Marantz Reference SA-KI-Pearl SACD/CD player

In my review in the February 2009 issue of Marantz's SA-11S2 SACD/CD player ($3599.99), I said that "buying [an SACD] player in 2009 necessitates an act of faith similar to the one turntable buyers faced back in 1992." The negative reaction to this from the besieged SACD community was as intense as it was irrational. If they're angry with me, I can only imagine how they feel about Stanley Lipshitz and John Vanderkooy, who presented a white paper at a 2001 Audio Engineering Society convention that claimed to prove that SACD doesn't qualify as a high-fidelity format (footnote 1). How many figurative bags of flaming poop did they leave at their front doors?

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Some on the SACD forum (www.sa-cd.net) actually tried to argue my point, but it's a fact: Despite the best efforts of companies like Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab and Analogue Productions, unless you already own a considerable collection of SACDs, your choice of new rock titles is limited. While both of those audiophile-oriented companies have reissued eclectic lists of excellent titles on hybrid SACD/CDs, no new rock has been issued on SACD for years. The last disc I can recall seeing (and buying) was Death Cab for Cutie's 2003 album, Transatlanticism (Barsuk bark 32sa), mastered from the original analog master tape.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of new indie-rock titles are being issued on vinyl today, including some that are extremely well recorded and would make excellent SACDs—Sufjan Stevens' orchestral suite The BQE, for instance. Meanwhile, the flood of vinyl reissues continues, much to even my astonishment.

But, believe it or not, I'm not here to sing vinyl's praises. If you listen to mostly classical music, your choices of new, superb-sounding SACD recordings are vast, ranging from the most popular orchestral works to the most challenging and esoteric, many recorded in surround sound. Speaking of esoteric, for about $900 you can even buy Sir Georg Solti's justly famous London/Decca recording of Wagner's Ring with the Vienna Philharmonic, reissued on 14 SACD/CDs by Esoteric, maker of SACD players and transports. New classical recordings on vinyl are few and far between.

So, for those who already own large collections of rock, jazz, and classical SACDs (that's me), and for those interested in new classical titles (that's me), Marantz Europe last year celebrated its 30-year association with audio engineer Ken Ishiwata by issuing the Reference SA-KI-Pearl SACD player, production limited to only 500 units, to accompany the Reference PM-KI-Pearl integrated amplifier I reviewed in the April 2010 issue.

Another Pearl from Ken?
Like the SA-KI-Pearl integrated amplifier, Marantz's SA-KI-Pearl SACD player ($2999.99) starts with a carefully constructed, well-damped chassis made using a large, specially constructed copper-plating bath, to produce a constant thickness of plating said to result in reduced ground impedances and eddy currents—which, theoretically, means less noise.

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The chassis is braced with an additional heavy bottom plate and topped with a 5mm-thick aluminum cover. Copper encases and shields a newly designed toroidal transformer, and the 32-lb Pearl sits on specially machined aluminum feet. "You'd be shocked by how much those mechanical differences can contribute to better sound!" Ken Ishiwata told me. Actually, I wouldn't.

Hand-selected components enhance Marantz's HDAM-SA2 and HDAM-SA amplifier modules. The power supply uses high-speed Schottky diodes and the same storage capacitor as in Marantz's flagship SACD player. The DAC is Cirrus Logic's CS4398, a 24-bit/192kHz device that also includes a DSD processor that doesn't decimate the datastream, while maintaining DSD's native sampling rate of 2.8224MHz. Marantz's new SACDM-10 disc transport features a loading tray made of Xyron, an ultrarigid, microvibration-isolating polymer.



Footnote 1: "Why 1-Bit Sigma-Delta Conversion is Unsuitable for High-Quality Applications," presented at the 110th Audio Engineering Society Convention, May 12–15, 2001, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Available from www.aes.org.
COMPANY INFO
Marantz America, Inc.
100 Corporate Drive
Mahwah, NJ 07430-2041
(201) 762-6500
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