. If you want to ensure that you are getting the most from your audio experience on the UD9004, you have to make sure that the secondary audio is not being mixed when you watch the main feature on your Blu-ray disc media. I would recommend quickly pressing the Mode button when you start watching a Blu-ray movie to make sure that the “BD Audio Mode” is set correctly.

The other feature of the UD9004 is BD-Live. This technology relies on the network connection in the player to retrieve additional content related to the movie and to provide additional movie trailers and promotional material offered by the studios. The BD-Live specification recommends a minimum of 1 GB of storage in order to download content off of the internet. The UD9004 falls short in this regard by not having enough onboard storage to use BD-Live. Make sure you install and format your own SD memory card before attempting to use BD-Live on the UD9004. At this price point, I would have liked to see Marantz include 1 GB of internal memory to satisfy the basic storage requirements for BD-Live. The UD9004 had no trouble accessing the BD-Live content during my testing except for the Up disc.

I included a small benchmark to give you a better sense of how the UD9004 compared against the PS3.

Sony’s PlayStation 3 is still one of the fastest Blu-ray players on the market. While newer players are catching up to its speed, the ability to quickly and accurately process BD-Live material is still a step ahead on the PS3. My findings with the UD9004 indicate that disc load times were somewhat slower compared to the PS3, while the PS3 still won on overall BD-Live load speed. This is not that surprising given the processing horsepower that comes in the PS3. I was surprised to see that the UD9004 was significantly slower than the PS3 when returning back from BD-Live to the movie menu. The UD9004 was between 1.5 to 3.5 times slower than the PS3.