Marantz SA-14S1 SACD Player & DSD DAC Review 
Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players
Written by Andre Marc   
Friday, 21 February 2014

As noted in my recent review of the terrific Marantz NA-11S1 network player and DSD DAC, the Japanese company has been on quite a roll with respect to digital source components. The NA-11S1 proved to be a reference class source and, it turns out, one a in a series of new products aimed at allowing Marantz to stay at the cutting edge, with an appeal to audiophiles who want plug-and-play computer and digital audio devices.

Marantz continues its push forward with the new $2499 SA-14S1 SACD player, PCM and DSD DAC. Yes, it decodes DSD, one of a handful of SACD players with this capability. Of course, disc players with digital inputs that decode up 192 Khz PCM have now become standard. Consumers have decided they want optical disc players that function as full system digital front ends.

Let us get one thing out of the way. SACD production aimed at the audiophile market is alive and well. Small labels, such as Analogue Productions and Mobile Fidelity, are putting out a steady stream of titles. Classical music lovers have it really good, as there are several labels that are releasing native DSD recorded discs. On top of that, there are great titles coming out of Japan, where SACD enjoys great popularity. Lastly, older hybrid, dual layer SACDs are still readily available from major labels by major artists.

Now that we have that out of the way, the SA-14S1 plays SACDs, CDs, decodes PCM from any device, and DSD files from a computer to give you a one box solution. Though, unlike the NA-11S1, the SA-14S1 cannot stream audio from a network-attached computer or storage device. There is also a front USB input for iDevice connectivity and a headphone jack. The analog outputs are on RCA jacks (the flagship SA-11S3 SACD player is equipped with balanced outputs). A full function metal remote control is supplied.

Marantz SA-14S1 SACD Player
The SA-14S1 is loaded with much of the same technology as several of the recent Marantz digital products and some features exclusive to the new player. According to Marantz, "the analog circuits feature our exclusive HDAM (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module) technologies. The SA-14S1 features a newly developed center-mounted disc drive mechanism mounted on its own sub-chassis for the most reliable and stable playback, and the power supply features a high current toroidal power transformer with Oxygen Free Copper secondary windings."

The chassis is rock solid, with the player weighing in at 32 lbs, with its hefty power supply contributing to some of that weight. In the US, the Marantz players are available in black, and the design features the classic Marantz curved front panel and small display. The connectors and finish are all of superior quality.

 


 

Internally, Marantz provides for several digital filters, a DC Offset option, and a Noise Shaping function, all accessible from the front panel or the supplied remote unit. You can also switch inputs, and control a Marantz integrated amplifier with the same remote. Looking at the whole package, this is a lot of product for $2500.

Set Up & Listening

I supported the SA-14S with Symposium Rollerblock Jr resonance control, outfitted it with a Element Cord power cable, and connected it to a variety of amplifiers with Darwin Ascension silver interconnects. No other special tweaks were used. I spun SACDs and CDs for the first half of the review period; then tested the player as a standalone DAC.

Marantz SA-14S1 SACD Player REMOTERight out of the box, the SA-14S1 showed all of the excellent transparency, even tonal balance, and analog-like texture to SACDs that the previous batch of players I reviewed exhibited. The first disc I played -- Dead Can Dance’s sublime Aion, superbly mastered in DSD, and a musical tour de force -- was simply ravishing. I was so immersed in the music that I played several other DCD SACDs, including the impressive Spiritchaser. The SA-14S1 served dynamic range on this recording well, with the mix taking advantage of the full stereo spectrum.

I spun numerous SACDs mastered from analog tapes, including the Sony Bob Dylan catalog, the Elton John remasters, and titles from Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, and more. All were better than their CD counterparts. Mobile Fidelity’s DSD remaster of The Band’s Music From Big Pink is particularly good, if a bit over equalized for my taste. The organic quality of these classic recordings is better preserved in DSD, in my opinion. One title that really made the CD version obsolete in my eyes was Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. I really don’t know if it is possible to get closer to the master tape in a digital format. The SA-14S1 preserved all the nuances on this historic album.

I also own a handful of native DSD-recorded SACDs, including the simply unparalleled recording of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances by Semyon Bychkov and the Koln Symphony. This, along with being one of my favorite music pieces, is simply a benchmark recording. I use it as a reference for evaluating SACD players quite often. The SA-14S1 renders the strings with uncanny lifelike texture. The sound of the orchestra is produced with real life scale, a rarity. The SA-14S1 did a tremendous job with several RCA Living Stereo classical recordings as well, putting on full display why DSD is an excellent digital format. Its ability to produce analog-like continuity and coherence, even with very complex music, puts it a step beyond PCM.

The SA-14S1 distinguished itself on good sounding Redbook CDs as well, extracting what seemed like close to the maximum information contained on the discs. I was quite taken with the way the Marantz rendered tracks from We Are Only Riders: The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project. It is a tribute to Pierce, the late punk rocker, featuring performances by Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan, Debbie Harry, and more. The only way to describe the overall feel was “undigital”.

As a standalone DAC, the SA 14S1 really impressed me (as did both the NA-11S1 and SA-11S3). Marantz has found some sort of magic in their DAC sound across all inputs. Using a Squeezebox Touch, via both coaxial and optical, yielded excellent results, with all sample rates up to 192 Khz being decoded with no issues.

For the part of the review I was looking forward to the most, I used my HP Laptop with JRiver Media Center 19 installed, with a KinRex Y Craft USB cable connected to the SA-14S1 for the specific purpose of using the Marantz as a DSD DAC. The set up process was painless, and simply required downloading the Marantz driver, and selecting it as the output. I then connected a hard drive to the laptop with a decent number of DSD files and hit play.

The sound of these DSD files through the SA-14S1 was absolutely stunning -- beyond my expectations even -- and on par with the NA-11S1. I cued tracks from many different music genres, including classical, jazz, and singer songwriter. There was a mix of DSD-mastered analog recordings and, even better, native DSD recordings. These native DSD-format recordings yet again showed me that DSD is simply the closest thing to the analog ideal I have heard. I especially recommend recordings by singer/songwriter David Elias, by the way.

I also streamed a variety of PCM files, at all sample rates, using the SA-14S1’s USB input and the results were also up to par. Music emerged from totally quiet backgrounds, with dimension and body. And, again, even Redbook CD files were elevated in quality. The brand new remaster of Del Amitri’s Change Everything sounded as fresh and vibrant as did back in 1989.

For the final review phase, I plugged an iPad, filled with ALAC files, directly to the SA-14S1’s front USB input. As with the NA-11S1, the sound was beyond reproach. Terry Callier’s classic jazz folk masterpiece, I Just Can’t Help My Self, showed the front input was the equal of the other digital inputs. The track “Brown Eyed Lady” was an absolute joy, with surprising texture. You can also plug in removable storage, but the files, limited to 96 Khz, must be in mp3, WMA, AAC, or WAV format.

Marantz SA-14S1 SACD Player
Conclusion

The Marantz SA-14S1 SACD player and DSD DAC impressed me to no end. On optical discs, it was a remarkable SACD and CD player. As a PCM DAC and file player, it was up to the standard I have come to expect from Marantz. As a DSD DAC, it was simply a superb performer. It worked flawlessly and was a pleasure to use all around.

The SA-14S1 is built as solid as you would expect from Marantz, and its ability to play from any source may have set a new standard at this price point. The only feature not available is network streaming, which is the domain of the NA-11S1. However, plug your Squeezebox, Sonos, or equivalent, and off you go. Excellent playback from SACDs, CDs, iPods, hi rez PCM, and DSD for $2500 earns the SA-14S1 an AVrev.com Best Value Award.


Specifications


Marantz SA-14S1 SACD player & DSD DAC: $2499

Dimensions (W x H x D):173/8” x 5” x 16.5”
Weight: 32 lbs, 14.5 kg

Disc Formats Playability:
• Super Audio CD
• Audio CD (Stereo)
• CD-R (Stereo), CD-RW (Stereo)

Analog audio output: RCA (Unbalanced) 1 pair, Phones: 1
Digital audio output: Optical 1, Coaxial 1
Digital audio input: Optical 1, Coaxial 1, USB-A (Front) 1, USB-B (Rear) 1


Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity  M1 CDT
Server: Squeezebox Touch
DAC/Server:  SIM Neo 308D, Marantz NA-11s1
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Channel Islands Audio PLC-1 MkII
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Pinius Hautonga, CLONES Audio 25I
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, Darwin Ascension (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, Audioquest, 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 CD5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to, Oppo BDP-105
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600, Rogue Sphinx
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, KEF R700
Cables: Darwin Cables Silver IC, Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Transparent MusicWave (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