Marantz AV8801 Surround Processor & MM8077 Amplifier Page 2
Video processing is supported by an Analog Devices ADV8003 video processing chip, which initially stumbled only with an inconsequential borderline fail on the Chroma Resolution test. As we finalized our review, Marantz sent us a firmware update that fully resolved this issue and resulted in perfect video scores across the board (see Video Test Bench results). The AV8801 is somewhat future-proofed—if there is such a thing anymore—with 4K passthrough support as well as the ability to scale current sources to Ultra High Definition pixel counts (3840 x 2160 pixels). Since I don’t have a 4K display (yet), this is something I couldn’t test at this time. The video processing can be bypassed by source, so if you want the 1080p/24 signal from your Blu-ray player to be unprocessed but your cable/satellite to be scaled to 1080p, you can customize this in the setup menu. Finally, the unit includes InstaPrevue technology, which gives you a live picture-in-picture video preview of each connected HDMI device, making it easy to switch between HDMI inputs and speeding up the connection time.
Easy as Pie
Setting up the AV8801 for the first time is simple due to its intuitive guided setup program. It’s here that you assign inputs to your equipment, let the unit know how many speakers you’re using, and whether your amplifier is attached with balanced or unbalanced connections. If you choose to do so, you can run Audyssey at this point to automatically set up speaker distances and calibrate the unit to compensate for troublesome room acoustics. Furthermore, the AV8801 can be taken to the next level of audio bliss by an Audyssey-certified installer for an additional fee.
The included semi-universal remote won’t leave Logitech or Universal Remote Control quaking in their boots, but it’s competent enough to set up the unit and operate it without any hassles. Given the AV8801’s target demographic, I bet most users will have some type of control system installed or at least a top-scale universal remote for day-to-day use.
To fully utilize the AV8801’s audio capabilities, one needs 11 channels of amplification. Unfortunately, Marantz doesn’t offer an 11-channel amp, so if you need that many channels, you’ll need a lot of rack space. If you’re only looking for seven channels, Marantz’s aesthetically matching MM8077 amplifier boasts 150 watts per channel (two channels driven) and really looks nice sitting next to the pre/pro. Unfortunately, Marantz doesn’t provide the specs for all channels driven, so be sure to check the HT Labs Measures section to see if it suits your power needs.
The amp features both XLR balanced and RCA unbalanced connections with a toggle switch to choose between the two, remote power on/off control, and gold-plated speaker terminals. In my testing, I used both the MM8077 amplifier and my reference Anthem PVA-7, and while the Marantz spec sheet looks more impressive in the power numbers, I found that in my configuration, the Anthem packed slightly more punch by comparison. Furthermore, the noise floor was quieter with the Anthem, with virtually silent backgrounds lending to more robust dynamics.
While the AV8801 and MM8077 lack THX certification, I never would have known that logo wasn’t silkscreened on the front of the unit. Both performed extremely well with movie soundtracks and with the two-channel listening I did.
I listened to the AV8801 for about two weeks before I ran the Audyssey calibration, and while I loved what I was hearing, I didn’t realize how much better the piece could sound until I finally took the 30 minutes to run the program. Wowza, what an experience! The surround channels seemed to come to life, and the bass response throughout the room was much more consistent and pleasing to the ears. Fortunately, the setup menu lets you switch the Audyssey room correction algorithm on and off at the toggle. I switched it on the fly, and it was easy to hear how much better the gear sounded with the room correction software engaged. Mind you, this is in an acoustically treated room, and I bet the differences in a standard room would be even more pronounced.
Trouble With the Curve combines two of my passions on one disc—movies and baseball. It’s the story of an elderly baseball scout, Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood), who’s been at the top of his game for years, but his age has finally caught up to him. Eastwood’s portrayal as the grumpy old man is one for the ages, but I was particularly enthralled with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and how realistic it sounded through the AV8801. If you’ve spent any time around a baseball field, you know the distinctive sound of the crack of a bat when it makes contact with a ball. With the Marantz, I was transported back to my youth when I heard that distinctive crack come from my speakers. It really produced a being-there moment—the first of many.
When I first heard that Sony was reimagining the Spider-Man franchise, I was skeptical of how well things would turn out. As it so happens, they’ve improved the character immensely with the recasting of Andrew Garfield as the teenage social outcast who ultimately turns into our web-spinning hero. The Blu-ray is available in both 2D and 3D, but it’s the surreal DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that’s the star of the show. It features incredible dynamics, extended frequency response, and creative sound design with discrete effects seeming to fly throughout the room. Like every other movie I threw at the AV8801, it handled this one with ease, placing pinpoint directional queues around the room exactly where they should be and provided seamless imaging. Furthermore, the dialogue intelligibility is simply amazing; the AV8801 makes voices sound hyperrealistic. In a dark room, it sounds like the actors are sitting there with you. It was a significant improvement in this regard over my already very good reference pre/pro, the Integra 80.2.
Musically, the AV8801 is extremely transparent and invites you into the audio presentation with a front-row seat. The highs aren’t overtly bright or edgy, and the pre/pro can deliver crisp dynamics and a robust midrange.
One of my favorite SACDs is Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me. While the album is now over 10 years old, I still enjoy the young lady’s voice and her mellow tunes. While the hybrid multichannel disc gives you three listening options—two-channel SACD, five-channel SACD, and two-channel CD, I prefer the first the most. Through the AV8801, I discovered nuances in the music that I hadn’t heard before. The background instruments took on more prominence and gave the music more depth and dimension. Furthermore, Jones’ vocals seemed bolder and more pronounced versus what I was used to hearing. I can say the same for other recordings I listened to through the Marantz—they just sounded better than I had ever heard before.
Wrapping It Up
I hadn’t been afflicted with upgrade-itis for quite some time. I was completely happy with my Integra 80.2 pre/pro until the AV8801 ended up in my rack. After having it in my system for over a month, I can’t imagine going back to my Integra. Yes, the Marantz is a lot more money, but it brings more to the table, too.
While I’ll only be utilizing it for a traditional 7.1 system, it’s nice to know that an upgrade path is available if She Who Must Not Be Crossed ever comes to the realization that more speakers in the family room is a good thing. Furthermore, with the ability to pass and process 4K signals, I don’t see myself getting the upgrade bug anytime soon when it comes to my pre/pro. Highly recommended!