Marantz SA8001 SACD player Page 3

So let's move on to the next-to-last item in my list of desirable digital attributes, and talk about the sound of the SA8001.

5. A player should deliver much of the sonic experience the format is capable of, and more expensive players should deliver more. It ought to be pleasant to listen to; the pleasanter, the better.

As I've already said, with "Red Book" CDs, the sonic differences among the digital sources I had on hand—the SA8001, my Marantz SA-15S1, and my Benchmark DAC-1—proved exceedingly subtle. In A/B comparisons, I detected a small advantage, spatially, of the SA-15S1 over the other two: With the Rhino Records reissue of John Coltrane's Giant Steps, there was a touch more body—more palpability—toward the back of the soundstage with the more expensive Marantz player. I also found Coltrane's tenor sax a touch more laid-back through the more expensive Marantz—a major advantage on this disc, where on several tracks Trane seems determined to punish the poor microphone, and his listeners.

To my ears, the SA8001 (in "Red Book" mode) was every bit the equal of the Benchmark DAC-1 (using the SA8001 as a transport)—which, last time I looked, was still in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components." And the SA8001 player has some advantages over the DAC-1: the Benchmark doesn't have a transport and can't do SACDs. Then again, the stand-alone Marantz doesn't accept digital inputs and lacks balanced (analog and AES/EBU) connections, so feature-wise it's a wash. But we weren't talking about features; we were talking about sound. Here too, it's a wash.

In long-term listening I really had no preference; some days I preferred one of these sources, on other days another. I don't believe these differences were real.

So until JA sends me a high-end digital player that convinces me otherwise—and I'm open to that possibility—here is my conclusion: This, for me, is about as good as "Red Book" gets. Playing "Red Book" CD, these are three excellent models—one is about as good as the other. Go ahead and throw those stones; I'm ready to swat 'em down.

In SACD mode
Playing SACDs, the SA8001 sounded every bit as good as I remember the Class A SA8260 sounding, and I heard no disadvantage when I compared it to the SA-15S1. In SACD mode, the SA8001 delivered essentially the same sonic goods as its twice-as-expensive bigger brother (though, to look at them, you'd never know they were related). It was a lovely, smooth presentation with significantly more body, naturalness, and ease than almost any "Red Book" CD.

Musical satori?
Marantz is one of the great American hi-fi companies—or would be if it weren't Japanese. I don't know the full story, but Marantz, which was founded in New York around 1952, was owned by Philips for long time, has had Japanese connections since at least the 1960s, and has operated under Japanese ownership since at least 2001.

Two virtues common to both traditions—the American and the Japanese, the Western and the Eastern—are self-reliance and self-possession. Call it equanimity. It's the best way to perceive the pea buried under the mattresses, if it's really there—and not to perceive if it isn't. Equanimity, inner quiet, self-possession—these related qualities allow us to accept the lessons that life (and music) offer us without filling our brains with distracting background noise.

Furthermore, a pea in the bed, or a little too much forwardness in the treble, shouldn't keep us from enjoying good music on CD any more than the prospect of mosquitoes should keep us from walking through a meadow, enjoying the mingled smells of manure and fresh-mown hay. We grow, experience, do our best to meet our obligations, filling our time in pleasant and productive ways (including listening to fine music). Then we die. I see no reason, at any point in that journey, to take pride in debilitating sensitivity. Enjoy your tunes. Be strong. Live well.

The SA8001 is a respectable SACD player in the sense of "It's a player I can respect." It's a solid, unpretentious, reliable player that does what it's supposed to do at a reasonable cost. My grandpa would be proud.

There's one more question on my list that I haven't yet mentioned:

6. Does the component provide that special magic that makes everything fall into place, music-wise? Do the stars align when it plays your favorite tunes?

This question is at the top of most lists of audiophile virtues, but it's not one I take very seriously. It's not that I don't believe that such things happen—they do. But in the Zen tradition, as I understand it, satori—enlightenment—is something you hope for but don't dwell on. The emphasis is on diligent practice and moment-to-moment focus. Washing rice, the saying goes, is washing rice—nothing more. And in the West? We take care of business and don't concern ourselves with such nonsense.

In the right room, with the right mood, combined with the right components, the Marantz SA8001 might be just what you need to achieve musical satori. But whether that happens or not, for a thousand bucks you get a player that's solid and competent, worthy of your respect, and—if you're in the market for an SACD player at or near this price—an audition.

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