Marantz SA-15S1 SACD Player Reviewed

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Life's just full of surprises, eh? Little did I know, when I wrote the worshipful if doleful review of the Marantz SA-11S1 SACD player in May that a baby sister was on the way. I absolutely adored the '11, but the note of melancholy in my coverage was down to two things.

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First was the needless and foolish removal of multi-channel capability, given that its presence It was a truly asshole-ish 'judgment call' in which Marantz is not alone, one of a bunch of companies pandering to miserable audio jerk-offs who need a reality check.* The second is the abject failure of SACD itself to secure a market, and therefore its future. But I love the format, and intend to enjoy it as much as I can, until the last SACD is released.

Anyway, along comes the SA-15S1 and the matching integrated amp, the PM-15S1, the latter with the same down-scale relationship to the SA-11S1's matching amp, the PM-11S1. What Marantz has done, though, which should make all of you utter 'thanks,' is create economy versions that don't give up a whole helluva lot except for price. They even look like baby '11s. The '11s cost £2499 for the amp and £1999 for the SACD player, yet the '15s are only £1100 apiece. So, for only £200 more than the SA-11S1 on its own, you get a tasty amplifier thrown in.

Just lifting them out of their boxes - if heft is any indicator - tells you that you're not dealing with flyweight, corporate, mass-market swill. The amp weighs 18kg, the SACD player 13.5kg. Lids off, and you can see why: Marantz has filled the PM-15S1 with a fat toroidal transformer and a brace of massive heatsinks, huge custom-made film capacitors in the power supply - a real eyeful to please those who value parts content. Neither is the SA-15S1 a box full of air, as is typical of disc players these days - big motherboard filled with top-grade components, decent transport, serious power supply. I guess you could say they reek of Ken Ishiwata, though his name is not appended to them.

They're part of the company's flagship Premium Range, which has boasted, in addition to the SA-11S1 and PM-11S1, such gems as the SC-7 and MA-9, the 17 series and other heavy hitters. From switch-on, when the atmospheric blue lights spread out from the centre sections, to the gentle mechanical clicking when you change sources, reminiscent of a Leica shutter's action, to the feel of every knob and button - even the remote controls suggest pure luxury. Kinda makes high-end cables at £3k per meter even more disgustingly bad value for money.

Marantz points out that the units are built to their new standards without any visible screws, and they feature heavy, 'double layer' chassis. The solid metal faceplates curve gently to the sides, the controls are sensibly laid out and positioned discreetly, and the two units, when stacked, look like a whole lot more than £2200.

For the PM-15S1, Marantz uses its 3-stage construction with full 'Current Feedback' to render the amp insensitive to tough loads. Marantz also reduced the feedback impedance of the Current Feedback circuit to its minimum to make it faster and extend the bandwidth. The two heat sinks I mentioned are completely independent for the left and right channels, and the unit incorporates Marantz's latest HDAM-SA2 (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module), originally designed for the PM-11S1, in place of conventional op amps. They offer the shortest possible signal path, and reduce external noise and reduced mounting area. In the PM-15S1, HDAM-SA2s appear in the line buffer, pre-buffer, pre-amp and power amp stages.

A number of features help to lift the Marantz above its integrated competition. For openers, genuine WBT speaker terminals are fitted, and they accept just about any connector you could want to use; I inserted banana plugs from the top, through the pillar. All other socketry is gold-plated and robust. The PM-11S1 features the WM8816 electronic linear volume control from Wolfson, hand-selected and custom-made components, floating control bus allowing you to daisy-chain up to four of these for multi-amplification or multi-channel systems, true tone defeat, ultra- solid chassis construction with an additional bottom plate to reduce susceptibility to external noise and vibration, low noise LCD display, and - drum roll, please - a damned fine Current Feedback MM/MC phono stage.

Marantz isn't taking any chances. They've separated and extensively shielded all pre-amp, power and volume control circuits in their own enclosures, to prevent cross-talk and other unwanted interference. There are independent power supplies for the LCD display, preamp, power amp and volume sections. And there's even one for the greens among you: Marantz has removed hazardous substances like lead in the solder, no doubt anticipating future EU regulations.

Across the front, the PM-15S1 carries a rotary source control, selecting six inputs including phono, three vertical buttons for speaker on/off, tone on/off and display on/off, followed by the centre section, with the 'temperature gauge' display indicating attenuation mode (the amount of which is user-adjustable), output level referenced against 0dB and chosen source. Below this are a headphone socket, power on/off button and small rotaries for bass and treble adjust. Further to the right are three more buttons in a vertical array, for choosing attenuation, record, and phono mm or m-c, followed by the volume control.

Around the back, in addition to the inputs, outputs, phono earth post and speaker terminals, are the sockets for the special connections for piggy-backing multiple SA-15S1s, connections for system remote integration, an IEC socket for the mains, and a switch to choose between bi-amping and stereo mode. Additionally, you can run this as a stand-alone pre-amp, via pre-out phono sockets.

Rated at 90W/ch into 8 ohms or 140W/ch into 4 ohms, the SA-15S1 has a frequency response 5Hz-100kHz +/-3dB, with total harmonic distortion of 0.01%. For vinyl users, the input sensitivity for mm is 2.5mV/47k ohm and for m-c 230µV/100 ohm; signal to noise ratio for phono is mm/m-c 88/74dB. Available in platinum or gold finishes, the PM-15S1 measures 440x464x123 (WDH), as does the SA-15S1 SACD player.

Read more about the SA-15S1 on Page 2.

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