Marantz SR6003 7.1 A/V Receiver


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.