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.
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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