Marantz Reference SA-KI-Pearl SACD/CD player Page 4

You don't need an SACD player to hear the excellence of Alan Yoshida's XRCD transfers of classic Blue Note albums, sumptuously presented by Bob Bantz's Audiowave label. The Pearl delivered Sonny Clark's Cool Struttin' (CD, Blue Note/Audiowave AWMXR-0003) with a fine balance of air, warmth, and detail. Art Farmer's trumpet and Jackie McLean's sax, both in the left channel, were timbrally vibrant and impressively airy and transparent, but without harshness. On the right, Philly Joe Jones's drum kit sizzled and popped cleanly, and the pluck of Paul Chambers' bass was well defined and harmonically complete. Even Clark's piano, in the center, was cleanly rendered (engineer Rudy Van Gelder was having a good piano day!). This record should sound spacious and open yet rich, regardless of format, and the Pearl managed it extremely well. It sounded as spacious, creamy-rich, and in-your-lap detailed as the 45rpm vinyl edition (Music Matters MMBST-81588).

The SA-KI-Pearl's headphone jack is clearly no afterthought. I plugged in my AKG 701s and enjoyed the Marantz's pristine, quiet performance. The Pearl is a complete headphone-based SACD/CD system, and, with its TosLink digital input, can decode your iTunes collection in style (assuming your computer has an optical digital output).

Compared to What?
As Ken Ishiwata said, "As with amplifiers, you cannot judge a CD player by analyzing its specifications." For comparison's sake, I retrieved the sample of the Playback Designs MPS-5 SACD/CD player that I reviewed in the February 2010 issue, which had sounded fantastic but hadn't measured so well (by conventional standards).

As good as the SA-KI-Pearl was, the Playback bettered it in every way—as it should for five times the price ($15,000)—and regardless of what the measurements show, which might just be that the Pearl measures better. The Playback sounded faster, tighter, more resolving, better extended, and more expressive, particularly on the bottom. It managed to pull more detail from every disc, with greater clarity and authority, despite John Atkinson's measurements of its noise, which indicate that it doesn't do better than 16-bit resolution. I have no explanation, other than to say that I was in a great mood while listening to both players—and, yes, I did match their output levels, and I did stare down the railroad track and see the rails come to a point (but I know—they really don't).

However, the contrast between the SA-11S2 and Cary Audio Design's 306 Professional SACD player, to which I compared it, was far greater than the differences I heard between the Marantz SA-KI-Pearl and the Playback MPS-5. Although the SA-11S2 made poorly produced discs listenable, and sounded soft, warm, and relaxing, it was ultimately uninvolving—while the Cary was fast, taut, and exciting, with precise imaging.

The SA-KI Pearl was much closer in spirit, if not in ultimate performance, to the Playback Designs MPS-5. Both players were fast, taut, exciting, and imaged precisely. The differences weren't of overt personality but of degree. In short, I think the Marantz SA-KI-Pearl is a much more finely balanced, better-sounding player than the SA-11S2.

Conclusion
Marantz's Reference SA-KI-Pearl is a beautifully built, well-engineered SACD/CD player that offers impressive musical balance and well-rounded overall performance. It's like a finely mastered CD or LP—on hearing it, you'll know that whoever was behind its final sound was an excellent listener and a passionate lover of music.

The Pearl does everything right and nothing wrong. It's got nothing to hide, and doesn't try. The many months I spent listening to it in the context of a very expensive system have convinced me that while a great deal more money can bring you additional performance—including greater dynamics, more visceral bottom-end slam, better resolution of detail, more transparency and air, and a range of other sonic enhancements around the edges of the performance envelope—the SA-KI-Pearl would be a credible performer in any system, regardless of cost. In a modest system, it will be the star.

Even were this edition not limited to 500 units, the Reference SA-KI-Pearl would be sure to become a collector's item. It's easy to recommend, enthusiastically and without reservation. I do.

Company Info
Marantz America, Inc.
100 Corporate Drive
Mahwah, NJ 07430-2041
(201) 762-6500
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