Size and weight are key considerations with this player - it must be one of the biggest (in depth at least) and heaviest players around at this sort of price.
The weight is accounted for not least by the thick steel panel screwed to the bottom which reduces audio-frequency resonance in the chassis, while the size... well, there's plenty going on inside.
The journey taken by the signals starts with the SACD transport, a familiar unit from other Marantz and Denon machines we've seen, and progresses via a DAC that handles both SACD (DSD) and CD (PCM) data in native form.
Its output goes to circuits using Marantz's 'HDAM' modules, effectively discrete-transistor op-amps that use current feedback (rather than voltage feedback) for high-speed operation. Output stages and even the headphone driver use discrete transistors, and only a single integrated circuit (the DAC) is in the audio's path.
The looks may be a bit of an acquired taste for some, but we think they're smart and the display is easy to read (though in some lighting conditions it's a bit too easy to see what's not illuminated). Button layout has definitely sacrificed usability for looks, but you get used to it.
Round at the rear are high quality sockets for analogue output (stereo only from SACD), plus both the usual flavours of digital and remote control connections. The power supply uses an encapsulated frame transformer and some unusually generous smoothing capacitors, and there are all sorts of audiophile touches like copper-plated screens on key components and sections.
Although our listeners liked many aspects of this player's performance, they don't seem to have been particularly captivated or moved by it.
It's always a danger sign when comments written at the time of listening refer more to sonic aspects (dynamics, bass and so on) than to the music or the performers, and it emerged that while everyone seemed to find this player quite impressive, none of them put it top of the pile for musical qualities.
Bass is extended and weighty, with plenty of kick in rhythmic music, but soft when playing a full orchestra - the more continuous nature of the bass doesn't seem to suit so well, though it does dig deep. Midrange and treble are good tonally but without the detail that some other players can offer, nor the pin-sharp imaging.
The sound is very lively, with plenty of pep and pizazz, making for enjoyable times with energetic pop, rock and so on. This suited the Penguin Cafe Orchestra well during our blind listening tests, though it seems our listeners could have wished for slightly more detail.
In fact, detail seems to be the weakest area for this player. While the high 'bop' factor does to some extent make up for this, we're not convinced it's a trade-off one should have to make at this price. Mildly compromised imaging is a partner to the lack of detail, and images tend to be flattened and pushed forwards.
Playing SACDs, this was slightly ameliorated but the basic sonic character seemed much the same - not so surprising when most of the signal path is common to both formats. Still, with the right music the SA-15S1 is an exciting listen.