- Written by Robert Kozel
- Published on 28 June 2010
The first thing you notice about the SA-KI Pearl is the build quality of the player. The SA-KI Pearl weighs 32 pounds and the finish work of the aluminum case is impeccable. The player rests on solid aluminum feet and is built around a heavy copper chassis. The player is finished in silky, matte black which is a definite departure from the traditional champagne finish of the Marantz Reference Series products. I found a short video clip of Ken Ishiwata on YouTube where he explains that just as a black pearl is rare in nature, the black finish of the SA-KI Pearl helps to further make his anniversary products stand out in the Reference Series product lineup. The black finish is definitely attractive and the fine grain of the aluminum top panel adds to the beauty of the player.
The front of the player is organized around a central control panel which contains the disc tray mechanism and a large LCD display. The Power button is centered just below the display, which is typical of the Marantz Reference Series products. The central panel contains a jack for headphones as well as a level control to adjust the headphone volume. The other buttons are DAC Mode, which allows you to use the player as an external D/A convertor, and Sound Mode, which allows you to select between the Stereo and CD audio layers of SACD media. The silver insignia to the top right of the disc tray commemorates "K.I. Signature 30th". On either side of the central panel are small buttons for transport control. On the left side, the buttons are Open/Close, Forward Track-Skip/Search, and Reverse Track-Skip/Search. On the right side, the buttons are Play, Stop, and Pause. The transport controls are illuminated via blue LEDs on each side of the central panel.
Moving on to the back of the player, you immediately notice the copper-plated chassis. As is typical of higher end SACD players, the SA-KI Pearl only supports stereo playback of SACD material and offers one set of stereo RCA output jacks. The output jacks themselves are made from beautifully-machined brass. If I had any complaint with this player, it was that at this price point it should have offered balanced stereo outputs. The SA-KI Pearl does offer one optical input which allows you to connect an external device, such as a media server, into the SA-KI Pearl to take advantage of the player's D/A converter and analog output stage. The player does offer a set of coaxial and optical digital outputs if you should want to bypass the analog stage of the player. The rear panel also contains remote control jacks as well as an internal/external switch which is used to turn on/off the front remote control sensor on the player. The sensor should be turned off if the SA-KI Pearl is being controlled via another Marantz component via the remote control jacks.
The SA-KI-Pearl borrows some of its design elements and components from other players in the Marantz Reference Series. The player itself is based on the SA-15S2 Reference Series SACD player and borrows the power block capacitor from the SA-7S1. At this point, the similarities end, and the design efforts of Mr. Ishiwata take over. The SA-KI Pearl is completely designed by Mr. Ishiwata and the internal components are all hand selected to match his specifications. Once the components are assembled, the completed player is auditioned. This process is repeated until Mr. Ishiwata finds a complete set of components which together achieve his listening expectations.
A look inside the player provides a small glimpse of what makes the SA-KI Pearl unique in comparison to the SA-15S2.
The SA-KI Pearl design includes a multi-layered aluminum case and copper-plated chassis which protects the player from vibration and unwanted interference. The toroidal power supply is covered in a copper-plated shield to minimize interference. The player's transport mechanism is the Marantz SACDM-10 with a XYRON disc tray, which according to Marantz, isolates the disc from micro-vibrations in the drive mechanism. The SA-KI Pearl uses a Cirrus Logic CS4398 24-bit/192 kHz D/A convertor as well as Marantz-proprietary HDAM-SA2 discrete amplifier modules in its audio output stage to optimize performance.
In addition to the premium design and construction, the player offers the ability to play back CD and SACD single-layer, dual-layer, and hybrid-layer discs. The SA-KI Pearl will play CD-R and CD-RW audio discs containing PCM audio, as well as CD-R/CD-RW/CD-ROM discs containing WMA and MP3 files. In case you are wondering, the player will not recognize a multi-channel SACD layer.
The remote for the SA-KI Pearl is also well made with the top of the remote being a solid piece of silver aluminum. While the player has been meticulously constructed, Marantz did cut some corners with the remote by not creating a remote dedicated to the SA-KI Pearl. The remote that comes with the SA-KI Pearl is the RC003SA which is perfectly functional, but contains some keys such as DC Filter, Noise Shaper, Phase Inverter, and External Clock which simply don't apply to the SA-KI Pearl itself. These functions apply to the Marantz SA-11S2 SACD player instead. The remote does allow you to control the input and volume of a compatible Marantz receiver.