Equipment Review: Marantz SA-KI-Pearl-Lite SACD Player

 

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Should I declare my aversion to this Marantz SACD player right at the outset?

Not to the model itself, as will shortly become clear, but to the model name. First, there’s the matter of the concept of a ‘Lite’ product. I don’t like ‘Lite’ milk or ‘Lite’ cheese—and especially not ‘Lite’ wine—because in all cases they’ve taken out the very things that make these products good: the fat and the alcohol! Then there’s the spelling. The correct spelling is ‘light!’

Right now, you’re probably thinking that I’m making much ado about very little, but rest assured that this is a serious side to this rant. Most readers will already be aware of that the Marantz Pearl SACD player is one of Marantz’s top-line SACD players, and so would assume that this ‘Lite’ model is a stripped-down version…well that’s most certainly the assumption that I made.

However, when I looked more closely into it, I really couldn’t see that there are sufficient differences between the high-end Pearl and this so-called ‘Lite’ version to justify Marantz putting the word ‘Lite’ in its model name.

In terms of cosmetic appearance, there are almost no differences at all. The dimensions are exactly the same, and the weight is also identical. Even operationally the two are identical, offering all the same features. Internally, the ‘Lite’ uses the same Xyron transport as the original Pearl and, perhaps most significantly, the DAC is identical too: a Cyrus Logic CS4398. And to give you an inkling of how good this particular DAC is, it’s better—much better!—than the CS4397 which preceded it, and was used in the justifiably famous Marantz SA700I KI SACD, which was the very first SACD to be ‘hotted up’ by Ken Ishiwata, Marantz’s resident golden-eared guru. (Sorry, that was a bit irreverent. Ishiwata’s official title at Marantz is, I believe, ‘brand ambassador.’)

It’s only when you get into the minutiae of differences and look at some of the individual resistors and capacitors that are used inside the ‘Lite’ version that you’ll start seeing some differences, but even so you’ll find that the Lite still uses far better resistors and capacitors than you’ll find in most other SACD players, still has a double-shielded transformer and has a discrete current feedback output stage, rather than standard operational amplifiers. A very good example is that the Lite uses Elna Cerafine electrolytic capacitors, which many audiophiles believe are almost identical to the fabled Black Gate capacitors. (It uses Elna’s top-line Silmic capacitors as well, so it would seem that Ishiwata is ‘tuning’ the sound of the ‘Lite’ to suit his purposes.)

The Equipment

To state the obvious, just to get it out of the way, the Pearl Lite will play both SACDs and CDs. The only difference in playback (other than the obvious immediate improvement in sound when playing back SACDs) is that you can port the digital output from a CD from the rear of the ‘Lite’ and send it to an outboard DAC if you want, whereas if you’re playing an SACD, the digital output is disabled, so you have to use the Lite’s analogue outputs.

However, to look at the less obvious, the ‘Lite’ has SPDIF digital inputs (both coaxial and optical), so you can actually use this player as a DAC, in which mode it will handle linear PCM data up to 192kHz. There’s even a USB input, so you can connect your computer to the ‘Lite’ and play back digital files from your computer. In fact, there are two USB inputs, one on the rear which uses a USB-B connector, and one on the front panel that uses the more-familiar USB-A socket. This is a great call by Marantz, because if you leave your computer connected to the player permanently, as would most likely be the case if you were making use of this feature, you’ll always have a ‘neat’ installation, with all the wires hidden from sight, while the front port makes it really easy to quickly connect and disconnect your iPod or iPhone.

Altogether, the Lite’, supports 13 different Apple models, so it will most likely be suitable for whatever model you own, but if this is a make/break issue for you, check compatibility before purchase. The Lite supports MP3, WMA, AAC, and WAV digital file formats and also supports Metatagged files.