The Marantz SA-10 is an innovative, no-holds-barred CD/SACD player seeking to prove that the age of streaming hasn’t made physical media – and the hardware to play them – redundant. Can it live up to that promise?
Competing in an audio arena contested by small-volume, high-end brands, the crown jewels in the Marantz stereo hi-fi line-up are the SA-10 disc player and the PM-10 integrated amplifier – a pairing that seek to prove that a high-volume brand can produce reference-grade components.
The SA-10 is perhaps the most contentious of the two. CD/SACD players aren’t exactly in high demand anymore, thanks to the rising popularity of high-res network players, high-quality streaming services, and a general move away from physical media.
Why then would Marantz present a disc spinner that isn’t only impressive from a sheer build quality perspective, but that also represents some truly innovative technology?
Well, we may think that the age of the compact disc is drawing to a close, but it’s still by far the most prevalent music medium, easily outstripping both vinyl sales and digital downloads. And while streaming from digital libraries and on-line services may be all the rage, many music lovers still have vast music libraries on CD and SACD.
The SA-10 sets out to prove that those libraries are not just shelf space stealers, but a worthy musical resource that can deliver an even higher degree of musical satisfaction when played back via the Marantz high-ender.
AT FACE VALUE
The SA-10 certainly looks the upper-class part, even if it’s also unmistakably Marantz. The player’s primary styling cues mirror those of the PM-10 amp, including the curved end pieces framing a central module that is home to the display, switchgear, a dedicated headphone socket and (in this case) the disc transport.
That transport, by the way, is a bespoke design created specifically for the SA-10, and exudes a real aura of quality, with a tray action that speaks of oiled precision.
The rear panel makes provision for both balanced and single-ended outputs. In line with current trends, the SA-10’s on-board D/A converter circuitry can also be used by external devices: digital inputs include asynchronous USB Type B, as well as SPDIF coaxial and Toslink. Coaxial and Toslink digital outputs are also provided.
UNDER THE COVERS
The entire SA-10 is a clean-sheet design, relying heavily on Marantz’s decades-long experience of designing and producing disc players. Innovation is therefore at the very core of the SA-10, starting with the digital-to-analogue converter, which breaks all the rules, and reveals some out-of-the-box thinking.
The so-called Marantz Musical Mastering system that is employed in the SA-10 for the first time comprises MMM streaming and MM conversion. It upconverts all incoming digital signals – PCM and DXD – to DSD at 11,2 MHz using MMM streaming, and then processes the upsampled signal into analogue using MMM conversion.
MMM streaming replaces the oversampling filters in conventional DACs, and filters the signal using a selectable choice of either a slow roll-off/short impulse filter, or a medium roll-off/short pre-ring/longer post-ring filter, in conjunction with the 11,2 MHz upsampling rate.
Upconversion is via two master clocks – one operating in multiples of 44,1 kHz and upsampling to 11,2896 MHz, the other in multiples of 48 kHz and upsampling to 12,288 Mhz. The upconversion is achieved via 32-bit floating point digital signal processing.
The processing is combined with single-bit signal reduction and delta-sigma modulation, which allows a pure 1-bit DSD signal to be passed onto the conversion section as a very high-frequency pulse stream.
Marantz opted for this patent-pending “DAC that’s not a DAC`’ approach because converting PCM to DSD outside a conventional DAC architecture yielded sonically superior results, revealing more detail more believably than conventional DACs.
For the same reason, the digital-to-analogue process only requires the use of a single high-quality low-pass filter to remove superfluous HF – a process Marantz argues is analogue, and thus not entail D/A conversion. The signal feeds into an HDAM op amp-based output stage operating in dual differential mode.
The MA-3 transport is a newly developed, proprietary design that makes its debut in the SA-10, and not only offers compatibility with CDs and SACDs, but will also read music content on DVD-ROMs – useful for large compilations that will benefit from the format’s 4,7 GB storage capacity.
Like the PM-10 amplifier, the SA-10 features a double-plated copper chassis, and non-magnetic, thick-aluminium casework, including a 5 mm aluminium lid.
Unlike most conventional disc players, the SA-10 offers users several set-up choices. These include adjusting dither and invoking a noise shaping filter.
According to Marantz, dither can be used to address artefacts caused by digital signal processing, albeit at the cost of a reduction in signal-to-noise ratio. The SA-10 offers to dither settings, one with the best possible compromise between digital artefacts and SNR, the other focussed on optimised SNR. Dither can also be turned off completely.
Noise shaping is meant to improve linearity and reduce noise by applying digital feedback. The SA-10 makes provision for four settings, each of which will have an impact on ultimate sound quality.
For PCM digital data playback, there is also a choice of two filters. The first promises precise staging and a smooth tonal balance, while the second opts for a neutral tonal balance that may appear slightly brighter and more detailed than the first setting.
For this review, the best results were achieved by switching dither off, and selecting a noise shaping setting optimising signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic performance. I also preferred the first of the two digital filter options.
Other settings include switching the headphone output on or off, setting the internal headphone amp gain, and selecting normal or inverted gain for the balanced XLR outputs.
The SA-10 was auditioned in tandem with the PM-10 (read full review here) for much of the test review, although I also ran it in conjunction with our reference Primare PRE32/MM30 pre-amp and Parasound Halo A21 power amp combo. Speakers were the marvellously revealing and musical Vivid Audio B1 Decades .
SOUNDS LIKE ..
I started out the listening session with the Fry Street Quartet’s lucidly recorded performance of Beethoven’s String Quartets in C-Minor, Op18 No.4 and B-Flat Major, Op 130 (Isomike SACD).
The SA-10 delivered a delicious, liquid sound onto a broad, seamless and open soundstage that seemed completely unconnected to the electronics. The player afforded the music an uncanny sense of freedom and release, effortlessly creating a sound picture that was precisely painted on a large and generous canvas.
Canvas is perhaps not the right word, because it implies two-dimensionality, whereas the sound was very much three-dimensional, allowing an implicitly believable illusion of the actual players’ collective presence in the room.
The quartet was intimately placed on the soundstage to emphasise the close interplay between the performers, but the music itself was allowed to blossom, filling the expansive soundstage and creating a vivid sonic image.
The Marantz allowed each instrument to be closely examined and appreciated, but without losing the sense of musical unity. It was aasy to distinguish the individual tonal and sonic characters of the two violins, the more sonorous viola and the cello.
There was both a delicacy and a power in the way the Marantz treated the music. It was able to retain the fine tonal hues and subtle sonic details, while also portraying the impressive dynamics and attack of the recording. The result was an engrossing, enveloping listening experience.
It has to be said that the transparency, pace and tonal range of the Vivid B1Ds also contributed here, really allowing the full extent of the SA-10’s sonic talents to come to the fore.
Diana Krall’s The Girl In The Other Room (Verve SACD) may be a hackneyed demo music choice, but it remains an excellent example of the SACD art, and for all her commercialisation, Krall remains an entertaining and spell-binding performer.
The SA-10 easily coped with the rich, lush sound of this Tommy LiPuma-produced set. The bass on ‘Stop This World’ can be overwhelming, but was kept perfectly in check here, without losing the impact and power of the instrument.
Krall’s piano was equally forceful and intense, providing the main counterpoint to her husky, warmth-tinged vocals. The guitar was almost tender by comparison, but even so, the Marantz captured every note and every nuance.
The player’s performance here was marked by an overall sense of clarity and accessibility that added to the enjoyment of the music – but again, there was also a commitment to musicality that discouraged academic analysis and focused on recreating the essence and thrust of the performance instead.
On the title track, the bass again forms a powerful, muscular platform, while the percussion shimmers and shakes, and Anthony Wilson’s guitar becomes Krall’s conversation partner – while the piano also participates in the discussion.
With the quartet in full cry, the soundstage was fully, densely occupied, the Marantz never lost its composure, presenting the music in all its full, rich glory.
The recently remastered and augmented version of Pink Floyd renegade Roger Waters’ Amused To Death (Columbia SACD) is enhanced by the almost uncanny three-dimensionality of Q-Sound, and further benefited here from the SA-10’s talent for seamless detail retrieval and precision.
On ‘What God Wants’, it was the ability of the player to retain a sense of musical coherence and thrust, despite all the peripheral effects, that impressed most. It never became entangled in the complexity of the arrangement, and as a result brought new facets and elements to the fore that other players simply miss.
Again, I always felt that I was listening to the music, and not to the electronics. The classic sled sequence on ‘Too Much Rope’ was rendered with both precision and realism, with the impact of the axe and woodcutting almost physical in its intensity, and the approach and departure of horses and sled sounding and feeling just right .
While the Marantz player’s treatment of SACD was impressive, well-produced CDs were treated with equally musical and believable care.
The collection of saxophone-led jazz on Uncompressed World Vol V – Audiophile Saxophone (Accustic Arts CD) was not only hugely enjoyable because of the quality of the music and the performances, but also because of the meticulous production that really bring the urge and dynamics of the music to the fore.
On ‘Sie Sieht Mich Nicht (Cologne Saxophone Quartet) the individual character and charm of the four saxophones was brilliantly demonstrated. The bass saxophone had a power and a resonance that was almost wall-rattling in its sheer intensity, while the also sax showed off a richness of tone and timbre that was thrilling.
The Marantz dug deep into the sound and character of each individual instrument, but never lost sight of the intent and emotion of the music.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There has been a general notion that disc players are fast approaching redundancy, and that investing in a top-end deck represents a senseless expense.
However, as I said at the start of this review, many music fans still own (and are expanding) vast libraries of CDs and SACDs, while sales of CDs and vinyl combined still outstrip digital downloads.
Admittedly, streaming from digital platforms accounts for more revenue than physical media sales, but for now, the case for a top-end disc player in a top-tier system remains a strong one.
The SA-10 fits that bill very nicely indeed. Not only does it have a knack for eking out the very best from CDs and SACDs, but its considerable digital decoding talents can also be harnessed for improving the sonic results from high-res streaming services such as Tidal, or from digital sources such as network players.
The combination of painstaking build quality and innovative decoding technology results in a superb sonic performance that allows the Marantz SA-10 to stand its ground in top-class company, while going a long way to warranting its not inconsiderable asking price.
A high-end Marantz? You bet!
Superb build-quality matched only by innovative tech – and thrilling sonics. Good value in high-end terms.
Preconceptions will lead some to underestimate the true capabilities the SA-10.
Digital conversion: Proprietary MMM, upsampling to 11,2 MHz DSD
Frequency response: 2 Hz – 100 kHz (SACD)
Signal-to-noise ratio: 112 dB (SACD), 104 dB (SACD)
Inputs: 2x coaxial digital, 2x Toslink optical digital, 1x USB Type B, 1x USB Type A
Analogue outputs: 1x stereo balanced XLR, 1x stereo RCA, 1x 6,35 mm headphone jack
Digital outputs: 1x coaxial digital, 1x Toslink optical digital
Dimensions (WxHxD): 440 x 400 x 109 mm
Weight: 18,4 kg
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite disc player
Bryston BDA-3 DAC
Marantz PM-10 integrated amplifier
Parasound Halo A21 power amp
Vivid Audio B1 Decade
Beethoven – String Quartets in C-Minor, Op18 No.4 and B-Flat Major, Op 130 – Fry Street Quartet (Isomike SACD)
Diana Krall – The Girl In The Other Room (Verve SACD)
Roger Waters –Amused To Death (Columbia SACD, remastered)
Various – Amused To Death (Accustic Arts CD)
Fewer boxes, more functionality: that seems to be the mantra of modern hi-fi. Take Marantz’s new ND8006: it’s a network player, a CD spinner, a D/A converter and a pre-amp, too. But how successfully does it juggle all those roles?
The audio industry’s quest to reduce the number of components that make up an audio system has not only resulted in the ubiquitous integrated amplifier, but various variations on the one-box-does-all theme.
For instance, a growing number of integrated amplifiers now incorporate a D/A converter with digital inputs, obviating the need for a standalone DAC. Taking it a few steps further, Naim’s Uniti components combine the functions of an integrated amp, disc player, streamer and DAC in a single, elegant box.
The Marantz ND8006 is a network player first and foremost, but adds the convenience of a CD player. To that, it adds the further benefits of an ESS Sabre-based DAC, and the ability to accept music streams via Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay. Plus, it can fulfil pre-amp duties, too.
AT FACE VALUE
Despite all that apparent complexity, it’s an elegantly handsome machine with a deceptively simply control layout that suggests ease of use. The all-metal casing features the recessed fascia and curved ‘cheeks’ that have become a Marantz hallmark.
The centrally mounted transport tray is accompanied by a large, easily legible display, while two round, multidirectional controllers on either side look after key transport and menu navigation functions.
Of note is the full-sized headphone jack, complete with adjustable level control, and a USB Type A input for flash drivers and external drives.
The rear panel provides a more obvious indication of what facilities the ND8006 offers. Firstly, there are both fixed and variable line-level outputs, confirming that the Marantz’s pre-amp capability.
The array of digital inputs spans coax, optical and USB, the latter offering both Type A for flash drives and asynchronous Type B for linking up a Windows PC or Mac. You’ll also note the Ethernet port for wired connectivity, and a pair of fold-up antennae for both 802.11 Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth and AirPlay.
The ND8006 also caters for custom installations, offering RS232, flasher and remote in/out jacks.
UNDER THE COVERS
Providing the D/A conversion capability is an ESS 9016 Sabre32 Ultra DAC, offering PCM conversions up to 384k Hz/32-bit and DSD256 compatibility (USB only). It operates in conjunction with a dual-crystal clock for reduced jitter and enhanced accuracy.
Features such as a thoroughly shielded, beefy toroidal power supply, and Marantz’s HDAM-SA2 op amps confirm a commitment to sound quality, as does the separate headphone amplifier.
From a streaming perspective, the ND8006 is uses the HEOS ecosystem to offer integrated access to services such as Spotify (now also in SA) and Tidal, as well as a full catalogue of Internet radio stations and podcasts via TuneIn.
It’s also UPnP compliant, allowing it to recognise NAS devices and the music libraries stored on them. A free HEOS app for Android and iOS makes accessing the comprehensive functions of the Marantz a simple and intuitive affair, but there’s also a conventional remote, which works with other Marantz components, such as the PM8006 integrated amp.
Let’s not forget that the ND8006 also incorporates a disc transport. While it’s sadly not SACD-compatible, it will read CDs and all CD-based recordable and re-recordable media.
SOUNDS LIKE …
The ND8006 sounded open and inviting, with a real talent for making the most of the source material it had access to, while getting out of the way of the music itself. It didn’t inject any obvious character of its own, preferring instead to ensure a clean and unencumbered pathway from source to listener.
DSD material sounded downright marvellous, regardless of whether it was being played directly from SACD, or streamed from our NAS. There was real depth and lustre to the sound, linked to a sense of transparency and accessibility.
‘Unca’s Flight’ off the Opus DSD Showcase 3 compilation, was delivered with agility and coherence, so that the close interplay between guitars and strings never became overwhelming, but invited the listener into the very heart of the performance.
The soundstage was always wide open and inviting, creating ample air and space for each instrument to come to its full right, but without losing the intimacy of the performance, nor the close interplay between the artists.
The Marantz wasn’t in the least phased by the cinematic splendour and sheer scale of the Minnesota Orchestra’s rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. It’s a taxing recording with huge dynamic swings, and presented in high-res in 176/24 WAV format, but the ND8006 always remained in effortless control, rendering the music with both power and finesse.
The player also achieved exceptional levels of transparency in partnership with both the amplifiers I tested it with, making the listening experience simultaneously exciting and engrossing, and placing the focus firmly on the music.
Macy Gray’s almost visceral performance of ‘Annabel’ (from Stripped), was presented with such impetus and conviction that singer’s presence became almost tactile. The reverb-rich electric guitar and almost percussive bass provided a suitably evocative accompaniment, while the subtle brushed snare kept perfect pace. The result was thrilling to say the least.
As mentioned, the ND8006 can access a variety of streaming services, including Deezer, Tidal and Spotify, as well as TuneIn’s vast catalogue of Internet radio stations and podcasts.
The second collaboration between Ben Harper and Charlie Musslewhite, No Mercy In This Land (Tidal 44/16 FLAC) sounded powerfully persuasive, with the fuzz-edged guitar and melancholy harmonica on ‘When I Go’ a particular highlight. The delivery was emphatic and vivid, endowing the music with an almost three-dimensional presence and intensity.
Led Zeppelin’s recently remastered (and masterful) live set, How The West Was Won (Tidal 48/24 FLAC) was equally compelling: the Marantz served up Robert Plant’s piercing vocals and Jimmy Page’s expressive guitar on the classic ‘Stairway To Heaven’ with a dazzling clarity, while John Bonham’s inimitable drumwork was presented with thundering intensity.
Even compromised sources sounded pretty good: Radio Paradise delivered via Bluetooth or AirPlay from my ageing iPhone 5S had plenty musical presence and dimension, with good tonal range and a decent stereo focus. Yes, it lacked the finesse and outright upper-treble clarity of Tidal or music-serve-based material, but it was by no means lacking in entertainment value.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Marantz ND8006 is an exceptionally versatile piece of kit that offers intuitive streaming access from a wide variety of sources, together with the added convenience of CD playback, a high-res DAC, and pre-amp functionality.
The sonic approach is neutral and lucid without resorting to clinical aloofness, while focusing on offering listeners unencumbered and enjoyable access to the music instead.
The HEOS app ensures that access to the player’s extensive features set is an intuitive affair, while the pre-amp capability makes the ND8006 an ideal partner for active loudspeakers such as the KEF LS50 Wireless, to create a minimalist but full-featured set-up.
The result? A lot of functionality and musicality for the money. Indeed, the Marantz ND8006 is not a jack of all trades, but also manages to master them all convincingly.
A lot of features, functions and sonic talent crammed into a single, handsome enclosure.
Not everyone needs a do-it-all.
Digital conversion: ESS Sabre 9016
Digital filter: 192 kHz/32-bit
Frequency response: 2 Hz – 50 kHz (-3 dB)
Signal-to-noise ratio: 110 dB
File formats: DSD64, M4A, WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, AAC
– 1x stereo RCA (fixed level), 1x stereo RCA (variable level),
– 1x 6,35mm headphone jack
– 1x SPDIF coax, 1x Toslink optical,
– 1x USB Type A (front), 1x asynchronous USB Type B (rear)
Digital outputs: 1x SPDIF coax, 1x Toslink optical
– Ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay,
– A2DP Bluetooth 3.0 + EDR
– Up to 384 kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD256 via USB Class 2.0
– Up to 192 kHz/24-bit PCM for all digital inputs
Dimensions (WxDxH): 440 x 369 x 106 mm
Weight: 8,0 kg
Marantz PM8006 integrated amplifier
Electrocompaniet PI-2D integrated amplifier
Marantz SA-KI Pearl Lite CD/SACD deck
KEF LS50 loudspeakers
KEF R500 loudspeakers
Synology DS214se NAS
Various – Opus DSD Showcase Vol 3 (Opus SACD)
Macy Grey – Stripped (Chesky 192/24 FLAC)
Rachmaninoff – Symphonic Dances – Stern/Minnesota Orchestra (Reference Recordings 176/24 WAV)
Ben Harper/Charlie Musslewhite – No Mercy In This Land (Anti 44/16 FLAC via Tidal)
Led Zeppelin – How The West Was Won – Remastered (Atlantic/Rhino 96/24 FLAC via Tidal)