Getting the best out of the SA-7 is also pretty straightforward when it comes to set-up, mainly because the mechanical aspects of chassis design have been done with the requisite care. Place it on a decent stand, make sure it’s level and use a decent mains lead and you’ll be most of the way there. The copper feet are surprisingly effective. A trio of Stillpoints cones tightened things up, improving transparency, dynamic range and musical coherence as expected, but the degree of improvement was smaller than anticipated; worthwhile, but hardly earth shattering. One other thing: I developed a marked preference for the single-ended outputs, even when connecting to the fully balanced Ayre K-1x pre-amp. They didn’t have the grip, or absolute dynamic range of the balanced outputs, but they delivered more air, micro dynamic life, immediacy and temporal fluency. You may or may not agree, but don’t just assume that balanced is best.
What is less immediately apparent is the way in which the player interfaces with different systems. The SA-7S1 possesses a definite character that makes matching a critical consideration. Like many SACD machines it exhibits the natural, unforced and fluid detail that I’ve come to associate with the medium. But unlike machines from dCS and the aforementioned Esoterics, it doesn’t drive that point home by majoring on focus and transparency, qualities those players extend to CD replay too. Instead this is a warm, weighty sounding machine with a full balance, solid presence and a distinctly mid-hall nature that’s almost analogue in character. The exceptional positional stability combined with the warmth of its tonal balance makes the Marantz very easy on the ear and un-fatiguing to listen to. The question is, when does something get so laid back that it actually topples over? Which is where the question of matching comes in…
The SA-7S1 will sound at its best used with electronics and particularly speakers that are on the leaner side of neutral (begging the question as to how it gels with its own, matching electronics). So, it performed far better with the solidstate Goldmund Telos 200 amps than it did with c-j, while the KEF 207/2 and even the Avalon Indra (which is neutral to a fault) delivered too much bottom end flesh for the SA-7’s bones. And that’s the point; because the Marantz sits right at the leading edge of the system, it doesn’t just add a hint of flavour, it dominates the underlying foundation and overall balance of the music. Any extra weight at all and the sound will become one paced and two-dimensional. Running it in a lean system is correction after the fact; it will help restore the balance, but it can’t reconstitute the structure, which brings us to the second consequence of the player’s chosen approach to the music.
You don’t get nothing for nothing, and that warmth and solidity comes with a price tag attached, in this case a lack of micro-dynamic discrimination and temporal precision that robs the music of immediacy and phrasing, the directness of its expression, and which adds to the mid-hall perspective. If you like your music up close and personal (which I do) you’ll likely look elsewhere. However, if a more relaxed and less intense presentation is your thing, the Marantz could be exactly what you are looking for.
Positional stability is a seriously underrated quality when it comes to hi-fi systems, and it’s at the core of the SA-7’s sound. Of course, it’s not the music that’s relaxed, it’s you listening to it – and that’s because the stable picture means you’re not working so hard. Voices and instruments are rock solid and impressively dimensional, without having that hectoring “look at me” quality that makes ultra transparent systems initially impressive but so often ultimately wearing. So whether it’s Sonya Kitchell doing girl and guitar, sat solid in front of you, or Barbirolli’s reading of Mahler 5 with the NPO, with its wonderfully terraced orchestral perspective and the sheer presence of its percussion, there’s no tendency for instruments to wander with level or crowd forward in the soundstage. You are here, the orchestra is over there and there’s never any doubt or shift in that relationship. And, in exactly the same way that reverberant information fills out and smoothes over the gaps and jumps in the performance that you hear sat mid-hall, or further from the stage in a bar, so the SA-7 delivers a big, smooth and rounded presentation, but one that’s underpinned with a real sense of substance and power. The performance is all about poise and a commanding presence. The sweeping seascapes and crashing storm of the Reiner Scheherezade, re-mastered to SACD, are mightily impressive, almost physical in their weight and impact. There’s no missing the vast sweep of the ocean or the destructive forces unleashed by the tempest. At the same time, Eleanor McEvoy’s ‘Nonsmoking, single female’ majors on sheer presence, but skates over the wry humour in the lyrics.