REVIEW: MARANTZ SA-14S1 SPECIAL EDITION SACD PLAYER
A jaunt around the SA-14S1 SE’s specs, features and build quality elicit one major keyword - formidable. Read on to hear just why the SA-14S1 SE SACD Player won't be leaving chateau Familari.
SA-14S1 Special Edition
Yes, you’re right the grin on my face is ear-to-ear.
And it’s there every time my forefinger presses the “On’’ button yet again, on the slinky facia of Marantz’s SA14S1 Special Edition SACD/CD player.
Since this bad boy arrived several weeks ago, it’s been a permanent fixture of my audio system. And so pleasing is the sound of my review rig with the Marantz in place, I haven’t felt the urge to reinsert my usual reference CD player, Audio Research’s majestic Reference 7 MK2 CD player.
For two reasons: first, the CD7 has a tube output stage. With the weather hitting a brutal 42 degrees in Melbourne and hovering not far under this punishing temperature for days and days on end, the CD7 was getting piping hot.
Reason two is as simple as pointing out the CD7 is a CD player whereas the Marantz also does SACD and does it with bundles of poise, refinement, and vibrancy.
CD replay isn’t far behind either. In fact, it’s fair to say the SA14S1 SE extracts and presents the detail on CD as well as any player at its price point.
Yes, the Reference 7 is audibly better and at what can only be described as sublime levels of detail retrieval and presentation ability. It also trumps the SA14S1 SE in terms of a wider, deeper and more sharply defined soundstage.
The CD7 has much more attack and elicits a greater sense of air and space around performers. No surprise given it is three times the price of the Marantz and … it’s tuned to play CD and only CD.
And “much more attack’’ does not imply the Marantz is a slouch in this area.
A few moments with any Fink track is enough to confirm the SA14S1 SE has plenty of “in your lap”, “balls against the wall” dynamic prowess. But the clincher is the CD7 is a CD only machine and the Marantz is built to handle both, adroitly as it turns out.
Which raises the interesting question: can any SACD player master both SACD and CD?
The Marantz does justice to both formats. And for reasons of completeness, so does the new flagship Pioneer PD-70AE that you’ll be hearing more about as I tail off its review very soon.
Without digressing too much, the Pioneer is going to rattle a few rivals. Why so?
Because Mon Chez, it sounds unlike any Pioneer player that has gone before it, which is to say it has a high-end audiophile sound quality, an appellation with all that it implies. And it costs a measly $3,495.
A piddling amount considering what a comparable player from say, Esoteric or Accuphase would demand.
To save reader queries, let me say the PD-70AE’s sound quality isn’t as warm as the Marantz SA14S1 SE.
Its tonal balance is cooler. But the level of neutrality it presents with SACD and CD along with its ability to drill deep and retrieve endless amounts of detail along with its superb (really superb) sense of timing and musicality, makes it a “must audition” model for music lovers with audio systems that veer towards the lush and smooth.
Coincidently both players arrived at a time when my room was being acoustically treated.
The result is such that everything improved: bass was much deeper, tauter and more informed. Treble detail emerged from CDs and SACDs that I didn’t know was there, and the mid-range! It’s now seductive thanks to a level of vocal realism I’ve not experienced before.
And reviews will be more accurate.
But the prime reason I’m mentioning this however briefly is to reinforce the notion that a room’s acoustic properties determine if you will/won’t hear what your components actually sound like.
What I can share with attentive readers who care about these things is the satisfaction I now derive from being able to hear the differences in gear much more completely than I had before.
The enjoyment factor of hearing a player as accomplished as the SA14S1 SE has soared as well because I now hear less of the room and more of the music.
Lights, Action, Camera
A jaunt around the SA14S1 SE’s specs, features and build quality elicit one major keyword: FORMIDABLE.
Formidable build, formidable styling, and formidable sound …
The build quality is Japanese high-end. The giveaway is the heavy 5mm thick aluminium lid that’s beautifully screwed into place. Dwell on this detail for a moment while I assure you whenever you see a screwed in top plate in place of the cheap and cheerful wraparound lid used by less expensive players, you’re seeing a model way up the range.
Without giving away too much of our forthcoming Pioneer review, the PD70 is much more minimalist. But don’t allow its clinical, Swiss-watch styling to lull you into believing it’s a sonic dullard.
Just like Roger Federer, it’s deeply talented, and it’s a smiling assassin. But more about the Pioneer a little way up the review track. Watch this space. The point is, the Marantz’s styling is more opulent and more jewel-like.
Our review sample finish was champagne. But black is also available.
In either rendition, the SA14S1 SE looks swish with nary a blemish on the chassis, front, back, top or bottom. This baby is classy all the way. Inside and out.
Unscrew the top plate and you can feast on the roll call of premium audiophile parts inside and in abundance. It’s clear Marantz’s design monarch, Ken Ishiwata, had his elegant fingers in all the right places that matter to the SA14S1 SE. Even if his initials are sadly missing from the facia, this a Ken Ishiwata breathed upon, model.
Peering inside shows a huge transformer that would be more at home in a massively powered amplifier accompanied by an over-endowed power supply.
An investment loved by hard-bitten audiophiles who regard the absence of either in a piece of kit as penny-pinching and precursors to lousy sound.
The SA14S1 SE’s over-endowed power supply is one reason amongst others, why it provided what I suspect is clean power on tap and the bucket deep, taut, informative bass it revealed on many of my discs.
We’re not whistling Dixie when we shower this power supply with superlatives: it’s a high current construction and the large transformer receives OFC (oxygen free copper) windings and very fast, high current Schottky Barrier Diodes are used in the rectifier stage. Why so? To generate a very pure DC voltage output.
In the listening, the Marantz’s DAC surprised by the way it scaled audiophile grade, digital sound. For the record, it’s a reference calibre DSD1792 DAC that resolves data to 192kHz/24-bit and does DSD decoding with SACDs as well.
This DAC more than ably plays back CDs to a standard that will excite most music overs. In fact, it’s a supremely confident CD spinner and musical as well as detailed.
Buy the Marantz and you’ll have a Class A SACD/CD player that supports PCM, AAC, MP3 and WAV files.
The clincher for buyers is the Marantz can be used as a standalone DAC. You can feed it a digital signal via its digital and coaxial inputs. All you have to do is provide a signal source. In my system, it’s usually a MacBook Pro loaded with Tidal. Oh yes, and don’t dally with cheap cables.
In a nice nod to digital convenience, the SA14S1 SE has a USB-A port located handily on the front fascia. Easy to get to, a breeze to use. This port is compatible with the iPod, iPod Touch and yessiree, the iPhone.
Headphone users will applaud the sound quality of the Marantz’s amplification that is said to work very nicely with a huge range of ‘phones. And that clapping you hear in the foreground is us acknowledging this model’s inclusion of a variable headphone volume control.
As for the SA14S1 SE chassis, it’s rigid, heavy and made using thick aluminium and copper sheets. It weighs in at 32kg, signifying that it’s a serious piece of kit.
Into The Mystic
The Marantz was used in a system comprising the Elektra valve preamplifier and solid-state power amplifier. These drove a pair of Wilson Audio Sasha speakers while the cabling throughout was from German brand, Inakustik.
The point has been well made in previous reviews about the ability of great components to get out of the way of the music and illuminate its core. An experience that for some of us transcends the mundane and borders on the mystical.
You can place the SA14S1 SE on this far too short a list of SACD/CD players that sounds sublime on well-recorded material, and simply superb on plain vanilla quality discs.
With the MacBook Pro and Tidal providing a digital signal to the internal DAC, the result shows the DAC is pedigree class all the way.
Despite the limitations of Tidal, there was plenty of detail and air between performers, while the soundstage had commendable depth, height and lateral width. Streaming had nowhere near the detail of SACD, particularly with DSD discs. Nor the headroom or generosity of midrange rendition heard from discs by they SACD or CD.
Hearing She Belongs To Me from Sony’s release of Highway 61 Revisited was like hearing it for the first time on digital. Which is to say it wasn’t as good as the vinyl version, but as good as we’re going to get at this stage of digital audio’s development.
Particularly outstanding was the informative bass underpinning the electric guitars. Bass, that was tight, resonant and dare we say it, had a real sense of body and weight. As for Dylan’s harmonica, it was as shrill as we’d heard it when he performed in Melbourne for the first time at Festival Hall in oh, 1966.
Here’s the thing though, the same track on CD was still capable of sending a thrill through this fan’s body. Yes, the CD version didn’t have the air, soundstage size or fine detail of the SACD, and it wasn’t as smooth.
But gosh, the Marantz squeezed all the emotion She Belongs To Me has to offer from this classic track and preserved the satire and the irony it has to offer as well.
No SACD session is ever complete without a romp through Roger Waters' iconic Amused To Death masterpiece.
The Ballad Of Bill Hubbard, the opening title was laid bare across the rear of the listening room, with Bill, the old WW1 veteran’s voice projecting well out into the left of the room. The guitar riff that punctuates the tale of the death of his mate could be heard miles behind the old soldier.
The CD version had predictably less spatial projection and micro detail, but the Marantz has such an ability to get to the spiritual heart of the music, note taking stopped, and the immersion into the music took precedence.
More upbeat, the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed was an interesting counterpoint to Dylan and Waters. Still my favourite Stones album, it gets a new lease of life on SACD where tracks the calibre of Love In Vain played on superior equipment allow you to suspend disbelief. For a moment, they lull you into imaging you’re in the front seats at a Stones concert.
If you need a reference point to assess SACD versus CD, simply hone into Ry Cooder’s mandolin riffs that are truly subtle but full of detail on SACD and not so detailed on CD.
Though we played a bundle of SACDs and CDs on the Marantz SA14S1SE, we tailed a month-long audition of this commendably fine and able player with Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances recorded using DSD.
The staggering range of musical colours used to paint this music was never as nuanced on Red Book CD where the pieces had an air of sameness that verged on the boring.
But on DSD SACD, the Marantz drilled deep into the spiritual heart of the music, revealing the composer’s intent that summed up, is simply his musical message.
So to sum up Ken Ishiwata’s and Marantz’s achievement in designing the SA14S1 SE let’s leave you with this thought: it’s a player adept with all genres of music, sounds satisfying on SACD and CD, has an outstanding DAC and it can breathe new life into your discs.
The only hurdle is the price: we’ve seen the SA14S1 SE selling for $4,990 at some Australian Hi-Fi specialist stores. But let’s put this into perspective. This kind of sound quality would have cost you twice this price just five years ago.
In my opinion this may be one of Marantz’s finest SACD players ever. What you get is a keeper that you won’t want to part with for the next decade and a half.
For more information visit Marantz.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.
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