Hot from Marantz’s premium range come this excellent two-channel SACD player and amp.
These are two of the latest products to join Marantz’s prestige Premium series. The PM-11S1 is a technically innovative and superbly-built integrated stereo amplifier with purist appeal, while the SA-11S1 is a stereo SACD player – one of many to have been introduced recently.
The SA-11S1 is an innovative product with some unusual features, but most of all it is a high-grade player in both primary roles (CD and SACD) without any of the subtle but inevitable degradation you may have come to expect in a multichannel component, and especially such multichannel AV components as a DVD-Audio player. Which is not to say that SACD necessarily sounds better than DVD-Audio, but a stereo SACD player with no video subsection stands a better chance of reaching Nirvana, all things being equal – and this is the way it appears to pan out in practice.
The amplifier delivers 100W per channel into eight ohms (200 watts/four-ohms) and is said to be largely impervious to the nature of the load – and that includes the latest SA1 version of Marantz’s discrete HDAM buffer amplifier between stages. HDAMs are also employed each side of the volume control, itself a high-tech multi-turn design based on a Wolfson resistive ladder, which works in imperceptible 0.5dB steps.
Other highlights include a choke-regulated power supply and a mechanically and electrically quiet ‘super ring’ transformer. The amplifier has five standard inputs plus a single balanced input that can be fed from the corresponding output on the SA11 SACD player. Pre-out and main-in sockets are available and can be patched in with additional SA-11S1 amplifiers for bi-amp or even full 5.1/7.1-channel operation.
The SA-11S1 is equally impressive in design, with six output filters – three each for CD and SACD – that can be chosen to taste, and a DC filter. The two units make extensive use of non-magnetic metalwork and copper screening. The structures are well damped, and the displays and the player’s digital outputs can be turned off.
There was a time when big, high-end amplifiers from the Far East had little credibility over here, in the main because they simply sounded like bigger and badder versions of the mainstream hardware at the time, but didn’t even have the excuse of being cheap. Or because they were clearly outperformed by less costly counterparts that were simpler, more transparent and lacked only muscle.
The Marantz components here have nothing in common with this kind of equipment, and this is what most divides the historical approach of the big names to the high end from the modern approach exemplified by the SA-11S1 and the PM-11S1.
Put another way, these are products that have been informed and developed by people with ears, and who care about the mechanics of sound reproduction. These are truly musical boxes that compete with the euphemistically-named high end in everything but price, which is where the big names have an advantage over the smaller producers that have traditionally dominated.
This is a smooth and sweetly detailed combination. The amplifier is not massively powerful, but it punches well above its weight, and consistently so, irrespective (within reason) of the nature of the load. But what it is chiefly notable for is its expressiveness and transparency, and here we are talking about the combination, as each component makes its own powerful contribution. Neither is left in the shade by the other, but in the case of the disc player, compact disc is clearly outperformed by SACD using the CD layer of a range of hybrid discs.
Typically with modern recordings of classical material, where the starting point is well engineered, SACD sounds more organic, more progressive and, as one would expect, more detailed. CD can hit most of the right spots, and the SA-11S1 is a good enough CD player to show much of what it can achieve when placed in the right hands. The sound is detailed and open, but compared to SACD it just doesn’t have the same resolution. It’s more deliberate, less subtle and less expressive – and the SA-11S1 is more than good enough to resolve the differences.
Marantz SA-11S1 & PM-11S1| $4290 & $6290
SACD player & amp | www.qualifi.com.au