Marantz SA-12SE/PM-12SE SACD Player/Amplifier

hfncommendedThis SE version of Marantz's former 'Japan only' SA-12/PM-12 player/amp combo borrows very heavily indeed from the costlier KI Ruby series, but saves £1000 into the bargain

So what do we have here? The new SA-12SE SACD/CD player and PM-12SE integrated amplifier, selling for £2999 apiece, are the latest in a long line of 'special edition' products from Marantz. Its family tree includes 'Original Special Edition' models, when other brands got in on the 'SE' thing, and the 'KI Signature' versions tuned by the company's late Brand Ambassador, Ken Ishiwata.

The formula is a familiar one: take products already in the company's catalogue – in this case a player and amp sold on the Japanese domestic market over the past couple of years – and apply to them some sound-enhancing tuning, along with premium pricing. It's a common misconception that all this started with the launch of the CD-63 KI Signature back in the mid-1990s, but in fact the idea predates that model by some margin.

Back in the early days of CD, the company found itself with large stocks of 14-bit players when some rivals were trumpeting their then-new 16-bit technology, and a decision was made to 'premium-ise' the players rather than sell them off at bargain prices. Some tuning was applied (along with a badge) and the rest, as they say, is history.


Built For Audio
Fast-forward to the present, and there's an interesting conundrum. Within a few weeks of the launch of the '12SE models we have here, Marantz also announced its new '30 series. Not only do these have similar prices to the '12SEs and a similar specification, but an entirely refreshed 'look'.

There's an analogue-only integrated amplifier, like the PM-12SE, and an SACD/CD player with digital inputs, the SACD 30n, that builds on the SA-12SE's feature set with integrated network playback. An in-depth HFN review of those two will follow in the fullness of time, but for now the main question is where the new SA-12SE and PM-12SE fit into the current Marantz lineup of products.


The obvious answer is that they're more affordable counterparts to the flagship SA-10 player and PM-10 amplifier [HFN Mar & Aug '17]. Those heavyweights sell for £6499 and £7499 respectively, though at the time of writing it wasn't too hard to slice £500 off each of those prices, while the 12 series models show more than a little of their range-topping technology trickling down to more sensible levels of the range.

For example, the player employs a dedicated 'built for audio' disc mechanism – when many machines now use generic DVD-ROM transports – and also the Marantz Musical Mastering (MMM) digital signal path, involving the upconversion of all digital signals to DSD.

Star Feature
The amplifier, meanwhile, uses a dedicated Marantz phono stage to provide for both MM and MC cartridges. And there's another twist, described thus in the promotional material for the 12SE: 'Our dedicated in-house Sound Masters occasionally identify products with higher potential than expected, then hone them into Special Edition models through extraordinary attention to detail... Drawing also upon achievements made while developing the acclaimed KI Ruby series, the Marantz Sound Master together with our European sound engineers have meticulously crafted the new 12 Series Special Editions.'


Now while I can see all that, comparing the products here with the KI Ruby designs [HFN Jan '19], launched a couple of years back, it's hard not to think that 'drawing on' them might well have involved the use of a photocopier. To put it charitably, there are more similarities than differences between the two series, both externally and internally, and with copper plating of the chassis, an engraved signature and an ersatz gemstone inserted, the '12SEs could easily pass for the KI Ruby models…

PM's lab work also highlights the similarities in measured performance, although this could be to some extent attributed to the use of the same Hypex Class D power amp modules in both series' integrated amplifier. However, the good news is in the pricing, for the SA-12SE and PM-12SE are each £500 less than the KI Ruby models. While that SACDM-3 transport (also able to play compilations on CD- or DVD-ROM) is definitely a star feature of the SA-12SE, the heart of the player are the 'MMM-Stream' and 'MMM-Conversion' systems.

Hypex Hallmark
All LPCM inputs are handled as LPCM – with a choice of two digital filters – but the final act of conversion sees everything upsampled to a very high-rate DSD bitstream before low-pass filtering reveals the analogue waveform. Digital inputs up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD256/11.2MHz are accommodated while, downstream of the digital chain, the player uses Marantz Hyper-Dynamic Amplifier Modules, or HDAMs, here in SA2 and SA3 versions. This includes the player's dedicated headphone amplifier that employs Marantz's HDAM-SA2 op-amps.

Sound United/D&M Holdings
Kanagawa, Japan
Supplied by: D&M Audiovisual Ltd, UK
02890 279830