Marantz SA-11S3 SACD Player & DAC Review 
Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Written by Andre Marc   
Tuesday, 26 February 2013

With the move to computer and hard drive based digital sources, one would think a format tied to a physical medium would be odd in 2013. But SACD has proved to be remarkably resilient among audiophiles, with a torrent of new titles appearing from such boutique labels and Analogue Productions, Mobile Fidelity, Blue Note, and many more. These are not obscure releases, but many well-known and loved classics in rock, classical, and jazz. There are also many newly recorded SACD releases available, mostly in the classical genre. There is no doubt the format is doing just fine, from this reviewer’s perspective.

High-end manufacturers also seem to think so. At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, an impressive number of new SACD players were introduced; many equipped with digital inputs as well. The inherent quality of true Direct Stream Digital (DSD) digital has made it a favorite among audiophiles and many recording engineers in the decade or so since it has been on the scene. Additionally, SACD can store multi-channel mixes for playback on properly equipped players.

I personally am a big fan of SACD, finding it as close to the analog ideal as I have heard in digital. The only thing SACD may have working “against it”, so to speak, is that, as noted, it is a physical medium. Also as noted, the overwhelming trend in high-end audio is the movement to server-based file playback systems. Marantz, having realized this, figured many listeners who enjoy SACD probably have multiple digital sources as well, which is why they introduced the SA-11S3 SACD player and DAC. This is the third Marantz SACD player I have reviewed, having spent time with the previous generation reference player, the SA-11S2 and the SA-15S2B Limited Edition. The SA-11S3, like other Marantz SACD players, is two-channel only.

Marantz has clearly decided consumers want a no compromise digital hub that can play all formats including SACD, Redbook CD, and PCM. The SA-11S3 is equipped with no less than three digital inputs. S/PDIF, on RCA coaxial, and TOSLink optical both handle up to 192 Khz, 24-bit data. The rear USB input connects to a computer and also handles up to 192 Khz (download the Windows and MAC drivers on the Marantz website). There is also a front USB input for connecting removable storage or an iDevice. The only limitation I see here is in this last feature; format compatibility is limited to WAV, AAC, MP3, and WMA. All other inputs handle virtually all formats.

Marantz SA-11S3 internal componentsThe front panel has all the usual player controls, as well as a 1/4” headphone jack. Incoming sample rate is indicated on the front panel display. Other features include the ability to select the SACD or CD layer from hybrid discs, two selectable digital filters, a “noise shaper” selection, and a DC Filter. The chassis is of battleship construction quality. Finally, there are balanced and unbalanced analog outputs available.

How has Marantz upgraded the SA-11S3 from the S2 aside from the four digital inputs? According to Marantz, in quite a few ways:
Premium Converter Chip Enhances Dynamic Range and Clarity
New for the SA-11S3 is the inclusion of the top-line Burr-Brown DSD1792A D/A converter chip, which features both PCM and DSD decoding, and provides a high current output that is substantially larger (7X more) than the DAC chip used in previous models, for greater dynamic range and improved signal to noise characteristics. Coupled to the Marantz-designed latest generation PEC777f3 24 bit DSP processor/digital filter, the combination provides unparalleled sound quality from both PCM (CD, LPCM, WAV) sources and Super Audio CD DSD bitstreams.

SACDM2 Optical Drive Mechanism for Accurate Disc Readout
For optimum disc readout accuracy, the SA-11S3 is equipped with our latest generation SACDM2 optical disc drive mechanism, which provides solid rotational accuracy with both CDs and SACDs, and features a dual layer stainless steel/steel top plate, and the whole mechanism is securely anchored to the dual layer base plate via its own solid metal sub-chassis. For maximum shielding from RF interference, the chassis is copper-plated throughout.


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.

Marantz SA-11S3 outputsI 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.



Using the SA-11S3 as a DAC was absolutely a pleasure. With the connected Squeezebox Touch and HP laptop/Jriver combo, I heard a world-class convertor. All the FLAC files I streamed were beautifully rendered with excellent dynamic range and a superbly natural tonal balance. I was able to play files with sampling rates up to 192 Khz without a hitch. The 88.2 Khz download of the The Lumineers self-titled debut album was glorious as decoded by the SA-11S3. The band’s brand of old timey pop folk was a lot of fun to listen to.

I will go out on a limb and even say that the Marantz’s back panel USB input maybe the highest quality USB DAC I have heard yet in my system. I also experienced excellent fidelity with an iPhone/iPod plugged into the front USB slot. The only real disappointment I felt was that this input does not support FLAC, AIFF, or resolution beyond 48 Khz, 16-bits. This is a bit of a nitpick, as there are three other inputs that handle up to 192 Khz, 24-bits. But this would have been a nice feature to have.

I confess to not spending too much time trying to hear the subtle differences between the two digital filters or the noise shaping functions. I spent most of my time with the SA-11S3 on filter 1, which sounded very natural to me. The transport was smooth as butter, by the way, and in every case, the front panel displayed the correct sampling frequency when fed external digital files.

Marantz SA-11S3

Conclusion

From what I have heard, the SA-11S3 may be the best digital source component from Marantz yet. It is a virtual Swiss Army knife of digital playback. The only thing it does not do is stream music from a network. As an FYI, Marantz is soon releasing a reference level streamer and digital file player similar to their NA7004 (but on steroids). For SACD, CD, and local digital file playback, the SA-11S3 is tough to beat on sonics, ergonomics, and build.

You could say I have been more than pleased over the last few years with Marantz digital. That is an understatement. The engineers at Marantz are world class, and the SA-11S3 reflects years of product development. Marantz should be commended for responding to market demand. A high end, reference grade SACD player with no digital connectivity is, in my opinion, DOA. Not only does the SA-11S3 act as a digital hub and a DAC, but it is one with no compromise in quality across the board. By the way, it is also a superb SACD player. If your digital budget tops out around the $4000 mark, you absolutely must audition the Marantz SA-11S3.  


Specifications


Marantz SA-11S3 SACD Player/DAC: $3999
http://us.marantz.com/us/Pages/Home.aspx

SACD
Format: 1-Bit DSD
Sampling Frequency: 2.8224MHz
Dynamic Range: 114dB (Filter 3)
Frequency response: 2Hz - 50kHz (-3dB)
THD: 0.0009% (Filter 3)

CD Audio
Format: 16-Bit Linear PCM
Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz
Dynamic Range: 100dB (Filter 1)
Frequency response: 2Hz - 20kHz
THD: 0.0015% (1kHz, Filter 1)

General

Color: Black
Front Panel: 3pc Aluminum
Remote Control: Aluminum Top with Marantz Amp. Basic Control Function
Power Requirement: AC 120V 60Hz
Power Consumption: 26W (0.3W in Standby)
Dimensions WHD: 17-5/16" x 5" x 16-1/4"
Weight: 37.5 lbs.



Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
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, Rogue Ninety Nine
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Bob Carver Black Magic
Speaker: Martin Logan Ethos, 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, Audiquest, Forest, WireWorld Ultraviolet, DH Labs USB(USB) DH Labs (USB)
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, Rein Audio X3-DAC
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600, Electrocompaniet ECI 3,
Wyred4Sound mINT
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Darwin Cables Silver IC, Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Genesis Silver Spiral (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Mojo Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold, KECES XPS


 






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