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Impressions: Esoteric SA-10 vs. Marantz SA-11S2

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
I briefly have two nice source components in the house - I have to pick one to stay - and, in case anyone is interested, want to get a few stray thoughts and impressions out.

These are both great cd/sacd players. Both cost about $3600. They're almost the same size and weight: substantial. As far as appearance goes, that's about the most that they have in common.

The Esoteric presents a stark, minimal look, with a "rain gutter" band near its top that includes the disc drawer and controls. Its remote is nice, but is actually too heavy - like a brick. The Marantz, on the other hand, is much more baroque, like an older Pontiac or Subaru Outback, with all that cladding cluttering up its bodywork. Still, it's a good look, more golden than silver, and its remote, while still heavy, is much nicer.

The SA-10 is the least expensive Esoteric sold in the U.S. The Marantz is their next-to-top cd/sacd player.

They really sound quite different from each other. The Esoteric presents a colder, more analytic sound, with more up-top air, which can come off as either an extra dollop of space, detail, and refinement, or else as a glassy skating pond, depending upon the recording. On Roy Orbison's "Black & White Night" sacd, there's no glass; on more prosaic cds, the Esoteric can sound appropriately thin and even wheezy. I think that this is actually the SA-10 being truer to the recording.

The Marantz is much smoother, totally (and eerily) grain-free, has a wider dynamic swing (which sneaks up on you), is never glassy or thin, and shows as much detail.

In fact, the Marantz is continually surprising: details I never knew were on recordings suddenly pop into view; layers of instruments are sorted out; multi-track recordings become rainbows of sound instead of congealed burger grease. It's really quite amazing, and has to be heard to be appreciated. This "multi-track sorting" was especially evident on a bad greatest hits cd of the Mamas & the Papas. I have no idea how the Marantz pulls this off without getting harsh.

I have some other truly atrocious cds, including some from Windham Hill, of the fusion/world music/jazz/New Age/who-knows-what/The Weather Channel background music group Shadowfax from the early/mid 1980's. There are tiny pits falling out of the aluminum of these cds. And still, the Marantz separates layers on these recordings that I've never heard before. Are there such things as electric violins? I've heard them for the first time, last night, deep-deep-deep in the mix, after owning the cds for over 20 years.

I must stress that I wasn't looking for this kind of thing. (I was relaxing with a Tonkinese cat on my lap, who was chewing on my HD600 cord [stock!!].)

I'd like to talk about the various maddening filter etc. settings available on these machines, but I haven't figured them out yet. "Filter 2" seems my favorite on the SA-11S2, for both sacd and cd. God, these filters and phase inverters and so on really open up cans of worms. Some of you would love playing with them; others would need Valium to cope with them. I'm closer to the latter camp.

One really, really interesting thing about both the Esoteric and the Marantz: I went into these two players favoring the Sennheiser HD600 for its more neutral sound with my previous Onkyo DX-7555 cd player and CIAudio VHP-2/VAC-1 headphone amp. These higher-level players seem to make me reach more often for the HD650, which now sounds more like an improved 600 rather than gassy and bloated.

This means, unfortunately, that those senior Head-Fiers who insist that "the HD650 scale like a son of a bitch" are probably correct. Which, of course, opens up even more cans of worms (and more wallets).

Speaking of the $600 Onkyo, it's still here. It's a super cdp for the money. But it doesn't compete with the Marantz or the Esoteric. It's much less refined. The word "grain" comes to mind, or perhaps sand. It has a sound that is more rambunctious - which some may prefer, and some may actually think of, at least at first, as "better" - but which really, really wears on you after awhile.

In fact, if I have to name the biggest advantage of more highly-evolved machines, it would be the fact that you can listen to them for much, much longer without getting tired or edgy.

The Marantz SA-11S2 and the Esoteric SA-10 are both rather advanced and exciting pieces of gear. The Marantz, in particular, may be in the sweet spot in the manufacturer's lineup. Some would prefer the cleaner, crisper, more metallic-sounding Esoteric; some would prefer the sweeter, more honeyed champagne-colored Marantz.

I probably am falling in love with the Marantz. Which is a shame, since I prefer the classy, minimal architecture of the solid-as-a-brick-****house Eso.
Despite intellectually favoring more analytic (and less expensive) gear, the Marantz tugs at my emotions, while doing the detail thing just as well if not better.

And, in the process, I am being re-introduced to the Sennheiser HD650. In a big, unexpected way.
post #2 of 16
multi-track recordings become rainbows of sound instead of congealed burger grease
Yeah, that's what I was thinking too!

Seriously tho, the Marantz SA11 is a fantastic machine and I agree with everything you say, from the remote control, through to how you really can just keep listening to this machine for hours on end, to how the looks of the Marantz aren't as appealing as the Esoteric, yet it still wins your favour. Yes, it is slightly warm sounding (only a little), but in a good way -- and it still packs a lot of detail too. When I set out to find my current CDP, Marantz really wasn't high on my list (particularly from an aesthetic point of view). However, after listening to many machines, it came out on top, and now resides happily on my equipment rack. And you know what? It's probably the only piece of gear I own that I am blissfully happy with.
post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
Your avatar is from the Marantz remote control! Cool!

I'm glad to hear what you say, and, yeah, it looks like a winner. I'm kind of in a state of shock when it comes to how good it sounds.
post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 
oh, and gz, what filter and other settings do you use / find useful?? What goes best with what kind of music / recording quality??
post #5 of 16
Thanks for the impressions. I had the general same impression of other Esoteric units as you have of the SA10 (specifically the DV60 and UX-1), guess their house sound doesn't deviate too much within their line.

You're using the VHP2 with these CDPs, right?

I so want to hear an upper-end Marantz (or any Marantz for that matter), I keep reading good things about Marantz sources in general. Soon I hope...
post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 

Your opinion on one of the better Marantz (or on any new sources you get your hands on) would be really, really interesting and valuable to read. In getting to this point, I re-read many of your past source evaluations; they were all very helpful. Thank you for your work.

I'm using the VHP-2/VAC-1. It seems to be passing through what it's fed pretty much unaltered and untruncated. I suppose, overall, it could be accused of being 1/4 notch to the warm side, but if it is, it isn't by much, and it's the direction of error that I'd prefer in most cases.

The SA-11S2 seems to have the ability to make bad recordings tolerable and even interesting, while leaving better stuff - well-mastered sacds, xrcds, etc. - alone. And, then, there's leeway to fiddle with filters etc., beyond that. Very flexible.
post #7 of 16
Thanks, I do what I can. I suspect before the year is over I'll have heard a Marantz source, they look really interesting technically too.

Any comment on how either the Marantz or Esoteric compare to your previous Arcam FMJ CD33? You still have it or did you sell it?
post #8 of 16
Great review, greggf. Thanks for the impressions... let us know what you end up keeping, and keep posting your listening notes, if possible!
post #9 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks, HiWire, will do.

I sold the Arcam CD33. I still respect it enormously. In fact, I thought about getting it "again" in the form of the CD36, which is going for good prices, since it's being replaced with the CD37, which is a cd/sacd player! From Arcam!

But, ultimately, I decided to try new stuff. The Arcam, soundwise, is closer to the Eso and Marantz units than to the Onkyo. I enjoyed my winter with the latter a lot, thinking that I could live with a more basic source, but, in the end, couldn't stay away from the refinement and excitement of better stuff.

I feel about the Arcam the way I do about the Sennheiser HD600: a great all-arounder that is very hard to shake. The CD33 was very competent, reserved, polite, and technically perfect. It only lacked get-up-and-go.
post #10 of 16
Something that was very surprising to me.


However, it is a matter of component matching in the system as well. Marantz SA-11S1 sounds "thin" while the Zhaolu sounds more "musical".
post #11 of 16
Thread Starter 
I have the 11S2 in-house, as opposed to the 11S1. I think the changes between the 1 vs. 2 are extensive, but I'd love to know how they compare soundwise.
post #12 of 16
Originally Posted by greggf View Post
I'd love to know how they compare soundwise.
Great ! Once the goal is to find musical "enlightenment", you have plenty of opportunity.

I would suggest you test Oritek Modded Zhaolu with Headphone Amp against your two players (if you could). You would probably have a new definition of music. Nonetheless, whether you will like or not is a different question.

Enjoy your music.
post #13 of 16
Very nice review Greggf. How do the 2 players stand against each other in terms of dynamics on the lower register (mid-bass and sub-bass area) ?
post #14 of 16
Originally Posted by bordins View Post
Great ! Once the goal is to find musical "enlightenment", you have plenty of opportunity.

I would suggest you test Oritek Modded Zhaolu with Headphone Amp against your two players (if you could). You would probably have a new definition of music. Nonetheless, whether you will like or not is a different question.

Enjoy your music.

this is interesting, so u reckon the oritek modded zhaolu is better then the marantz? i might want to compare with gz76's marantz one day. my oritek modded zhaolu d2.0 is previous owned by u.
post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 
The bass on the Esoteric and on the Marantz are very, very similar, and less than I'd like, even though it's well-controlled / tight.

It's one area of weakness on both. I suspect that this is where the larger power supplies on the better models in each line come into play.
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