Receivers

Marantz SR8001 THX Select2 7.1 A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

2007-08-marantz-sr8001-receiver-front-product-reviews.jpgIntroduction

As much as I enjoyed reviewing the Marantz SR7500 receiver (was it really 18 months ago?), at the time I found myself lusting over the next-in-line receiver, the 8500. In fact, I said that if I were in the market, I would want to take a "long look" at the 8500. With a list price of only $500 more than the SR7500, it included a slew of additional features, such as a toroidal power transformer, HDCD decoding, and digital video switching (DVI).

Fast forward to CEDIA 2006, when Marantz showed off the 8500's successor, the new SR8001 THX Select2 surround receiver. The 8001 packs more even advanced features into its copper-plated chassis than its predecessor, so when Marantz offered to send me the SR8100 for review, the only question in my mind was whether it was lust or really love?

Specifications

  • Codecs: DD, DD-EX, DPL-IIx, DTS, DTS-
    ES, DTS Discrete 6.1, DTS Matrix 6.1,
    DTS Neo:6, Circle Surround, HDCD
  • Power Output per Channel RMS: 7 x 125 Watts RMS into 8 Ohms
  • DACs: 24/192
  • Inputs: HDMI, S-Video, Component
    Video, Composite Video, Analog RCA
    Audio, Toslink Audio, Digital Coaxial
    Audio, Pre-Ins
  • Outputs: HDMI, S-Video, Component
    Video, Composite Video, Analog RCA,
    Toslink Audio, Coaxial Digital Audio, Pre-
    Outs
  • MFR: 8 Hz - 100 kHz ± 3 dB
  • S/N: 105 dB
  • THX Select2 Certified
  • Additional Zones
  • Dimensions: 7.3" H x 17.4" W x 15.6" D
  • Weight: 33.1 Pounds
  • MSRP (USA): $1,999.99 USA

Marantz America

Setup

The SR8001 sits immediately below Marantz's flagship SR9600 in the current model line-up, although you could buy two SR8001s for the same price ($4,199 vs. $1,999 list price, respectively).

The SR8001 at first glance resembles the previous year's SR7500, but in a much shallower, copper-plated chassis (almost three inches shallower than the SR7500).

The front panel has the familiar two large knobs for volume and input selection, along with the drop-down door revealing more controls for those wanting the exercise or refusing to admit that they've lost the remote control (again).

The display has the usual Marantz suite of inputs and processing modes, augmented by three rather bright turquoise lights, including one that stays on full time just to let you know that the HDMI input is connected. Thankfully, the display can be turned off (but not dimmed).

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The SR 8001 has six digital inputs (three coax and three optical), plus four, count 'em, four HDMI inputs (ver. 1.2). The Marantz has two HDMI outputs, perfect for those who use a plasma for daytime viewing, then lower the 100" screen and fire up their front projector when the sun goes down. It also has two component video outputs, which can be used to send video to a second room, along with audio to three different zones from an independent source.

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The SR8001 is THX Select2 certified, capable of driving 125 watts to each of its seven channels, and incorporates the usual suite of processing modes, driven by TI's 32-bit DSP chipset. As stated above, the Marantz includes HDCD decoding, and incorporates a toroidal transformer, quieter and more efficient than the laminated transformers found in less expensive receivers.

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The remote control is virtually identical to that used with the older SR7500 model. It is fully backlit, with individual source buttons and one-touch switching. The soft-assignable buttons flanking the LED screen still don't line up properly, a minor nit.

 


 

Audyssey

The SR8001 uses the "Multi-EQ" iteration of Audyssey's room equalizer software (the stand-alone version of Audyssey's system, called Audyssey Sound Equalizer, is sold primarily to installers). There are several different versions of the software licensed to A/V manufacturers. In the "Multi-EQ" version found in the SR8001, you first connect the supplied microphone (shown below), which is different than the usual saucer-shaped calibration microphones found in most similarly equipped receivers.

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Once connected, the Audyssey sends a series of test tones through every channel in the system (eight in my case, seven main channels plus the subwoofer). The test tones sound like a Star Wars blaster instead of the usual white noise tones found in other products.

The first set of tones confirm the speakers that are connected in the system, and that they are wired in phase. Next, you place the microphone in the prime listening location, then let the Audyssey send another series of tones to each of the channels.

Unlike many other products, this iteration of Audyssey allows you to select up to six different locations. In fact, the manual recommends that you allow the software to run tones in six different locations to maximize the utility of the software. Once completed, the system does the number crunching. If you use all six microphone placements, this processing can take up to ten minutes, but it's worth the wait.

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Once finished, the OSD shows you the speaker size, distance, crossover, and EQ, then asks you to store the results. Once stored, the EQ function can be disabled with a single button push. Alternatively, you can use other automatic modes such as "Front" (which matches the characteristics of each speaker to the front speakers), or "Flat" (which flattens the frequency response of all speakers regardless of room acoustics, designed primarily for listening to multi-channel music such as DD or DTS encoded DVDs). You can also choose to ignore the Audyssey's EQ setting, and manually set each channel's EQ using the "Preset" function, which allows the user to adjust nine bands of EQ for each of the seven main channels.

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Once Audyssey completed its mission, I double-checked its findings ("Trust but verify" says the old Russian proverb!) Audyssey's speaker distance (measurable in 0.1 feet increments) and speaker volume settings (adjustable in 0.5 dB steps) were spot-on. Viewing the EQ settings on the OSD (onscreen display), it appeared that Audyssey, while making only minor adjustments in the sub-1 kHz spectra, decided that my front channels needed a major boost in the upper frequencies.

Judged solely on the OSD settings, one might conclude that the MultEQ had added too much boost to the high frequencies. However, looks can be deceiving. The Audyssey program involves sophisticated time and frequency domain adjustments that don’t translate well into the simple, DOS-based graph shown on the OSD (rumor has it that Audyssey discourages manufacturers from including the on-screen displays for just that reason). In fact, a couple of two-channel white noise tests (our test equipment only allows testing two channels at a time), confirmed that the Audyssey's adjustments made only modest changes to the overall in-room response, as shown below in the room response graph.

Of course, part of the beauty of the Audyssey system is that you can use its settings as a starting point, then customize them using the "Preset" manual EQ settings to tailor the adjustments to your personal preferences. Once I accepted the Audyssey settings, the Marantz was clearefd for take-off. (Click on photo below to enlarge it.)

The Sound

I couldn't resist the temptation to put on Who's Next (again) so I could re-live my first Marantz experience, and it was just as good the third time around. Because the SR8001 includes HDCD decoding (an increasingly rare feature) it gave me an excuse to indulge a guilty pleasure, the B-52's "Roam" from the Songs For A New Generation compilation CD. Despite the overly compressed mix, Kate Pierson's distinctive voice, with a soft Southern drawl that can change from a husky growl to a lilting falsetto in mid-phrase, was a real treat. The Marantz brought Kate into my living room like it was an intimate setting (I'd say more, but my wife might be reading this).

Movies were just as satisfying an experience. Martin Scorsese's The Departed, which won the director a belated Best Director Oscar®, has got a little bit of everything in its audio tracks: fast-moving dialogue with thick Boston accents, unexpected jolts of intense violence, and the Rolling Stones providing the atmospherics. The SR8001 had plenty of headroom for the sudden bursts of gunfire, while anchoring the actors' voices across the front of the soundstage.

Conclusions

It's impossible to attempt A/B testing with components that were in my rack over a year apart, but general impressions remain. My (admittedly subjective) take is that the SR8001 produces noticeably better quality sound than its predecessor. Since the two Marantz receivers apparently share the same DACs, the likely explanation is the lower noise floor and increased headroom afforded by the toroidal transformer and higher powered amplifier.

The Marantz has it where it counts: the ability to reproduce accurate and detailed sound. Combined with the flexibility to send HDMI signals from four sources into two different displays, audio to three separate zones, and the Audyssey calibration and EQ capabilities, the SR8001 will anchor many a happy consumer's home theater.