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Marantz SA-KI Pearl SACD/CD Player Review Print E-mail
Monday, 14 December 2009
Article Index
Marantz SA-KI Pearl SACD/CD Player Review
Listening Session
Final Thoughts


I was enthusiastic in my review of Marantz's SA8003 SACD/CD player, a sultry performer that borrows technology from higher-end players and offers high performance for its $999.99 price. At $2,999.00, one can rightly expect more – a lot more – from the Pearl than the SA8003. What you get is rich, smooth and involving digital playback that had me again championing SACD and even CD. The Pearl offers whisper-quiet performance and operated flawlessly during my time with it - reading  every disc – SACD to CD-R – offered. Smooth as velvet with a tube-like liquidity, the SA-KI Pearl has the Marantz “sound” in spades. It's extremely easy on the ear, never harsh or fatiguing, an excellent choice for those whose digital “threshold” is low. The SA-KI Pearl also has a refined edge that teases out the inner details of recordings with ease.

The Pearl has two selectable digital filters each for SACD and CD. For SACD playback, Filter 1 is a direct mode option, with no filtering of DSD data. Filter 2 isn't clearly described by the user guide, stating it “Faithfully reproduces all audio information. Intimate sound image and positional relationship of audio source are clearly reproduced.” My experience with Filter 2 is that it boosted the signal and I actually preferred it to the direct mode option. For regular CD, the player offers two filters: Filter 1 is an asymmetric slow roll-off filter; Filter 2 is an asymmetric sharp roll-off filter. I was unable to detect any appreciable differences between the two and left the factory default Filter 1 on for critical listening of redbook discs.

Marantz SA-KI Rear View

The innuendo-laced cover of “Big Ten Inch Record,” from Aerosmith's Toys In The Attic, has always attracted me with its R&B shuffle and lascivious reading by Steven Tyler. I thought I knew the tune, but it wasn't until the SA-KI Pearl cracked the musical shell that I finally heard the chunky rhythm guitars that are rather buried in the mix and the full squawk of Tyler's harmonica and saxophone by an unnamed guest.

The Moody Blues' A Question Of Balance has been in heavy rotation lately. It's the fifth in the Moody's amazing run of seven albums starting with Days Of Future Passed and ending with Seventh Sojourn. The SACD version of Question is padded with six bonus cuts, including alternate and original mixes of tunes including the remarkable “Question.” Justin Hayward's vocals and John Lodge's bass and Graeme Edge's cymbals had a sheen not usually heard. The original mix of “Minstrel's Song” sounded studio-live. Voices emerged in a gorgeous mix, and I loved the bold presence of Graeme Edge's drums and cymbals. Hayward's country-esque guitar lines on “It's Up To You” shimmer with a sunny Southern California vibe. This album was as good as I've ever heard through the SA-KI Pearl, crushing any SACD playback and equaling any vinyl experience I've had.

Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks has long been one of my favorite SACD releases. The high-res format brings out even more emotion in Dylan's voice and distills his guitar strumming into crystalline notes and chords. I loved hearing Dylan's pick running against the strings on “Simple Of Twist Of Fate” and the deep soundstaging of his voice.

Miles Davis' Black Beauty: Live At Fillmore West is a double-disc set from 1970 of the horn master exploring the outer edges of jazz with a backing cast of keyboardist Chick Corea, saxophonist Steve Grossman, bassist Dave Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette and percussionist Airto Moreira. Davis and band fire up then-recent compositions from Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way and take them even deeper into the cosmos of jazz-rock. The re-interpretations are jarring, mysterious and sometimes frightening. Grossman, particularly, sounds possessed, delivering cascades of notes from his horn as flames of sound dance around him. This is not “easy listening,” even with the smoother SACD presentation, but the Pearl was able to take the raw and often violent sounds and smooth them without softening the impact.
Redbook CD

One of the more curious CDs that's come my way this year is Patrick & Eugene's Altogether Now: Birds Bees Flowers Trees. I had never heard of the duo before, but the album cover's retro South Park- meets-Partridge Family artwork hinted at something fun within. And that's what this 14-track disc is all about. Imagine They Might Be Giants, Leon Redbone and Sesame Street collaborating on a soundtrack for an imaginary film, and you might get something like Altogether Now. The quirky arrangements are upbeat and irresistible. When Patrick & Eugene ask the deep questions, such as “What's your favorite ungulate?” on the zoological samba “Llama,” it's impossible not to be hooked. I can't imagine these twisted tunes sounding better than through the SA-KI Pearl. Percussion features heavily, and the silvery ring of triangles and bells shine through continuously.

I keep coming back to Jade Warrior's remarkable 2008 release, Now. These prog-rock veterans are enjoying a well-deserved rebirth thanks to the strength of such music and a digital recording that still wows me with each listen. I've now heard this disc in several very good CD players, but the SA-KI Pearl trumped them all for its imaging, sustain and making the instruments sound convincingly live. The dynamics and sounds emerging from the acoustic guitars on “Talisman” are tantalizing.


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