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One item of note is that Marantz has done away with their famous “champagne” finish and gone to all black. Some may miss that now classic appearance of Marantz components of recent vintage, but the black is to my eyes, quite attractive. Finish aside, I also found the layout of the various functions quite easy to navigate.
Set Up & Listening
Setting up the SA-11S3 was a bit different than previous disc players I have reviewed. First, I connected my external sources, including a Squeezebox Touch, via the TosLink connection, and secondly, via USB, an HP laptop running Windows 7 with Jriver Media Center 18 installed. For the first half of the review, I ran the SA-11S3's analog outputs into the excellent Rogue Ninety Nine preamp. Then, for the last phase of the review, directly into a Bob Carver Black Magic power amp, which includes a volume control. I also plugged in a USB thumb drive and an iPhone into the front USB/iDevice input. The SA-11S3 was effectively, as promised, a one box digital hub.
I started the review process spinning lots of SACDs and some CDs. I have, by some standards, a relatively small, yet very carefully chosen collection, and I started with Shelby Lynne’s 2007 sublime Just A Little Lovin’. Analogue Productions remastered this to DSD last year from the original analog tape. Although the CD was not bad at all, the SACD played back on the SA-11S3 was sublime, one step closer to the master tape and, to my mind, as close as one can get in digital. All the things that impressed me about the SA-15S2B Limited Edition player were there, with an additional layer of refinement.
Next up was what is one of my favorite recordings from the 60’s, the Moody Blues In Search Of The Lost Chord, which was meticulously transferred to DSD for a two-disc deluxe edition release. The Marantz wonderfully revealed layers in the recording, showcasing the very best qualities of DSD/SACD. Namely, an analog-like sense of organic ease, bass articulation, and transparency to the original source. Tracks like “The Actor” and “Legend Of A Mind” had me hitting the repeat button over and over again.
I then ran a slew of DSD mastered SACDs from Elton John, RCA Living Stereo, Dead Can Dance, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan. I also had a few direct-to-DSD discs, including the excellent performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances by Semyon Bychkov and the Cologne Symphony Orchestra. Hearing this disc on the SA-11S3 was some of the most realistic reproduction of strings and woodwinds I have ever heard on my system, bar none. The crescendos were a perfect way to hear the enormous dynamic range of the medium. Special mention must go to the excellent Dead Can Dance DSD transfers, a case of audiophile demo-quality music that is artistically second to none.
Redbook CD playback was excellent as well. Except for the generally lower resolution of CDs than true DSD SACDs, ones that were well mastered sounded superb. The SA-11S3 is a high quality transport for both SACD and CD, and I really have a hard time imagining it being bettered at any price point in any significant way. There are, of course, SACD players out there that cost four or five times what the SA-11S3 does.