I like SA-1 a lot, although I use it almost exclusively for CDs (not SACDs). I find it slightly annoying that it assumes you are going to use SACD, then after a brief squint at the disc realises it is normal CD, then clicks the relays over to the CD path. Very small point though.
The short answer is I don't think you'll ever need another CD player once you have this, as some other part of your system will ALWAYS be the bottleneck - or more often than not, the discs themselves. I proved this by simply changing my speaker cable and gained a massive increase in presence and clarity. If the rest of your system actually matches SA-1, you have a very special system indeed!!!
Strongest points are warmth, presence, ambience, emotion - very good at giving you a window to the emotion of a recording.
I use it with Marantz PM-14mkII KI Signature amp, and Kef Reference 201 speakers. ICs are Kimber KCAG (balanced), and speaker cable is Kimber 8TC.
First of all, SA-1 is reverberant with a larger than life ambiance. The best ambiamce i've herad!
Secondly, Every disc that I've tried with SA-1 brings out the most dynamic lower end I've heard from other CDPs... A tendency to lower the volume at high frequency and boost the lower end bass is very noticable to me... ( don't know if anyone ever mention this). I sense a greater dynamic contrast from this player all the time especially with CDs that have dinamic bottom ends.
Thirdly, sweet and natural high frequecy is much better than 777es, which is not bad at high frequency all.. 777es is smooth, but SA-1 is smooth and organic at this region. The very best high frequency I've herad regardless of price..
A slight hardness at mid-range sometimes. Nothing is perfect, and I am not absolutely sure about this.
A softer frames and outlines may contribute to a somewhat "indirect" presentation(not as straight forward). But the strong and reverberant ambiance adds the excitment into music...
Above are for both CD and SACD, and only that SACD has a better organic texture and stronger lower end...
weakness is transparency. A bit more detail is possible but not necessary according to my taste.
I sold the player because i don't like to wait forever for new SACD titles...
If you like the reverberant ambiance from this player, i don't think anyone can find a better performer...
I ordered my SA-1 last spring. When I finally received the machine after months of waiting in early June, I was immediately thrilled by the superb SACD sound. In comparison with good quality CD, the highs were smooth and clear, the bass very solid and extended. Although standard PCM sound seemed to be lacking something the best PCM players have, I was very happy with the product.
Thats when the truble begun. Having had the machine for 6 weeks, it suddenly started rejecting discs. It was not able to get the TOC, and displayed an error message "Can't read".
First I thought that there was a disc specific problem, but over the next weeks the problem intensified and was clearly not dependent on the CDs or SACDs I was feeding to it.
Having described the problem to my local Marantz dealer the machine went in for service. I got it back in six weeks. They had not managed to find anything specifically wrong with it, but said that there have been related problems with other players using the same mechanism. The cure, I was told, was to order a fix kit from Marantz.
Waiting for the fix I retained the machine and continued listening. Superb sound when functioning. Unfortunately the read problems kept intensifying, and took the fun out of listening. On average every fifth disc was rejected several times before being accepted.
On discs that the machine submitted to, a new problem arouse. It didn't obey the controls. Pushing play, nothing happened. The machine was stuck. The only way to continue was to boot the machine by turning the power off/on.
While I was becoming more and more annoyed by the malfunctions, neither my dealer nor Marantz managed to come up with any solutions.
Finally in January this year, we agreed that I return the SA-1, and get my money back.
I'm very upset by the way a well respected company like Marantz handeled this issue. The service and attitude were definately not up to the standard one expects when handling 7 grand CD players.
Marantz is unfortunately still only a mass market MidFi actor.
I now have an Accuphase DP-85. SACD sound is somewhat better than SA-1, but the real difference is in PCM. The 24/196 upsampling really does it.
And of course - it doesn't do any tricks...
I heard the prototype SA-1 at the 1999 London Hi-Fi show, at the Novotel in Hamersmith. When I wandered into the cramped and tiny demo room it was empty except for a few seats and a tired-looking Japanese executive in the corner politely smiling at anyone who dared set foot inside. Cheap Tannoy bookshelf speakers were sat either side of the SA-1 prototype (which was just a CD player as far as I knew at the time) and a battleship-build Marantz integrated AV amp, finished in Champagne Gold. Since this was obviously not a high-end, whiz-bang demo with huge amps and speakers I nearly turned around and walked out immediately as had, no doubt, most of the other visitors that day (a trade-only day). But I felt sorry for the Japanese man with no visitors and decided to stay a couple of minutes just to be polite and pretend to listen to his demonstration.
The tracks being played were on an unlabelled orchestral SACD, and obviously recorded specially for demonstration purposes. Almost from the moment the orchestra started playing I knew I was hearing something very special. In fact, my initial assumption was that I was listening to the recently-reviewed (at the time) top-of-the-line Marantz CD player, the CD-7 , and I was gob smacked that a regular CD player could sound as good as the one I was listening to. As my own equipment at home is decidedly high-end (dCS Elgar/Purcell, Jeff Rowland pre/power, Wilson speakers, Transparent cables) I was annoyed that a single-box CD player could sound that much better, especially with a cheap set of bookshelf speakers and an integrated AV amp driving them.
As the track continued and the hairs rose at the back of my neck I started to suspect something was not right. The CD-7 was very favourably reviewed by Martin Colloms in “Hi-Fi News & Record Review” magazine and my memory of the pictures in that magazine did not *quite* match up to the front panel of the SA-1. So I started to wonder what it was… perhaps an even-higher-end CD player than the CD-7…. but then just lost myself in the music.
In general, what irritates me about CD is that it isn’t all there. It’s just a facsimile of real music, obviously so, even with the most expensive high-end equipment. Mind you, I love the convenience, durability, and so on, but it’s taken a long time for me to get close to a CD-playing system I can really enjoy, despite the format’s inherent limitations. All CD players I’ve heard – including some extremely expensive and complicated models, and including (sorry to say) my own Elgar/Purcell combo - present a grey, two-dimensional view of music. Sure, they go deep, or have loads of detail, or throw a wide soundstage, all those hi-fi attributes…. but the real shimmering tone of, say, a Violin played right in front of you, the thrill of a real maestro playing with passion….. somehow, regrettably, not there. My Elgar gets tantalisingly close, as if it’s as good as 16/44 will ever get, but not quite close enough.
With the SA-1 prototype, richness and reality returned. I heard *real* warmth; not sickly, syrupy warmth which masks detail and rhythm, just the natural warmth of instruments playing as they should. I heard a deep soundstage painted wide across that tiny, cramped room. It made me relax and really listen and enjoy the phrasing, conduction, almost the playing of each instrument as it contributed to the whole orchestra. Forget the hi-fi attributes like depth of bass and tonal precision… these were, after all, cheap Tannoy bookshelf speakers…. but still far more enjoyable and listenable than any other digital source I’d ever heard. In a word, stunning.
As the track I was listening to came to a close, the audience started to clap. This gave me major league goose bumps as they sounded so incredibly real, and were suddenly clapping *behind* me. Yes, I’d been listening to a multi-channel SACD. The contribution of the rear channels, also bookshelf Tannoy speakers which I’d failed to notice, was extremely subtle as I listened to the track itself, but had made me feel part of the performance, really flowing with the music. The audience response was a total surprise.
Enthusiastically I tried to ask questions about what I now know is the SA-1 (the front panel was identical on the prototype to the pictures of the SA-1 I’ve seen in Stereophile and elsewhere). How much? Didn’t know what they’d be charging for it. When released? Didn’t know that either. What was it? Multi-channel SACD…….
This is the future of digital audio as far as I’m concerned. For audiophiles everywhere, if that degree of warmth-with-clarity and unforced musical realism is possible with DSD, then I’m a convert. Regardless of the two-channel versus multi-channel argument…. Except that the release SA-1 appears to be two-channel only (*shame* on you Marantz) and therefore hamstrung until an SA-2 is released that can output the other channels too. The SACD format allows for multi-channel recording, and people are obviously making use of it, so why did they restrict it to 2 channel only?? Pity.
At the same show Sony were hurrying through demos of their SCD-1 and the difference between CD and SACD on a dual-layer SACD. Taking great pains to dispel any rumours that dual-layer SACDs won’t play on “regular” CD players by taking an SACD and playing it through a small (Sony) boom box. Their demo was in stark contrast to the Marantz demo, with ushers shepherding people in and out, controlled presentations that lasted a strict 15 minutes, and lots of advertising. Unfortunately using Sony pre/power amps and obelisk-shaped speakers, whilst it was plain to hear the difference between SACD and CD layers of their test SACD, with SACD clearly better and more detailed, both of them sounded sterile and bland. Certainly by comparison with the Marantz, which was lush, realistic and detailed. Perhaps in another system the SCD-1 can shine….
A Pioneer demo of a prototype DVD-Audio player running at 24/192 was similarly bland and disappointing. I failed to generate enthusiasm for either DVD-A or SACD from these two demos, and had it not been for the Marantz demo would have written off all new digital formats as a waste of time…. The key point here is: listen to these in your own system!
So there you go. The Marantz is unquestionably excellent, probably the best you can currently buy for playing SACDs, and likely to be extremely good with regular CDs as well.
But I *won’t* be buying one…. because it won’t do DVD-A and isn’t multi-channel.
Whilst I fully expect to listen to stereo music the vast majority of the time, I don’t want to miss out on the truly excellent multi-channel recording I heard that day, and any that follow. Plus I just don’t want to have two boxes cluttering up my rack, when you only really need one.
Fortunately for me I just have to wait until a universal transport becomes available, and plug it into the Elgar, which I *know* will sound superb playing DSD material. It’s been a long wait…. but, since there is almost NO software anywhere, I guess we’re all in the same boat.
If you own a Marantz SA-1, then my congratulations to you. You now own one of the finest pieces of audio equipment it’s been my pleasure to hear. If you own an Sony SCD-1, please tell me it sounds as good in your system as the reviewers think, because I’ve yet to hear it sounding like SACD should anywhere else. But that’s Sony’s fault for not investing in some good amps and speakers!
CD players & sofware have been improving dramatically in the last few years, and mid-priced players no longer sound harsh and dead as before. Good players like the Bow zz-8 or Naim CDS2 manage to sound more smooth and musical than ever before, especially tweaked with A/C & vibration treatments, noticeably closer to the benchmark of vinyl/analog.
But SACD through the Marantz SA-1 brings sonic realism to an entirely different level than any CD player could. I listen mostly to classical & jazz recordings. On the best CD playback, each musical instrument ranging from the oboe, cello, piano sound the same - more homogenous/mundane, more electronic/synthesized, more CD-like. However with SACD through the Marantz, I hear the distinct tonal flavours of each instrument very clearly portrayed and delineated. Clarinets sound starkly different from Violins, which sound different from trumpets etc. Like Colour TV compared to Monochrome TV.
The second overwhelming difference is in the dynamic presence and impact of the musical performance. CDs are always like listening to an electronic portrayal of music performance: you never ever mistake it for reality. However, with SACDs, I continually feel deeply shocked by the PRESENCE of instruments at particular points in the music. "GOODNESS, that sounded like the impact of real piano was in here! The bite of that violin gesture felt like I was in the first row! That clarinet solo sounded eerily like it were floating in the room."
I have never heard these qualities from CD, and I have had a veritable parade of digital stars contending with the Marantz in my listening room. 24/96 DADs through the MUSE combo was much more detailed and analog than CDs, but did not seem to approach the Marantz's realism.
But if you have lots of CDs, they do sound as good on the Marantz (with its smooth, palpable presentation) as expensive machines like the Bow zz8 or Naim CDS2, and significantly better than mid-priced favourites like the EMC-1 & Meridian 508.24
The Marantz also reveals more of the miraculous realism of SACD than the Sony 777ES, but then Sony does not have the Marantz's dual differential output stage with 8 discrete HDAM amplifiers. Still the 777ES will still bowl you over with the wonders of SACD at an unbelievable deal of 4X less the Marantz's price.
Any audiophile with a passion for music, but without the patience for vinyl, needs to try an SACD machine at home. It is likely to change your listening paradigm. I thought of waiting for more software to be available before buying into the SACD format, but then, I have already endured the limitations of 16/44 for eighteen years, and want to enjoy the realism that SACDs bring during in the remaining years while my ears still work properly!