Marantz has always had a strong presence in cheap and mid-price disc replay and the SA7003 is the current midranger.
Like its dearer siblings, it plays not only CD but also SACD, the latter in stereo-only. Why not? SACD transports evidently carry a much-diminished price premium now that the technology is no longer new and most modern DAC chips will handle SACD-format (DSD) data with ease, including the high performance Cirrus Logic part that Marantz has chosen for the SA7003.
Interestingly, that component is the only surface-mounted audio part in the whole player. Marantz has elected to stick with through-hole components elsewhere, including the latest version of its 'Hyper-Dynamic Amplifier Module', a circuit built entirely with discrete transistors which performs the all important analogue filtering and output buffering functions.
Despite the relatively high number of components that entails, the entire audio circuit sits on a single circuit board not markedly larger than that in most other players. While the upmarket variant of this, the SA8003 (effectively, the Ken Ishiwata signature version, we understand), uses a toroidal transformer, the '7003 makes do with a frame transformer, albeit quite a large one.
SACD: The SA7003, like the SA8003, plays SACD discs as well as standard CDs
There are less tweaky and special-grade components than in the '8003 too, while one external difference is that only the latter has a USB socket on the front panel. The '7003 does keep the headphone socket, though, complete with its own level control, a very useful feature for many. As well as CD and SACD discs, the player will handle MP3 and WMA data CDs. It is available in the pictured champagne finish or black.
Marantz kit is frequently cited as sounding very civilised and this player seems unlikely to buck that trend. Our listeners, who of course didn't know which player they were writing about, quickly picked up on the SA7003's smooth, clean sound and impeccable manners and, once again, levelled the criticism that attack could be crisper and more immediate.
There were also some surprising comments. Something about the imaging seems a little odd, as it was felt slightly narrower than it should be but also taller, clearly some kind of psychoacoustic trick in a standard stereo system.
Intrigued by that suggestion, we spent some time after the panel had left listening to a range of well-imaged recordings and in the end came to the conclusion that it is basically an issue of slightly compressed image depth making instruments at the rear seem to rise physically above those at the front.
Bass from this player is extended and tuneful, though not always the tightest. Instruments like timpani, which have both sharp attack and long decay, can sound a little less clearly defined than usual. Piano sounds a little softer in the bass, treble is just a little on the soft-grained side, too, though it has nice ambience and decay. There's a very good rendition of voices, which are clearly articulated, well-balanced and natural in timbre.
At the other end of the scale, large ensembles (orchestra, big rock bands and so on) lack a little grandeur, not only in terms of perceived size but also tonally – the music could do with more sweep, one listener suggested.
All the same, the good tonal balance and detail that this player always provides make for enjoyable listening across a wide range of music.
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