Detail oriented readers may have noticed that the TPV Audio and Video labs have taken turns using Marantz’s flagship SR9600 A/V receiver to power their respective reference systems. Frankly, we chose the Marantz because it’s a great-sounding component that is, as we said in our original review (Issue 68), “a blockbuster receiver in every sense of the word.” The $4200 SR9600 is a dream component, but at that price it will remain for many of us just that—a dream. But what if I told you Marantz has created a receiver that comes very close to equaling the performance of the SR9600 flagship, and in some respects actually betters it, for less than half the price? This, friends, is precisely what Marantz’s cool new SR8001 AVR manages to do.
Something for Everyone The SR8001 is a THX Select2 Certified, XM radio-ready, 7.1-channel receiver that puts out a healthy 125Wpc and sells for $2000. The THX Select2 rating implies both that the SR8001 meets stringent performance standards and that it includes THX sound processing features designed to help your home theater meet the sound quality standards of a full-sized movie theater.
The SR8001 provides four HDMI 1.2 inputs and two HDMI 1.1 outputs. The receiver can send audio signals to two remote zones, and a component video signal to one of those two zones.
In principle, then, the Marantz could play a Blu-ray disc in your main home theater room, send an A/V feed from a DVD player to the TV in the kids’ playroom, and send an XM Radio program to the sound system in your den—simultaneously. Videophiles will be pleased to discover the SR8001 provides a composite/S-video/component video format converter, as well as a switch-selectable deinterlacer that can convert 480i/576i analog signals for 480p/576p output. The receiver can up-convert analog video signals for HDMI output (though not vice versa), giving older video sources a new lease on life.
Audiophiles will be well served by the SR8001’s top-flight (192kHz/24-bit) digital-to-analog converters, “high-power current feedback amplifiers,” and purist-oriented Source Direct and Pure Direct play modes.
The former bypasses bass management and acoustic EQ functions for the cleanest audio signal path possible, while the latter reduces noise by shutting down the receiver’s video outputs and front panel display. But the pièce de résistance is the receiver’s Audyssey Laboratories MultEQXT automated speaker setup/room EQ system—a feature the more costly SR9600 does not offer.
The MultEQXT system takes the guesswork out of speaker setup, first guiding users to take calibration measurements from up to six room locations, and then applying fuzzy logic algorithms to calculate precise frequency and time-response correction settings for each speaker in the system. The end result is uncannily well-balanced sound for every seat in the room. After hearing the MultEQ system for the first time, one TPV staff member observed, “it’s almost disorienting to discover that sound quality doesn’t change as you move around the room.”
MultEQ is sufficiently transparent that you can easily discern qualitative differences between various brands of speakers with the system in use.
The SR8001 provides clean, noise-free video switching functions and a remote control that is a significant improvement over the remote provided with the SR9600. Functions that seemed buried under multiple layers of menu structure in the SR9600 were much more accessible and intuitive to use in the SR8001. Good work, Marantz.
The first movie I played through the Marantz happened to be Flyboys, and from beginning to end my thought was that the soundtrack was in good hands. What I mean by this is that the SR8001 took the film’s intricate and demanding DTS soundtrack in stride, never seeming strained or hard-pressed to keep up. On the contrary, the Marantz’s precision, finesse, and muscular self-confidence seemed to match the sound designer’s vision, move for move.
Sonic details play a huge role in Flyboys, and the SR8001 does them real justice. For example, the Marantz perfectly captured the hard, sharp “bang” of the WWI-era biplane engines firing up, and the clattering symphony of mechanical noises heard as the engines roar to life. Later, the SR8001 dramatized the terror and confusion the pilots experienced as they got their first taste of aerial combat, showing howthe deadly whistle of machine gun bullets whizzing overhead could be heard even before the German attackers could be seen clearly as they dove down out of the sun. The Marantz also did a beautiful job of conveying the sheer 3D chaos of WWI dogfights, where opposing fighters sometimes avoided collisions by inches—nerve-wracking close calls that viewers sense more by sound than by sight. In short, this receiver helps movie soundtracks get under our skin to trigger deep emotional responses.