Marantz SC-7S1 Preamp and MA-9S1 Amp Reviewed

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Marantz SC-7S1 Preamp and MA-9S1 Amp Reviewed

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Marantz_SC-7S1_Preamp_review.gifHow important is Marantz's latest foray into the true high-end arena? Let's put it this way: they sent Ken Ishiwata along to check the installation. It gets no scarier than that, for K.I. is The Man, and I wouldn't have been allowed to review the new flagship pairing, the SC-7S1 Stereo Preamplifier and MA-9S1 Monoblock Power Amplifiers, if the system didn't pass his scrutiny. It was like taking a driving exam....

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Although they produced official re-issues of their classic valve electronics a few years ago, Marantz wanted to mark its 50th Anniversary with all-new models harking back to the company's birth, but they couldn't very well reissue a recent, er, reissue. So the decision was made to apply the spirit rather than the form of the original Model 7 pre-amp and Model 9 power amps to something undeniably 21st Century. All-balanced, solid-state, funky new meters, useable with multi-channel set-ups - about all you can say regarding the lineage is that the SC-7S1/MA-9S1 combo is stereo and champagne-coloured, with blue lights a'winking. The spiritual link, though, is simple: no-compromise.

Externally, both are disarmingly minimalist, despite being jam-packed with mouth-watering audiophile-grade componentry and complex circuits. Common to both are the obviously harmonious styling, fully-balanced operation front-to-back and use of the latest evolution of Marantz's exclusive HDAM (High-Definition Amplifier Modules), 'for exceptional dynamic range, resolution, clarity and transient response.' Both products boast massive power supplies, heavy-gauge internal wiring, extra-thick circuit boards with large circuit traces and extensive internal shielding. Their chassis are machined from aluminium alloy, and, yes, they both sport round meters on their front panels. Style gurus will note that, like Plinius and the forthcoming Classe range, the faceplates terminate is smoothly curved ends - clearly this decade's hot look.

Marantz SC-7S1 Stereo Preamplifier
Inside the SC-7S1 pre-amp are no less than eight HDAM modules 'for maximum signal purity and lowest noise', four on each input-output buffer and another four HDAMs on the V/I converter. Ultra-wide bandwidth circuitry is used throughout 'to achieve a frequency response from 3Hz-150kHz, and Marantz reports better-than-100dB channel separation, 'for a natural tonal balance and superlative image specificity upon a vast, wide and deep soundstage.'

Impressive from the minute you unpack it, the SC-7S1 measures 18x 5 1/8x7 1/8in (WHD) and weighs a confidence-building 46.3lb! That's more than most companies' power amps weigh, so if you equate build quality and worth with mass and girth, this unit makes you think 'hewn from solid.' Its other measurements, too, border on the fantastical, with the aforementioned channel separation and frequency response joined by S/N ratio of 103dB for balanced operation and 105dB for unbalanced, the 8-gang linear volume control operates in 0.5dB steps and there's level trimming of +/-6dB to match all sources and amps within 0.5dB, too.

Minimalist almost to the point of being naked, the SC-7S1's front panel contains a rotary source selector (marked 'Balanced', 'SACD/CD', 'Line 1', 'Line 2' and 'Tape'), a power on button below a meter that reads out signal output level in dB, a rotary volume control, and buttons for applying attenuation of -20, -40 and -60dB (as when changing LPs!) and display on/off. That's it, which means for a slim and uncluttered remote control. The back is filled with top-quality phono connectors for all inputs and two sets of unbalanced outputs, plus XLRs for balanced input and output. Given the importance Marantz has placed on its balanced nature, I was disappointed to see only one set of balanced inputs, a curious oversight in light of the target audience.. I had two CD players and phono stage with balanced outputs to hand at the time of the review, and soon grew tired of connecting and disconnecting them.

Dearth of balanced inputs aside, Marantz is proposing decidedly weird, over-the-top audiophilic behaviour from the SC-7S1 owner. (Remember: at least one lucky audiophile bought five Project T1s for an all-valve multi-channel set-up.) Check this out: 'For the ultimate in sonic performance, two SC-7S1s can be used together in mono mode, to create a completely separate stereo audio signal path from the source to a pair of MA-9S1 amplifiers to the loudspeakers. Up to six SC-7S1 preamplifiers and 12 MA-9S1 amplifiers can be combined for a multi-channel system of awe-inspiring power and impact.' The driving of two or more pre-amps is possible because Marantz has developed a 'floating control bus system' with the aforementioned level trim capability. And how I'd just love to hear a dozen of 'em....

Marantz MA-9S1 Monoblock Power Amplifier
An equally impressive beastie, a single MA-9S1 stands 18x7 5/16x17 5/16in and weighs 78.9lb. A pair is not to be approached glibly. Its front panel contains a sexy, blue-lit power meter reminiscent of the new Aston-Martin's dials, and there are only three controls on the front: choice of balanced or unbalanced input, power on and meter on/off. The back of each monoblock contains two pairs of multi-way speaker terminals and the balanced and unbalanced inputs.

Rated at 300W into 8 ohms, 600W into 4 ohms and 1,200W into 2 ohms, the MA-9S1 is unlikely to meet a speaker it can't whup. Marantz filled this mad bastard with a massive power supply with a large Super Ring Core toroidal power transformer, heavy-gauge internal wiring, six HDAM modules and audiophile-pleasing, top-quality internal components to provide the capacity to deliver instantaneous current greater than 150 amps. Its damping factor is 200, the frequency response is stated as 3Hz-120kHz +0, -3dB, and the S/N ratio is 120dB. I needn't tell you that this is one quiet system.

To pass muster with Marantz, I used the system with components familiar to Ken Ishiwata and Marantz's Neil Gill, who also joined in for my SATs (Subjective Audio Trial). Sources included the Marantz CD12/DA12 in balanced mode, as modified by KI, Audio Research CD3 Mk II CD player, the SME Series V arm, SME 30 turntable and Koetsu Urushi Black through the EAR 324 phono stage - also balanced - and Wilson WATT Puppy System 7. All wiring was the latest Transparent Reference, and I eschewed any tweak accessories.

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