Another Ishiwata special edition at a new, lower price point

Designer Ken Ishiwata celebrated his 30th anniversary at Marantz by producing the sumptuous KI Pearl SACD/CD player and integrated amplifier priced at £2500 each. A year later came the less elaborately-built Lite versions at £1000 a piece.
   We thought the SA-KI Pearl Lite fabulous value when we first tested it in Dec ’10 as part of a group test, and since then its suggested retail price has been reduced. Shop around and you’ll find it for even less than £900.
   At 7.8kg the SA-KI Pearl Lite is half the weight of the Pearl player, the build being less sumptuous. Gone is the Pearl’s sexy front panel illumination and 5mm-thick aluminium top plate, while the Lite model comes with a standard Marantz remote handset. And the Lite’s glossy side cheeks – redolent of the wooden urushi lacquered panels fitted to luxurious products of yesteryear – are in fact plastic. Nevertheless it’s a handsome design and suggests a lot for the money.
   It’s solidly built player, with copper-plated chassis, substantial power supply with toroidal transformer and the not inconsiderable bonus of SACD playback capability besides.
   The feature set is fabulous. Alongside 24bit/192kHz-capable S/PDIF inputs that allow the player to be used as a DAC there’s also a B-type USB socket (24bit/96kHz) that your computer sees as an external soundcard. And a further USB input on the fascia provides a digital connection for an iPod/ iPhone. Memory sticks containing MP3, WMA, AAC and WAV files can also be played via this input. The absence of FLAC support is the only slight disappointment.

GLEAMING PEARLS
The voicing of the Pearl Lite appears to have been particularly well-judged, balancing detail and precision with a relaxed, easy-going nature that is focused on midband clarity. The Helicon Ensemble playing the Allegro from Vivaldi’s Sinfonia in C using early instruments [Reference Recordings RR-23CD] wasn’t portrayed quite as authentically as by, say, Primare’s ultra-crisp-sounding CD32 – some of the ‘edge’ of those early instruments was missing. But it still appeared pleasingly open.
   We played the closing section of ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ (with its helicopter scene) from Pink Floyd’s The Wall [EMI/Harvest CDS 746036 8] that segues into the killer bass/ drum thwacks of ‘The Happiest Days Of Our Lives’, an epic test of speed and dynamics.
   The angry vocal that commands ‘Stand still, laddie!’ in this excerpt might have been a tad recessed, nevertheless the balance overall was full-bodied with smooth high frequencies, and the powerful bass kicks possessed tremendous weight. The Pearl Lite is a player that really shines with powerful rock music, is never forced or uncomfortable but full-bodied and vigorous.
   The Marantz was also insightful of fine details in recordings. With Patricia Barber’s ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ from Nightclub [Premonition 7243 5 27290 2 9] her intimate vocal was comfortable but also focused sharply in the sound image.
   The Pearl Lite has a highly polished sound that sounds fabulous with top-notch recordings and also makes the most of dynamically compressed productions, for instance sounding vibrant and up-beat with Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’ from 21 [XL Records XLCD520].
   Samuel Barber’s The School for Scandal Overture with David Zinman conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, recorded in 1991 for Argo [now Classic FM CFM FW 004] sounded exquisite in texture and warmth while losing nothing in terms of detail.

VERDICT
Whatever the music, the SA-KI Pearl Lite always sounds polished, with a gracious demeanour. While demonstrating the communicative midband clarity that’s a hallmark of classic Marantz KI Signature CD players, this Pearl Lite delivers a refined sound that makes for particularly relaxed listening.

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Originally published in the Yearbook 2011.