Page 2 of 3
I liked this amp's sound and works immediately. The PM-KI Pearl is an extremely quiet and smooth operator. When the unit is powered on, there are no loud clicks or other such “on” indicators bursting forth like I've encountered in other products – and for good reason. For approximately 8 seconds, after being powered on, a protection circuit mutes any sound while the amplifier's circuits stabilize. Once stabilized, audio is enable. Although I used the remote 90 percent of the time to make adjustments during playback, I'm fond of the Pearl's large rotary volume knob, which can be adjusted in increments of 0.5dB and demonstrated accordingly on the amp's display. A matching rotary knob on the component's left selects audio source. In my review of the SA-KI Pearl I focused on that player's fantastic playback with SACD, which can be attributed to the player and the amplifier on stage here. For this review, I want to concentrate on the PM-KI Pearl's sound with redbook CD and vinyl LP.
A group of music-loving friends and I spent a memorable session with the Marantz. They were very interested in hearing how such a high-end component performed, and I'm always curious to see how non-audiophiles react to expertly designed gear. I picked “I Talk To The Wind,” from the recently remastered 40th Anniversary edition of King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King, for a shared audition. The song has always been alluring, with its wisps of woodwinds, tinkling percussion and plaintive vocals, but the studio efforts of Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson and Crimson's Robert Fripp have taken the track to newfound heights of Crimson-ness.
The in-studio-like presence of Greg Lake's voice, sustain of Ian McDonald's flute and jazzy touch of drummer Michael Giles are presented as new in this remarkable remaster – at least I thought so. Then as the tune began, I watched my friends' faces, first locked in deep concentration; soon, smiles spread across each face. The sound was addictive – joyful even – but I didn't want to influence the moment and sat to the side making no eye contact with anyone. When the song ended I asked, “What do you think?” Smiles again presided, and answers such as, “Cool,” “Wow,” “How much?” and “I don't think I want to hear anymore or I won't be able to listen to my own stereo,” soon were issued. That says a lot, but to qualify, what I heard was deep soundstage, revealing detail and a lovely Marantz smoothness bordering on tube warmth.
Van Morrison's greatest unknown album is surely 1974's Veedon Fleece. The record contains no radio singles or familiar point of musical reference and is comparable to Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline, where the “rock” singer turns crooner. Play “Linden Arden Stole The Hightlights” for the unsuspected and bet $5 that the vocalist in question can't be fingered in one guess, and you'll go home $5 richer more often than not. The green fields of Ireland are painted ever greener on “Fair Play,” where Morrison is as mellow as he'd ever be, inspired by the emerald homeland and thoughts of Oscar Wilde and Thoreau. Imagine the countryside leavened fresh by rain and an arcing rainbow piercing the clouds with sun to follow, and the mood is set. That vibe was brought out beautifully by the PM-KI Pearl, with just the right mix of clarity and energy.
Morrison's recordings have, on the whole, been on the top end of audio, and if via the Marantz, the atmospheric “Country Fair” doesn't put a lump in your throat I can't help you. As well, the spitfire acoustic guitar that opens “Bulbs,” an offhanded baseball-inspired shuffle, burned with electricity (excuse the pun) and verve. You don't associate Van Morrison with drums, but this track was driven spectacularly by Allen Schwarzberg's in-the-pocket groove. Or check out the plaintive “Come Here My Love” that puts Morrison in your listening room, emotion spilling forth from his voice. Best I've heard it.
Just when I thought I'd heard the best of the Pearl partnered with CD, it took me higher. On a whim, I put on the 2006 remastered version of Boston's Don't Look Back. Anyone familiar with the band probably knows of mastermind Tom Scholz's initial studio wizardry, recording the album proudly with “No synthesizers used. No computers used.” Although the remaster does involve computers, Scholz and remastering team preserved the original recording's analog integrity. I can't listen to “A Man I'll Never Be” without a deep pang of regret for vocalist Brad Delp's passing in 2007. The man was the voice of Boston, but I was cheerily gobsmacked hearing the song through the Marantz setup, which offered it up with an intensity I had yet to enjoy. Yet another example of good digital sound thanks to the care taken with the original recording. Good job Tom Scholz.
It's been my luck lately to have “extra” gear from the same manufactures to review. This time it was Marantz's TT-15S1 turntable and what seemed a perfect match for the Pearls. The TT-15S1 comes stock with a Clearaudio Virtuoso cartridge. Keeping with the Boston theme, I went with “We're Ready,” from Third Stage. As expected, the LP needed more volume to bring it line with digital, but once at that level it simply kicked digital's butt. There was more “round” in the sound and felt rather like a rush of warm air flowing through the room. It's a sound tough to approach outside of SACD or the very best digital recordings. A broad soundstage and sense of the organic - that's analog, and if you cherish vinyl the PM-KI Pearl is there for you.
For some reason I had not pushed the PM-KI to volumes where my wife politely says, “I'm going downstairs now.” On a Monday night where I found myself alone there were no such restrictions, so Ratt's Out Of The Cellar seemed an appropriate vehicle to wake up the speakers and hear the Pearl at concert-like levels. “Back For More” was the golden child for this run, and, again, the Marantz delivered a clean, involving and gloriously loud version of this hair-metal gem. Robbin Crosby's opening acoustic riff and arpeggios have never sounded better, and Bobby Blotzer's ride cymbal rang full and true.