Marantz SR8002 A/V Receiver
Marantz is a brand name. It was once an individual as well. What would Saul Marantz have made of the SR8002 A/V receiver? It bears little resemblance to the hi-fi products he hand-built in his home in Kew Gardens, New York, during the 1950s—or to the Japanese-made receivers that popularized component audio systems in the 1970s. Saul lived until 1997, so he was not unfamiliar with the concept of surround sound by the time he passed away—but his younger self would have been astonished to see 11 pairs of binding posts on the back of the SR8002. Not to mention some unfamiliar jacks labeled HDMI. What are those for?
HDMI, of course, is the newest and best way to connect a surround receiver to source components. In its latest form, version 1.3a, it can handle HDTV. It can also pass a bitstream, enabling the receiver to provide onboard decoding of all existing surround codecs, including the hip new lossless and other ones that Blu-ray and HD DVD support. The transition to HDMI 1.3a is more than one of those incremental changes that barely justifies an annual new line. By radically upgrading the quality of the picture and sound signals it passes, it represents a sea change in surround receivers.
For the ’Phile in You
Marantz describes the SR8002 as both an audiophile’s and videophile’s receiver. On the video side, its credentials are impeccable. Its HDMI jacks (four in, two out) support 1080p resolution, which some people call Full HD, and can handle a film-friendly frame rate of 24 frames per second. The component video jacks are also 1080p capable. The receiver supports the extended color gamut known as xvYCC, and Deep Color, features that aren’t yet in vogue in consumer HD sources except for a few camcorders. While the SR8002 transcodes all legacy analog video inputs to 480p or 480i via HDMI, it doesn’t upconvert them in the process, as is the case with so many of today’s AVRs. Incoming 1080i signals via component may also be transcoded to 1080i via HDMI.
On the audio side, in addition to handling multichannel PCM, this model contains onboard decoding for the new lossless surround codecs, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as the improved lossy ones, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio. The SR8002 is totally up to the minute in its support of next-gen surround.
The audio fundamentals are in good shape. The SR8002 is THX Select2 certified, which means it will play loud and clean in rooms of up to 2,000 cubic feet when used with Select2-certified speakers. Power is rated at 125 watts times seven amp channels. Those 11 sets of binding posts I alluded to above include a pair for A/V multiroom use and another that you can use to biamplify the front left and right channels. One feature I haven’t seen before is dialectric protection for the speaker terminals—if a bare wire tip touches the chassis or a screw, an insulated plate surrounding the terminals will prevent a short circuit. There are also line-level audio outputs to support a third zone.
For the extremely au courant user, Marantz provides HD Radio, a relative rarity, as well as XM, not so rare. I had fun with HD Radio. Once I found the command that switches the tuner into digital-preference mode, finding stations was as easy as hitting enter on the remote.
For the newbie, there’s Audyssey MultEQ for automatic setup and room correction—attach a mike, run the program, and you’re good to go, unless you’re the tweaky type. This version of Audyssey takes measurements from more than one point in the room, addressing one of the weaknesses of less sophisticated auto-setup technologies. If you use the auto setup, be sure to check that it has identified the full-range (or other) status of your speakers. Then turn the EQ on and off to see whether you prefer your room corrected or uncorrected. The main benefit, I usually find, is in the bass, but sometimes it’s offset by a less desirable midrange.
In my case, with measurements from three points, Audyssey measured my speaker sizes and distances with impressive accuracy. Its EQ settings were just irregular enough to reflect my asymmetrical long-wall speaker placement—as opposed to some of the wild all-over-the-map settings I’ve seen with other auto-EQ schemes. Audyssey advised that my room needed a little more low-bass response and was a couple of decibels too hot at 2 kilohertz, though not in all channels.
This assessment was probably influenced by the sub and speakers I was using at the time, the Era D5 series. Curiously, Audyssey did not notice the midbass bloat that plagues my room with most speaker packages. The probable explanation was that the tripod with the SPL mike sat in front of my seat, not in my seat, so it was farther from the wall than my ears would be.
My one disappointment was the onscreen user interface. It’s the kind of monochrome text associated with receivers of a decade or more ago. Other manufacturers offer interfaces that are both more attractive and easier to use. Marantz needs to catch up.
On the plus side, the receiver comes with a full-featured LCD-screen remote. And for the second zone, there’s also a very attractive separate learning remote. Ever perverse, I liked the second one more for its elegant simplicity. Go figure.
Associated gear included a set of Era speakers based on the Design 10 tower, running full-range, along with the Design 5 LCR in the center and two Design 5 monitors serving as surrounds. I was in love with them at the time and had no compunction about using them as reference gear. I ran the towers full-range, with the other speakers crossing over to the sub
at 80 hertz. My three disc players were the Sony BDP-S500 Blu-ray player, the Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD player, and the Integra DPS-10.5 universal player. This was the Toshiba’s swan song. I enjoyed HD DVD while I had it.
Start Your Engines
The receiver ran the full-range left and right channels pretty well. It didn’t have the weight of a good outboard multichannel power amp, but it held its own. Midrange and high-frequency detail were good. Lower mids and upper bass were less voluptuous than on my Rotel RSX-1065 reference A/V receiver—that’s usually the case.
Cars—I’m looking forward to the sequel, Subways—gave the receiver some steroidal dynamics and wildly veering panning effects to work with from its 5.1-channel uncompressed PCM soundtrack. Although the motor noise pinned my ears back, that old-fashioned reliable Marantz neutrality kept it from becoming excruciatingly raw. Vocals were clear, even at the low volumes I sometimes resorted to. And the receiver reminded me of its musical prowess, sculpting Sheryl Crow’s soprano in “Real Gone,” strutting Chuck Berry’s guitar on “Route 66” (what else?), and finding the essential warmth and beauty of James Taylor on “Our Town,” a song by soundtrack composer Randy Newman.
Even in Dolby Digital Plus, the HD DVD release of Blades of Glory didn’t have any notable effects (unless you count Will Ferrell’s incendiary sexual magnetism as an effect). The orchestral bits in the opening frames had a nice open feeling, and I didn’t miss a word of dialogue, although the overall mix seemed crude and trebly. Given the remainder of what I heard, it had to be the source material, not the receiver.
That became immediately clear a few minutes after I got into The Bourne Identity, another HD DVD release in Dolby Digital Plus. I couldn’t put down my red HD DVD freebie pen: “Boat, waterfront, train station—excellent surround effects. HF extension, fine-grained, you can really tell. What a difference production values make.”
I’m coming to the conclusion that Dolby Digital Plus is one of the great underreported stories in home theater. By focusing on Dolby TrueHD as the next big thing in surround sound, we obsessives are missing the fact that improved lossy formats like Plus can make a big difference too. I wonder if most listeners could tell the difference between TrueHD and Plus on the same material? (Just asking.)
Please note: Even after a firmware upgrade, the Toshiba HD-A2 transcoded Dolby Digital Plus to high-resolution PCM. While conversions are never desirable, this particular one should not reduce the resolution of the signal—and it didn’t. Still, my first unadulterated experience with Dolby Digital Plus—decoded in the receiver—lies in the future and probably will come through a Blu-ray player.
Can the SR8002 accurately reproduce non-electric instruments in an acoustically natural environment? I put every product I review to that test. In this case, the demo material was Orfeo’s set of Haydn Notturni with the Wiener Concert-Verein. The string sound was detailed, but not overwhelmingly so, a perfect combination of instrumental attack and reverb. Horns and reeds followed suit. I was satisfied.
I must have heard “Take Five” from the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out at trade shows at least a million times each—on CD and vinyl. The old war-horse emerged in good form, and once again, the interplay between directly recorded and reverberated sound was satisfying, especially on the drums.
Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” was the highlight of Help by the Beatles. The mellifluously recorded vocal sounded three-dimensional, even in two-channel mode. I thought the strings on this track and the electric guitars on many others were a little too sizzly. Since this was a fairly isolated event, the blame should probably go to the first-generation CD release. The Beatles Anthology DVD set in DTS 5.1 and the Love remixes on DVD-Audio show just how good George Martin’s handiwork can sound in surround and high resolution. Let’s hope the surviving band members and heirs decide to make use of the new lossless codecs.
At just under two thousand dollars, the Marantz SR8002 is not cheap. If your main goal is to access Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, and so on via HDMI 1.3a, there are less costly options. But if you want a deluxe implementation with all the audio enhancements available—not to mention HD Radio—this top-of-the-line Marantz is quite reasonably priced.
Full HDMI 1.3a support for advanced video processing and next-gen surround
Good price for top-line model