- Written by Robert Kozel
- Published on 28 June 2010
Setup and In Use
I tested the SA-KI Pearl with an Anthem Statement D2 processor, a Rotel RB-1080 amplifier, Definitive Technology BP-3000TL speakers, and cables from Cardas and Monster. As for test material, I didn't have to look very far as Ken Ishiwata has also produced a 30th Anniversary SACD to go along with the KI Pearls.
If you like jazz, then you will appreciate the song selections, many of which are very well-known classics.
The arrangements are all done with acoustical instruments including bass, piano, and drums. All of the vocals are performed by European jazz singer Katelijne van Otterloo.
Listening to Mr. Ishiwata's disc on the SA-KI Pearl was a simply delightful experience. The stereo imaging was excellent, and I became immediately involved with the music. On track 1, George Gershwin's classic Summertime, the drum set and the piano sounded wonderfully alive as they played together. On track 2, Misty, there was little escaping the intimacy of the vocals and the piano. I could easily imagine being in an intimate jazz club enjoying the artists' performance. On track 4, the classic How Insensitive, the details, texture, and angst in Katelijne's voice were captivating. The piano complemented her vocals beautifully. On track 6, Edward Kennedy Ellington's Satin Doll, the vocals were incredibly well defined and at one point I could imagine Katelijne smiling at her audience as she sang the song. My experience with the SA-KI Pearl on this disc was superb. Vocals were exceptionally defined. There was excellent depth to the music and the soundstage was very intimate.
For my next test, I took a quick step back to the holidays and put in the CD of Yo-Yo Ma & Friends Songs of Joy & Peace.
Back during the holidays, I was reviewing the Marantz UD9004, and I was especially pleased with how this CD sounded at the time. I was very curious to see if the SA-KI Pearl could bring out some of the magic that I experienced back then. I was thrilled to once again hear this CD come alive. The resonance of individual strings and notes was much more precise. On track 21, Happy Xmas (War is Over), the cello and ukulele performances make this one of the most stirring and soulful versions of John Lennon's classic song. The subtle detail of the strings and the harmony of the instruments were well defined on the SA-KI Pearl.
While you are listening to the SA-KI Pearl, you have the option to select from two digital filters. The owner's manual describes the filters as follows:
I found that I generally preferred filter 2 for SACD. It seemed to offer a warmer and more intimate presentation of the music. Filter 1 seemed very accurate, but slightly less involving. For CD playback, I frequently found that the default of Filter 1 was just fine. The settings can be adjusted at any time during playback via the remote.
The last feature to explore on the SA-KI Pearl was DAC Mode. Engaging DAC Mode from either the front panel of the SA-KI Pearl or from the remote enables the optical digital input. While in DAC Mode, you cannot operate the disc tray mechanism or any of the transport controls. The SA-KI Pearl can accept linear PCM with sampling frequencies of 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 64 kHz, 88.2 kHz, and 96 kHz. When the player properly processes a digital input, the front panel display will indicate success with a message such as "D In: 44.1 kHz". If the player can't process the signal due to excessive jitter, the front display indicates "D In: Unlock".
For my tests, I connected the SA-KI Pearl to my Apple TV and the player consistently had no trouble locking onto the digital input signal. I was disappointed that I had to manually turn on the player from the front panel in order to use the SA-KI Pearl as a DAC. Since the SA-KI Pearl does not offer a standby power option, there is no real way to automate the process just using the remote. Turning on the power manually, however, was a small price to pay for how great the SA-KI Pearl made the Apple TV sound. I consistently preferred to hear the Apple TV running through the SA-KI Pearl, despite the more than capable D/A stage in my Anthem Statement D2 processor.
For listening tests in DAC mode, I really concentrated on the vocals. On the Melody Gardot Worrisome Heart album, I was delighted with the SA-KI Pearl's ability to image Melody's sultry vocals. The details in her voice were exquisite and the piano and saxophone seemed very real. On the Michael Bublé All of Me album, there was incredible depth to his voice. The orchestra sounded amazing and the entire presentation sounded so alive. On the Georgia on My Mind track, you could really feel the passion in his voice. I would have been hard pressed to tell you that I was listening from the Apple TV. My last examples were some of the classics from Frank Sinatra himself on the Sinatra Reprise: The Very Good Years album from The Reprise Collection. The clear placement of vocals and instruments on The Best is Yet to Come, and the movement of the instruments between the left and right speakers on Love and Marriage made me wish that I could go back in time and experience this amazing performer in all his glory.