Pros: '70s Marantz build quality; excellent tuner; smooth sound, cool blue lights
Cons: some 2230s are giving up the ghost right about now; beware the fade to blue-green!
Vintage audiophiles have been rediscovering the stereo receivers of the early- and mid-1970 for some time now. There's an active market for these units on eBay and Craigslist, and with good reason. 1970s receivers from companies like Scott, Fisher, Sherwood, Kenwood and Marantz were well-made, sturdy, and handsome, and they sounded really good as well. By 1980, most of the receivers sold in the United States were plastic junk, with more "features," low durability, and terrible sound.
The Marantz 2230, the receiver reviewed here, was in the middle of Marantz's two-channel stereo receiver line from 1972 through 1974, and is a favorite among those looking for a vintage receiver to drive their stereo systems. The 2230 is a heavy, well-built stereo receiver, rated at 30 watts per channel. Among the things that make it desirable are its smooth, relaxed sound, moderate cost (generally between $100 and $200 on Ebay) and the famous Marantz Blue Lights. Marantz 2230s are pretty as hell, with their silver or light gold front panels, sturdy silver knobs and push-buttons, and that beautiful blue analog tuning scale (see picture, above).
The 2230 features inputs for a tapedeck, line level sources, and a turntable. Like the previously reviewed Kenwood 5150, it does have pre-out main-in jumpers on the back (the Kenwood uses a switch, rather than physical jumpers), so you can use the 2230 as a pre-amplifier or power amplifier, should you so choose. Another unusual feature of the 2230 is the presence of a midrange control to go with the standard bass and treble controls. Both high and low filters are controlled by push-buttons. The headphone jack is located on the right side of the front panel, beneath the on-off button. The 2230 is about 17 1/4 inches wide, 5 inches high, and 14 inches deep, weighing in at 32 lbs. Cost of the 2230 was $350 in the early 1970s.
Operation and Sound.
The Marantz 2230 is easy to set up, as are most receivers of this era. All inputs are via standard RCA jacks, and the speaker connectors are of the spring-loaded push-in variety. I used a standard dipole antenna for FM reception and it worked just fine. A clearly marked silver push button turns the unit on, and FM tuning is accomplished via a very smooth-feeling horizontal thumb-wheel (called "Gyro tuning") that is different from the standard large tuning knob of most analog receivers.
The first thing I noticed when I fired up a Marantz 2230 for a friend was the excellent FM reception. The tuner pulled in fairly distant stations with decent clarity, and it pulled in strong stations with nice clarity. The "Gyro tuning" was fun to use, heavily weighted and smooth, and nearby stations locked in nicely. I listened at first though the headphone jack and was impressed with the overall warmth of the sound. It was not harsh, bright or "transistory" at all. The next thing I did was hook up a pair of Dynaco A-25s and a cheap CD player. What a nice match! Even using an inexpensive CD player that had been gathering dust in the garage, the sound was warm, natural, and inviting. We also found an '80s turntable with a decent cartridge installed, so we listened to some vinyl thought the 2230 as well. Again, the sound was relaxed and natural, with a hint of warmth. Overall, I really like the sound of the Marantz 2230. If it errs at all, it does so in the direction of tubey warmth, not transistor hardness.
But all is not perfect in Marantz-land. A couple of months after we bought the 2230 for my friend, I decided to buy one for myself on eBay, if only so I could stare at the Famous Blue Lights. It had a hum in one channel and scratchy controls, so I returned it. Then, after about six months, my friend's 2230 developed a loud hum. I think a capacitor may have been heading for the next world. We retired it and got her a Marantz 2215 which has been serving her faithfully ever since. The lesson (I think): Marantz 2230 receivers are about 35 years old, and they're getting to the age where volume and tone controls can be scratchy, and capacitors can get leaky. If you buy a Marantz 2230 on eBay, it's probably worth it to make sure that it's been checked out recently by someone who knows what they're doing. There are several eBay sellers who make a hobby of restoring old Marantz receivers and amplifiers, and I'd say it's worth it to spend the extra few bucks you're likely to pay for one of their units, relative to one from someone who just happens to have one but doesn't know audio gear. The 2230's Famous Blue Lights are also reaching the age where they tend to burn out. Some 2230s on eBay will need new bulbs, and replacing bulbs isn't easy for someone who has never done it before.
Still, the 2230 is something special. A fully functioning 2230 exudes luxury and coolness, and it sounds great as well. I find its upper midrange and treble presentation quite seductive.
The one thing that bugs me about the Marantz 2230 (aside from the fact that some are giving up the ghost right about now) is the plastic push pins used for speaker and FM antenna conncection on the back. I have never had one break on a Marantz receiver, but I have had similar push connectors break on other units. I much prefer thumb screws like those used on the Kenwood 5150.
Overall, I think the Marantz 2230 is an excellent receiver. It is probably the nicest looking receiver of the early 1970s (along with its stable mates, the 2215, 2245 and 2270, which look quite similar), and it really does feel incredibly solid. Its sound is warm and seductive, and its features are all quite intuitive.
An interesting comparison might be the 2230 versus the Kenwood 5150, another vintage receiver which really impressed me (and which I still have). Sonically, the two are more similar than dissimilar. The 5150 also surprised me with its warmth and sweetness. If anything, the Marantz may be even sweeter (though I didn't listen to the two back-to-back). Both feel really solid and have sensitive FM tuners (the Kenwood's may be slightly more sensitive). The Marantz feels a bit more silky smooth and luxurious to operate, and only Marantz has those Beautiful Marantz Blue Lights. Either could be the backbone of an excellent vintage system. Hook up a cheap CD player, an old AR or Dual turntable, and pair of Dynaco A-25s, KLH 6s, or New Large Advents, and you'll be in music heaven.
A final (and somewhat esoteric) note about those Famous Blue Lights: on some early 70s Marantz receivers, the light will have "gone green," looking more like the blue-green lights of the Kenwood 5150 than the deep blue that folks associate with Marantz. Apparently there is some kind of clear paper backing somewhere behind the dial face. When this starts to yellow with time, it can turn blue into blue-green. Repair folks know how to replace this paper, and there are also blue LEDs out there that will re-capture the deep blue of the good old days and last forever as well. If you decide to purchase a 2230 on eBay or Craigslist, keep this in mind if the Famous Marantz Blue Lights are a draw for you.
Overall, an excellent receiver, and highly recommended.