After reviewing, unabashedly falling in love with, and then purchasing Marantz’s Reference CD/SACD player, the SA-7S1, Kevin Zarow, of Marantz, suggested that I might want to have a look at their Reference preamplifier, the SC-7S2. My tennis season had just ended and it was time to turn my attention back to my hifi pursuits and get a hold of something new for the fall. (My publisher was very happy to hear this). I followed up with Kevin and he sent me a 7S2. Like the CD/SACD player, it weighs a few pounds short of 50 and shares the same superb construction and beautiful aesthetic. In fact, the chassis is the same sculpted design for both, differing only in the functionality, knob type and layout. The 7S2 makes up the heart of their Reference line and has the same solid feel and silky operation as the 7S1, exuding quality at every turn. The final piece of the Reference line is the formidable looking MA-9S2 monoblock, weighing in at 90lbs and producing 300 watts/channel at 8ohms. Price is US$7,500.
The 7S2’s faceplate is laid out symmetrically, with the digital volume display in the center, the large input selector knob on the left, and a matching volume control knob on the right. Volume is adjustable in half decibel increments over a 100 decibel range. There are two diminutive buttons, one for turning off the display and one for attenuation/mute control. The on/off push button is centered below the circular display. The silky feel of these controls foreshadowed the sound qualities that lay ahead.
One nit I have to pick is the lack of the ability of the remote to control the on/off function. The same is true of their CD player. At least the power on/off button is on the front panel. C’est la vie.
And now for some minimal technical info. (For those of you who want more detailed information, check out the website.) I’m not an engineer but I do appreciate the fact that there are those who love the technical side of audio. First, let me say that the 7S2 is fully balanced in operation, providing an amazing100dB of channel separation at 20kHz and a frequency bandwidth of 150kHz. The power supply section employs choke input technology, which has been shown to greatly reduce rectifier induced harmonic noise–that came straight from the manual. The 7S2 also contains something called a floating control bus system, which enables one to use several 7S2’s in either an ultimate bi-amplified setup or in a multi channel surround music system with the requisite number of amplifiers.
This preamplifier offers great flexibility, limited only by your imagination and pocketbook. For instance, if your two-way speakers are capable of doing so, the 7S2 provides the ability to easily bi-amplify your system in one of two ways. One is the more traditional method, using one 7S2 and two stereo amplifiers (or four monoblocks). The other possibility would be to use one 7S2 per channel with four monoblocks. This method results in ultimate separation and performance. Of course, it would be extravagantly expensive and eat up a lot of space.
One feature I particularly appreciate is the balance control. Instead of a balance knob on the faceplate, the 7S2 offers a trim adjustment via the remote control of +/- 6dB in half dB increments. It is an excellent feature, easy to use, and greatly aids getting the balance just right from your listening position without constantly getting up and down. I must be getting older. Thank you, Marantz.
Now that I’ve tortured you with facts, it’s time to listen. I removed my Innersound i Control preamp and replaced it with the Marantz 7S2, using balanced connections to the DEQX 2.6 processor via Acoustic Zen’s Absolute interconnects and AZ’s Absolute power cord. I let it burn in for about 150 hours with all kinds of music. Initially, it sounded a little closed in and really required more burn-in time. After about 250 hours things started percolating and the 7S2 opened up. I still think, even to this day, it keeps improving.
The 7S2 is cut from the same sonic cloth as the previously reviewed 7S1 CD player. The sound can be described as grain-free and smooth. The sonic presentation ranges from sheer elegance and delicacy at one moment to dynamic power when called for. The bass performance was full and tuneful: its great impact and extension also contained all the subtle cues of the instruments that bring us closer to the sound of live music.
There is a beguiling quality to the sound of the 7S2. It is not just the ‘sophistication’ of the presentation but the revealing of details in an organic manner that is integral to the performance–no edgy or hyper real quality, but a natural occurrence as part of the musical event itself. Another part of the presentation that is so captivating is the development of the soundstage. The recorded venue is more fully expressed spatially than with the Innersound. Greater depth, width and height were achieved with an increase in the defining of the instruments and their location in the soundstage. I believe the ability of the 7S2 to focus, accurately, is one of the main reasons that the soundstage is so splendidly captured.
Along with the wonderful spatial abilities that the 7S2 possesses is how accurate it is in replicating instrumental timbre. While not entirely possible to achieve, it’s critical that the linestage alter or color the musical timbres of the instruments as little as possible. The 7S2 performs this function beautifully. Instruments just sound closer to the real thing. I know that’s not a very technical or reviewer-like description, but that’s what I hear. There is more air around instruments. Voices have more solidity and contain more of those textural details and recognizable nuances that go further in giving them a lifelike quality.
The more I listened the more I realized that this is one sweet solid-state linestage. You know you’re not quite listening to tubes but the 7S2 reproduces harmonic development and instrumental decay very well. In addition, it is wonderfully transparent to the source, allowing one to see deeply into, and navigate through, the maelstrom of symphonic complexity and follow the musical lines to their full development. Along with this transparency comes the ability to reproduce the weight and authority that a full orchestral recording can possess–like some of the Reference Recordings and Telarcs that I’ve been enjoying recently. It is also notable that poor recordings are slightly more listenable, but there’s no doubt you will still hear their faults. It will not color them sweet.
Is the Marantz perfectly neutral? In a word, almost. After all, nothing is perfectly anything. I will say that there is a house sound to the two Marantz products that says ‘music’ to me. Finding the right words is very difficult, but in addition to all the compliments I’ve already heaped on this very fine product, I would have to say ‘refinement’ comes to mind, as well as the previously mentioned ‘sophistication’. The Marantz 7S2 represents what has been happening in the industry for awhile and that is that the best solid-state gear and the best tube gear are getting closer to sounding more alike than ever. The goal, in most cases, is the representation of live music and both camps are designing gear that is getting closer and closer to that ‘absolute sound’.
Further information: Marantz America, Inc.