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Product Review - Marantz SA12-S1 Multi-Channel SACD/DVD-Video Player - Part 2 - April, 2002

 

Video Performance

Whenever Secrets reviews a DVD player, the question that is always asked is, "Does the player have Chroma bug?"  The Marantz appears not to have it, which is good. Sooner or later, no player should have it.  

Objective Results

Color channel timings were as follows (where the red, green, or blue bars line up with the white bars, that indicates how much delay there is, in nanoseconds, or ns, which is 10-9 seconds.). These numbers are only estimates, since they could be affected by the projector.

Red - 70 ns

Green - 70 ns

Blue - 0 ns

Pixel cropping was as follows:

Location Pixels cropped before adjusting Pixels cropped after adjusting
Left > 20 >20
Right > 20 >20
Top 0 9
Bottom 19 10

These values indicate  ~1% overscan in the vertical dimension and  >3% overscan in the horizontal dimension, which was consistent with the overscan test image.

Display of the resolution pattern of Avia shows some blurring inside the 6.75 MHz circle, indicating a slight softening of the finest detail.

Similarly, the 200TVL pattern shows a problem with displaying above about 450 TV Lines.  Both of these results were consistent with my subjective viewing.

Subjective Impressions

Allowing my display (NEC LT-150) to deinterlace, showed the weakness of my projector's deinterlacing.  This is no surprise, as the projectors target market is for business, not high performance home theater.   If you're going to use this player with a higher end display (High Def TV / Plasma Screen / FPTV), you will need to couple it with a solid 3rd party deinterlacing (and scaling) solution like Faroudja's NRS, Theater Automation Wow's The Rock or DVDO/Silicon Images iScan Pro.  

Overall, the viewing experience using the Marantz would best be described as quite pleasant. However, in comparison to two other players I have in at the moment, I found the Marantz lacking.  It is fair to say that this player's strong suit is with SACD, not with video.  I found the picture to be slightly reddish at all times, which was uncorrectable.  Some of the finest level of details in films like the Superbit version of "Vertical Limit" were missing.

In addition, depth of field in animated films like "Shrek" were not quite as vivid in comparison to other players I currently use.

Audio Performance

The SA12-S1 has a very responsive transport, and even allows for a relatively quick switch between stereo and multi-channel tracks of an SACD.  Times were about 1.2 seconds to switch between the two, which makes it easier to compare the sonics of the mixes.  When switching between the two, you are even taken to the same location within the track.  I suspect this player utilizes a DVD-ROM drive, which would explain the rapid alternation.  Switches between the CD and SACD layer of hybrid media was on the order of 5 seconds.  This is outstanding performance in comparison to other SACD players I have worked with.   Please note that a switch between layers will start disc playback from the beginning.  This is to be expected, given that the drive must unload the read buffers, change lasers to the CD (or SACD layer), read the TOC (Table of Contents) and prepare for play once more. 

There were three primary items for playback that I tested: CD Audio, DVD-V with 24bit/96K Linear PCM encoding, and SACD playback.  I started, with that old familiar Redbook CD.

Redbook CD Audio

I have seen announcements for some high resolution format recordings to be released ahead of the CD versions, and also a simultaneous (industry term day and date) release of an album in CD, DVD-Audio, and SACD. One technical consideration for comparison is which format the recording was made. For example, it could be recorded in DSD, then the recording converted to DVD-A and CD. This eliminates the accuracy of a true comparison.

DVD-Video, at 24bit/96kHz

DVD-V with 24bit/96K linear PCM recordings are harder to find, and I only have a few in my collection at the moment.  For this particular listening experience, I turned to a newer label, Hi-Res Music, which is releasing older analog masters encoded into 24bit/96kHz PCM.  They have released a number of titles, and I was happy to put on Monty Alexander, Ray Brown and Herb Ellis Trio - which is a piano, bass and guitar jazz trio.   Sweet Georgia Brown can be a barn burner, yet in the hands of these three wonderful musicians, it begins as a slow, blues tinged rendition.  Oh these guys can burn too, and after a few choruses of 1/4 time, they commence to the very barn burning I touched on.   There's a wonderful fullness and fatness to the hollow bodied electric guitar of Herb Ellis, and all the notes are distinct in blazing runs of sixteenth notes for the uptempo choruses.  All of the nuances in trying to get just the right sound out of the piano in use by Monty Alexander are not lost at faster tempos, while the harmonic richness of inflection in the earlier, slow groove portion of this version are pulled out of the speakers.   This is a very nice example of 24/96 from an excellent analog recording.  I seem to be ignoring the bassist Ray Brown, yet he remains faithfully behind providing the harmonic and rhythmic foundation for this particular track.  The soundstage was enormous left and right, and I got a sort or "wrap-up around" effect, which was lacking prior to introduction of this player.

SACD Playback

SACD is where the rubber meets the road so to speak, because it's what everyone wants to know about.  This is the third SACD player I've had into my system, and the same thoughts that applied to earlier players are in force here.  I find the midrange reproduction to be exquisite.  I'm relying on sonic memory when I say that this is the finest SACD reproduction I've had in my home to date.  I couldn't compare this player directly to the other two players I have given a listen to, in A/B fashion.

This is the first multi-channel SACD player I've had in, and given my predisposition towards surround music, you won't read about it being wrong to be immersed inside the orchestra here.

James Taylor's "Hourglass" is likely to be my favorite surround title for a while.  It's about halfway between immersive, and ambient.  The first track Line 'em up has the vocalists and most instruments up front, with some auxiliary instruments (notably percussion in the surrounds).  JTs vocal is hard panned to dead center, with only the slightest (and I do mean slightest) hint of reverbation at points in time where some additional depth to his presentation is required.  Personally, I prefer this approach, as it locks the lead vocal down, and the room is much less a factor in reproduction than it is when spreading across the front trio of loudspeakers.  It's an example of just how good a multi-channel presentation can sound when done well.

In contrast, I present the Bob Mintzer Big Band's "Homage to Count Basie" on DMP records as the "historical document" type presentation, with the band across the front trio of speakers, and only ambience in the surrounds.  For those who aren't into the immersive experience, I recommend getting things going with this one.   It's a collection of Basie tunes and Basie-inspired tunes by the New York-based band leader and his current working band.  Rather than take the Basie arrangements, he's added his own touches, although the shout choruses at the end of One O' Clock Jump certainly aren't much different from the classic arrangement.  April in Paris has an interesting texture and a kind of Latin two-beat feel to it.  The arrangement explores the harmonic intricacies of this familiar arrangement  - you're left with the sense that a band is playing in your living room.  Nothing is overbearing, and the pianist adds simple counterpoint to lines throughout. 

There were some Telarc multi-channel recordings that I didn't get to fully explore, and I am not as comfortable with the material at this point to comment on them within the context of a review - that will await another day.

It certainly wasn't all multi-channel that saw time in my system, Just because I love multi-channel doesn't mean I don't still like stereo presentations - some of my favorite recordings are still available only as stereo, and others are only now becoming available as multi-channel releases.

Of course the SA12-S1 didn't let me down on "good old stereo" either - and here some of my familiar titles were pulled out, like the Dave Brubeck Quartets "40th Anniversary Tour of the UK". This is worth it just for the alto work of Bobby Militello - raucous and rousing, intimate and sweet, sometimes just plain soulful, and definitely the highlight of the album would be his beautiful work on Deep Purple.    While the songs themselves are formulaic (solo piano introduction, trio takes the melody after that, followed by Bobby Militello's alto work, and then more piano work in the trio context, usually followed by a solo piano closing), some of the moments shine.  Very well captured performance, which is the norm out of Telarc.

In a recent review of the Bel Canto eVo 200.6 I talked about a guilty pleasure title Kenny Loggins' "What everyone else would call Greatest Hits", and listened to the enormous soundstage brought about by the duet with Stevie Nicks Whenever I Call You Friend.  Ok, it's popular music, and it's not the most deep stuff out there, but man do the layered vocals shine through - from outside the left and right speakers and all the way across the front of the soundstage !!

There is one aspect that I'm not enamored with on SACD - and it's at the top end of reproduction.  I'm not sure what's going on with what I call the "shimmer" of cymbals.  It's the washing out of high frequency energy associated with the strike by whatever means.  I'm not entirely pleased with the reproduction, but I need to hear a few more recordings on a few more players to get something definitive.   A recording that highlights this (it is not the only recording to exhibit this tendency) is Billy Joel's "The Stranger".  During the chorus of Anthony's Song (Movin' Out), come a series of cymbal strikes from Liberty Devito - and he's alternating between two crash cymbals "It seems like a waste of time" (small crash), "If that's what it's all about" (Large crash), "Good luck movin' up" (Small Crash), 'cause I'm movin' out!" - I'm not going to spend an hour annotating to get the placement vs. the lyrics just right.  The point is that while the attack of the cymbal, and the reproduction of the fundamental of the cymbals' striking is wonderful, I'm not happy with the top end reproduction.  Ok, this isn't the best recording in the world, I'll grant you that, but it is an excellent demonstration piece for what I speak of.  Check it out, as it's the same result in stereo or multi-channel.  It's not the only recording where I got this impression, but it was the easiest to discuss within the context of the review.

Conclusion

If you are interested in a video player at this price point, the Marantz  SA12-S1 does not quite make the mark.  Given the ever decreasing cost of quality progressive scan players, leaving this feature (progressive scan output) off was not a good idea in my minds eye. 

Audio performance is another issue entirely, and here I say "Get thee to a dealer" to hear this player.  It is a solidly constructed, great sounding SACD player.  I hesitate to call a player at this price point a bargain, because the SA12-S1 is an expensive player.  If you are specifically looking for SACD, it should be on your short list of candidates. Get a different player for DVD movie viewing.  In addition to first rate audio performance, the responsive transport is a welcome plus.

 

- John Kotches -
 

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