After the stereophonic splendour of the SA-1 – Marantz’s first SACD player launched in 2001 – came the multi-talented, multimedia, multichannel SA-12. This little beauty not only played Red Book CDs and SACDs (of both the stereo and multichannel variety) but DVD video discs (in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS formats, plus the practically obsolete 24/96 Digital Audio Disc) too.
At £3,499 in 2003 it was a lot cheaper than the SA-1 it replaced, despite boasting multichannel functionality. At 458x126x379mm it is largish, and came nicely finished in the company’s traditional champagne gold. Inside twelve professional grade Crystal CS4397 DACs and twelve proprietary HDAM copper plated op-amps were fitted, working in dual differential configuration. Marantz’s own Super-Ring toroidal transformer was also present, plus a separate transformer for the fluorescent display, and the usual specially selected passive components. There was also OFC wiring between circuitboards, which themselves were shielded, copper grounded and multi-layered.
The chunky front panel was a tasteful affair, the company avoiding the opportunity to festoon the machine with gadgets and gizmos. Round the back it was pretty spartan too, with just two SCARTs, S-Video and Composite video outs, plus coaxial and optical digital outs (neither of which output DSD – just PCM), plus a 5.1 channel analogue audio out (via widely spaced gold plated RCA phonos) and a humble stereo pair of analogue line outs. Not being overburdened with facilities, the SA-12 is straightforward to use. Perhaps the most interesting feature for its time is the configurable digital filter, which offers a choice of three settings.
By today’s standards, it sounds very smooth, almost to the extent that the high treble is a little rolled off. There’s an obvious softness to high frequencies on CD that deprives music of some bite. The midband is a pleasantly warm and luxurious experience, with a usefully varied tonal palette and the ability to tell you all about the texture of the instrument playing. Female vocals come over as silky and creamy, which makes the SA-12 a joy with jazz. But despite all this sweetness and warmth it has excellent rhythmic prowess, proving superb at letting different instruments play along together.
Down in the bass, things both surprise and disappoint. It is brilliantly tuneful and articulate, making things a joy to listen to, but isn’t as deep and muscular as the original SA-1. Like its high treble performance, it sounds just a touch soft and curtailed. Still, there’s a cleanness and crispness here that makes it satisfy regardless of music types.
Switch to SACD and much of that lost high frequency energy seems to be working its ‘mojo’ far further down the scale, investing the midband with all those rich lustrous harmonics. The overall effect is a deeply enjoyable one, one that really gets into the ‘soul’ of what Super Audio Compact Disc is about – it can really communicate a mood, a feeling, a sense – in the way that no DVD-A player did. Overall then, the Marantz SA-12 proved to be a superb SACD spinner, and a very decent Compact Disc player too.