I was a fairly early adopter to SACD. I had struggled with redbook CD, finding only the Audio Note UK units really to my liking. I guess mostly I am a vinyl lover, but I was excited about what I was reading about the Sony SCD-1 and 777s. In 2000, I purchased a Sony SACD 777ES, and then proceeded down the update trail with it, much of which I have written about.
I acquired a large collection of SACDs, and for a while it looked like nothing new was coming out on SACD except classical music, but now there seems to be a lot of jazz reissues coming out again. Still, buying a SACD player today necessitates that it must also be a great redbook player.
Descriptions and Design
Marantz’s SA-11S2 Reference is there next to top-of-the-line SACD player designed for enthusiasts of two-channel SACD playback. It has superb build quality, great looks, and surely does not lack any features I can think of. As I said it is a very expensive looking player. To me, it looks and feels far more expensive than its asking price. For example, it has a copper-plated chassis that has two layers on the bottom. It has a heavy, thick top plate, as well as a thick, beautiful, curved front panel.
The SA-11S2 uses an aluminum SACDM-1 transport designed and built by Marantz that works beautifully and has a very expensive feel to it. The disc drawer opens and closes with silk-like smoothness. It loads quickly compared to the early Sony and Marantz SACD players, but still slower than a straight redbook player. It’s also nice that you can switch between SACD and CD layers of a hybrid disc while in the play mode.
The SA-11S2 has a fully balanced analog audio stage utilizing Marantz’s HDAM SA2 amplification modules and a pair of Seiko NPC monophonic SM5866A5 Super Audio D/A converters. They use a phase-error-compensation digital filter, and a quartz clock with linear voltage regulation. An unusual feature is that it can accept an external master clock running at 44.1kHz, 88.2kHz, or 176.4kHz; this is via a BNC input on the rear panel.
The front panel not only looks exquisite, but it’s also very easy to use. It has a nice big LCD display that is easy to read. The buttons are laid out so that their use is very intuitive. The full-function remote control is ergonomically efficient, though it has way too many buttons and is not backlit. The player’s rear panel is laid out very nicely also with balanced XLR, unbalanced RCA outputs, a coaxial digital out, and a TosLink digital output. It’s a clean and easy-to-hook-up rear panel.
It doesn’t matter if you’re playing redbook CDs or SACDs, the SA-11S2 sounds very nice. It has a warm sound with more than adequate detail. In many ways, it reminded me of the sound of Marantz’s original SA-1 SACD player, which is a generally warm, but still detailed, and transparent presentation; simply put, a beautiful-sounding source. For the SA-11S2, the sound was also solid, full-bodied, with well-textured images on a relatively compact and cohesive soundstage. Initial attack seemed a bit soft and decay was there but a little hidden in the warm tonal balance. Still, the SA-11S2 has a very inviting sound that draws you into the music better than most digital sources at the price range and delivers much of the emotion of the performance.
Treble and Midrange
The midrange of the Marantz SA-11S2 was simply beautiful. There is no doubt about it in my mind that this is a sound that a lot of people mean when they say a digital source has an analogue sound. Still, there will be some who will want more, inner detail, transparency, and PRaT.
This beautiful midrange is very smooth. The foundation for this sound is provided by the rich, harmonic mid-bass. It allowed the sound to be fairly detailed, yet still warm and seductive-sounding at the same time. It’s this combination that many will find quite intoxicating. Whether it’s more beautiful than the real thing is a much more difficult question. Voices sounded natural and very realistic, if not quite as right in the room with you as they do with the most transparent sources. The top-end was also very beautiful. It was well extended and silky smooth.
he bass was very impressive with the solidity and power. It provides a foundation in the bass and mid-bass that gives recorded music substance, and a powerful drive that lends a lifelike quality to the recordings. The bass sounds big and powerful, but it is always well integrated with the music. The weight of the bass was very natural; just listen to the sound of a live upright bass or the bass on a really good piano recording.
Soundstage and Imaging
I found the imaging very realistic and never detracting from the music, but for those who find imaging to be one of the most important parts of sound reproduction, they may want a little more precise imaging. The same could be said of the SA-11S2’s soundstaging ability. It is very coherent and more than adequate to recreate a live event, but again there will be those who want to hear things way outside the speakers or way behind the speakers. I do not find this a fault, but some will.
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