Marantz SA-1 SACD player

At last, a SACD machine from someone other than Sony! This time, it's a Marantz—the Reference Series SA-1, described as a no-compromise "ultimate-quality" player.

Man, is this thing gorgeous! The SA-1 weighs in at a hefty 40 lbs, with a rich, satiny champagne finish. It's a front-loader, the drawer set to the left of a central circular display. The green tint of the display window perfectly sets off the bronze-tone feet and the golden luster of the machined aluminum-alloy top, side, and front panels. Makes a guy wanna stroke it! I swear I heard it purr...

The SA-1's display is easy to read from a distance, and bright red LEDs set below the track info indicate SACD or CD mode. Large Play, Stop, and Pause buttons smartly echo the display, to the right of a pair of smaller SACD/CD and Display On/Off buttons. Below these buttons is a discrete row of Open/Close and Track Advance/Back switches, and last in line is the remote sensor. The slim, golden-hued remote echoes the elegance and functionality of the control interface.

Around back, two single-ended RCA plugs sit above a parallel pair of XLR balanced output connectors. A small graphic next to the XLR explains the wiring layout. In what Marantz amusingly calls the "USA System," pin 2 is cold, pin 3 hot. The SA-1 also ships with pin 2 hot and pin 3 cold—the actual US standard—but that's referred to as the "European System"! Ya gotta chuckle—it's not quite a global village yet.

A pair of digital outputs (TosLink and coax S/PDIF) are fitted to the rear panel. A datastream only appears at these outputs when the SA-1 is playing a regular CD; there is no SACD information, even downsampled/decimated. Finishing it off, there's an IEC mains-in socket and the same Filter switch (Standard/Custom) as in the Sony SCD-1. I left this in its Standard setting to avoid problems with associated components, thus restricting the SA-1's ultra-high-frequency output.

Technical Features
The SA-1's technical details were very hard to come by. But, as the Iron Chef puffs while bowing, "I did my best..."

The interior looks like a Cartier jewelry case—Frank Lloyd Wright would feel almost at home. Heavy-duty mechanical construction damps internal resonance and mechanically induced jitter with a copper-plated double-layer steel bottom plate and shock-absorbent mounting feet. Behind the drive and toward the chassis' center, in a cylindrical polished copper housing, sits a shielded toroidal transformer featuring "Super Core Ring" technology. A cross-section of the core reveals it to be oval, not just another oblong lump. A separate transformer drives the fluorescent display.

It was obvious from the get-go that the SA-1's drive mechanism was special: precise-sounding and very quick in action. The laser pickup ramps up fast, like a squarewave; it's off, then it's on, scooting around doing your bidding, more atomic clock than Swiss watch. Even the ToC comes up fast. The sounds of precision relays accompany every control function, the tray's motor practically shouting "high torque!" It respects your time, babe.

The drive features an aluminum diecast tray with diecast zinc parts and base chassis. The optical pickup has dual lenses for reading CD, SACD, or dual-layer media. In fact, the SA-1 will even read CD-Rs. The "Optical Transducer" is covered with what appears to be a perforated copper shield. The circuit diagram shows the signal exiting the drive on various CD and SACD data lines to various filter/selector arrays, arriving shortly thereafter at the four TDA1547 1-bit Dual Bitstream DACs.

SACD uses Direct Stream Digital (DSD) technology at a sampling rate of 2.8224MHz to deliver a theoretical frequency response of DC to more than 100kHz, with greater than 120dB of dynamic range. DSD is analogous to the music's waveform, encoding it as a 1-bit pulse train. (For a more detailed explanation of how SACD works, see JA's technical sidebar in my Sony SCD-1 review in the November 1999 issue, Vol.22 No.11, p.96.)

440 Medinah Road
Roselle, IL 60172
(630) 307-3100