Onto the more modern side of AV receiverdom, then. The front USB socket on the Marantz can be used to connect an iPod/iPhone or a USB stick (or even hard-drive), and we were delighted to find it format-friendly enough to play all our test files except Apple Lossless, happy to go all the way to 24-bit 96kHz, including the sometimes-omitted 88.2kHz.
The same was true when playing via the Media Server, which picked up our wide variety of PC and NAS shares and was soon streaming 24/96 FLACs and WAV files like it was born to the task. Using Marantz’s own Wizz app for iPhone (see image) makes this even easier than following your navigation via the NR1602’s own screen display, and also allows you to select Pure Direct, which turns off the main display entirely (though this dropped the level 1dB or so, which is odd).
The Wizz app is definitely the best way to browse internet radio, given the many options on offer, though it’s not good for finding something specific, since the ‘search by keyword’ function doesn’t work, the app returning “Please input by the device operation”, which lacks something in the syntax department. But the stations we reached by the usual location/genre browsing were delivered clean, bright and again with great musicality; the best of internet radio quality has come quite a way since its early grungy days.
We don’t reckon you’ll miss the DAB+ that isn’t on this receiver, especially as internet radio doesn’t need any trailing aerial cables.
Other clever bits: you can add an optional Bluetooth receiver and stream from any smartphone, tablet or computer. But for Apple devices you won’t need the optional receiver, as the NR1602 has Apple AirPlay built in, which allows your music to be sent from any iDevice or Mac across the home network direct to the Marantz, and onto to your speakers and/or TV. There’s no video sending, however; the video will stay on your iPad while the audio emerges from the Marantz.
Plug your iPod into the front USB and you can also play direct from that, navigating via artist and album folders by remote or app.
A few words on that choice of control. We do reckon the NR1602’s own remote control is a nightmare which will send the casual user into despair pretty fast, unless they stick to the volume and cursor keys. Take the fundamental choice of “listening mode”.
You have four options of listening mode — ‘surround’, auto, stereo or Pure Direct. There are remote keys for each. Are they next to each other? No, one is at the top of the remote, one halfway down, and two near the bottom. Of these, ‘Surround’ gives you the choice of buggering up the surround in various ways, ‘auto’ seems to play the actual signal as delivered (which would seem wise to us), while Direct and Pure Direct “plays the audio exactly how it was recorded”, though how those differ from ‘auto’ remains unclear to us. If manufacturers really want to simplify their receivers, they could start by removing a lot of the DSP and fake surround modes and just default to maximum purity. We shudder when friends spend their whole lives in accidental stadium mode without knowing it.
Meanwhile the cool new sources — USB/iPod, Flickr, Last.FM ($3 a month account required), Napster (not available here, but still listed), Favourites, internet radio and Media Server — all get nested under a single source button which then requires secondary navigation. If you’re listening to ABC internet radio, say, how do you select Media server or your iPod? You’ll have to go left four or five times, then up and down. It’s crazy. And be prepared to be blasted by internet radio every time you toggle through these sources.
So the company’s Wizz app for iDevices should be a preferable controller, but it, too, desperately needs improvement.
It’s an iPhone-only app, so has to run at double-size on iPad; it’s flaky when moving through multiple screens, it lacks some abilities born for a touchpad (such as text search), and can’t even scroll long lists of artists or radio stations, pausing to load each page, which takes forever on long lists. This should be an easy (and urgent) fix for Marantz, and we gather an update may be coming; we’ll amend the online version of this review if and when it happens.