Marantz PM-KI-Pearl integrated amplifier Page 2
The PM-KI-Pearl is a full-featured, remote-controlled integrated amplifier that includes a special wide-bandwidth CD input, a phono input that can be switched between moving-magnet and moving-coil, two line inputs, and two tape loops. Two RCA jacks, labeled Pre-Out and P. Direct In, let the Pearl be used in either preamplifier-only or amplifier-only mode. (The spacing of the line input jacks is somewhat tight for audiophile-type interconnects with large RCA plugs.) A set of mini-jacks labeled F.C.B.S. (Floating Control Bus System) In/Out let you sync up to three additional Pearls as slaves to create a multichannel audio system.
Additionally, three Pearls can be slaved to the higher-performance PM-11S2 preamplifier ($4800), and a switch on the rear panel allows a second Pearl to be used in a system with biampable speakers. A single stereo pair of well-spaced, five-way WBT binding posts can accept speaker cables with virtually any kind of termination.
The front-panel controls include Input Selector and Volume knobs, a Phones jack, Bass and Treble knobs, and buttons for Power On/Off, Tone (for bypassing the tone controls), Speakers (on/off), ATT. (for adjustable level attenuation), Phono MM/MC, P. Direct In (to use the Pearl as an amplifier only), and Display (to turn the front-panel lighting on and off). The familiar Marantz circular display normally shows the selected input and output level in dB, but it can show other information as well.
The non-backlit remote control, neatly laid out and made of attractively finished aluminum, duplicates the front panel's functions, and adds to them a Trim (L/R balance) button. It also has all the controls needed to operate a Marantz SACD/CD player.
Setup and Use
The PM-KI-Pearl can be set up without the manual, unless you want to trim left/right levels, or change the amount of attenuation from the factory preset of 20dB to either 40dB or silence. In that case you'll need to read a bit, but basically, the operating system is simple and easy to use.
While a string of Pearls set up for surround sound would have been interesting, I chose a single Pearl and listened in stereo. Nor did I try the Pearl only as a preamp or power amp, figuring most readers would be interested in its default mode as a two-channel integrated amp.
Despite protests from some readers about auditioning moderately priced electronics with a $65,000 pair of loudspeakers, that's precisely what I did. The Wilson Audio MAXX 3 presents an amplifier with a reasonably efficient nominal impedance of 4 ohms that's not difficult to drive, and sure enough, the PM-KI-Pearl had no trouble. What's more, the sound produced was more than satisfying, day and night, for the many weeks the Pearl remained in my system.
To assess the PM-KI-Pearl's sound, I began with the Meridian-Sooloos music server as my source, feeding is digital output to a Camelot Round Table disc player with its Anagram Technologies DAC, which in turn was connected to the KI-Pearl's Input 1, and using my iPhone as the remote control, scrolled happily through my uploaded collection, listening to hundreds of familiar tracks.
The PM-KI-Pearl's basic character was warm and inviting, yet well-textured and airy enough to avoid a smothering sensation. It slightly softened transients, but not so much as to blur them beyond recognition. The Pearl's warm character was consistent from bottom to top, which gave it an organic completeness that made it easy for me to forget about its existence and just relax, sit back, and listen. If that isn't what this is all about, I don't know what is.
Driving the MAXX 3s' big bass bins, the PM-KI-Pearl managed reasonably good low-frequency control and extension, both of which were diminished in appropriately equal proportions from what you get from far more powerful and expensive amplifiers. The result was a satisfying mix of supple lower-midband warmth with sufficient drive and stop/start power to sustain the foundations of every type of music, even though it was clear that bass notes bloomed somewhat larger than intendedmuch as you'd get from a decent but not great tube amp.
The midband was equally supple, well-textured, and inviting, leaning toward a softness offset by a pleasing transparency, and a limited but satisfying glimpse into the deep recesses of soundstages. The top end was equally sweet and somewhat soft, but with enough extension, transient speed, and focus to deliver cymbals, bells, electric guitars, xylophones, and vibraphones with sizzle, ring, swagger, and round, bell-toned cool intact.