Marantz has its own dedicated Network Audio Player in the $1499 NA7004 — we reviewed it in our biannual review-fest, Best Buys Home Theatre, and you can read that full review at AVHub.com.au. But many of the NA7004’s abilities have been included in the latest range of Marantz AV receivers, even this entry-level $999 ‘slimline’ NR1602.
Now AV receivers are generally to be approached with some trepidation. Modern multichannel receivers do so very many things, their remote controls have so many buttons, their rear panels so many sockets. With the arrival of home networking and internet radio, they are no longer merely amplifiers+radio, which is the traditional definition of a receiver. No wonder everyone’s trying to find a different name, something which pithily describes amplifiers+radio+DNLA+internetradio+podcasts+photos+streaming+AirPlay+appcontrol. It’s not an easy call; we live in hope.
One starting point for de-scarification of receivers might be their sheer physical bulk, and that’s the initial premise for Marantz’s “slimline” receivers, now in a second generation. ‘Slimline’ here is still a comparative term, by which the company means the NR1602 is not the usual double-height monstrosity that has no chance of fitting in your equipment rack, but rather a mere 11cm-high and attractively sculptured box, with two main knobs and not too many overwhelming front buttons and logos.
This has been achieved while retaining seven pretty healthy channels of 50W amplification and plenty of inputs — four HDMI, two component and three composite video inputs, three sets of assignable analogue audio inputs, plus two digital inputs, one each of optical and electrical. High-quality binding posts are provided for all seven speaker channels.
Then there’s all the new clever stuff, which here includes internet radio, networking streaming, Apple AirPlay (for free, it was a $60 upgrade option on some Marantz products last year, including the NA7004), Last.FM, and direct iPhone/iPod connection.
The ‘Getting started’ guide (the full guide comes on CD) encourages putting everything in its place, connecting the receiver to your TV via HDMI, then letting the onscreen Setup Wizard take you through the whole procedure. This uses Audyssey MultEQ auto-calibration, with its little tower microphone to be held in your seating position (or a variety of positions if, for some incomprehensible reason, you don’t want all the best sound for yourself).
Think setting up a surround system is hard? OK, so we’ve done it before just a few times, but we were up and running in 5.1 here in well under 20 minutes, though we made a few tweaks later via the easy-to-use manual speaker-level adjustments. The onscreen text and image guidelines provided by Marantz may look like they were designed on a 1970s’ 4-bit computer, but the information and procedure is solid enough, and would seem hard for even the least informed consumer to get wrong.
With seven channels of power, the NR1602 can run a full 7.1-channel surround system. But many users will opt for 5.1, which leaves two amp channels unused, of course. You can allocate these to power a pair of speakers in a second zone, or usefully to biamp the front speakers for extra headroom, particularly when listening in stereo.
First disc in was the Blu-ray of The Two Towers, with Gandalf’s bit of Balrog bashing surging and sliding around the speaker set to great effect. The first orc-squashing entry of an Ent is a slightly daft moment in the film, but Treebeard’s hoo-hooming goes entertainingly bonkers in the low-end department, and the NR1602, feeding a not enormous DefTech subwoofer, was able to palpably compress the air in our medium-sized room this way and that, with no apparent power shortage from the main speakers.
Music can be great in a well-balanced surround system, and two bargains generally snap-uppable at DVD stores are Queen’s Greatest Hits DVDs, all remixed to 5.1, and The Flaming Lips ‘Void’, suitably bananas in its 5.1-channel mixes, with Fight Test containing the musical equivalent of the man-walking-around-the-room surround system check, since it pans the drum track in a clockwise circle throughout the song. Yoshimi is fun too, with the opening acoustic guitar slashed into segments and slung from speaker to speaker.
All this the Marantz handled impeccably and with great musicality, and we spent most of a happy day sitting in the centre of the NR1602’s soundfield, cranked to the nines, with never a notion of underpowering. Large rooms may beg for more, but we can’t see the NR1602 falling short in any small-to-medium room, providing your speakers are of average sensitivity or above.