|Posted on November 24, 2012 at 3:25 PM|
I’ve been a fan of Marantz products for a while now for two big reasons.
One: The stuff has great sound and build quality and hits that sweet spot between middling receiver performance and the truly insane gear found at the high-end. (I’m looking at you, Meridian, Krell, Lexicon, ADA and Theta!)
Two: Kevin Zarow – VP of sales at D&M (Marantz, Denon and Boston Acoustics) – is an incredibly cool guy that has always been a real straight shooter with me and I not only respect him, but like working with him.
So, several years ago when I updated my home’s reference system, I replaced my existing Denon AVR-4802 receiver with the brand new Marantz separates; the AV-8003 pre-pro and MM-8003 amplifier. I loved the copper chassis build quality of the pieces and could immediately tell a huge improvement in audio performance over the (admittedly aged) Denon receiver.
When Marantz released the new version of its pre-pro – the AV-7005 – about 18 months ago, I jumped on board. I loved the new “porthole” design and the updated network streaming features and the improved Audyssey processing. But from the momen I laid hands on it, it was immediately clear the unit was not in the same league build-quality wise as the AV-8003. Whereas the 8003 was THX Ultra2 certified and weighed in at 25.6 pounds and felt incredibly solid, the AV-7005 lacked THX certification, weighed 3 pounds less and just didn’t *feel* the same.
Also, the AV-7005 was sorely missing two key features that I really wanted, nay, NEEDED to have! While it has processing for Audyssey DSX, it could only support one set of additional channels at a time. That meant I couldn’t enjoy surround back AND front height simultaneously for a true 9.1 experience. (Clearly a tragedy of Greek proportions...) Second, it didn’t support the latest, most powerful version of Audyssey’s room-correction processing, XT32, which improved by an order of magnitude the correction applied, especially to those pesky, hard-to-tame bass notes.
So, ever since installing the 7005, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I replaced it whenever Marantz decided to remake a flagship, 8000-series pre-pro to take its rightful place as heir apparent at the top of the line.
At CEDIA this year, I sought out Marantz and ran into Jeffrey Cowan, the VP of Training and Customer Insight. (Here's a video of me talking to Jeffrey at the show.) I mentioned the tragedy which was my life without XT32 and 9-channels of audio and asked if the new Marantz pre-pro would do the trick. He looked at the new AV-7701 for a moment; sitting there on gleaming black a white, linen covered tablecloth ready for it's primetime unveiling to the world. Took a deep breath and then said, “No…”
After a conspiratorial pause, he said, “But, we are working on something that WILL give you exactly what you need.” After a quick huddle with the PR team to see what information I could be trusted with, Jeffrey -- under strict embargo -- went on to give me the outlines of what would become the true flagship AV-8003 replacement, the new AV-8801.
Sight unseen I told him I wanted it. Whatever I had to do, whatever it cost, I wanted to be on the top of the list of people getting one! As God is my witness, I would have this piece!
And last week the stars aligned and I got this e-mail from Kevin:
“You have the second set in the world. Do you know who has the first?
I’ll never tell but I can assure you that he will be busy this weekend playing with the new gear…
Have a great Thanksgiving Holiday.”
Then later this e-mail addendum:
“Funny story. I went back to the warehouse to assist the admin in what units we were shipping you. Lo and behold, another AV/MM set arrived and I grabbed it. Since I drove it home, I technically got the first set but your units actually left the building first.”
So, yesterday, either the first or second set of this dynamic A/V duo arrived on my front porch!
Let's have a bit of A/V unboxing porn, shall we?
The units arrived nicely double-boxed and -- at least on my front porch -- were in the correct "This End Up" orientation. This is the amp’s box:
While Denon has gone to pretty, retail-friendly, four-color boxes with pictures and charts and feature descriptions, Marantz is keeping it real: Plain, brown cardboard box with some basic printing and a CAD looking illustration. You want fancy? Here’s what the product is…in French! You want a pretty-boy box, go buy something else. You want a 7-channel power amp, here it is. Included in the box is the amp, heavy gauge power cord, manual and control cable for remote power switching by the pre-pro.
Here’s a picture of the front of the amp.
It retains identical styling to the current MM-7055 series, with the porthole design and the ability to turn off the front panel display. Here’s a close-up of the front panel sticker:
Here you can see the beautiful copper-plated construction on the bottom of the amp.
The amp’s business end is around back where you’ll find balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA inputs for all 7 channels as well as the speaker binding posts.
The amp also features some control inputs that allow it to turn on/off with the AV-8801. While the spec I found on Marantz’s site lists the weight at 45.41, I threw it on our home's scale and found that it measured 39.5, which is identical to the MM-8003. This isn't too surprising, and the build and feel is a lot like the MM-8003. But where the 8003 was 8 channels x 140-watts (an extra channel for a non-powered sub), this is a far more home theater usable 7 channels x 150-watts. (If you do the math, you’ll see that 7 x 160 actually equals 8 x 140 (both 1120), so I’m surprised that that isn’t the rating of the new amp...) Kevin told me the amp is based on the MM-8003's design, but the new model has more headroom and a few other tweaks.
Now, on to the main event…the AV-8801!
The outer box, again, plain and straight-forward.
However there are a couple of key new logos worth noting. DTS Neo:X, Audyssey MultEQ XT32 and Audyssey DSX LFC. From the manual, here’s what these refer to:
DTS Neo:X - This technology enables the playback of 2-channel source audio or 7.1/5.1 multi-channel source audio through a maximum 11.1 channel speakers, achieving an even broader sound field.
Audyssey LFC (Low Frequency Containment) - Audyssey LFC™ solves the problem of low frequency sounds disturbing people in neighboring rooms or apartments. Audyssey LFC dynamically monitors the audio content and removes the low frequencies that pass through walls, floors and ceilings. It then applies psychoacoustic processing to restore the perception of low bass for listeners in the room. The result is great sound that no longer disturbs the neighbors.
Discrete subwoofers and Audyssey Sub EQ HT - The unit has two subwoofer output capability and can adjust the level and delay for each subwoofer individually. Audyssey Sub EQ HT makes the integration seamless by first compensating for any level and delay differences between the two subwoofers and then applying Audyssey MultEQ XT 32 to both subwoofers together.
Inside the box is the prerequisite accessory baggie:
This contains a quick setup guide, FM antenna, AM loop antenna, AA batteries for the remote and a CD that contains the entire – 199 page! – owner’s manual on PDF.
Here is the new remote, updated from the model included with the AV-7005.
Though, I have to be honest, if you are buying a piece like this, the chances that you are going to use the factory remote are probably somewhere between slim and none. I will be controlling the AV-8801 via IP with my Control4 system. However this remote looks fairly simply laid out which is a plus, though it probably means you don’t get discreet access to all of the different sound modes and settings, etc. So, the moral of the story is, get a good 3rd party control system!
Here’s the Audyssey calibration mic.
This is pretty much the same Audyssey mice – ACM1HB – that is included with all Denon/Marantz products, even those starting under $400. With a unit like this (which supports Audyssey’s professional calibration), hire a pro to come and use a REAL calibrated mic to get the most out of the system. (I’m awaiting my ProEQ license and will upgrade it immediately! Here's my review of the ProEQ system in use on the AV-7005.)
Here’s a shot of the top of the unit where you can see the six copper screws, definitely a sexy touch.
Here’s the front which appears identical to the AV-7005:
Here’s a close-up of the front panel sticker touting all of the new, gee-whiz features of the AV-8801:
Keeping the sleek, front panel look means hiding the extended display and buttons behind the drop down front panel door:
The front panel door feels much more solid on the AV-8801 than on the AV-7005 which was always kind of flimsy/plastic-feeling to me. Behind the door things are mostly unchanged. One big difference is that the AV-8801 omits the Toslink optical digital input on the front which was included with the AV-7005. Since I used this exactly zero times, this isn’t a big deal to me. On the plus side, the front panel HDMI connection supports MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link), a feature found on some mobile devices.
Again you can see evidence of the quality build construction in the copper chassis.
Beyond the build quality, you have higher quality power supplies and multiple other performance/build improvements that add up to the AV-8801 weighing a hefty 8.5 pounds more than the AV-7005. This thing definitely feels like it means serious business.
Much like the amp, the exciting stuff happens around back. Here I’ve made some notations about key features of the AV-8801.
I’m not sure why it took this long for a manufacturer to add a REAR USB port, but it makes SO much sense, especially if you like to keep a hard drive filled with music permanently connected in your rack. Being able to plug into the back makes for a much cleaner connection. The 4-port switch is handy, but I wish it would have been Gigabit speed instead of just 10/100. However, for most applications, this will be a handy, $50 savings over not needing to purchase a separate network switch. (Also, it is a bit surprising that the unit doesn't feature Wi-Fi at this price point...) The AV-8801 is ready for dual-display systems – like my own living room Plasma by day, projector by night – with dual, simultaneously active HDMI outputs for the main zone. The system also supports a second, discreet HDMI zone which is oddly called Zone4 and not Zone2, but tomato/tomahto.
And finally, here’s a beauty shot of the two units stacked on top of each other:
I’m excited to install the system into my rack this weekend and can’t wait to give the system a listen, including being able to (finally) experience 9.1 channel audio. I’ll be posting up a full review later, but my initial impressions are Marantz clearly stepped well-beyond the performance of the last model, cramming the 8801 with all of the latest, top performing audio/video enhancements and looking to establish a new benchmark in the upper-mid-fi A/V preamp/processor category!