Marantz TT-15S1 review
For those interested in making the jump to the higher-end turntable pool, look no further than this Marantz TT-15S1 review. Because in this article, I’m going to go in-depth about what the TT-15S1 has to offer, what kind of customer this piece of tech is most ideal for, and discuss all of the things I genuinely liked and disliked about this turntable.
Before we get started, I encourage you to take at look a the interactive table below, which allows you to directly compare the Marantz TT-15S1 against other popular higher-end turntables in its class, like the Clearaudio Concept, Music Hall MMF 7.3, and Rega RP6.
|Rega Planar 1 Plus||Plug and Play Audiophile Turntable in White|
|Marantz TT-15S1||Includes Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony MM Cartridge|
|Clearaudio Concept Black||Comes with pre-installed Moving Coil cartridge|
|Technics SL-1500C||Direct drive turntable w/built-in phono preamp|
|Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB||Pro-Ject Speed Box Built-in|
|Rega Planar 3||Elys 2 MM Cartridge|
|Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO||Satin Blue Finish|
|Denon DP-450USB||S-Shaped tonearm; Auto-Stop function|
So without further ado, let’s jump right into it by discussing a few important specs and the overall look of the turntable.
Marantz TT-15S1 Review of Specs, Features
There’s really no question that this Marantz is a beauty to behold. This table, which features both an acrylic platter and a frosted acrylic chassis, makes an outright statement right out of the box.
But there’s a little more hiding here beneath the surface than you might think. Because although the TT-15S1 bears the Marantz branding, it’s actually a turntable made by Clearaudio.
As you may already know from my recent review of the Clearaudio Concept Black, Clearaudio is a German company. In fact, taking a quick dive into their turntable back catalog, it quickly becomes apparent that the TT-15S1 is a Clearaudio product because it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Clearaudio Emotion.
Nonetheless, regardless of who built it or whose name is on the front of the chassis, you are probably much more concerned with how its built.
Well, in my time trying out the TT-15S1, I can say that it’s built fairly nicely—although I do have some issues with it, which I will get to later.
The high density chassis on the TT-15S1 has some heft to it, and it has three very solid aluminum feet (with felt mat on the bottom of each) attached to it. These feet are thick and adjustable, so if you put your turntable on a table or desk that’s not perfectly level due to your floor being slightly slanted, you can correct that pretty easily.
Tonearm and Cartridge of the TT-15S1
The fact is that, no matter what you think of how this turntable looks, the real stars of the show are the tonearm and cartridge.
The TT-15S1 comes with the Clearaudio Satisfy tonearm, which is a precision mechanical tonearm. The tonearm feels incredibly solid and rigid, as opposed to the Clearaudio Verify tonearm (which you can find on cheaper versions of the Clearaudio Concept), which feels looser and a bit wobbly in hand.
And that’s because the Clearaudio Verify tonearm is a magnetic bearing tonearm, so it’s not going to feel as solid in hand when you interact with it to play your records.
Beyond how it feels, there is another important thing to note here. It’s a true bonus that the TT-15S1 comes with the Clearaudio Satisfy tonearm because it is far less susceptible to footfalls (as compared to the magnetic bearing Verify tonearm).
Depending on how you set up your turntable, and how much traffic you have coming in and out of your room while your records are spinning, this can be a significant factor. Because now, with the Satisfy tonearm that comes built into the TT-15S1, you can walk and even perhaps run around your turntable while it’s playing and not have to worry about your records skipping or playback otherwise being affected.
On the other hand, if this turntable came with the Verify tonearm attached, it may be susceptible to footfalls.
Now, in my time using the Verify tonearm on the Clearaudio Concept Black, I encountered no footfall issues. But everyone’s flooring is a bit different—some have wood floors, some have concrete, others have carpet—so your mileage may vary when it comes to the Verify tonearm.
And, if you thought the tonearm was impressive on the Marantz TT-15S1, well, you haven’t seen anything yet. Because the TT-15S1 comes with a brand new (although uninstalled) Clearaudio Virtuoso Ebony Wood Moving Magnet Cartridge.
This is one of Clearaudio’s higher-end Moving Magnet cartridges, so you can feel comfortable knowing that it’s going to pull out so much more detail from the record grooves than a lower end cartridge would.
In fact, the Virtuoso cartridge is not only a well regarded cart, it’s an expensive one to boot. If you were to buy this cartridge separately, it retails for approximately $900.
And so, when you realize that the Marantz TT-15S1 costs approximately $1,500, the fact that it comes with a quality tonearm and a very pricey cartridge means that this is one of the best high-end bargains you can get anywhere when it comes to buying a turntable.
Setting Up the Marantz TT-15S1
Here’s where things get interesting. And that’s because while the TT-15S1 is certainly a relative bargain, you are going to have to set everything up when it comes to this turntable.
The TT-15S1 does not come “plug and play” ready like a lot of automatic turntable do, or even a higher end turntable like the Clearaudio Concept.
While you won’t have to install things like the feet onto the bottom of the chassis, you will have to insert the tonearm into the base of the turntable, connect the motor pulley to the motor and carefully place it inside a pre-cut hole in the chassis, and run the belt around both the motor pulley and the platter.
On top of that, you’re going to need a steady hand to not only connect the cartridge to the tonearm headshell, but also install all four leads/wires into the back of the Virtuoso cartridge.
That’s right—those four wires coming out of the tonearm are going to need to be connected into the back of the cartridge. And to do this correctly, I highly recommend you get needles nose pliers or even a pair of tweezers.
Below, check out my video review of the Marantz TT-15S1, where you can see me also unbox and setup this high end turntable:
Problems with Setting Up the TT-15S1
Overall, I have mixed thoughts about setting up the TT-15S1. There’s nothing complicated about the setup, but I think executing it correctly takes more trial and error than I expected to run into.
First off, placing the belt around the motor pulley and platter is about as commonplace as anything can be in the world of turntable setup. But I found that, despite several attempts, once I turned the motor on and the platter began spinning, the TT-15S1’s belt would roll down and underneath the platter.
And each time that happened, I would have to stop the motor, take the platter off, grab the belt, place the platter back down and re-attempt putting the belt on correctly.
Eventually it got on (and stayed on) after a handful of failed attempts. But it took far more effort than I expected it would.
Speaking of turning on and off the motor, let’s dive a bit deeper into that. The on/off button on the TT-15S1 is located on the motor. And the motor sits below the turntable chassis, and so in many ways, it almost looks as if the motor is a fourth foot for the turntable.
Now, while I love that the motor is separated from the base of the turntable, I am not a fan of the on/off switch being located on the motor.
First, the motor is located in the back left location of the turntable. By contrast, most on/off switches are located in more convenient locations—either on the front of the chassis or on the front-bottom region of a table.
Not the TT-15S1—you have to reach past the front left foot to reach the motor’s on/off switch. This may not be a problem if you have complete access to your turntable from all sides. But, where I tested out this turntable in my home, I had it situated where there was a shelf to the left of the turntable.
And so, you can imagine the difficulty of trying to hit the on/off switch–with the switch located so close to the shelf. It’s not impossible by any stretch, but it just made turning the turntable on and off more difficult than I feel it should be.
Beyond that, however, is the fact that the motor is meant to “float” within a pre-cut circle of the chassis. And, in an ideal circumstance, the motor should not come into contact with the chassis for fear of unwanted vibration occurring.
The problem, however, is that you have to touch the motor to turn on and off this turntable. And so, unless you perhaps put some sort of double-sided sticky tape or adhesive on the bottom of the motor (or always leave your turntable turned on but have it connected to a power strip you flick on and off)—this is potentially a problem.
Because it’s quite inevitable that, simply by turning on and off the turntable several times, the motor will move ever so slightly every time. And eventually, you run the risk of the top of the motor coming into contact with the acrylic chassis—which is something you simply don’t want to happen.
Beyond the motor, the anti-skate function involves a screw that you screw in and out accordingly to adjust the anti-skate. I didn’t have a problem with the anti-skate when trying out this turntable, but oddly enough, I didn’t notice that it made a significant difference whether the screw was screwed in mid-way (recommended), mostly out, or mostly in.
This now gets us to the cartridge, which again, you must install yourself. First, using tools that come with the turntable (allen wrench, screwdriver, etc), you need to remove the headshell from the tonearm and install it onto the cartridge.
This is very easy to do and shouldn’t take more than five minutes to complete.
From there, you attach the headshell (with the cartridge now attached) back onto the tonearm.
Here is where things get a bit tricky. Taking pliers or tweezers, you’ll need to connect all four colored leads into the back of the Virtuoso cartridge. The connectors in the back of the cartridge are color coded to help you do this effectively.
You’re going to need a lot of patience installing these four leads. I didn’t find it hard to do, but I found that there were times where getting each lead securely onto the back of the cartridge took quite bit of time, elbow grease, and finesse (especially since I was worried I’d accidentally damage the very, very thin wires).
In my experience, pushing the lead in while slowly making a circular motion (clockwise) seemed to ease the lead onto the back of the cartridge properly.
Slow and steady wins the race here. If you don’t have steady hands (and dry hands, for that matter), this might be a task you’ll want a professional at your local audio hardware store/vinyl store to do for you.
Luckily, the TT-15S1 comes with a pair of white cotton gloves. So, if you’re worried about anything from fingerprints to slippery hands when setting up your turntable, just slip on these cotton gloves to help give you peace of mind.
How Does It Play and Sound?
After setting up the tracking force and using an alignment protractor to make sure the cartridge was aligned properly, I was ready to start playing some records.
The first thing I noticed when I turned the TT-15S1 on was that the motor was whisper quiet. Standing directly over the motor, I was still struggling to hear it make any kind of noise.
This was incredibly impressive.
In fact, the only negative thing I’ll say about the motor (well, aside from what I’ve already mentioned earlier) is that upon starting up the turntable, the motor pulley seemed to sputter for about two seconds before it kicked into gear and began functioning as normal.
This isn’t a deal breaker—and didn’t affect anything mechanically or sound wise—but I wasn’t a big fan of a $1,500 turntable not seeming more or less perfect when it comes to operating smoothly.
With that said, if I thought I was impressed by the super quiet motor, I really hadn’t seen (or should I say “heard”) anything yet. Because the Virtuoso cartridge brought out excellent detail in the music—much more than the Moving Magnet Concept V2 cartridge, which comes standard on the Clearaudio Concept.
Norah Jones’ voice on “Don’t Know Why” is shockingly present and full in the room, and the instruments in Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” are easily identifiable due to the great separation this cartridge provides.
Overall, I felt the music had extremely clear definition on the high end, so if you’re someone that’s a big fan of treble, you’ll be very satisfied.
I wasn’t quite as impressed with the cartridge on the lower end, although it’s certainly better than the lower end cartridges in the Clearaudio line.
To improve the lower end and get a bit more bass, I always like to add a record clamp or record weight. Although the TT-15S1 comes with a plastic clamp, I’m not a big fan of it because it doesn’t provide much weight.
Instead, spending a bit more money on a record weight by companies like Sleeve City or Pro-Ject (such as the Pro-Ject Clamp It Record Clamp) is likely the better route to go. You might even prefer something a little more “low profile” like the JA Michell record clamp.
This turntable does also come with a slip mat. And while some believe using the slipmat is a good idea, I’m not a fan of the static they can generate.
I think you can ditch the slipmat and play your records directly onto the acrylic platter without any problem.
Marantz TT-15S1 vs Clearaudio Concept Black
The Marantz TT-15S1 costs approximately $1,500. The Clearaudio Concept’s base version (be it in the silver or black trim), costs between $1,600 and $,1800).
So, in a cage match that pits the Clearaudio Concept vs Marantz TT-15S1, who emerges the winner?
Well, let’s examine some important factors here.
First, you need to know whether you want an easier or more challenging route to setting up the turntable. Neither setup is inherently difficult, but one is no doubt easier to do than the other.
If you want a turntable that’s “plug and play”—meaning there’s no cartridge to install, there’s no motor to carefully connect to the chassis, etc—then the Clearaudio Concept should definitely be on your radar.
The Concept is more beginner-friendly turntable. What I really like about it is that it gives you excellent sound and performance for the money, and everything on the turntable is quite simple in function.
Turning on and off the turntable requires the quick rotation of a knob located on the front of the table. You don’t have to reach towards the back of the turntable and touch the motor to turn on your deck, like you do with the TT-15S1.
Along with that, the Concept can play at 33 1/3, 45, and 78 speeds. Again, this can be done by the quick turn of the same knob. The TT-15S1 doesn’t play 78s, but more importantly, you’ll need to manually adjust the height of the belt on the motor pulley to change from 33 1/3 to 45 RPM.
And while not overly difficult on the surface, the belt is a little finicky on the TT-15S1, and so any time you have to directly interact and move it is something I’m just not a fan of doing. The TT-15S1 does come with a spare belt in the package, which is great. But perhaps they knew that there would be some customers that would end up wearing out their belts faster than anticipated.
There’s no question that the TT-15S1 has the better cartridge when it comes to hearing all the wonderful details in the music that you maybe otherwise wouldn’t have heard. But always remember, too, that a stylus that is extracting more music out of the groove is also extracting more sound in general out of the groove.
And so, if you’re not playing clean vinyl records, or perhaps there are many scratches and scuffs on the surface of the record, you’ll be hearing many more pops and ticks and crackles coming through your speakers.
With that said, I was very impressed by both the TT-15S1 and the Concept’s ability to significantly reduce a lot of surface noise, especially in comparison to cheaper turntables. Playing a record on the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon with an Ortofon 2M Red, Ortofon 2M Blue or Ortofon 2M Bronze cartridge was overall nice experience, but I heard far more pops and ticks playing a record on the Debut Carbon than I did playing the exact same record on the TT-15S1 or Concept Black.
So either way, you’re going to have a great playing experience with these higher end decks. I personally think the TT-15S1 sounds more detailed on the higher end than the same record played on the Concept Black. But I also found the Concept Black’s sound to be a pinch warmer and more engaging the the TT-15S1’s Virtuoso cartridge.
With that said, I would not say the Virtuoso is harsh in any way. I’m a fan of the Ortofon 2M Blue and Ortofon 2M Bronze, but those are bright cartridges that can wade into a bit of harsh-sounding territory.
The Virtuoso, by contrast, isn’t bright. But between the Concept V2 Moving Magnet cartridge, and the Virtuoso Moving Magnet cartridge, the Concept V2 wins as being warmer.
But remember—it’s likely warmer because it’s not bringing out as much detail on the higher end. So, ultimately it comes down to what you want. If you want the best possible sound in terms of detail, it’s hard to say no to the TT-15S1’s cartridge. If you’re looking for a warmer yet somewhat softer-around-the-edges sound, you’ll be happy with the Concept.
In all, it’s a tough choice, especially since the TT-15S1 has the superior tonearm. With that said, I actually enjoyed my overall experience with the Concept Black more. There’s something to be said for getting your feet wet into higher end turntables without having to feel frustrated setting up the product.
A finicky belt, a momentary sputtering motor/motor pulley, and an on/off switch located at the back of the turntable (and on the motor, to boot) are small things that I simply don’t think should be issues when you spend close to $1,500.
I think user experience matters, and overall, while I like the performance of the TT-15S1 a lot, I think the Clearaudio Concept’s user experience is superior to the TT-15S1.
Conclusion: Is This Worth the Money?
I think the Marantz TT-15S1 is absolutely worth the money because it’s one of the best bargains on the turntable market. You get a wonderful looking turntable that comes with the Clearaudio Satisfy tonearm and a Clearaudio Virtuoso cartridge, which retails for $900 by itself.
All of this is contained in a turntable package for $1,500. That’s incredible, and really goes to show you that most of the expense of this turntable is due to the tonearm and cartridge.
So, if you get this turntable, you’ll be very much ahead of the game and probably won’t feel the need to upgrade a lot on the table because it’s firing on all cylinders right out of the gate.
With that said, you do have to set everything up. And so, if you’re someone that doesn’t feel confident you can connect the wires to the back of a cartridge, or doesn’t want to be bothered making sure your motor is “floating” inside the pre-cut hole of the chassis, or doesn’t like the placement of the on/off button, then it probably makes sense to either consider the Clearaudio Concept Black or maybe something a bit cheaper, such as Pro-Ject X1 or Pro-Ject X2 turntable.
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