Marantz SA8003 - £829

Marantz's reputation for its own 'house sound' is on show here with a player that fares well against the competition

Marantz used to append the great man’s initials to models ‘breathed on’ by Ken Ishiwata, but there’s nothing in the nomenclature to give that away here. In fact, this is basically a souped-up SA7003, sharing a basic spec, but adding touches like the copper-plated chassis, toroidal mains transformer and a sprinkling of audiophile passive components.

Speaking of components, this player is decidedly old-fashioned-looking inside, with the majority of electronic parts being through-hole types. There are quite a lot of discrete transistors around, made up into Marantz’s trademark HDAM circuit, which performs the same function as the more common op-amp chips, but (we’re assured) to a higher standard.

Components may be old-fashioned, but the USB input certainly isn’t – especially as it’s one of the first to support digital input from an iPod.

As a result, the SA8003 suddenly becomes a handy way of getting the best quality from any portable music player, or files on a USB stick. It even plays CD-standard WAV files via USB, which should give identical quality to CD. SACD is only stereo, but Marantz does make multichannel (and multi-format) players if you want the full surround monty.

Despite the Ishiwata touches, there are areas where this player feels a little budget-ish in ways that the others don’t. Features are basic, for example, but in fairness perfectly serviceable and one upgrade we definitely approve of is the high-quality phono connectors.

Sound quality

Marantz has something of a reputation for warm sound and that seems to be upheld by this player, possibly a little too much for our panel’s ears. They enjoyed it, but seem to have found the bass at times a little more forward than circumstances justified.

What they really liked about the SA8003, with both SACD and CD software, was its clear but unforced detail. Equipment that makes too much of it can be as tiring in the long run as equipment that’s casual with it, but this player seems well- established in the middle ground. It’s also very good at handling dynamics, again without undue emphasis and at times even seeming understated. But there’s plenty of kick and energy, both functions of localised dynamics, while long-term dynamic swings are handled confidently and, when required, subtly.

Tonally, apart from the warmness, there’s a pleasant sparkle to the treble which stops well short of actual brightness, while midrange is neutral or as near to it, as makes no difference.

Interestingly, we felt in our sighted listening session that this player, when compared with the rest of the field, makes its best impression with CD rather than SACD. The latter is good, but seems to lack a little of the finely etched precision that the format can, at best, offer from some players.

LIKE: Very good detail, always there but never forced or isolated
DISLIKE: Slightly less assured with SACD than with CD . Lacks precision
WE SAY: Classic Marantz sound is a pleasure and iPod compatibility adds to the attraction

DETAILS
ORIGIN: Japan/China
TYPE: CD/SACD/universal player
FORMATS: CD, SACD, MP3,WMA
WEIGHT: 7kg
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD) 435x105x335mm
FEATURES:
• Analogue output: Single unbalanced
• Digital output: electrical and optical S/PDIF
DISTRIBUTOR: Marantz UK
TELEPHONE: 01753 680868
WEBSITE: marantz.com