The Marantz Professional PMD-526C is a compelling pro angle on an audiophile Compact Disc player that has plenty of features you won’t find on similarly priced disc spinners. The $249 retail price places this component firmly in the budget category, yet it has balanced XLR outputs to go along with the standard single-ended RCA outputs. Additionally, the unit comes with a USB input, which can be useful if you have a music collection stored on a portable hard drive. As an added bonus, the PMD-526C also supports Bluetooth, so you can wirelessly stream the music from your favorite streaming service (Qobuz, Tidal, Apple Music, etc.) via a mobile device, although this player uses the Bluetooth 4.0 spec so you won’t get lossless quality. You also don’t get any type of digital audio output. So if you already own a quality DAC and want to feed it a digital signal from your compact disc player, you should look at other players that might be even less costly. Because the PMD-526C is a professional model that’s mostly intended for commercial applications, it also has an RS-232 control port and comes with optional brackets to mount it in a gear rack.
What Makes the Marantz PMD-526C Special?
- The budget-minded audiophile will find a tremendous amount of value in this player. The Marantz PMD-526C has both unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR) analog outputs, a USB input, and support for Bluetooth version 4.0, with a wireless range up to 49 feet. While you certainly could find a cheaper player to handle your CD collection, this Marantz Pro model lets you collect most of your digital music in one place—as it not only allows you to play the CD and CD/R formats, but can serve as a hub for your USB and Bluetooth audio sources.
- While the price doesn’t scream “lasts a lifetime” the build quality does. The PMD-526C feels rock solid. The most important part of the build quality is noise reduction. On your first listen, you likely won’t notice any noise from the disc player while you skip through tracks, and to be honest you shouldn’t. But when I compared it to the $119 Sony BDP-S6700 disc player (buy at Amazon), I acutally could hear the CD spinning as I skipped from track to track while the disc was inside the player.
- The Marantz PMD-526C’s internal DAC delivers performance that rivals players costing double the price. The large soundstage created by the PMD-526C is where this player really shines. The aforementioned Sony BDP-S6700 presents a reasonably good soundstage, but it paled in comparison to the Marantz. The PMD-526 made you feel like the music was being played right in front of you, which creates a fantastic listening experience.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Marantz PMD-526C
- Since the unit only features analog outputs, you don’t have the option to add an external DAC if you want to upsample the content or color the sound of the music differently than the way the internal DAC performs. If you know you’re going to use an external DAC in your rig from the start, there are less expensive CD players or transports that may use a cheaper internal DAC but offer direct digital audio output. My colleague Steven Stone recently did an article on a very inexpensive system that he bought for his nephew and his wife as a wedding present. He paired the $119 Sony BDP-S6700 Blu-ray disc player (using its an optical digital output) with a $119 Schiit Audio Modi 3 DAC (buy at Amazon), which would carry a similar overall cost as the PMD-526C.
- This player doesn’t spin the high-resolution SACD or DVD-Audio formats. These are technically obsolete audio formats, but many audiophiles still cling to these discs, as opposed to streaming content in hi-res. If you’re one of those folks, this isn’t the right disc player for you.
- If you want some form of video playback, you’ll need more of a “universal” disc player. I am looking into the Reavon products, which are trying to fill the void left by Oppo Digital and are priced from $499 to almost $2,000. The aforementioned Sony BDP-S6700 plays Blu-ray discs but not UHD Blu-rays. There are countless Blu-ray players on the market today but we are looking for players with an audiophile flair which limits the Blu-ray player field quite a bit.
Listening To the Marantz PMD-526C…
For a bargain-priced unit, the Marantz was able to handle the sonic layers of a song like Arcade Fire’s “Age of Anxiety II” (explore streaming and vinyl options at Amazon) from their album WE, obviously played back from CD (1440 AIFF) . It had little issue differentiating the piano that is often playing in the background from the techno-style bass drum beat at the front of the mix. The various synth effects that are going on in between, along with the joint melodies when you have both Win Butler and Régine Chassagne’s vocals during different portions of the song. Here’s a really great performance of the song from the BBC if you’re not familiar with the track (just be prepared; it’s nearly seven minutes long):
Any time you want to talk about complexity in modern music, Tool should be part of that conversation. The band’s densely constructed tracks are always fun to use when testing out any part of your system, and this CD player was no different. I chose to spin up “Parabola” from the album Lateralus (buy at Amazon) (also from CD). What makes this track an especially good demo is that, when you’re getting the most from a source component, you can clearly hear the driving bass beat that Danny Carey plays so perfectly, along with the other various percussive elements that are occurring during this song. This track also features an exceptional amount of Adam Jones’s guitar in the various solos that occur. At no time did it feel like all of the different sounds were muddled, and the highs were much more enjoyable than I was expecting from a CD player at this price.
Who Is the Competition For the the Marantz PMD-526C?
The market for $250 CD players isn’t incredibly crowded at this point in time, but there are a few other options to consider—even if they aren’t “pure” CD players, per se.
- The Sony BDP-S6700 (buy at Amazon) is a Blu-ray disc player that can also play CDs and retails for $119. It presents a nice soundstage, and it plays SACD but not DVD-Audio (which will piss off some people). It lacks any sort of screen, so it can be trickier to use as an audio player. As I mentioned above, I know someone who has paired this affordable player with a Schiit Audio Modi 3 DAC (buy at Amazon) ($119), with good results. I currently have the Schiit Audio DAC and a comparable, under-$200 DAC from iFi Audio in hand for future reviews. Stay tuned.
- The NAD C 538 (buy at Amazon) is a dedicated CD player that retails for $399 but lacks USB and Bluetooth support. It offers much better channel separation (-4.6 +/- 0.8 dB, ref. 0 dB 1 kHz, 5 kHz) than the Marantz (>80 dB, 1kHz, 0 dB, A-weighted) and has both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs.
- Rotel’s CD-11 Tribute is another interesting $500 CD player that is CD-only but is built very well. Paul Wilson is working on a review of that player as we type.
Final Thoughts On the Marantz PMD-526C…
For any audio enthusiast who is looking for an affordable way to enjoy a legacy format that can outperform vinyl (quick fact: CDs have much more dynamic range and far less distortion than vinyl), or for someone who is new to the CD format and just wants to see what it is all about, the Marantz Professional PMD-526C is worth your consideration. It creates a powerful soundstage, offers superb build quality, and in general does all of the core things a CD player should do—and does them very well. For $250 you might not find many other players that handle CD audio this well. However, if you are looking for a player that supports a wider range of formats (SACD, any video format, or HD streaming), this unit might not be right for you.