Receivers

Marantz SR6003 7.1 A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

Marantz SR6003 7.1 A/V Receiver

Introduction

Marantz enjoys an enviable reputation as one of the finer consumer electronics companies in the audio/video industry, with products ranging from affordable home theater receivers to the “audiophile” 2-channel components of their highly regarded Reference Line. They also produce some of the best front projection units in the business. While not being sold at many “big box” retailers, Marantz has continued to thrive by producing quality products and selling them primarily through specialty retailers and custom installers. As I unboxed the SR6003 receiver, I was immediately struck by the desire to like this unit. The elegant curves of the front face panel combined with a readily apparent solid build quality captured my attention. Did the Marantz SR6003 have the audio/video prowess to match its beauty? Let’s find out.

Specifications

  • Design: 7.1 Channel A/V Receiver
  • Codecs: All Dolby and DTS Codecs, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio; HDCD and DSD (SACD Connection through HDMI Port)
  • Power: 100 watts x 7 into 8 Ohms
  • THD+N: 0.08%
  • Audyssey MultEQ Processing and Calibration
  • Inputs: 3 HDMI (1.3a), 3 Component, 5 S-Video, 5 Composite Video, 7.1 Multi-channel Analog, 4 Digital Optical, 2 Digital Coaxial, 1 USB, 1 XM Radio, 1 Sirius Radio, 1 RS-232
  • Outputs: 2 HDMI, 2 Component, 2 S-Video, 2 Composite, 1 Digital Optical, 7.1 Pre-out (to separate amplifier), Analog L&R for 2nd Zone, Assignable Digital Optical Out for 3rd Zone
  • Dimensions: 6.3" H x 17.3" W x 15.3" D
  • Weight: 29.1 Pounds
  • MSRP: $999.99
  • Marantz
Marantz SR6003 7.1 A/V Receiver

Design

Marantz has definitely hit a home run with the styling of their new -003 series of components. The front face plate consists of a center section of brushed aluminum with two symmetrical flanking sections of “glass-reinforced resin” that curve gracefully towards the side panels. While “glass-reinforced resin” may be a euphemism for plastic, the overall look of the front panel is uncluttered, with just two large round dials for input source selection and volume control occupying the left and right resin sections of the faceplate along with a small power button on the lower left side.

A fold-down door on the center aluminum section (an upgrade from the exposed design of the SR4003 and SR5003 models) further contributes to the clean aesthetics of this receiver, covering up the front panel inputs and navigation buttons. The overall design is supposed to pay homage to Marantz’s far more expensive “Reference Series” and I firmly believe that they accomplished their goal. Even my wife agreed that this was a very nice looking piece of gear, and she is pickier than I am, which is saying something.

Overall build quality appears to be very solid, with the receiver weighing a respectable 29.1 pounds. What I noticed when loading the receiver into my rack was that not all of the unit’s weight is focused at the back end of the receiver (typical of budget-conscious units) where the power supply resides. There is much more weight distributed over the rest of the chassis, which at the very least, makes me feel like better quality components have been used throughout the entire unit.

Audio and video processing is contained on separate circuit boards, and digital and analog audio processing has been confined to their own circuit board sections. The top of the receiver is completely covered in ventilation slots, which combined with the internal aluminum heat sink should improve heat dissipation. A nice touch is the inclusion of a detachable power cord, which gives the consumer the option of installing a higher quality (or longer) cord if desired. Marantz’s faith in their construction quality is backed by a 3-year warranty, which is noticeably longer than most of their competition.


Set-up

Installing the SR6003 was a fairly painless process. I put the unit into my equipment rack in my basement media room and began connecting my source components. My Samsung BD-P5000 HD-DVD/Blu-Ray player occupied the first HDMI input, with my Pioneer Elite DV-47Ai universal player, Xbox 360 (launch console – hence no HDMI), and Nintendo Wii occupying the three component video inputs. For audio, the Pioneer was connected to a coaxial digital input as well as the analog 7.1 inputs to facilitate DVD-Audio and SACD. The Xbox 360 used up one optical digital input, with the digital audio feed from my Fujitsu plasma (getting HD via Cable Card) taking up a second optical digital port. The Wii made due with a standard analog stereo input. Due to the SR6003’s ability to upconvert all analog video inputs to HDMI, I only had to run one HDMI cable to my 50” Fujitsu plasma’s input panel to be able to view all of my sources. You have the option of selecting Passthrough, 480P, 720P, 1080i, or 1080P upscaling/conversion for analog sources.

My only minor concern with this implementation is that the SR6003 does not allow any kind of video adjustment to be made to the input sources. Onkyo/Integra and Denon are doing this on some of their latest receivers and pre-processors and it is a great way to ensure that each display device sends the optimal image to your display when using the receiver’s video switching. Without individual source level adjustment, you will be forced to calibrate your display for only one of your video sources (I chose my BD/HD-DVD player) and simply deal with the differences in color, brightness, contrast, and sharpness for your other sources. A few devices (like my DV-47Ai) offer some degree of calibration on their own, but they are few and far between.

That left me with two spare HDMI inputs for future expansion. This brings me to one of my biggest concerns with the SR6003. While three HDMI inputs are adequate for my current setup, there is a good chance that they won’t be adequate for many of you. I currently use a cable card in my Fujitsu plasma for cable tuning. Many of you will be using an HD cable box from your service provider with an HDMI or DVI output. Scratch one HDMI input. Then tack on your Blu-Ray player. There’s input 2 taken up. What if you have an HD-DVD player from your format war days or an up-scaling DVD player that you wish to hook up? There goes the third and final HDMI port. If you have a Playstation 3 or newer Xbox 360 with HDMI, you would be forced to make some tough choices. Bottom line, I don’t think three HDMI inputs are enough for a modern receiver, particularly one at this price point. Yes, you can buy one of those new HDMI switchers (Marantz makes one of their own, the VS-3002), but they add unnecessary complexity to a system, not to mention added cost.

Much of the SR6003’s competition is offering 4 or 5 HDMI inputs, including in-house competitor Denon’s AVR-2309CI, recently reviewed by Gabriel Lowe. However, Marantz decided to add a second HDMI output to the SR6003. While there may be a few people running two video displays, i.e. a flat panel for casual TV watching or gaming and a front projector for “movie night,” at this price point I think that a fourth HDMI input in place of the second output would have been the wiser decision, at least for the largest percentage of potential purchasers.

After quickly hooking up my 7 speakers to the amplifier binding posts (thank heavens for banana plugs) and connecting my Hsu subwoofer to the “sub” pre-out, I was ready to enter the on-screen setup menus. Quick setup note: if you are running a 7.1 setup, don’t forget to set the back panel “Speaker C” switch on the SR6003’s back panel to “Off.” Otherwise, the receiver will treat your back surrounds as Zone A speakers or as bi-amp channels for your main speakers, not as part of your surround setup. The ability to bi-amp your main speakers is a nice feature if you don’t run a 7.1 setup. I would also recommend using banana plugs for your speakers with the SR6003, as there is very little space between the binding posts, which makes it very difficult to connect bare wire or spades.


Calibration and the Remote

Marantz SR6003 7.1 A/V Receiver

Marantz SR6003 7.1 A/V Receiver

The on-screen menus on the Marantz were very easy to navigate. While I don’t think the basic white text on a blue background GUI design will win any awards, it was well laid out, easy to navigate, and didn’t slow me down in any way. In fact, I was able to accomplish most setup tasks without even glancing at the very clearly written user manual. One feature I loved was the ability to rename any of the inputs using an on-screen keyboard. While it took a bit of time to do this using the remote, it was well worth the effort. This will most likely make it much easier for family members to find the appropriate input if you are not around to turn things on. After all, who really knows what source “Aux2” controls besides you?

Marantz SR6003 7.1 A/V Receiver

Speaking of the remote, the fully programmable unit included with the SR6003 is not too bad as far as stock remotes go. It has full macro and learning capability as well as being fully backlit. However, I couldn’t find a way to adjust the time that the backlighting stayed on. Also, many of the frequently used buttons while in “AMP” mode (which controls the receiver), such as “Pure/Source Direct,” “EQ,” “M-Dax,” “Lip Sync,” and “Mute” are not labeled on the backlit buttons, but rather in small text on the black plastic above the buttons, making them almost impossible to find without turning the lights on.

Marantz has also decided that you must push a source button twice before the receiver decides to change to the new input, an odd decision if you ask me. I also had issues with the range on the stock remote. Despite being only about 11 feet from the receiver and at an angle of barely 20 degrees, I had problems with the receiver responding to remote commands. I quickly found myself creating a new configuration file for my Home Theater Master MX-850 remote to control the SR6003. The issues with the receiver failing to respond to commands disappeared when using the MX-850.

The SR6003 was my first experience with the Audyssey MultEQ processing system. Following the clearly written instructions in the manual and from the on-screen display, I performed my first Audyssey calibration using the maximum number of measurements allowed by MultEQ; six. Audyssey nailed all speaker distances and trim levels perfectly. The crossover point to my “small” surround and center speakers was still a bit higher than I’d like at 100Hz, but it was close. While on the topic of crossover points, one thing I’d like to see Marantz implement is the ability to set crossover points individually per speaker. My center channel will easily do 60Hz in my room, and my left and right surrounds will go down to about 50-55Hz. My back surrounds are smaller and start to fall off around 90Hz. Audyssey uses a “least common denominator” approach and sets the crossover point based upon the -3 Db level of your smallest speakers. After running Audyssey, I just went back into the setup menu and lowered the crossover point to the THX recommended spec of 80Hz.


Audio Performance

As per Marantz’s recommendation, I gave the SR6003 about 100 hours to “break-in” before settling down for any serious listening. I like to start off my listening with 2-channel music to get a basic idea of the overall sound quality of a component. Not wanting the Audyssey calibration to skew my opinion of the Marantz, I shut it off for my first few rounds of listening (we’ll come back to Audyssey – I promise).

As the SR6003 includes decoding for HDCD (something my current Denon unit lacks), the first thing I did was fire up my DV-47Ai (connected via coaxial digital) and cued up one of my all time favorite test tracks, “Non Allegro,” track 1 from Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” (Reference Recordings RR-96). I’ve heard this track on many other HDCD capable systems, but never in my own room. While not a huge difference between listening to the regular 16-bit version, the 20-bit HDCD encoding is definitely an improvement on an already incredible sounding CD and I’m glad to see that Marantz has continued to support the HDCD format.

I immediately noticed that the SR6003 had many of the attributes that audiophiles covet; a very neutral, clean sound with impressive dynamics and excellent musical detail. I would not characterize the sound as warm or clinical, just nicely in the middle. The SR6003 did not add too much of its own sonic character to the recording. Sound staging (both width and height) was very good, with the Marantz allowing me to easily distinguish where many of the instruments were in the mix. I also went through this track in both the “Source Direct” mode, which shuts off all EQ, while leaving bass management intact, and “Pure Direct,” which shuts off all EQ, bass management, and even turns off all video circuitry and the front panel display for the “purest” sound possible.

While there were some very subtle improvements in detail and imaging with these two modes, the loss of bass management in the Pure Direct mode outweighed any of these subtle improvements. Source Direct gave me a slightly better overall sound, as it got my subwoofer running again. Particularly on large scale symphonic music, I find it hard to live without the entire bottom octave of bass response, even though my speakers reach down to about 30Hz in my room.

After hearing so many good things about the MultEQ system, I was anxious to hear what it would do in my room, so I turned on the standard Audyssey curve with “Symphonic Dances.” In a word, WOW! The difference was night and day. I experienced an overall richer sound, with a far greater sense of width in the soundstage. Musical detail, particularly in the midrange and lower treble was noticeably better.

Marantz has also been kind enough to allow access to the Audyssey “Front” and “Flat” settings. Switching between the three Audyssey curves, I soon found myself favoring the Flat setting, which provided even better detail and greater imaging than the standard Audyssey curve. Flat just seemed to be a more realistic sound, closer to what you would hear at a live performance. Flat had the best imaging, and the soundstage had depth and height as well as width. It was definitely the most “audiophile” setting of the three. However, the Flat curve did seem to add a bit of an edge to the presence region (900 Hz to 5 KHz in the audio band), which I am particularly sensitive to. I didn’t notice this on the standard Audyssey curve, so I went back into the setup menu to compare the EQ settings between the two modes. In the Flat setting, Audyssey decided to put a +2dB bump at the 2 KHz mark, which was not added to the standard Audyssey curve. I simply re-created the Flat settings under the user configurable “Preset” curve and just dropped the 2 KHz EQ by 1dB on both the front channels and the center channel. That did the trick, and Preset became my default mode for the rest of my 2-channel listening, with occasional usage of the standard Audyssey curve on more harsh recordings.

Now that I finally had the sound tailored perfectly, I played more of my test tracks, including “Dusk,” Track 4 from Azucar (Avalon - B00000J6Z0). This is an amazing cut of Latin-inspired guitar complete with extremely crisp percussion and even some wind work later in the song. The guitar sounded completely convincing, and the bass drum kicks had excellent weight and authority. The chimes that ring later on in the song sounded incredibly realistic and had a great sense of air.

I wanted to see if I could stress the SR6003 a bit, so I cued up my own mix of “Suicide and Redemption” from Metallica’s new album “Death Magnetic” (Warner Bros. - B00192KCQ0). The SR6003 managed to keep the grumbling bass line clear and audible even as the rhythm and lead guitars kicked into high gear. As I was in the mood to punish my poor neighbors, I gradually bumped up the volume until I was well over the 100dB mark. At about 105dB, I noticed a bit of extra harshness making its way into the music. As my 95dB efficient speakers can easily crest the 110dB mark with high powered amplification with near zero distortion, I have a feeling that I had hit the limits of the SR6003’s amplifier. I would not call this a negative by any means as it is exceedingly rare that you will break the 100DB mark in normal playback of music or movies. I only managed to subject myself to this torture test for about 30 seconds, as my ears are pretty good and I’d like to keep them that way.

I then switched to the 7.1 analog inputs to spin some of my favorite DVD-Audio and SACD discs from my Pioneer Elite DV-47Ai. The Beatles’ “Love” (Capitol – B000JJS8TM), Talking Heads’ “Speaking in Tongues” (Rhino/Wea – B000CCD0FI), Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” (Capitol – B00008CLOA), Linkin Park’s “Reanimation” (Warner Bros/Wea – B00006L7MV) and Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” (Blue Note – B00008WT49) all sounded fantastic, even without the benefit of MultEQ processing. The SR6003 exhibited fantastic detail, as well as excellent channel separation and an extremely rich soundstage. The SR6003 allows for proper speaker level matching for the 7.1 analog inputs in case you don’t have that capability in your player, but it does not offer distance compensation.

For those who have an SACD player that can output DSD over HDMI, the SR6003 can handle a direct DSD stream, which should produce even better overall sound, as proper bass management and distance compensation can be provided in the digital domain. Unfortunately, I don’t have this capability in my current universal player so I was unable to test it. If you do have SACD/DVD-Audio via HDMI capability, the SR6003 cannot apply Audyssey processing to the high-bit rate sources from either format, which is a real shame.

The SR6003 also allows playback of music via the front panel USB input. I loaded a flash drive with a mixture of MP3 files of various bit-rates, from low quality 128Kb to 320Kb and plugged into in the Marantz. The on-screen menu made it easy to navigate the file structure and select which song I wanted to play. I also experimented with M-DAX, a proprietary algorithm for filling in for some of the data lost during file compression. Particularly on 128Kb files, I thought M-DAX (set to High) filled out the midrange nicely, adding some much needed warmth and richness to the typically lean MP3 sound while also increasing the sense of “air” in the treble. Its effects were less noticeable on higher bit-rate files or MP3s created from well recorded sources, but I kept it on for all of my MP3-based listening. The SR6003 also offers input jacks for both XM and Sirius satellite radio, which I lack the equipment to test. The SR6003 does not have the ability to directly control an iPod, which could be a big issue for many consumers. Marantz offers an external device for this purpose, the IS201.


Movie Performance

In case you couldn’t tell, I was extremely satisfied with the sound quality with 2-channel and surround music through the SR6003. As such I had high hopes for movie sound, and I was not disappointed. I’ve been feeding my Samsung BD-P5000 a steady stream of Blu-ray releases lately, including Kung-Fu Panda, Wall-E, The Orphanage, Transformers, Cars, and most recently, The Dark Knight. Lossless audio via HDMI bit-stream from all of these discs was simply superb in all cases, whether the source was uncompressed PCM, Dolby TrueHD, or DTS-HD Master Audio. The Marantz exhibited all of the great traits it showed in music listening; excellent detail, neutral tonal qualities, excellent dynamics, pinpoint imaging, and expansive sound-staging. Dialog intelligibility was excellent on all test discs.

I do have a significant issue revolving around high bit-rate playback that I feel I must share. The Marantz cannot apply Audyssey processing to lossless audio sources. I did question Marantz about this, and here is their response: “Less is more. In all Marantz products, the underlying philosophy is that the less processing the better, which means the better the sound. This is even more relevant when you get into the higher resolution formats.” While I do believe that minimal manipulation of the source is a good thing, the advantages of Audyssey seem to far outweigh the cons unless you have an acoustically perfect room. Being that many of the SR6003’s competitors have this capability, I feel that this is a very big oversight on Marantz’s part. Even though lossless soundtracks sounded very good as is, I can only imagine how much better they’d be with Audyssey processing.

Another issue I have with the SR6003’s movie playback is that the only way to turn a 5.1 source into 7.1 is to turn on Dolby Pro-Logic IIx or Dolby Surround EX processing. This appears to be a contradiction to Marantz’s belief in avoiding unnecessary processing. I also tested out the “HT-EQ” feature, which is supposed to counter the excessive brightness in many film soundtracks caused by studio engineers mixing for the movie theater environment instead of your home. It seemed to work as advertised, and took the edge off on a few discs that I played.


Video Processing/Up-conversion

The SR6003 offers analog signal conversion/up-scaling to HDMI via Marantz’s new “i-Chips” chipset, as well as interlaced to progressive processing if you select it. The Marantz applies absolutely no processing to HDMI signals, operating strictly in “pass through” mode. I couldn’t detect any negative effects on the video signal from my Samsung BD/HD-DVD player when passed through the SR6003, nor did I run into any HDMI handshaking issues, which is a very good thing. I did a brief comparison of up-scaled DVD from my Pioneer Elite DVD player (set to output 480i via component video) through the Marantz to the image created by my Samsung player, which has a Silicon Optix Reon chipset, one of the better processing solutions on the market today. The Marantz did a fair job, particularly when set to output 720P to my Fujitsu plasma. The Coliseum flyover scene from Gladiator was fairly smooth but not perfect, with a bit of “sparklies” visible in the image. 1080i output seemed to be a tad fuzzier overall, and was less smooth than 720P. Neither output was as good as that produced by the Reon in my Samsung player or the built-in processing of my Fujitsu plasma, but if you have very poor video processing in your display or source (as my Pioneer DV-47Ai does) then the SR6003 is a definite step up. The SR6003 also includes two flavors of lip-sync correction; automatic if your television supports HDMI 1.3a or manual correction from 10 to 200ms in 10ms increments.


Conclusions

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Marantz and will be sad to see its very pretty face go. Marantz has delivered a great product with excellent sound from 2-channel, multi-channel, and theater soundtracks. They’ve even come up with a pretty convincing way of making anemic MP3s sound better with M-DAX. The SR6003 does no harm to incoming HDMI video sources (something not all competing units can boast) and has fair up-conversion and de-interlacing capabilities for analog sources.

While I wish that Marantz had decided to include at least one additional HDMI input as well as find a way to apply the excellent Audyssey capabilities to high bit-rate (lossless) audio, the overall abilities of the SR6003 make these issues a little easier to overlook. While a few of the Marantz’s competitors at the $999 (recently reduced from $1199) price point may offer additional HDMI inputs, THX certification, or perhaps a bit more advertised amplifier power, they have their work cut out for them in order to match the excellent sound I experienced with the SR6003 in my system.