SACD Players

Marantz SA-15S2 Reference Series SACD Player

ARTICLE INDEX

Marantz SA-15S2 Reference Series SACD Player

Introduction

Marantz can be thought of in two ways: the company owned by D&M Holdings with a huge market to satisfy, developing highly competitive consumer level products such as receivers and DVD players. Secondly, Marantz is an audio-first legacy from Saul Marantz, that produced vacuum tube gear in the 1950's, and led the way to solid state in the 1960's. Here, we take a look at their SA-15S2 SACD player.

Last year, I reviewed their modestly priced turntable the TT-15S1 and it became my reference for vinyl. This time around the SA-15S2 SACD player came my way. Sweet!

SACD

Marantz SA-15S2 Reference Series SACD Player

SACD is still the best disc format (DVD-A not withstanding) out there. Despite all but abandoned by most record labels save the few renegades, SACD still delivers the best resolution in both stereo and surround mode. And until high resolution downloads become the norm and until we start hearing the potential of Blu-ray and 24/196 (which has its own survival to deal with), SACD lives on, healthily I might add. For those who believe this statement Marantz and a number of other companies serving the audiophile community continue to produce top-notch SACD players.

Besides SACD, how many of us still have huge collections of Redbook CD's, even if we're prone these days to burn digitally copies to our computer based servers? Likewise, how many of us download tracks or full albums only to burn them to disc format and still play them in our favorite listening chair? We need these players!

Reference Series

I like what Marantz has been doing with their Reference Series – truly moderately priced mid to high end amplifiers, pre-amps, and SACD players. In this case the third SACD player released benefiting from trickle down R and D. The new Marantz SA-15S2 Super Audio CD player is the "low end" of the Reference line behind the highly regarded flagship SA-7S1 and the SA-11S2 SACD.

The Reference line is elegantly styled – in the case of the 15S2 a sculpted champagne curved façade faceplate that glows blue from hidden LCD lighting giving the illusion that the main display "floats" off the body. Marantz assures us the LCD adds no radiation. The entire Reference series might perhaps be too pretty for the staunch audiophile looking for a brutal design appearance but not me, this stuff is beautiful!

Specifications

  • Codecs: SACD, CD, CD-R/RW(MP3/WMA/CD-DA)
  • DAC: Cirrus Logic CS4398
  • Analog Outputs: Left and Right RCA
  • Digital Input: Toslink Optical
  • Digital Outputs: Optical, Coaxial
  • SACD Format: 1-Bit DSD
  • Sampling Frequency: 2.8224 MHz
  • Dynamic Range: 112dB
  • MFR: 2 Hz - 100 kHz
  • THD: 0.0010%
  • CD Audio Format: 16-Bit Linear PCM
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1 kHz
  • Dynamic Range: 100 dB
  • MFR: 2 Hz - 20 kHz
  • THD: 0.0015%
  • Dimensions: 4.9" H x 17.3" W x 16.5" D
  • Weight: 29.8 Pounds
  • MSRP: $2,199.99 USA

Design

The SA-15S2 stands tall at almost 5 inches and hefty at 30 pounds. As I mentioned, cosmetically the 15S2 is right in line with the entire Reference series. The front panel display is attractive and functional. The OSD indicates the media type SACD, CD or WMA/MP3 file while also indicating the usual disk information including whether the digital output has been turned off.

On either side of the screen are illuminated play functions – functional and intuitively arranged I do however find them a bit small and unless you mount the SA-15S2 higher on your rack, I'd recommend using the remote for anything other than turning it on and off which can only be done manually.

Marantz employs a different mechanism and tray in the 15S2 than the other units, specifically a high tensile strength Xyron composite said to minimize micro-vibrations. The transport is also a Marantz in the SACDM-10; the other SACD players have the aluminum SACD-1.

Marantz SA-15S2 Reference Series SACD Player

The back and therefore connections include; stereo RCA analog outputs, digital outputs in both optical and coaxial, and also a digital optical input. In either situation the 15S2 allows other digital PCM only sources to us the internal DAC (which is referred to as "DAC mode"), and if you'd prefer to use an outboard processor or CD recorder using the digital output.

The SA-15S2 handles not only 2-channel SACD including Hybrid and Redbook CD's, but also CD-R/RW encoded with MP3 and WMA files up to 24-bit/192 kHz using Cirrus Logic digital processors and supports both PCM (CD) and DSD (SACD) data streams.

Lastly, besides a detachable power cord, on the rear is a connection for remote controlling with external Marantz components.

Marantz SA-15S2 Reference Series SACD Player

On the inside Marantz's proprietary HDAM-SA2 circuitry or Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module which insures a short signal path and "discrete circuit elements". A double shielded Toroidal transformer insures stray magnetic leakage and vibration. The power block capacitor is the same used in the SA-7S1.

Output can be analog or if you'd prefer your own outboard processor digital with either coaxial or optical connections. The digital outputs can be turned off if you choose analog to preserve the signal from "stray emissions".

The SACD Cirrus Logic audio DAC CS4398 is used for it's capability to handle 24 bit conversion and 192 kHz sampling rate as well as high dynamic range up to 120 dB.

Although the chassis isn't copper coated as in the SA-7S1 flagship, it's still nonetheless double layered and very much like the other siblings Marantz engineers use solid copper extensively in the 15S2 – discrete components, in ground plates, and machined brass output terminals.

Leave your amp off if you use the nicely added discrete headphone amp and output ¼" jack which includes its own volume control.


Setup

Somewhat subjective the SA-15S2 allows 2 digital filter choices, (3 on the higher end units). Essentially as the manual explains, Super Audio and standard CD disks have built-in filter characteristics and Marantz offers the following chart recommendations:

Filter TypeAudio CDSuper Audio CD
Filter 1 Faithfully reproduces all audio information. Intimate sound image and positional relationship of audio source are clearly reproduced. (Asymmetric slow roll-off filter). *default factory setting. This is a direct mode that does not perform any filtering of DSD data (the Super Audio CD's recording signal). The original source data is reproduced without any alteration capturing the sound's natural texture and spatial dynamic.
Filter 2 Faithfully reproduces all audio information with distinct audio contour. (Asymmetric sharp roll-off filter). Faithfully reproduces all audio Intimate sound image and positional relationship of audio source are clearly reproduced.

I can say for the most part I left the filter on 1 as I found it the most pleasant.

Remote Control

Marantz SA-15S2 Reference Series SACD Player

Marantz includes the svelte RC003SA all silver remote control. Extremely functional it can also control other Marantz units like a preamp for volume control and input selections. In fact because I find the standard play selections along the face of the SA-15S2 a bit hard to read unless I'm up close and with my reading glasses, the remote handles all functions other than the main on/off which is a hard switch.

Dominating the face of the remote placed slightly higher than middle, (perfectly placed for your thumb when you grip the remote) the most used play/pause/stop fast forward and rewind dial.

Filter selection, DAC mode, Sound mode (which switches between SACD and CD), track selection and program, digital on/off and various other display selections all capable on the remote.

Some of the features such as a DC filter, External Clock input, digital Phase Inverter for balanced outputs and Noise Shaper are specific to the SA-11S2 and not available on the 15S2.


In Use

Marantz SA-15S2 Reference Series SACD Player

Because I've had the 15S2 for some time, I was able to use a variety of components including my Onix H6550 integrated tube amplifier and the Definitive Technology Mythos STS speakers and also more recently a Parasound P3 preamp and A21 amplifier with the extraordinary Canton Reference 5.2 DC floorstanding speakers. Cables were by either Wireworld or from Transparent Audio.

A couple of weeks after receiving the new SA-15S2 SACD player, I ran into Kevin Zarow, Marantz's VP of marketing at CES in Las Vegas and told him about my early positive impressions, he just smiled coolly and said, "let it cook" of course meaning break in time will continue to improve the experience - That I did!

Turning the unit on and loading a disk produces a "TOC Reading", or Table of Contents for tracks, time etc. The 15S2 works flawlessly reading and playing back without hick-up or misinformation. Perhaps minor to some, I love the reliability.

I acquired a couple of Monster Music Super discs; Ray Charles Duets, and George Benson with Al Jarreau. The package comes with both a surround disc and a "High Definition Stereo" disc. Naturally the surround disc doesn't play in the Marantz, but the stereo disc playsed beautifully. These 96 kHz studio recordings are actually quite good. Although the catalogue is limited, these are promising for CD's. I did listen to the surround discs, but that doesn't apply here.

The 15S2 reproduced the Ray Charles' duets (with such names as Norah Jones and James Taylor) faithfully and naturally. Voices were nicely shaped and delineated.

I was impressed with the spatial aspect of the Rene Marie Live at Jazz Standard in NYC where the nuance of the small stage is most evident. I always seem to pull this CD out when I want to hear a woman's voice that's both sweet and full-bodied. The SA-15S2 made the club atmosphere palpable and the sense of realism of Ms. Marie smacking her lips as she takes in a breath of air.

The JVC XRCD24 recording of Mozart's Serenade No. 7 "Haffner" with Jean-Francois was emotionally engaging, thanks to the SA-15S2. Gerard Jarry's violin was sweet and beautifully rendered. The sense of orchestra was powerful and open.

Dire Strait's Brothers in Arms is still one of the best Rock SACD's I've come across, (along with Avalon from Roxy Music and of course Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon). I found the recording transparent and dynamic. A bit "cool jazz" like, track 4 "Your Latest Trick" had a dominating horn section, brassy and haunting free of grain. The percussions in "Ride Across the River" maintained a warm and extended believability.

Linn Record's Handel's Messiah (Dublin Version, 1742) from the Dunedin Consort & Players SACD is spiritual and joyful. The soloist Nicholas Mulroy's voice was crisp, taut and sweet while the choir filled the space. The Marantz did such a superb job I'm always wary of the hair on my neck standing up!!

Musicality is a bit overused, but is the foremost term I can think of to describe the 15S2 It did what it's supposed to - immerse and absorb you in the music, thrill you with the earthy and natural tones, sparkle the highs with sweetness, and pound out the deep impact of bottom end. And most importantly, studio recordings and live performances sounded like they were intended.

When I attempted to try the digital input on the Marantz using the digital output from my OPPO DV-980H which I use for a second room DVD player mostly, I was successful playing everything up to 88.2 kHz, but anything over that would read "In:Unlock". This meant according to the manual that there was too much jitter and unplayable. However what did come across from standard CD or 44.1 kHz was excellent, and the difference was negligible between hearing it from the Marantz directly or the OPPO using the Marantz D/A converter. The OPPO sounded very much like the Marantz, suggesting the quality of the 15S2 DAC is exceptional.

Speaking of OPPO, towards the tail-end of my review of the Marantz, I was sent the OPPO Universal Blu-Ray player, the BDP-83. At about a quarter the price of the SA-15S2, the OPPO is an excellent competitor, but in the end I preferred the overall presentation made by the Marantz, which I found to be better balanced and full-bodied. The added digital filter option was nice to have on various occasions.


Conclusions

The Marantz SA-15S2 SACD player grabbed me immediately from the first note, and I knew from the onset, that I'd love this unit. Whether or not the SACD format can hang on is a mystery. However, those of us who still value what two-channel material can accomplish will continue to enjoy SACDs and CDs, because the SA-15S2 extracted the most potential from any disc I slid onto the tray.