Choosing a Marantz SC-11S1 Pre-Amplifier
By Chuck Hawks
I recently completed a limited downsizing and modernizing of my home stereo (two-channel) music system. Included in that program was provision for a new pre-amplifier, a modern pre-amp with a remote control to replace my fine, but 1976 vintage, McIntosh C26. The latter had been reconditioned about 1-1/2 years ago and worked perfectly, but you know how it is.
As I began my pre-amp quest, I immediately eliminated from consideration all vacuum tube electronics, which, like vinyl, seems to be experiencing a modest come back. Been there, done that (back when I had no choice) and moved on. The advantages of modern solid-state amplifiers should be obvious to anyone and certainly are to me.
Finding a good pre-amplifier is not particularly difficult, as there are a number of high performance models available from reputable manufacturers. I feel more confident buying audio components built in industrialized, first world countries, such as the UK, Japan, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. I understand the minimalist argument, but I want certain controls on my pre-amp/control center, among them balance and tone, preferably arranged so that they can be switched out of the circuit when not needed. Durability and long service life are critical requirements, so the physical construction and quality of the components inside, including the external controls is important, as well as the reputation of the manufacturer.
Being a long time user and fan of Marantz (Japan, formerly USA) and McIntosh (USA) electronics and operating within what I would term a medium size budget, those are the two brands in which I was most interested. I am quite familiar with the history and reputation of both companies and they meet my personal standards. I did look at other brands, but none of them particularly grabbed my attention, so I returned to Marantz and McIntosh.
In the Marantz line, it was the Reference Series components that immediately drew my attention. These are extremely well made, heavily built, high-tech components. They are the modern successors to the made in USA separates that built the Marantz reputation for excellence. There are actually three sub-lines in the Marantz Reference Series, the 15 series, 11 series and 7/9 series. The middle ground of the Marantz Reference line are the "11 series" components and the SC-11S1 control amplifier (Marantz jargon for pre-amp) seemed ideal for my needs. Its performance specifications are excellent and, at a MSRP of $3000, it was within my price range.
In the McIntosh solid state, stereo pre-amplifier line, the current models are the C46, C48 and C50. McIntosh does not publish MSRP's on their web site, but these are expensive components, with the C46 being closest to my budget. Its performance specifications are very good, similar to the Marantz SC-11S1 in most categories. It is built like, well, a McIntosh, so there is no question about durability.
These days, both Marantz and McIntosh are owned by D&M Holdings, along with Denon, so I was actually looking at the products of two companies within the same conglomerate structure. Marantz and McIntosh, traditional competitors, are still operated independently and the design of their circuitry and components is completely different.
Having narrowed the contenders to these two pre-amps, it was time to consider availability and pricing, both for new instruments and, if I could find one in "like new" condition, used. To cut to the chase, I found a previously owned Marantz SC-11S1 that had never actually been used, still sealed in its original factory box, at half of the new price. I snapped it up!
I am very pleased with the result of my search. The SC-11S1 is compatible with my Marantz 250M power amp, which I do not intend to replace, and should last the rest of my life. Indeed, it will probably be working long after I am dead and gone.
The SC-11S1 is physically a very large pre-amp. It is about twice the size of the C-26 and weighs 35 pounds. The thing barely fits on my component stand, but it sounds great. By "sounds great," I mean that it doesn't have a "sound" of its own; it just relays a pristine signal to the power amplifier. The S/N ratio is specified to be 99db (500 mV input), which to my ears means silent. See the Marantz web site for additional details: http://us.marantz.com/us/
Copyright 2011 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.