What is to become of Marantz Reference and HIFI as we know it

So I have been in a quiet morning for KI and Marantz as a brand for five months now.... The Marantz brand has been an American Icon in high-end audio and Saul Marantz might very well be the first “Audiophile” ever?

The Marantz brand has been with all of us for soooo very long! And in my family I’ll always remember the glowing blue of the hard earned family receiver...

When Saul knew his time was up and when he sold his company he made sure he had the assurance that someone would have/keep his vision and they sent him Ken Ishiwata, aka KI!
KI kept his end of the deal and more! KI has always had Saul Marantz in mind and his best interest at heart when guiding the Marantz companies References series.... And now sadly KI is gone, no longer with us. I always thought that somehow I would meet him at some trade show or something and shake his hand, thank him for all he did to make an impression on our hobby and in my life... Again sadly that never happened and as someone who loves HIFI I regret it.

But the larger question looms as what happens to Marantz high-end reference series/products now? They have been carefully guided by Saul Marantz and Ken Ishiwata for all these years! And there was no passing of the torch as there was between Saul and Ken...

I fear that the lone fighter for Marantz HIFI is gone now and it will not recover? I hope I am wrong and that someone in the Japan division will take it up but only time will tell...

Here is to you KI for keeping that flame alive all these years 
Your loyalty to a brand is touching, but my last Marantz purchase wasn’t so heartwarming.  I had bought the NAS 7004, one of the first streamer DACs.  It was so buggy as a streamer that it was unusable.  I was not allowed a refund, only to exchange it for an equally buggy 7004.  Marantz stopped making and then refused to stop supporting it a few years later.    I have seen many posts about Marantz service in Agon, none of them favorable.  Let me just say that in my experience they treat consumers with contempt
Mahler you are reinforcing what I am sadly hoping does not become a norm! 
Now your 7004 was not a Reference unit, never the less that is what happens when a culture is lost and only corporate bean counters control policy!
Now I will say my UD 7007 had two issues on its video side and Marantz was fantastic in its service side! The second time it was out of warranty yet they covered it at no cost and returned it with great results... 
This can be verified by my HIFI place “The Sound Shop” in Colorado Springs..... http://www.the-sound-shop.com/

So for me Marantz has been great on the warranty side but this is getting off the message!

Im worried that the legacy of Saul and KI to continue reference grade products that challenged anything out there is lost?
I hope I am wrong....

I would not compare the lower tier marantz stuff to the reference gear, different animals in my opinion, this coming from a lifelong marantz buyer and listener. I have to say my pm14s1 reference is quite the integrated as well as their reference cd/sacd players. This is not to dispute the supposed bad customer support referenced above, not that i ever needed any support, as I never experienced an issue with the brand.
Well I want to vote for the lower tier stuff. 10 years ago I dusted off my albums and bought the most expensive audio I’ve ever purchased. A Marantz PM5003 integrated. Refurbished I think. It was so marvelous I I keep it (unplugged:)) next to my new higher end gear to remind me of the joy that it and the loudness knob provided. Funk boogie and soul. 
I am sad to hear of KI passing. I have a reference series streamer/DAC, the NA11S1 that I think is very well put together and that sounds great to boot. That’s one of KI brain child. RIP. 
Back in the 90s one of my older cousins had some high-end Marantz gear and he absolutely swore by it.  He introduced me to Led Zeppelin.  The music and that Marantz kit hooked me on audio for life.

Rock on!

My first real system included a Marantz 3300 preamp, Marantz Model 120 tuner and a Phase Linear 400 amp. They all held high sex appeal to my eyes.
Life goes on. Companies come and go. Music reproduction evolves and improves. Say Thanks to your old buddies and come along to the future.

Was KI really that important to the sound?  I had always read that he tweaked equipment that had been designed by their in house team.

My lousy streamer aside, my other experience with Marantz products was that they did well in the bass and midrange, but gently rolled off the top end .  My SACD player8005 and the aforementioned streamer sounded remarkably similar and I am guessing must have had similar DACs.  I had a friend who owned their top line HT Processor and multichannel amp, which cost about 8K as a combo back in the early 2000s, and was struck by the same feature when I heard them a few years back.  Was that a KI preference?
  My only “Classic Marantz “ piece that I recall was a tuner that probably hailed from the early sixties.  I tried it for a weekend from a dealer who would let you audition second hand gear.  It probably needed an overhaul but it did have a comfortable warmth.  I didn’t keep it because it was massive and threatened to break my equipment rack of the time.
In the 70's. I started my first line of credit by going to a small credit bureau, borrowing 168 dollars ( I still have the receipt) and buying my very first turntable. A Marantz 6300. I made payments on that thing for 2 years with my paper route ..
My first real hi-fi system, 1 year out of high school, included a Marantz 2270 receiver.  What a joy that system was.  Though I have moved way beyond a receiver system, several times over the years, that particular system still rings my bell.  I loved it and I'll never forget it.  Long live the Marantz brand!
I ,too, will miss Ken. He was passionate and did tweak everything on the reference side  of Marantz. I have owned mostly Marantz for 30 years and started with multichannel, then moved to the PM 17 integrated with two Sm 17 power amps.  I now use a PM 8005/ SA 8005 in an upstairs den and a PM 14S1 integrated amplifier in my main system with Triangle Celius  floorstanders. The PM 14S1 is minimally on the warm side of neutral, but without loss of detail, and well compliments the marginally cool  horn tweeter of the Triangles. The newer PM KI Ruby integrated is class D with power. I haven’t heard it, but it has gotten good recent reviews. 
I believe someone will step up and continue developing the reference products for Marantz. All the above were/are built in the Reference facility in Japan including the PM 8005 and PM 8006.
Apparently he parted with Marantz in May, 2019 over corporate issues. He planned to begin other projects but died November 25, 2019. The cause of death was not been much revealed, but Stereo Magazine in December, 2019, attributed it to an autoimmune disease. He was 72.
I hope marantz keeps going on the right direction. While I made other choices for 2ch components priced at their reference level, I use a marantz AVR for my reference home theater setup and am awaiting delivery of the new pm7000n super integrated to power my third music system, to replace a Bluesound Powernode 2. Marantz does a lot well. 
Was KI really that important to the sound?

The Marantz house sound as we know it and is loved by many IS KI! That sound is his signature and why he was involved in all those tweaks you spoke about.
I read a review a while back on the new KI Ruby equipment. In that review it said that he was not happy with the sound of them at all and he sent them back with the changes he wanted to the Japan team, to change them to get it right and to recapture the sound he was looking for.
The Japan team made the changes and sent the units back to Europe where KI lived and he was still not happy! So KI took those units and he himself made changes to them until he found that Marantz Reference sweet spot, that Marantz/KI house sound....
KI then sent them back with what he had done and the rest is history as the Ruby’s were very well received!
KI was, during his time at Marantz, as important as any head engineer or company owner. Marantz was all to happy to put him out there to promote the brand...
I've had Marantz gear that was superb, and some just OK, and some just awful within the same series.   Many years ago had an integrated amp, perhaps a PM500 if memory serves that was quite AOK and the matching tuner was awful.  Before that a 2245 receiver that was excellent as well as the associated add on quad component.  More recently had a $3500 Marantz CD player that was quite picky about what disks it would and would not play, and played none of them very well.  Replaced it with a Sony SA 5400 ES that I bought as a refurb from Sony for pennies on the dollar and about one tenth of what I had in the Marantz and it is much better, a former Class A Stereophile player.
Very sad to hear about KI passing. I have SA 10 CD player and has been the best unit I bought, sturdy, very nice sounding and hefty. Yes, their reference product is cut above similar priced units elsewhere.