Marantz AV8801 11.2 Surround Sound Processor (SSP)


The Marantz AV8801 SSP In Use

For my listening tests, I was using a McIntosh MC8207 amplifier and a seven-speaker configuration from Definitive Technology, including a pair of BP-3000TL speakers with powered subwoofers for the front mains, a CLR 2002 speaker for the center channel, and four Definitive Technology UIW 94/A speakers for the surrounds and rear channels. I used an Oppo BDP-105 as my primary source device.

I started my listening tests on the AV8801 with the latest James Bond thriller Sky Fall. From the exhilarating rooftop motorcycle chase to the back of the train being ripped apart as only Bond can do, the performance of the AV8801 was spectacular. I loved the roar of the waterfall as James is swept away and the opening credits begin to roll as the soundtrack transitions to Adele's beautiful vocals. The crash of the train in the tunnel and the mayhem with the helicopter at Sky Fall gave the AV8801 a workout in driving the surround channels and in delivering deep, controlled bass. The AV8801 effortlessly drew me into the movie. Dialog was very clear, surround effects simply impressive, and overall imaging was precise and balanced. I found that my preference was to leave Audyssey MultEQ XT32 and Audyssey Dynamic EQ enabled by default. The Audyssey Dynamic EQ worked very effectively, especially at lower listening volumes, and I was surprised at the effective bass response even at lower volumes. As for Audyssey Dynamic Volume, I preferred the compression at the Light setting if listening at a lower volume. From the video perspective, Sky Fall looked gorgeous with the AV8801 doing nothing to take away from the details of the new MI6 headquarters or the gorgeous colors of the dragons and the fireworks at the casino. I did try a quick test using Audyssey LFC and it did keep the adjoining rooms in my house from rumbling by minimizing much of the extreme bass response in the main listening room.

I listened to many different types of music on the AV8801 including pop, jazz, rock, country, and classical. The AV8801 has a very natural sound and was generally really easy to listen to with a great midrange. If I had any reservation on the AV8801 when it comes to music, it was that the soundstage would sometimes feel a bit compressed. I especially noticed this when listening to vocals. For example, when listening to the track "Broken Vow" from Josh Groban's Closer, I found myself wanting more from the AV8801. It's not that it didn't sound great because it certainly did. I have heard the vocals on that track appear from utter silence and the piano notes slowly decay amidst the emotion in his voice. I just wanted to hear a bit more transparency, energy, and passion from the AV8801.

In listening to music on the AV8801, I consistently preferred to listen in stereo with Audyssey processing enabled rather than in direct mode without processing. Audyssey MultEQ XT32 processing definitely improved the overall imaging and detail in music and the bass response in my room was much cleaner as well. I was also really pleased with the overall sound quality of Audyssey Dynamic Volume. This feature supports several levels of processing, and I found that the "Light" setting did a great job of improving the overall quality of the presentation and allowed me to enjoy the AV8801 at lower volumes without losing dynamic range.

When it came to Audyssey Dynamic EQ, I almost always preferred to turn this off when listening to music. Since Dynamic EQ is referenced to the standard level used for mixing movies, the Reference Level Offset must be adjusted in order to properly apply the correct amount of equalization. Options for the Reference Level Offset range from 0 dB for movies, 5 dB for classical music, 10 dB for TV or jazz, and 15 dB for pop and rock music. I found that Dynamic EQ overly compressed the sound for my tastes unless I properly adjusted the Reference Level Offset. Unfortunately, it was extremely frustrating that there was no quick way to adjust the Reference Level Offset without a lengthy trip through the Audio Setup menu. I hope that Marantz adds a shortcut menu for Audyssey options sometime in the future.

From a video perspective, the AV8801 did not display any handshake problems when changing resolutions on my satellite box or when changing inputs to another HDMI source. We will talk more about the video performance in the benchmark.

From an operational perspective, the AV8801 was pretty simple to use. Source inputs can be selected just by turning the knob on the front of the processor or by pressing a button on the remote. Sound processing modes are grouped into four categories named Movie, Music, Game and Pure. Pure turns off all processing modes including Audyssey MultEQ XT32. To change to a different processing mode like Dolby PLIIx Movie while watching a movie for example, I simply had to press and hold the Movie button on the remote and a small menu appears on the screen which shows all available processing options for that source.

From a control perspective, the remote that comes with the AV8801 gets the job done and can be programmed to support other devices. The remote is backlit but unfortunately the backlighting isn't bright enough to illuminate the text above the very small buttons on the remote. Marantz includes a very nice browser-based interface which allows for control and setup of the AV8801. The interface is often quicker to use than the internal setup menus and I would recommend that anyone that owns the AV8801 explore this functionality.

I was able to control the AV8801 from my iPhone and iPad using the free Marantz Remote app, which is available for both Apple iDevices and Android devices. The main interface of the Remote app provides access to power, input, zone selection, and listening modes.

Pressing the current sound mode brings up a list of available sound options that can be selected for the current source. I really wish Marantz would include a similar option to control all the Audyssey settings for a source.

Some of the functionality within the Remote app is not obvious, but a simple press of the question mark icon brings up a screen overlay which provides helpful hints.

The shortcut icons at the bottom of the app are user customizable and it is well integrated with the built-in applications in the AV8801 like Pandora and the Media Server. I appreciated the fact that the Remote app even shows the album artwork. Overall, I liked the Remote app and Marantz has done a great job with it.

On the networking side of things, the AV8801 offers a wide array of options. The vTuner application is included, which allows access to thousands of internet radio stations from around the world. DLNA support is provided for accessing local media servers on your home network. Music services Pandora, SiriusXM and Spotify are included. I explored vTuner, Pandora, and DLNA with the AV8801 and had no problems in accessing my network or the internet. From an interface perspective, the apps are pretty basic and don't really take advantage of any significant graphics processing to make a more sophisticated or appealing interface.

The AV8801 offers a graphical user interface which allows for quick browsing of music files on USB media. The AV8801 supports WAV, WMA, MP3, FLAC, and ALAC formats. The AV8801 supports Apple's AirPlay, which makes it very convenient to stream audio directly from your favorite iDevice to the AV8801. The only caveat is that the AV8801 volume control is directly tied to the volume control on the iDevice. You must turn down the volume control on your iDevice or in iTunes or you may be surprised at the sudden jump in volume from the AV8801. I found this limitation to be extremely annoying and I preferred to use AirPlay through an AppleTV directly connected to the AV8801.

The mention of the AppleTV reminds me of my last thought on using the AV8801. I enjoy listening to music in multiple rooms in my home and I used the Zone 2 outputs of the AV8801 to connect to an external amplifier. Marantz still supports only analog connections for Zone 2 but they do provide an option for All Zone Stereo so that you can listen to a digital source in all zones. This sounded like a very reasonable approach to me until I turned on the option. It should really be called "All Zone All Channel Stereo," since enabling the feature plays every channel in the main zone while also providing a stereo signal for the other zones. While that is a nice option for a party, it's definitely not what I have in mind when listening to music. I hope Marantz reconsiders how the feature is implemented.