When Ken Ishiwata was lured into working for Marantz in 1978 he had already been at Pioneer Japan for ten years. The story goes that the European base that Superscope had created for Marantz in Belgium was having trouble with high rejection rates on the product coming over from Japan. They approached Ken in 1977 because they needed someone with both business and engineering acumen, but being a canny chap, he asked for a deal that Superscope couldn’t match. Eventually, however, they capitulated, and Ken moved to Marantz a year later.
Initially he spent some time at the Standard Radio factory that was manufacturing electronics for Marantz where he says that standards were extremely high; every unit was tested before shipping in an era when (as now) only samples were checked. When he got to Belgium, Ken started to test the rejected units and found that by the parameters of the manufacturing plant they were spot on; the problem was that the engineers were using different parameters. So ultimately it was a communication issue.
Ken’s first products for Marantz were loudspeakers and it wasn’t until the first KI Signature CD player in the mid-1980s that he switched to electronics. His guru legend began when he made some changes to an existing model (CD63) that was not proving very successful and the company was in danger of having a warehouse full of machines that would be soon superseded. By making a few judicious changes to key elements, Ken was able to create an award-winning CD player that sold like proverbial hot cakes. Since then, his status as brand ambassador has grown and now his name is found on all but the most lowly of Marantz products. His 40th (ruby) anniversary with the company is cause for celebration, featuring a couple of limited-edition products; the PM-KI Ruby integrated amplifier and SA-KI Ruby CD player.
Calling the SA-KI Ruby a CD player is to understate its capabilities quite severely. Not only will it spin most disc types including SACDs and those encoded with WAV and FLAC files, it is also a fully featured digital to analogue converter. It is built to a massively high standard, and this is fairly obvious at a glance, but when you turn the player over and see the milled and copper plated chassis and lovely felt padded feet, the impression is reinforced. It needs to be said that when the Japanese do something on an industrial scale the value for money is without peer – when smaller high-end companies build to anything approaching this standard they have to charge at least twice as much, and most high-end audio companies are ‘smaller’. I love the way that the analogue outputs are silver plated, for example, and that the remote has different power buttons for amplifier and player/DAC.
Under the skin it’s impressive as well. For a start, Marantz is part of the Sound United group along with Denon, Polk, Boston, Classé, and Definitive Technology, which gives it the scale to build a dedicated SACD/CD drive mechanism that will also play from CD- and DVD-ROM discs. It has an asynchronous USB input that’s good for up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD11.2MHz sample rates. In fact, the DAC converts all incoming digital signals to DSD11.2 MHzin order to avoid the limitations of oversampling that are intrinsic to PCM signal processing. It features two onboard clocks and offers two filter settings that are selectable with the remote. The power supply is based around a high current toroidal transformer that must contribute to making the SA-KI Ruby as heavy as the PM-KI Ruby integrated amplifier.