Marantz SA-15S2B Limited Edition SACD Player Review 
Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Written by Andre Marc   
Friday, 20 April 2012

Last month I reviewed a terrific preamp from a small company, and I mentioned that great products can come from small artisans that build per order. I also mentioned that large, multinational companies can also produce great products, with the power of economies of scale and resources that are very difficult to compete with. Marantz is clearly one of those companies. I have yet to evaluate a recent Marantz product that was not built beautifully, and did not offer excellent value. Everything I have heard off their assembly line offered true high-end sound. The most recent review I did was of the $599 PM6004 Integrated Amplifier.

Up for review here is a product I frankly did not except to review, the Marantz SA-152SB Limited Edition SACD player. SACD is a medium whose health is either in great decline, or going strong depending on your point of view. Boutique record labels still put out low volume, pricey SACDs of classic rock, pop, and jazz tiles. There are still quite a number of classical SACDs releasing on a regular basis as well. On the other hand, the major record labels have all but abandoned SACD, and many desirable titles released during the initial push are getting collector level prices on eBay and Amazon.

SACD is based on DSD (Direct Stream Digital) recording technology. In a nutshell, Sony and Phillips jointly developed DSD.  DSD uses a sample rate of 2.8224 Mhz, 64 times that of CD, at 1 bit. It has a much greater dynamic range and frequency response than CD. DSD can be used to archive analog tape or as an original recording format.  SACD is not compatible with regular CD players, and cannot be copied on a computer. This is one of the reasons record companies made a big push for the format early on. Many classic rock and pop releases were made available as hybrid discs, with two layers, one being Redbook CD, the other SACD.

The Marantz SA-15S2B Limited Edition SACD Player retails for $2000 and is built to amazingly high standard in Japan. The matte black casework is exemplary, and the overall appearance is superb. The player weighs in at 30 lbs and is loaded with features. There is a TosLink optical digital input that handles 24 bit, 96 Khz data. There is a headphone jack, and digital outputs for non-SACD data. You can turn off the digital outputs, and you can switch between SACD and CD layers via the Sound Mode function. And a high quality full function aluminum remote control.

On the inside, the unit uses a Marantz designed, linear power supply. A highly engineered transport mechanism employs resonance control using advanced materials. The SA-15S2B Limited is outfitted with Cirrus Logic 24-bit/192 kHz CS4398 DAC. Two user-selectable filters allow for a bit of customization. Marantz says there are many other “audiophile” grade parts used in critical areas, and their HDAM SA2 modules are utilized throughout the analog output stage.

Marantz SA-15S2B Limited Edition SACD Player Rear Panel

Set Up & Listening:

Setting up the SA-15S2B was a snap and required no special considerations. I used a Transparent PowerLink AC cord and Stager Silver Solid Interconnects. I pulled out my medium sized collection of SACDs, including titles from Bob Dylan, The Moody Blues, RCA Living Stereo, Elton John, and more. These are all hybrid discs, with Redbook CD data layers included. The CD layer on these hybrid discs can be played on any CD player.



First up was the classic Moody Blues masterpiece, Days Of Future Passed. I know this album backwards and forwards. What I heard from the SA-15S2B was astonishing, and I think would make the most jaded listener sit up and take notice.  I heard recorded detail, instrumental layers, and a sense of organic whole I had not yet heard from any previous version of this album. As a matter of fact, to go one step further, I had not heard such organic ease from any digital source I have had in my system. On tracks such as “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Sunset” there was a sense of being as close to the source as one could in a home music reproduction system.  I knew after playing this disc, this was going to be a very illuminating experience. I must point out however, that the Moody Blues discs are superb examples of DSD tape transfers.

I must also point out that is this is my second review of a Marantz SACD player, the last taking place several years ago. I honestly did not remember experiencing music like this back then. But not for any flaws in the player. It simply had to do with my expectations about the SACD format. I came to the review with false expectations about what SACD was capable of.  Now, being well acquainted with the DSD format, and hearing a large amount of high resolution PCM recordings, a competing formats, I am better equipped to judge the various higher resolution format options.

Moving on to more SACD discs, I spun most of Elton John’s early albums, including SACD hybrids of Elton John, Madman Across The Water, and Honky Chateau. I consistently heard an amazingly huge soundstage from these vintage analog recordings, and I felt it was about as close as I was going to get to hearing the actual master tape. When the opening piano chords of “Tiny Dancer”, from Madman, came tumbling out of the speakers, it was astonishing in its realism. Again, these are some of the best examples of DSD transfers, carefully overseen by the excellent mastering engineer Peter Mew.

Marantz SA-15S2B Limited Edition SACD Player

I next tackled my Bob Dylan SACD hybrid collection and it was more of the same. Classic titles like Blood On The Tracks, Desire, and John Wesley Harding were again revelatory played by the SA-15S2B in the feeling they gave of being as close to the source as possible. These albums sounded exactly like what they were, analog recordings with a great mix of acoustic and electric instruments. Dylan’s vocals were as palpable and convincing as I have ever heard.

A few more rock and pop titles I decided to spin were Derek & The Dominos Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, and a bunch of Dead Can Dance titles. Layla deserves special mention since it has gotten a bad rap as somewhat of a dense, murky sounding album, but the SACD is punchy, crisp, clear, and live sounding. The Dead Can Dance albums are much more modern recordings, with serious dynamic range, unusual instrumentation, and ancient sounding melodies. The DCD titles easily bettered their CD counterparts.

The historic RCA Living Stereo classical recordings from the last century were given meticulous DSD transfers from the original tapes and they were just a sheer pleasure to listen to through the SA-15S2B. Strings were seductive and textured. Brass was remarkable. Percussion and piano sounds were sublime. Crescendos in pieces like Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheradaze and Dvorark’s New World Symphony seemed to have limitless depth and transformed my room in a concert hall, an illusion I had not really experienced before.


CD Playback:

When I finally got around to listening to Redbook CDs on the SA-15S2B, the results were equally impressive within the limitations of the format as compared to correctly produced SACDs. Great sounding CDs sounded magnificent, with weighty, authoritative bass, a fleshed out midrange, and sweet, clean highs. A disc newly acquired from Amazon, Seattle icon Mark Lanegan’s utterly brilliant new Blues Funeral, sounded thrilling. The huge gothic, psychedelic soundscapes -- anchored by his haunting, throaty vocals -- soared into the stratosphere.

Marantz SA15S2B RemoteThe newest CD from Tinariwen, a band of nomads from the deserts of Mali, Tassili, is another percolating stew of Arabic funk blues. They yet again mix electric and acoustic instruments, chants, and tribal beats. The Marantz had plenty of top end sparkle and midrange transparency. The SA-15S2B performed as well as any stand-alone Redbook CD player I have had in my system.

DAC:


Since the SA-15S2B has an optical digital input, I evaluated it as a DAC connecting my Squeezebox Touch via the DH Labs TosLink Cable. I streamed FLAC files from ripped CDs and high resolution downloads. By the way, the Marantz accepts sample rates up to 96 Khz. Once your source is connected you need to simply select the DAC Mode function. Incoming sample rates are displayed on the front panel.

I was extremely impressed with the sound of the SA-15S2B as a DAC. There was a clarity, precision, and an addicting vivid quality to the presentation.  I really found the solidity of the imaging, the weight of the low frequencies, and the midrange transparency to be as good as any DAC as I have heard in my system.  It successfully locked into all sample rates up to 96 Khz, as verified via the front panel.

Listening to the 88.2 Khz, 24 bit download of I Learned The Hard The Way, by the great retro soul group Sharon Jones & The DapKings, was a truly wonderful experience. There was great texture to the horns, piano, drums, and Jones’s distinct voice.  Cueing up the 96 Khz, 24 bit download of the Fleet Foxes second album, Helplessness Blues, yielded the same results. Tons of texture, huge soundstage, and nice clarity, bass weight, and overall transparency on the albums quirky, densely layered arrangements.

After spending time with the SA-15S2B in DAC Mode, I really wondered why Marantz has not brought to market a stand alone DAC. I think it would send a serious message to the competition.  I can’t over stress how good the player sounded being fed outside digital signals.

One final note concerning the Filters. I tried both Filters 1 and 2, and decided to stick with Filter 1 for 90% of my listening. The differences were extremely subtle. Since the filters can be selected from the listening chair via the remote, it is easy to play around and see if one or the other filter flatters certain recordings. 



Conclusion:

The Marantz SA-15S2B is one of the most impressive digital source components I have reviewed in my system. First, its sound quality is beyond reproach. I simply could not hear any weaknesses in its presentation, no areas in its sonic performance that called attention to itself. Secondly, it plays both SACD -- a terrific, sadly overlooked format -- and Redbook CDs flawlessly. Third, it can act as a digital hub with its optical digital input. Lastly, it looks terrific, and is built to standard that is second to none at its price point and well beyond. It ridiculously easy to use, and comes with a five year warranty.

With the move towards server based digital front ends, one might wonder why Marantz and others are still producing SACD players. The answer is quite simple. There is a huge catalog of SACD discs available, and it may be the best sounding digital format around. SACDs cannot be ripped to a computer without specific hardware and software, and even if this was easily available, the files sizes would be enormous, and you can count on one hand the number DAC units on the market that can decode DSD files.  No, your best bet is a good old optical disc for SACD, whose demise has been greatly exaggerated, in my opinion.

To sum it all up, I highly recommend the $2000 Marantz SA-15S2B Limited Edition SACD player for those seeking a ruggedly built fantastic sounding player that can play both DSD and Redbook discs. It also offers up superb performance via its optical digital input, which handles up to 96 Khz, 24 bit PCM data. One warning...if you purchase an SA-15S2B you will find yourself buying stacks of SACDs, to enjoy what I think is the highest resolution digital format available. Marantz has hit it out of the park with what is sure to be a contender for product of the year.



Specifications


Marantz SA-15S2B Limited Edition SACD Player: $2000

SA-15S2 Limited Features:
●    Marantz custom SACDM-10 disc mechanism
●    Reads SA-CD, CD, CD-R/RW
●    Selectable digital filter
●    Cirrus Logic D/A – CS4398
●    Marantz HDAM-SA2 circuits
●    Large double shielded torroidal transformer
●    Optical/Coaxial digital outputs
●    Optical digital input for DAC mode (up to 96kHz)
●    Zero impedance copper ground plate
●    Discrete high current headphone amp
●    Machined brass analog output jacks
●    Digital Out is defeatable for low noise
●    LCD display
●    Detachable power cable
 

Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
CD Player: Unison Research Unico CDPrimo
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply
via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate
external drives.
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack

Review System 2


CD Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600
Amplifier: Revox A722
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, Transmission Audio M1
Cables: Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Gensis Silver Spiral (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Pangea Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink
Accesories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold AC Strip









Like this article? Bookmark and share with any of the sites below.
Digg!Reddit!Del.icio.us!Google!StumbleUpon!Yahoo!Free social bookmarking plugins and extensions for Joomla! websites!
 
Joomla SEF URLs by Artio