Marantz SR7008 A/V Receiver
AT A GLANCE
Nine amp channels
Audyssey MultEQ XT32
Excellent sound quality
No direct USB input for PC/Mac playback
Reference-worthy A/V receiver that offers great bang for the buck.
When I review speakers, I have dozens of major and minor brands to choose from. When I review audio/video receivers, the same names come up time and again. There just aren’t that many of them. You might think reviewing the same AVR brands repeatedly would leave me jaded. But it doesn’t. Every one of those heavy black boxes is a new quest. Every manufacturer has to prove itself all over again—and prove it to me, someone with a frame of reference that goes back decades. My method is pretty simple. I act as a surrogate for the consumer: I am you. I pull the product out of the box, lift it onto my rack, punch through the interface, turn it up loud, and consider both what I hear and how I feel about it.
Over the years, Marantz has earned a strong reputation for balancing performance with features. Its feature sets have evolved intelligently, and its progression through price points can transform performance into a rewarding adventure. Paying, say, $1,999 for the SR7008 offers a much different home theater experience than you’d get from a three-figure model, even one of Marantz’s. And yet, considering that this is Marantz’s top-of-the-line receiver, that price tag is pretty reasonable.
The Gang of Three
Unlike Denon, its stablemate among the D+M-owned brands with a Website that listed 23 surround receiver models at press time, Marantz contents itself with a mere 10. Half are new, and the other half are on their way out. So at any given time, Marantz is focusing its attention on just five models—or just three if you care most about the higher-performing SR-prefix models. The SR7008 is the uppermost of those three, along with the SR6008 ($1,199) and SR5008 ($899).
Among the chief differences is power: The SR7008 claims 125 watts times two into 8 ohms, versus 110 and 100 for the others. The top model has nine amp channels versus seven for the others, so you can augment the standard 5.1-channel array with two of the following options: a pair of channels for height enhancement, a pair for width enhancement, a pair of back-surrounds, biamplification of the front channels, or two additional stereo zones. The nine amp channels are served by eleven pairs of speaker outputs—of which six are assignable—so you can wire up the whole darn room with height, width, and back-surround speakers (you masochist, you) and switch among those modes without having to yank cables.
While all three receivers support height enhancement with Dolby Pro Logic IIz, the two step-up models add Audyssey DSX and DTS Neo:X, which include width enhancement along with height. All offer some form of Audyssey room correction, though the SR7008 boasts MultEQ XT32, the best out of four flavors, while the other two receivers have MultEQ XT, one step down.
The SR7008 is also the only one with Audyssey Sub EQ HT, which allows connection—and dedicated room correction—of a second sub. It sets separate level, distance, and crossover for each sub; then it applies a single EQ curve to both. Also on board is Audyssey LFC, which aims to cut bass transmission to spare household members or neighbors on the other side of the wall.
Receiver feature sets are increasingly divided into Apple and non-Apple technologies. Marantz’s favored wireless connection scheme is Apple AirPlay. AirPlay generally sounds better than Bluetooth, though it relies on a home network connection, whereas Bluetooth is blissfully independent of the network. If you don’t live in the shiny happy iOS universe, Marantz says you can look to the DLNA 1.5–compatible wired network connection to route music through your home network from Android or Blackberry devices, or add the RX101 Bluetooth adapter for $99. It includes a pair of infrared control receivers, which is handy if the receiver lives in a cabinet or closet. For wired connection of Apple devices, you’ll find an iOS-capable USB jack on the front panel, with a composite video input alongside; for Android devices, you can use the front-panel HDMI input to stream high-def video and multichannel sound. Marantz offers control apps for both iOS and Android. You can also control the receiver with a Web browser.
The SR7008 does not include Wi-Fi, as a small but growing number of AVRs do. There may come a day when the absence of this feature in a two thousand dollar receiver will make me grumpy, but not yet. A more serious omission is that the one USB input does not support direct connection of a PC or Mac—so to get your hi-res file fix on audiophile terms, you’ll need to add an external USB DAC. Through its Ethernet jack, the receiver does support streaming from Pandora, Spotify, and the IP version of SiriusXM—and you can even view pictures on the Flickr site. This is the first receiver I’ve reviewed that speaks in two new Microsoft dialects: Windows 8 and Windows RT. I’m guessing the streaming will work a lot like Win 7 Play To. (I regret not having a Win 8/RT PC or tablet for testing. I plan to use my iPad 2 and existing Win 7/XP PCs till they die. See you in five years.)
Marantz’s handsome and distinctive porthole design graces the receiver and its two SR siblings. The blue-ringed porthole is centered between the volume and input knobs on the backward-curving front panel, and if you find it cramped for viewing, flipping down a door exposes a larger display. That’s also where you’ll find the customary listening mode, menu navigation, and zone controls. If you rarely use front-panel controls and need only a little information on the display, you’re free to close the door and enjoy the minimalist look of the glass-reinforced resin faceplate.
In addition to seven HDMI inputs, the receiver has three HDMI outputs. Two are monitor-outs to connect displays, and the third is for zone-two use. One of the monitor-outs supports ARC, the HDMI Audio Return Channel, to get audio from your TV back to the receiver without the need for a separate audio connection.
Marantz has folded the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 auto setup into its own Setup Assistant. The Assistant has you manually specify speaker configuration, guides you through each speaker-cable connection, and sets subwoofer level using an interactive interface. The latter outputs a low-frequency tone and instructs the user to set a level of 75 decibels via onscreen display. The display lists the number of decibels within a red field for wrong adjustments or within a green field for acceptable adjustments, with about 1 dB of wiggle room. It took me a full minute of hairline adjustments to dial it in just right, but the audible results later were undeniably worth the trouble.
Audyssey room correction offers a choice of just-plain-Audyssey, Audyssey Bypass L/R, Audyssey Flat, Graphic EQ, and off modes. “We recommend the Audyssey setting,” said the manual, and since someone cared enough to express an opinion, I went along (though otherwise I’d have chosen Flat). Then I made the usual post-auto-setup tweaks, changing my speakers (which are almost, but not quite, full-range) from large to small and the sub crossover to 80 hertz. Audyssey set its low-volume modes, Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume, on by default; I switched them off and used them only when needed.
I also noticed a Dialog Level adjustment—nothing to do with the Audyssey auto setup, I was told. Out of the box, it defaulted to –2 dB. I thought zero would be more likely to keep dialogue at the right level, and made it so, but later changed my mind as explained below. Why the review sample defaulted to –2 dB was a mystery I never solved.
Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers, Paradigm Seismic 110 sub, Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player, Micro Seiki BL-21 turntable, Shure V15MxVR/N97xE cartridge, and Onix OA21s integrated amp serving as phono preamp. All movie demos were on Blu-ray Discs with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks except where noted. All music was vinyl.
Night and Day
While I wasn’t surprised to find out that the SR7008 was both a high performer and a well-rounded one, I had forgotten how pleasurable that could be. The receiver ran my speakers of average efficiency with plenty of dynamic headroom. Frequency response made seamless transitions from firm bass to a holistically complete midrange to a vibrant top end, and I never sensed an undue emphasis or reticence in any segment. Listening comfort was high, yet the top end was not rolled off or unduly polite. I was hearing a lot and feeling good about it. Perhaps the most notable impact on my listening activity was that I listened as much for pleasure as I did for business, with the two categories imperceptibly shading into each other. For after-hours listening, I didn’t take refuge in my Peachtree/Era desktop 2.1 system. As long as the Marantz was in my listening room, driving my Paradigms, that was the system I most wanted to hear at any time of day or night.
Getting-to-know-you demos proceed predictably with one curveball. As I watched through the Christian Slater thriller Assassin’s Bullet and the inside-a-cult drama of Sound of My Voice, sound quality steadily gained smoothness and resolution as the receiver went through the usual break-in. But something was missing: surround levels. By the time I got to the urban crime-and-politics drama of Broken City, with Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, I realized what had gone wrong: My overruling of the Dialog Level default setting was a mistake. I reset it from my chosen 0 dB back to the original –2 dB, and the soundfield came alive in both street and indoor scenes. The MultEQ-equalized sub grooved on deep synth tones, beautifully shaped by the carefully dialed-in sub. Bass is the one area where nearly all room correction systems I’ve tried in this space can make noticeable improvements.