After owning several SACD players,one Marantz before the SA7, I finally settled on the SA7. It just seemed more natural sounding than any of the Sony SACD players. Esoteric makes great stuff and I considered the SA-60 after a local demonstration as well. The Marantz however has just brought such enjoyment to CD which is ironic as it was initially SACD which motivated my purchase. No matter how much I like SACD, there is no denying that most of my favorite recordings are still Red Book. I am so happy with the SA7, that I did not bother comparing my Gen VIII series one, as I was certain of the outcome. it has basically sat in my closet for the last 6 months. I decided it might be best if I waited after I upgraded the unit to series 3,to give the Gen VIII a fair chance.
However, a friend, a long time audiophile, suggested that I bring it to his place, just to have some fun. At my recommendation and because of my enthusiasm, he also owns the Marantz SA7. We used his SA7 as the transport. He's been extremely happy with the SA7 as well. It's a much newer design, one of the most current, and well reviewed. The Gen VIII series 1 is a much older design, ancient compared to the Marantz. It took ONLY 30 seconds for my friend to reach a conclusion as to which offered the better sound quality with Red Book. I thought that too soon for a fair assessment but my friend had reached his conclusion that quickly. I am just not comfortable making such a snap assessment and I suggested we wait a bit longer to decide. A lot of component selection is just personal preference so I wanted to reserve judgement. Secondly, I needed some time to adjust to his set-up as it had been some time since I critically listened.
What my friend had decided after only 30 seconds was clear from his statement,"A F**&ing UPGRADE!" I have never seen him smile so quickly or ever become so enamored with a product as he was with the Gen VIII series 1. It was a complete shock. But at the end of the day, the assessment held
. He has owned a ton of gear and currently has the PS Audio Perfect Wave, so the snap decision was a surprise in light of that as well.
The Gen VIII series 1 was just so much more dynamic than I have ever heard his system sound. The sound is just powerful but not so much from a raw level perspective. What was really impressive is how much more alive the sound became. Typically, on a jazz track, there is a lot happening. The Gen VIII was able to really add snap and thus realism to performances.
It is difficult to describe and convey the differences between the sound of live music and what one hears in a typically high-end audio set-up. A drum solo for example is difficult to make realistic. While, many set-ups are dynamic and do an excellent job, it is still just difficult to reproduce. At least, that is the case with myself, after hearing hundreds of live musical performances with that as a reference. The friends whose home, I was visiting, is also a former jazz musician. The actual event is simple. You have a musician, sharply striking a taut drum head.
As a second generation martial artist, the amount of control of the stick that some drummers possess frequently has caught my attention. For example, to break a brick with ones hand it is not so much about raw power as it is about control. What you have to do is accelerate your hand so that the impact generates a resonance in the brick that cause it to break. Although it make look like a "raw power," event, it is not. It's actually much easier to break a brick if you stop your hand upon contact to allow the resonance to break the brick,though the force of initial contact must be great. If you continue to push your hand forward that actually dampens the impact and reduces the resonance. The fleshy hand is still soft in overall terms compared to the brick.
The same type of technique also appears to be happening with a drummer. The drummer is really accelerating the speed of the stick for initial contact and controlling the resonance of the drum head by how much he allows the head of the stick to remain in contact with the drum head and speed of the "attack" of the drum stick. There is a lot happening there and it is difficult to convey with most audio systems. My wife's uncle was recently voted one of the top 5 jazz drummers in the last 50 years in New Orleans. I have heard quite a bit of excellent drumming.
Where the Gen VIII appears to excel is that it actually can convey that kind of "micro" control. If you think further about what is happening with a jazz or any musical performance and the combined of event of several musicians playing at the same time, it logical that it would be difficult to hear the subtleties of individual musicians. Yet, it is quite easy to do with a live performance but often difficult with high-end audio,at least in a realistic manner. There are many things that distinguish a live event from an artificially reproduced one. The control that I hear with the Gen VIII is not so much about raw power and overall control but control within the reproduced events micro details. Of course the dac in the the only factor if the recreation of the event. I think you need a powerful amplifier capable of conveying the signal and controlling the drivers. He had that in the form of a Musical Fidelity KW750. One must also have a capable pre-amp. His is the Audio Research Ref. 5. Both excellent pieces of gear but I am always reminded that every component matters.
The series 1 that I have is fixed volume and can not be used as pre-amp. It therefore used solely as a dac. My friend had no interest at any rate in hearing it used a preamp. He's extremely happy with his preamp. While the other gear in his system is great stuff, the addition of the Gen VIII series 1 still elevated the system. Some of the preference for sound comes from experience. Where an inexperience listener, at least with the high-end can quickly decide that two components are equal, it takes experience to hear the levels of refinement that may not be obvious . My friend, an audiophile for over 30 years, noticed that quality immediately but it was his systems. This reminds me of how important an at home demonstration really is.
Read Kal's Stereophile review, http://www.stereophile.com/digitalpr...eta/index.html
. That review is still an accurate assessment of the Gen VIII series 1.