Marantz SA-11S1 SACD Player Reviewed

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'All dressed up and no place to go.' That, alas, is the overwhelming feeling imparted by Marantz's utterly magnificent SA-11S1 SACD player. Aside from the clumsy name and its inherent limitation of stereo-only playback, it just may be the nicest SACD player around. Too bad it arrives precisely as the rumours fly thickest about the format's demise.

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Let's back up a bit and deal with the SA-11S1's main personality quirk. It is, like the stunning Tri-Vista SACD player, a two-channel-only machine. Why? Purely consumer psychology. Y'see, there's absolutely NO justification for knobbling the player's multi-channel capability because there's no reason to assume that the mere presence of 3.1 more analogue outputs will compromise the purist stereo sound. None - zip - gornisht, so I don't expect to see Ken Ishiwata and a dozen Ninjas arriving in the dark of night, refuting it and forcing me to concur at knife-point. Even if they kidnapped my Beatles' 'Butcher Sleeve'.

Thus the reason for doing this is pandering to lunatic audiophilic prejudice, as if you guys have some malformed gene telling you that unused features automatically compromise your system. Fine, then, shmucko: when's the last time you actually used 78rpm? Every setting on your m-c step-up? A-B repeat mode? All I can see is that one day SA-11S1 (or for that matter, Tri-Vista SACD) owners wish to move onto multi-channel, and they'll have to buy new players. And they'll be severely ticked off about the omission.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but just about every multi-channel source component on the market also sports stereo-only output socketry because the manufacturers know that the take-up on multi-channel is neither total nor automatic, and that at the very least most systems are stereo. (Let's leave mono-only playback of SACDs and DVD to the hardcore, like Italy's Eugenio Lazzari.) So why on earth did Marantz do it? Anyway, it tells you that I'm reviewing this in stereo-mode only - not a problem as I have plenty of stereo-only SACDs, and dozens of multi-channel SACDs that were two-channel originals, e.g. Steely Dan's .

As for the name, it's an unpleasant reversion to the Akai School of Front Panel Gobbledygook, so I will write it as 'SA11' for the rest of this review.

Lastly, we have to deal with SACD itself. Despite new releases arriving at something like 6-10 times that of DVD-As, the take-up is dire, record stores don't even know it exists and word has it that, last year, vinyl outsold SACD and DVD-A . Now I couldn't give a toss about DVD-A, but - damn - I do love SACD. And this player shows just why: its performance with SACD is sensational, probably the most convincing I've heard for proving to music lovers that the new format betters plain, vanilla CD.

Although it has a clean and minimalist front panel, the SA-11 is loaded beyond the promise of the half-dozen basic transport controls, on-off and SACD/CD mode buttons. The rear is equally abundant with , containing only the stereo outputs in unbalanced and balanced modes, optical and coaxial digital outputs, AC input and sockets for linking it to an all-Marantz system. A weight of 14kg and dimensions of 440x123x418mm (WDH) suggest that there's more under the bonnet.

A button-filled, beautifully-made all metal remote control, too, betrays hidden depths. Most important are noise shaping to adjust the amount of digital feedback and the three selectable filters you can apply, and herein lies a problem. All sound different enough to favour either different types of material even pressings, e.g. Telarc discs, to my ears, sounded better on Filter 1, the so-called by-pass for SACD, while CDs favoured Filter 2 without pre- or post- echo.

It was easy to get distracted by the choices, but it's something every fastidious listener will face. Some might even enjoy it, but finding a 'default' setting is impossible. So my comments about sound refer only to traits not effected by filter changes, that is, those I believe to be intrinsic to the sound of the SA-11. The other traits are the variables, dependent on filter setting. Let's put it another way: I'd hate to be demonstrating this in a shop, because you really do need familiarity with each.

Read more about the SA-11S1 on Page 2.

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