The Marantz may be slim – but it packs almost all the features that you could possibly wish for. And, most importantly, it sounds much, much better than you’d think!
This home cinema receiver is easy to overlook. Because it is very affordable and is so low-profile you’re inclined to think that it is not a real mature amp. But it is, it’s just packed more efficiently. For example, it has 7 power amps on board, 4 HDMI inputs, many digital and analog connections, auto setup with a measurement microphone, input routing and renaming and can handle all current surround formats including Dolby Digital EX, Dolby True HD, DTS ES, DTS HD, THX Ultra II, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and Pro Logic IIz. And this is still only scratching the surface. In a word: this amp is complete. And conveniently slim, so it fits everywhere.
I bought the Marantz because at the time I had limited space for a surround amp. Basically it had to fit under the TV, together with the DVD player and hard disk recorder. So initially I was looking at an all-in-one solution like the familiar Sony DAV series. Of course I knew that soundwise this would be a bad choice but there were simply no high quality low-profile amps around. Or so I thought. By accident I stumbled upon thios Marantz. But not because I saw it. No, the salesperson had to show it to me. I even looked around in the very room that it was in but didn’t see it. it is simply that inconspicuous. So how does it sound?
Compared to Denon AVR2802
I could compare it to many amplifiers, budget as well as highend but I think it makes most sense to just compare it to the other surround amps that I’ve had. After first connecting it it had a strong resemblance to my previous Denon AVR2802 surround amp. This was in both direct mode as well as when watching movies. Since I didn’t have the Denon anymore, I couldn’t do straight comparisons, but the speakers were still the same so I do feel pretty confident making off-memory comparisons here. Both the Marantz and the Denon are pretty neutral and above-average detailed. Both amps have a certain fluidity and lack of harshness that makes for an impression of listening to higher-priced equipment. Especially the Denon had extremely silky and airy treble. The Marantz is a tiny bit more aggressive, its treble being slightly less than fluid. But it is still very good, especially for a surround amp. Moving down the frequency spectrum, the mids are more or less comparable. Here both amps sound pretty much alike, being very detailed and lively but without being overly aggressive. Dialog is very clearly audible yet never harsh. Moving still further down the frequency spectrum, the bass is where these amps differ. The Denon has always lacked some attack, some solidity in the bass. It was very tuneful and agile, but on the thin side. The Marantz however is fuller and more punchy. And bear in mind that the Marantz is only rated at 50 watts into 8 ohms! But this turned out to be enough to drive my B&W Nautilus 804’s without sounding tired or slow. On the contrary, the Marantz is speedy and lively and very rhythmic. Also an area in which it trumps the Denon. Also, I feel that the Marantz is less artificial sounding, less synthetic and more real than the Denon. Okay, so it doesn’t blow you out of your sofa with bass power and gunshots don’t sound as if they’re piercing your head. But still there is plenty dynamic attack for most people. Only if you’re a home cinema fanatic, and you have no neighbours, should you feel the need for more power.
Compared to Yamaha DSA-A1000
This is of course no fair comparison. For starters, the Yamaha was much more expensive. But it is also just very different in aproach soundwise. The Yamaha DSP-A1000 is from the late 80’s and has the familiar powerful, lively, dynamic and slightly over-aggressive sound for which Yamaha amps from that period are known. For music it was just too much in your face and too brittle in the highs. But when using the amp for home cinema purposes… boy, could it rock! I even compared the Yamaha to a pair of Bryston 7BST’s over a period of time and although the Brystons had more finess and much better highs, the Yamaha gave the impression of having even more gut-busting power. I still miss it a bit. But times have changed and so have the formats. The Yamaha was strioctly analog. It didn’t even have Pro Logic II. So ultimately it had to go. The point is, if you compare the DSP-A1000 to the Marantz, you see how much more refined the Marantz actually is. It is just so much more gentle and fluid, as well as being more intrically detailed. But it lacks Yamaha’s drive and bass-power.
Compared to Harman Kardon AVR760
At first this also seems like a very unfair comparison. After all, the Marantz is the most simple model the brand makes and the HK760 is the best amp that the company makes. But it was an interesting comparison nevertheless. I bought the Harman Kardon because I do have neighbours. Six of them. But I like watching movies and series late at night. But the dynamic swings in the material make me reach for the remote all the time, to adjust the volume. During speech, I want it loud because the material is not subtitled. But during blasts and other donnerwetter, I have to take the volume down a bit to avoid angry neighbours. For this problem there is now a solution. It is called Dolby Volume. This is something like an intelligent dynamic compressor. Contrary to popular belief, it works with any source and any format. Now that I could fit a bigger amp, I chose the HK760 because of this, and its looks. The HK is very sophisticated and operates like a dream. But the sound… I don’t know what it is but I find it lacking enthusiasm. After doing some reading on the ‘net, it seems that Harman Kardon have always had a house-sound that is gentle, restrained and never-offending. And indeed it doesn’t. But it also fails to stir the soul. regular readers know that I don’t put too much emphasis on dynamics and that for me other aspects of the sounds are much more important. But in this case I have to say that the HK is too much. For sure, it has plenty power. It has much bigger bass than the Marantz, but not in the way that the Yamaha did. For some reason, the HK doesn’t sound powerful or dynamic. It is well-behaved to a point where it borders to dullness, ultimately making for a sound that fails to stir the soul. Where the HK is very laidback, in contrast, the Marantz is speedy, dynamic, lively. The Marantz is also less natural sounding, more synthetic, and it is nowhere near as powerful as the Harman Kardon but with movies it is never less than convincing. With music it is too lightweight and too artificial but still it manages to convey emotion and make my feet tap. This is something that the HK could never do, no matter how loud it played. And this should be seen as high praise for the Marantz.
Readers should be aware that there is always the aspect of taste. This is why I put so much effort in trying to explain how I listen to music and what I find important in musical reproduction. All this can be found here. Nevertheless, I have heard many, many amplifiers and I feel pretty confident that what I heard is for real. I feel that Harman Kardon have tried to make this amp sound its best in music-mode. And indeed, for a surround amp it has incredible finesse. It simply does not sound digital or processed. Its detailing is almost up to highend standards. But the presentation is so warm, so rounded and so laidback that the resulting sound appears less open than it actually is. All in all I feel that they have gone too far, too much preventing the amp from sounding enthusiastic.
The Marantz is entirely another matter. Here we have an amp that for the money just performs incredibly well. Of course it doesn’t entirely “beat” the Harman Kardon. But it offers a very interesting alternate perspective of which readers should definitely take note. In the end audio is always a matter of taste and also a matter of combination. In my case I combined the amps with B&W N804 speakers. The results may be different with more lively sounding speakers. But the bottom line is that the Marantz wasn’t humiliated by the Harman Kardon and that’s kind of a miracle considering the difference in price.