Marantz SA7001 - KI Signature CD/SACD player (an amateur's review!)
Anyone who's been struggling for better things to do of late might have come upon a couple of posts of mine highlighting my ongoing search for a new CD player to replace my 1994 Linn Mimik. Many suggestions have come my way and much searching has gone on, deep into the ever darkening Scottish nights as they draw in to the heart of the oncoming winter.
So, recently when I came upon a deal offering the Marantz SA7001 KI Signature for less than half price, the alert alarms started ringing out loud and clear. £300 for a hot rodded Ken Ishiwata bit of kit, brand new and boxed has "good deal" written all over it at first glance. I've been a fan of Marantz products for years, so a quick phone call later and the transaction was done.
On opening the box, first impressions are good - improved build that's more substantial than the standard £350 SA7001 on which this player develops; toroidial transformers internally, better connections at the back and so on and so forth.
It's also the first 'KI' labelled CD player from Marantz to offer SACD, so as a two channel 'hi-res' fan, I was pleased to see this feature.
Looks-wise, it's a bit of a winner with a big, bold but fairly minimal brushed aluminium fascia. The loading tray sits to the left, a good sized display to the centre and eight operational buttons to the right in two rows of four. A good quality headphone socket with volume control sit below these. Apart from an "SACD" logo badge and the power button, there's not a whole lot else, but that's all you need.
The accompanying remote is functional, well laid out if nothing special - hey, £600 only gets you so much - and can be used as part of an all Marantz system, which is useful given I have the earlier PM6010-KI amp too.
So far, so good. Loading up a disc, the drawer inspires confidence with a solid feel to it and smooth movement. Nothing like the flimsy construct Linn used for the Mimik and many other manufacturers appear to have nicked from a PC's CD ROM drive...!
Disc loading isn't the fastest - expect around 10-15 seconds depending on the load being standard CD or hi-res. This doesn't bother me too much and it beats a Copland player from a few years back where you popped a disc in, went on your summer holidays and returned to find it was only just about ready to play the opening track.
CD-Text is provided, but an unneccesary extra IMO. SACDs by and large have it, but you can practically forget it for most standard discs. How much attention do I pay to it? Not a whole lot. If you hadn't worked out what you were putting on when you took a disc out of its case, you probably shouldn't be allowed out unsupervised.
Reading up on some online reviews for this player, a few commented on the mechanical noise heard as a disc loads up. I have to say it's very, very minimal and is barely audible to these ears. Certainly, nothing like the Audio Analogue Paganini's gripes which, on finding there isn't a CD in its tray goes on a protest march round your living room before displaying "No Disc" in huffy green letters. Still, that's the Italian temperament for you...
Straight out the box, the upgraded 7001 almost disappoints. Firing up Elton John's superb "Songs From the West Coast" album, the vocals are very lifelike; he's almost in your living room, there's pace, clarity and a very good soundstage. The bass, however, is a little flat - what is there is articulate but, like the first year student coming home at Christmas, needs a good feed! This is clearly a player that doesn't like to be rushed, so, coming out of hibernation, let it warm up for a while.
After a good few hours running in (overnight in this case) we have a slightly different picture. The bass is much better, but not perhaps class-leading. The sound is very refined with precise separation on instruments and vocals. An almost analogue smoothness will give you a very enjoyable listen you can sit with for hours.
Well recorded discs are a pleasure; Peter Gabriel's SACD version of his 1986 "So" album gives a mile-wide hi-res stereo experience that elevates it above expectation. Bass is well defined and taut. Midrange and treble are the highlights however; beautifully detailed as every nuance in Joni Mitchell's voice on her 1991 title track "Night Ride Home" and Elton's "Emeperor's New Clothes" track from the aforementioned "...West Coast" albums are teased out.
Other discs leave you wondering what the fuss is all about however. This is a fussy player to some degree. Give it good quality material and it will play ball, otherwise, it won't paint pretty forgiving colours over poor quality CDs. You'll know it when you hear it. Dance music and metal fans should probably look elsewhere too - Audiolab's or Exposure's players at the £600 mark are more in your face for bass-fiends.
Ultimately, this is a player that will work extremely well with a wide range of music in a wide range of systems and moreso for SACD compatibility. At £600 it's amongst some tough company, but at £300-£400 it's a bit of a bargain. Given its classy characteristics however, the discount price is the only thing about this Marantz that's cheap. Highly recommended.