Published On: September 9, 2009

Marantz SA-KI-Pearl SACD Player Reviewed

Published On: September 9, 2009

Marantz SA-KI-Pearl SACD Player Reviewed

Commemorative models are rare in hi-fi, but the Marantz SA-KI SACD player was created by audio designer Ken Ishiwata to celebrate his 30th year with Marantz. Beautifully made and elegantly designed, the SA-KI-Pearl ranks as a very exclusive and very special CD and SACD player.

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Marantz is well known for its high quality, mass market product lines. These lines have long had a reputation of placing sound quality above the inclusion of every bell and whistle. Marantz's reference line is not nearly as well known but is highly regarded and has garnered many critical accolades. The newest additions to Marantz's reference line are a pair of products with the Pearl name, including the SA-KI-Pearl SACD player reviewed here. The "KI" in the name is for Marantz's European Brand Manager and audio designer Ken Ishiwata to mark his 30th Anniversary with the company.

Additional Resources
Read many more Marantz reviews here from HomeTheaterReview.com
Learn more about SACD and 5.1 SACD here.

Mr. Ishiwata personally led the creation of these special, limited edition products. The Pearl units get their name from the silk black Pearl finish of their aluminum enclosures which is unique within Marantz's reference line. The pearlescent black finish with blue backlighting forms a pleasing aesthetic. The $2,999 SA-KI-Pearl SACD player reviewed here is based upon the $2,199 SA-15S2 SACD player found in Marantz's reference line. One could view the Pearl version as a "modded" or "souped up" version. Mr. Ishiwata has gone through the unit and has made revisions to the base unit to improve performance. Reportedly, tweaking products is something that Mr. Ishiwata has been doing for many years and he is well experienced at identifying which changes should be made to improve performance for exacting audiophiles that are willing to pay a premium for the increased level of performance. When manufacturing the Pearl series of components the factory uses only the exact parts specified by Mr. Ishiwata, whereas typically the factory can substitute parts with other parts with identical specifications. The modifications and parts are done to maximize the performance available while keeping the costs out of the exorbitant, cost doesn't matter arena.

Looking at the unit itself, one immediately can identify the high level of build quality. The top cover alone of the unit is made out of a 5mm thick piece of solid aluminum, this unit is built like the proverbial tank. The chassis itself has a double layer bottom plate and is copper plated to minimize interference. There is also a zero impedance copper ground plate which is said to maximize the signal to noise ratio and channel separation. This allows the audiophile grade components inside the vibration damped chassis selected by Mr. Ishiwata to perform closer to their full potential. The transport mechanism features a Xyron disc tray and precision SACD drive which is compatible with SACD (Stereo only), CD,CD-R/RW (MP3/WMA/CD-DA) playback. Other features include a selectable digital filter, Cirrus Logic CS4398 DACs, and Marantz's proprietary HDAM-SA2 circuits. An optical digital input allows the unit to be utilized as a DAC for other transports or more likely today, a music server. Additionally the optical and gold coaxial digital outputs can be disabled in a "pure" playback mode through the machined brass single-ended analog output terminals. Additionally, the Pearl has a high quality, discrete high current headphone amp/output.

Sonically, SACD is pretty much the highest level of audio you can hope to get in a high definition audio system and this ultra-stable player offers smooth highs and beefy bottom end performance when directly compared to Compact Disc sources. The additional bits, lack of digital jitter and hash make for a much more musical sound overall. Why the majors abandoned SACD with such enthusiasm for a 25 year old CD format - I may never understand.

Read The High Points, The Low Points and Conclusion on Page 2


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High Points
• The build quality of the SA-KI-Pearl is first class. It is built like the proverbial tank both inside and out with an industrial design that is deserving of proud display.
• The SA-KI-Pearl places sound quality first. 
• The Pearl line provides the enhanced performance of a "modded" unit at a reasonable price and without compromising the manufacturer's warranty.

Low Points
• The SA-KI-Pearl cannot access the multi-channel data on SACD's nor can it output digital data from the SACD layer of SACDs. 
• Digital inputs are limited to a single optical input. While optical inputs eliminate the possibility of ground loops, it would be nice to have more input options. 
• At this price point and quality level I would have expected this unit to be equipped with balanced outputs.

Conclusion
Marantz's Pearl line of reference products not only pays homage to brand manager and audio designer Ken Ishiwata, it pays homage to all those who have tweaked and modified their components to get the best possible sound for their dollar. If you do not need multi-channel capabilities and are seeking something a cut above the already good reference line gear, the SA-KI-Pearl deserves a close look. If you are interested, I recommend that you do not delay as production is limited to 500 units and will likely sell out quickly.

Is the $800 premium over the similarly equipped SA-15S2 worth it? That's a question only you can answer, but if you are the type that experiments with tubes, tweaks and other modifications to get the best sound from your system I would say yes it is.

Additional Resources
• Read many more Marantz reviews here from HomeTheaterReview.com
• Learn more about SACD and 5.1 SACD here.

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