The matching Marantz amp wasn’t available, but I did have access to a Pass Labs pre/power combination, the X1/X150.5, which were used in balanced mode using Nordost Valhalla balanced interconnects (the new high-end Odin cables were not ready in time for this test).
I did, however, have an EMM Labs CDSA player, which was introduced towards the end of the test as a kind of yardstick. The main speaker was the Mordaunt-Short Performance 6, which is relatively inexpensive for a high-end model, but functions as a high-end design in every way that counts.
Better still, the combination of player, amplifier, speakers and cable fortuitously turned out to be particularly well balanced; the slight leanness of the Mordaunt-Short and Nordost was offset by the warmth of the player and amplifier.
Given the reputation that the Performance 6 has, the bass from the combination was superbly realised and remarkably well developed, to the extent that the use of the matching subwoofer was simply not deemed worthwhile pursuing, even though one was available.
Partly, however, this was down to timing – or rather the lack thereof. All the equipment was very thoroughly run in, with hundreds of hours on the clock in the case of the EMM Labs and Pass Labs equipment, while the Nordost cables and Mordaunt-Short speakers have been in almost daily use for a very long time.
We’ve taken some pains over specifying the test context to underline our confidence in the findings. In the final analysis, there was no difficulty in nailing down the character of the SA-7S1.
Fundamentally, this is a unusually musical player, one that works brilliantly with CD, and even better with SACD given discs of a suitable calibre – which are not always easy to find. As on previous such tests, some of the very finest sounds came from discs on the M&A label, including (but not limited to) their remarkable sampler.
In any case it was easy to hear what the Marantz was doing from almost the first bar of the first disc tried (Gitana, from llama by Silvia Perez Cruz & Ravid Goldschmidt), which has a soft, yet incredibly tactile sound – a very difficult trick to pull off, and one that requires remarkable sensitivity.
In a way this sums up the SA-7S1. We have considerable experience with such players, and this has involved listening to quite a few high-end CD and SACD players over the years. We cannot recall another player that makes music-making sound so easy, so unstressed, so facile.
It’s not that there’s any lack of detail here, nor of dynamics. On the contrary, it all happens a bit like a conjuring trick.
There’s no hint of strain, and difficult combinations of sounds, subtle layering of instruments and voices, for example, just seem to float out of the speakers. No other player in our experience can beat the Marantz in the way it manages the difficult technical trick of sounding like music.
It’s easy going yet well disciplined, and in the end we had an impression of a box that does its job without sounding in the least bit mechanical, or processed. For most discs, the default (first) filters delivers the best, most natural sound by a narrow margin, but it’s essentially a matter of taste and worth experimenting with.
It is almost as good with CD as it with SACD. The difference is often just the inherent difference in the quality of the recording rather than the format, but there are exceptions, such as the M&A recordings already highlighted, and some others from Pentatone for example.
It’s a remarkable tour de force and we’re being cautious when we pronounce this as arguably the finest player available. It’s also far from expensive for a machine with such ambitions.
If you want a disc player that will do the very finest musical job possible with your CDs and SACDs – the only really serious remaining audio disc formats – the Marantz SA-7S1 can even be considered a bargain at £5,000!
* Not just state of the art, but also remarkably easy on the ear
* The finest player we have heard in a long while
* Makes high-class disc replay sound almost too easy
* Costs an arm and a leg
Stunning player aimed at the serious audiophile community, that offers remarkably transparent sound in the very specific sense that it is virtually impossible to hear it working. CD replay often approaches the quality of SACD
Controls – Display On/Off
Remote Control – Yes
Power Consumption – (Operational) 26 W
Digital Audio Chips – (DAC) SM5866AS
Disc Capacity – 1
HDAM – Standard, SA, Current Feedback
OFC Wiring – No
Selectable Filters – SACD, CD
Transformer – Toroidal
Connectivity – Digital Output Coaxial
Phono Analogue Stereo Input – Optical Digital Output
Price at Launch – 5000 GBP
Chassis – Copper plated
Dynamic Range – 100 dB
Gold Terminals – Yes
Max Frequency Response – 20 KHz
Min Frequency Response – 2 Hz
Shielding – Copper
Signal-To-Noise Ratio – 104 dB
Total Harmonic Distortion Details – 0.002 per cent
Colour – Gold
Customized Components – Yes
Dimensions – 459 x 426 x 136 mm (w x h x d)
Weight (kg) – 22.3 kg
Additional Features – Can use external clock up to 176kH
Supported Media – CD-R, SACD, CD-RW, CD