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Feature Articles & Reviews
In the past six years I’ve been an unqualified champion of Integra’s top-of-the-line preamplifier-processors: Very few other makes could beat their prices, and even fewer could beat the Integras’ performance. But Marantz’s new AV7005 is a thought-provoking component that had me trying to specifically identify what was most important to me in a pre-pro.
Each of us has different criteria for judging home-theater equipment. Too often, reviewers leave their biases -- we all have them -- to be discovered only by reading between the lines. Moving away from Integra is such a sea-change for me that I wanted to be crystal clear about why I would do it. So here are my biases.
In a preamplifier-processor or audio/video receiver, I want:
1. Up-to-date connectivity
2. All current audio codecs
3. Enough switching capability to handle all of my components
4. Multiple zones to which I can send any signal
5. Attractive casework
6. A setup program that’s easy enough for someone who hates dealing with complex electronics, yet offers enough depth that a professional can wrest the best possible performance within each audio or video parameter
7. Capacity to work with various networking schemes for playing my stored music and video files, and to integrate with various purveyors of online media
8. An intuitive operating system
9. Clear and accurate sound at realistic levels
10. Truthful-sounding room-correction software
11. The ability to accurately reproduce video images
12. A fair price
14. Quick and helpful technical support
15. Easily upgraded without costing a fortune
Once upon a time, I would have added to that list No.16: Good resale value. I remember selling, in the 1990s, a VPI turntable with Souther tonearm and Koetsu cartridge, and amplifiers from Threshold and Jeff Rowland Design Group, for nearly what I’d paid for them new. These days, you can forget that. No home-theater processor or receiver retains a decent resale value because the cycle of planned obsolescence is now measured in mere months. Also in the ’90s, I bought a couple of high-end Lexicon processors, only to watch their value plummet by 60% within the first year. It wasn’t Lexicon as a brand that was at fault, but the pace of change. Take the Classé Audio Delta SSP-600 surround-sound processor, SoundStage! AV’s 2005 Product of the Year. This was a processor with a lasting design and a nearly perfect graphic user interface. At least it lost its value more slowly, but today, even dealers are selling their demos for 60% off. So forget the resale criterion.
Compared to many of my cohorts, I’m a cheapskate, and one of the reasons I’ve been such a big supporter of Integra over the last few years is the financial tradeoffs. If I’d bought my normal high-end product, I would have gotten something like the Anthem Statement D2v. But to take full advantage of the D2v, you have to commit to following Anthem’s upgrade path. If you sell it too late in its lifespan, you could lose significant money. Today, on Audiogon.com, a six-month-old D2v is available at $2500 off its list price of $7500 -- a loss that’s more than the latest Integra model’s total cost.
On the other hand, I’m not for buying crap just because it’s cheap. The Integras have always sounded amazingly expensive, offering 90% of the performance of the very best for 20% of the price. So when I inevitably sell, if I have to lose money, I’d rather lose 60% of an Integra’s $2000 list price than lose 60% of $26,000 for something like the latest Meridian surround processor, the 861V6. That’s a loss of $1200 with the Integra, $15,600 with the Meridian.
Before the PR folks from Meridian start yelling at me about the resale value of their products (which is very good), let’s talk about that problem of the obsolescence of home-theater processors. One reason so many well-reputed high-end electronics companies have either given up on or never entered the processor market in the first place is that they can’t figure out how to provide a profitable upgrade path. Think of a processor as a computer: How much would your computer be worth if it had an old motherboard, an overworked power supply, and a single DVD drive? It would basically be worth whatever its case is worth, because everything else would have to be replaced. Though some makers of the best and most expensive computers try devilishly hard to provide ongoing upgrade paths for their flagship products, ultimately, the motherboard and everything connected to it will be worthless. What do you do then? Retrofitting will cost more than the product is worth.
This is why I’ve been such a fan of Integras: with their lowish cost of acquisition and the pittances they bring in resale, I can still afford to upgrade every other year or so. Still, I admit to wishing that Integra would get some stiff competition from somewhere. Between my constant recommendation of Oppo’s disc players and Integra’s processors, I was beginning to feel like a broken record.
Enter Marantz, makers of the game-changing AV7005, the new middleweight champeen of the home-theater-processing bouts. How good is it? Well, let’s see how many items I can cross off my checklist of biases . . .
1. Up-to-date connectivity: Today, that means HDMI 1.4a with all the bells and whistles: 3D, ARC, Deep Color, x.v.Color, Auto Lipsync, and HDMI control function. Check.
2. All current audio codecs: This is a moving target -- the required or most important codecs could change in the few weeks between the time I turn this story in to our esteemed editors and it’s gone through editing, copyediting, fact-checking, and a final pass by me. In any case, as of this writing, the AV7005 offers the most advanced codecs from DTS and Dolby. It will play normal 7.1-channel sound (i.e., with surround rear speakers), or, with Audyssey DSX or Dolby Pro Logic IIz, and give you the option of front-height or front-width speakers. The AV7005 also has the ability to handle up to four subwoofers, and even has a setup routine for biamping speakers. Check.
3. Enough switching capability to handle all of my components: The AV7005 has six HDMI 1.4a inputs (including one on the front), but that’s just barely enough for me. Soon, I’ll need more. So will you. But for now, Check.
4. Multiple zones to which I can send any signal: The AV7005 has two HDMI 1.4a outputs, which is normal, though I’d be much happier with six. Better yet, I’d love something like the now-old-in-the-tooth Lexicon MC-12, each of whose three zones has a completely separate controllable input selector. Why do I want all these outputs? Because I drive every TV in my house from a single point, and I’d like them all to be connected through the central processor. Unfortunately, it usually takes manufacturers a few years to latch on to consumer sentiment. For instance, I’d be happy to swap DTS Express or Dolby Virtual for more HDMI outputs. For years, I railed in this column about wanting to have the same video output going all over my house. Now, finally, AT&T, DirecTV, and Dish are offering alternatives to make that happen -- but I’d rather have the signal distributed by my HT processor. Please. Half-Check.
5. Attractive casework: Maybe I’m just nuts about rounded edges. I always thought Classé’s Delta SSP-600 was the most beautiful home-theater processor ever made, but the Marantz AV7005 comes a close second. I love the way all the buttons are hidden yet so easy to get to. And my wife is gaga over the fact that she can change the inputs and the volume using only two dials. Check.
6. A setup program that’s easy yet offers professional-level depth: With the AV7005, setup is easily accomplished thanks to the manual (how seldom do those words get written?), which is divided into three different types of setup: Simple, Basic, and Advanced. Using Simple setup, you could have the AV7005 out of the box, Audysseyed up (I just created a new verb!), and working in about 20 minutes. Basic setup is the version I recommend to our readers, who are clearly a more experienced bunch than the norm; it allows substantial customization without digging too deeply into service menus, etc. Finally, Advanced setup would offer most of what any ISF-certified scientist could want. And as in many of my favorite processors, the audio portion of the AV7005’s setup program is Audyssey, which is the soul of simplicity.
7. Capacity to work with various networking schemes for playing my stored music and video files, and to integrate with various purveyors of online media: The AV7005 is DLNA-certified, and while that’s not an automatic pass, it’s currently the closest we have to such a thing, and I believe the standard will only get stronger and more dependable in coming years. Plus, it works with Pandora, Rhapsody, and Sirius XM Radio. If that isn’t enough music, there are thousands of Internet-based stations to choose from. Check.
8. An intuitive operating system: We get so many processors and receivers through the house that my long-suffering wife has almost despaired of ever being able to use our system. She flat-out gave up on all the Integras, and thought the Anthem MRX 700 was only a little easier. The only one she ever approved for purchase was the Classé Delta SSP-600, and even then, only because she could just pick the input on the touchscreen and turn the volume control. She fully endorses the ease and simplicity of the Marantz AV7005’s design. Push the Power button to bring it to life, turn the left knob to get your input, and the right knob to raise the volume. Check.
9. Clear and accurate sound at realistic levels: This is the talent that slams me against the ropes and forces me to declare the Marantz the winner and middleweight pricing champion of the world. I couldn’t wait to hear the opening brush across the cymbal in the first track of the Mission: Impossible soundtrack (CD, Point Music 454 525-2). This CD, as I’ve said before, is so closely miked you feel the players are sitting in your lap. Although it lacks any real depth of soundstage, the instruments are recorded so accurately they raise the hairs on the back of my neck. One of the things I especially like about tube amps is how they can sound both mellow and immediate: instrumentalists sit in a silent but real space; then, when they pluck, rub, or blow, the sound can explode from that space. Guitar players will know what I’m talking about. The sound of the Marantz has much more of that character than the last few brands I’ve tried, and it’s seductive enough that they’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers. That sound made me start pulling out all the delicately shaded recordings of acoustic instruments in my collection: the burr of Scott Hamilton’s tenor sax, Nat Cole’s rich voice in his later recordings for Capitol, pianist Bill Evans’s touch in a ballad recorded during his Riverside years, and Martin Taylor’s duets with Chet Atkins on Portraits (CD, Linn AKD 048).
Bombo things worked nicely as well -- like the clarity of the vocal ensembles in John Butt and the Dunedin Consort’s recording of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor (24-bit/192kHz Studio Master download, Linn Records), or Jascha Horenstein’s fiery conducting of the New Philharmonic Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5 (CD, Chesky CD-094). And, wonder of wonders, the Marantz AV7005’s phono stage, which is standard equipment, was good enough that I put my Musical Fidelity XLPS phono stage in the closet and plugged the ever-dependable Rega P-25 turntable with Rega Super Elys cartridge straight into the AV7005 and had more fun listening to LPs than I’ve had in years. The sound of the Marantz is the equivalent of Sugar Ray Robinson’s Bolo punch* -- a devastating blow to the opposition -- and earns it an all-caps CHECK.
10. Truthful-sounding room-correction software: I went back and forth about whether Anthem Room Correction was better than Audyssey’s MultEQ XT system. In my review of the Anthem MRX 700, I wrote, "ARC has a plummier, woodier sound with just a bit better integration and more solid soundstaging. I could clearly hear the boundaries of the studio." While I stand by that piece, I wonder if the Integra’s sound was an overlay to the Audyssey, because the Marantz also sounds plummier and woodier. In either case, nothing is as easy to set up as Audyssey, and, as implemented here, it sounded great. Check.
11. The ability to reproduce video images: I felt hopeful when I saw that Marantz uses the Anchor Bay 10-bit video processor/scaler, which transcodes, deinterlaces, scales, and lets you use lo-fi stuff like VCRs and laserdiscs via HDMI. But if you have a top-notch projector or display, it’s usually better to let it do these tasks. Check.
12. A fair price: The Marantz costs $1600. The Rotel RSP-1570 costs $2200, the Integra 80.2 $2300, the Anthem AVM 50v $5500, the Arcam AV888 $6900, the Denon AVP-A1HDCI(A) $7500 . . . I could go on. Check.
13. Dependability: I have no idea. I can only hope. An optimistic Check.
14. Quick and helpful technical support: I contacted Marantz’s tech support once and, as always, didn’t identify myself as a reviewer. They were quick, helpful, and solved the problem -- not quite up to Oppo’s level, but way better than Integra’s. Check.
15. Easily upgraded without costing a fortune: If I lose 60% on a resale of the Marantz AV7005, the total loss would be $960. Multiply any of the numbers above by 0.6 to see what the same drop would cost with the other brands. Check.
Given all this, you can see why I’m crowning the Marantz AV7005 the new middleweight champ. Sugar Ray Robinson would be proud of the association. So should Marantz.
. . . Wes Marshall
Marantz AV7005 A/V Processor
Price: $1600 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
Marantz America, Inc.
100 Corporate Drive
Mahwah, NJ 07460-2041
Phone: (201) 762-6500
Fax: (201) 762-6670
* Sugar Ray Robinson was and probably always will be the greatest middleweight boxer who ever lived. Muhammad Ali said Sugar Ray was "the king, the master, my idol." The Ring magazine said Ray was, "pound for pound, the best boxer of all time."