Marantz SR6003 A/V receiver Page 2

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The Dolby TrueHD-endowed Blu-ray Disc set of David Gilmour's Royal Albert Hall gig, Remember That Night (Columbia), might be the best-sounding rock show yet committed to disc - especially if you turn off the video and forget that Gilmour and guys look better suited to gas fire, pipe, and slippers than to the stage of the Royal Albert. Heard through the Marantz, its sound was full, spacious, and crystal clear, with impressive bass and dynamics even at some very serious master-volume settings. Paunch and gray buzzcut aside, Gilmour still teases out some of the greatest guitar timbres ever from his Strat and backline - a big part of what rock is all about for me.

The SR6003 accepts DSD bitstreams from multichannel SACD discs, decoding them in the receiver. My best SACD recordings, such as Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony performing Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (Telarc), produced precisely the pristine sonics I expect from this fine but sadly moribund audio format.

On the analog-video side of things, the SR6003's processing comes courtesy of i-Chips Technology silicon. Processing is applied only to incoming analog composite-, component-, or S-video signals (video arriving on HDMI passes through untouched), which can be scaled to 1080p and passed through the HDMI output. The SR6003 also transcodes analog formats: composite- to component- and S-video, and S-video to component. The net results with standard-def DVD programs and test patterns input by way of 480i component video and viewed through the Marantz's 1080p HDMI output looked quite good, but not reference-grade. Pictures appeared just a smidge softer and noisier than the same signal coming directly from the player's HDMI output. (This is true to some extent of most video processors in A/V receivers; it's a matter of degree.) Signals traveling over HDMI, including 1080p ones from my Blu-ray player, were entirely unaffected by their trip through the SR6003.

ERGONOMICS

The Marantz's onscreen setup is billed as a graphical user interface, but it's really just a text-only menu-tree affair - albeit a handsome, sensibly laid-out one. Since many of its competitors do have full-color, icon-based GUIs, this is a bit of a letdown. Another flaggable item: None of the SR6003's "running" onscreen displays, such as volume, input, or surround-mode changes, appear over its HDMI or component-video outputs at all, unless you're viewing a composite- or S-video source. Hello? What year is this? Does anybody who buys a thousand-dollar receiver still use a TV that doesn't at least have a component-video input?

Okay, so I didn't love the onscreen graphics engine's limited utility. But I did like the Marantz's remote, which is very attractive, fairly readable, and thoughtfully, if rather densely, laid out. (Nevertheless, I propose we outlaw symmetrically shaped remotes with identical volume and channel up/down button pairs. In the dark, I kept picking up the damned thing upside down and pressing what I thought was volume, to no avail. Yeah, slow learner.)

Lastly, the SR6003's networking capabilities are limited to a single front-panel USB input that can accept a flash drive for MP3/WMA file playback or a self-powered hard drive. This worked fine, and unlike some other receivers, the Marantz can pause/resume mid-track, and even do bidirectional, multispeed fast-forward and reverse scanning, albeit choppily. Unfortunately, like most other A/V receivers, basic, thumb-driven list browsing is the only file-selection mode, so deploying a cheap drive as a poor man's music server is not a very practical option here.

BOTTOM LINE

Marantz's origins in the dawn of high-end audio still show, even through several changes of corporate ownership across its half-century history. The SR6003 is a great-sounding receiver, with enough sonic chops to catch the ear of serious listeners. And its merely average analog-video processing will be entirely irrelevant to most potential owners, who would likely use it in an all-HDMI system. In any case, the SR6003's top-flight audio and all-around attractive design easily earn it a closer look.

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