I contacted Kevin Zarow at Marantz and
he shipped me an SA-7S1. Kevin has been a pleasure to deal with. The unit
arrived and I opened the box and the almost 50lb player was placed in
my system. First, let me say the pale champagne gold finish is gorgeous.
The unit has such a solid feel that it confidently and understatedly says
quality. You have arrived. The front is a symmetrical design with a front
loading draw and display, which one can turn off if one so desires. It
has the commensurate function buttons as well as various filter options
(three for CD play and three for SACD) which help make this player so
unique. Unfortunately, you can’t change filters while a disc is
playing. One must stop play, choose a filter setting and then resume play.
There is also an option for using an external clock and a phase inversion
button. The phase inversion function is important when using balanced
connections. Some recordings are phase inverting and having this function
is critical. Everything is available via the well designed remote except
the phase inverting function and on/off function which must be done on
the unit itself. At least the buttons are on the faceplate.
I used a pair of balanced Absolute Acoustic
Zen interconnects and an Absolute power cord to connect it to my system.
I burned the unit in for at least a hundred hours of continuous play with
both CD and SACD sources. I tried all the filter choices and settled on
filter no.1 for SACD and filter no.3 for CD. The differences in SACD filters
were not nearly as noticeable as the CD filters. The chosen settings,
1 and 3 respectively, exhibited, for me, the purist sound and least signal
manipulation for each media choice. In different systems, other choices
might prove more efficacious. The fact that you have these filter options
makes the unit very flexible in tailoring the sound to your liking.
As I started my serious listening it
became quite evident that the SA-7’s sound reflected its construction,
quality all the way. There was a solidity and balance that was beguiling.
This was music playing, not bits. It portrayed the musical event clearly
without any hint of ‘digititis’. It didn’t make the
sound smooth by adding coloration or rolling off the high end -- some
tubed units try to create an ‘analog like’ sound, and fail.
It just decoded everything in an accurate manner that made for a non-fatiguing,
liquid, musical presentation but not at the expense of skimping on resolution
or musical detail. I think that after more than a quarter of a century
since the introduction of the ‘perfect sound forever’ CD,
Marantz may finally be achieving what the inventors had in mind.
could go on and on about the sound of specific CD’s, but suffice
it to say that each listening session went on for many hours and each
CD was heard anew. I think I’ve gushed enough about the SA 7. From
hereon in, I’ll attempt to be a little more analytical in my review.
Detail, as an end to itself, is only
one aspect of the illusion of a live musical experience. There are CD
players that have ‘ultra’ detail. While this can be initially
impressive, it does not represent a natural musical presentation and in
time can grow fatiguing minimizing one’s emotional involvement.
The Marantz presents detail as a naturally occurring event, integral with
the production of music and doesn’t leave one wanting for more.
The SA 7 presents musical timbres accurately.
I found that the full audio spectrum was rendered without emphasis in
any area. Sweet extended highs, a full midrange and powerful, articulate
bass were all there. Is it perfectly neutral? Since nothing is, I would
have to say it’s as close to neutral as I’ve experienced.
However, if I had to vote in favour of one way or the other, I would say
it leans ever so slightly towards the warmer side of neutral. And I do
mean barely. Probably, your cables will make a bigger contribution in
determining a system’s neutrality then this CD player.
Its spatial characteristics can only
be reported as positive. Soundstaging is excellent portraying width, height
and depth beautifully. It isn’t forward sounding at all. When the
recording has good spatial properties, the SA 7 captures them beautifully.
Instrumental separation and focus are clear without any obfuscation providing
ample air around the musicians with instruments exhibiting three dimensional
solidity. It has a wonderful ability to provide spatial cues that lead
to identifying instruments in the soundstage. Attack and decay are both
handled very well and seem completely natural. In fact, the total musical
presentation has a naturalness and cohesiveness that belies its digital
origin. And I’m talking Red Book CD, here.
Dynamics are also handled with ease.
The quiet passages are clearly understandable accompanied by the hushed
anticipation of what’s coming and the SA 7 doesn’t disappoint.
Its ability to portray explosiveness without blurring inner detail, avoiding
congestion, is sheer joy.
A critical reference for evaluating a
piece of equipment is the challenge presented by the recorded human voice.
How well does it portray the human voice? How closely does it present
all the inner textures, body and presence in space that approximates the
sound of a real person? The SA 7 is one player that seems to capture these
qualities in spades. It does more to give you that feeling of a real person
singing in your listening space then I’ve previously experienced.
The voices of Frank Sinatra, Holy Cole, Patricia Barber were all portrayed
with the fullness, vocal textures and superb imaging that brought them
to life in my listening room. The best test was listening to The Misty
River Band on their CD, RISING. I had heard them live in Las Vegas CES
2005 three consecutive nights and their performances were indelibly etched
in my brain. Their delicacy and harmonies were simply beautiful to experience.
Of all their CDs, RISING is the best recorded, and, after playing it on
the SA 7, their delicacy and lifelike presence all came back, reliving
that wonderful experience. Their was joy at chez Appel.
SACD, for all practical purposes, is
not a viable format. It is a niche market format in a niche market with
only a few companies making a small number of discs, but most have discontinued
production. That doesn’t mean it is not a superior sounding format.
It fell to stupidity and ego in the corporate battleground of format wars.
In any event, the SACD played on the Marantz was exceptional. All of the
sonic virtues I talked about for CD playback were bettered by SACD. This
was immediately evident when you switch between the SACD and Red Book
CD tracks on a hybrid SACD. However, the improvement that the SA 7 represents
for CD playback, narrows the gap, somewhat, between the old format and
SACD. I guess the bottom line is that the Marantz makes the CD absolutely
listenable and not have to apologize for the format’s performance
at all. Oh, what might have been.
A word about ergonomics. The display could be easier to read, especially the filter settings. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the Classe cdp-100’s touch screen display that can be easily read from across the room. It seems that on such a high end product a little more attention could have been paid here. Also, the aforementioned on/off function not being on the remote is another nit to pick. Otherwise, all I can say is that this is player that is a joy to use with outstanding sonics that very well might be the last CD/SACD player I own. I can’t speak about the $15-$20k plus two box units, that can bankrupt most, but the Marantz SA 7S1 is clearly one of the finest one box units on the planet and one that this reviewer will make his new digital reference. Perfect sound forever, it keeps getting better. Welcome back Marantz. Saul would be proud.
[It is with great pleasure that we
award The Audiophilia
Star Component Award to the Marantz SA-7S1 SACD/CD Player. Congratulations!
Amplifiers: A pair of Innersound iPower
330’s, 4-Nuforce 9V2 SE’s monoblocks
Manufactured by Marantz America,
100 Corporate Drive
E-mail: Marantz USA