- May 16, 2012
- Houston, TX
- Real Name
- Dave Upton
Marantz AV8801 Processor Review
Marantz is a well respected name in the A/V industry. Founded by Saul Marantz in 1953 in Kew Gardens, New York, the company subsisted by licensing its products to other companies. Acquired by several other companies over the years, Marantz has been owned by Superscope, Philips Electronics, and now finally by D&M Holdings, a merger between Marantz Japan and Denon. Through all this change, the company has remained consistent in its mission, producing electronics for the discriminating audio video enthusiast.
When it comes to R&D and product development, Marantz does not move at the same breakneck pace as its sister company Denon nor midmarket competitors like Onkyo and Pioneer. In fact, Marantz is the sort of company that would rather release something truly special less frequently, than release a good product on a regular basis.
A testament to this can be seen in the release cycle of Marantz flagship processor line. This line was last updated in 2008 with the release of the AV8003, and only in 2013 did we finally see the new AV8801 go up for sale. True to the original vision of Saul Marantz, the AV8801 is a statement product that exudes attention to detail and careful concern about sound and video quality. The AV8003 received rave reviews though was often ignored by AV enthusiasts because it lacked some of the bells and whistles that permeate the midmarket. This time around, Marantz has not only included the bells and whistles enthusiasts are looking for, they have added top-tier features that measurably improve the overall experience in the home theater. With a retail price of $3599.99 – there can be no question that this is a statement product, but the list of features that buys you goes on and on… and on.
Features & Ergonomics
The Marantz AV8801 features more connectivity options than any premium processor I’ve seen to date, starting on the video side with a whopping 7 HDMI inputs, 3 component inputs and 4 composite inputs. It also features 3 HDMI outputs (2 simultaneous, and 1 for Zone 4). On the audio side, 8 channels of analog input are provided as well as 2 digital coax and optical inputs respectively. Vinyl junkies will be pleased to note that the AV8801 also features a moving-magnet 2.5mV sensitive phono input. On the output side, there are 11.2 channels (yes that’s 13!) of XLR and RCA pre-outs. The AV8801 also features a 4 port 10/100 network switch in addition to standard features such as IR and RS232 control.
Bells & Lots of Whistles
Marantz did not skimp on the extras with this product, opting to put the latest and greatest iteration of every component into this unit. To start with, Audyssey’s flagship room correction product MultiEQ XT32 is included, as is Sub EX HT processing which is able to optimize dual subwoofer configurations. Each output is tied to 1 of 13 discrete 32-bit/192kHz DACs feeding custom Marantz Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Modules (HDAM) that are inspired by Marantz reference stereo equipment. The units included USB and Network playback features can play stereo files with resolutions of up to 192kHz, however do not handle multichannel files. On the streaming side, the AV8801 natively supports the usual suspects including Pandora and Spotify. Video processing is handled by an Analog Devices ADV8003 processor which after the latest firmware update, is capable of passing every video test in the book, including 4K for those concerned about future proofing.
The Hook Up
Despite the complexity of the AV8801’s feature set, it is not a difficult piece of equipment to install. I hooked up my Wyred4Sound MMC-7 amplifier and Seaton SubMersive HP+ subwoofer using the supplied XLR connections. My sources which include a DirecTV set top box, a Sony PS4, a Dune HD Smart D1 network media player and a Wii U were easily accommodated leaving 3 HDMI inputs available for future expansion. Upon powering up the unit, a wizard displayed on the screen walking me through the various parameters required to set up my speakers and video devices. The interface is highly intuitive and should pose no problem for the moderately well versed home theater aficionado. Once I completed the initial setup, a task that took a mere five minutes, I immediately dug into the menu to search for firmware updates. The AV8801 found an update on Marantz’ servers and informed me it would take approximately an hour to complete. After a brief interlude for dinner and some chores from my honey-do list, the AV8801 had completed the firmware update and was ready for Audyssey.
I proceeded to perform a full Audyssey calibration, utilizing my Audyssey Pro kit and measured in 12 distinct positions around my listening position. To those who are unaware, there are some very simple tips that greatly improve the results of an Audyssey calibration.
First, turn off any HVAC equipment or fans in the area of your listening space, and find a quiet time of day to do your calibration. The lower noise floor will enhance the accuracy of the Audyssey microphone’s measurements.
Second, use a microphone stand with a boom to avoid resting your microphone on the couch. Any coupling of the microphone to the couch can result in false measurements as the sympathetic movement of the furniture can wreak havoc on lower frequency measurements.
Finally, measure as many positions as possible as shown in this image from Audyssey’s website:
Once calibration was complete, I proceeded to slightly modify my crossover values based on personal experience. My mains (Paradigm Studio 100’s) were crossed over at 80Hz, while my center channel (Paradigm Studio CC-690) was crossed over at 60Hz, which I have found eliminates some of the strange behavior with deep male voices getting partially routed to the subwoofer. My subwoofer LPF was set to 120Hz and levels were slightly tweaked using my Galaxy SPL meter.
Marantz ships a fairly capable remote with the AV8801 that features an LCD display, backlit buttons and fairly substantial number of suppored devices it can also control. Unfortunately, Marantz still failed to make the remote experience satisfying compared to the plethora of universal remotes out there, with my Harmony Touch easily doing everything I needed much more easily than the factory remote.
One major caveat to all the remotes brings up a design decision made by the engineers at Marantz. In order to switch surround modes, one is required to press and hold one of four category buttons and then repeatedly press that same button again to select the processing mode for that category. While this may sound good on paper, it's terrible in use. I was much happier using a free Android app called 'AVR-Remote' that let me easily adjust volume and choose my surround mode over the network. Your own experience may differ, but give both this app and Marantz' own app a look.
Starting with music, I gave the AV8801 a work out with several of my favorite albums:
Mickey Hart – Planet Drum, Spirit into Sound
Mickey Hart’s solo work consists of world percussion music filled with every type of bass and drum imaginable, a single track may contain tribal drums from sub-Saharan Africa to ceremonial drums from North America, to the copper kettle drums of the Caribbean. This is a fun type of music to enjoy, and also features a great deal of very complex content that wonderfully tests sub/main integration and subwoofer musicality. I listened to these albums for close to two hours and was thoroughly impressed by the cohesive sonic presentation. Bass was full, lively and deep yet retained its punch, while the highs were natural and extended without any of the artificial roll-off Audyssey can sometimes create.
Avantasia – The Metal Opera Parts 1 & 2
This is one of my guilty pleasure albums, a collaboration of Tobias Sammet of Edguy fame on keyboards and vocals, Henjo Richter of Gamma Ray on Guitars, Markus Grosskopf of Helloween on bass, and Alex Holzwarth of Rhapsody of Fire on drums. The album is a power metal opera that features lyrical song writing and a story about a young Dominican monk and his journey to the world of Avantasia as he attempts to rescue his stepsister Anna.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, the sound!
This album features some very complex guitar work and accessory instrumentation alongside the signature power metal double-bass. All this in combination leads to an incredibly dynamic recording that does a wonderful job of testing subwoofer integration, various listening modes and vocal reproduction. The results for actual listening were excellent, delivering bass with tons of slam and incredibly organic guitar.
The Dolby Atmos downmix to TrueHD in Disney/Pixar’s Brave is one of my favorite reference Blu-ray surround experiences. Filled with a great combination of surround activity, music, action and some moments of great LFE, this is a great film to verify overall performance of a home theater system. I chose this as my first movie to test the AV8801 with as I was worried about overall integration and cohesiveness with my mains first and foremost.
The AV8801 didn’t disappoint, allowing my sub to deliver a great deal of low frequency energy when required during the opening scene with the bear, but also managing to politely back up the drums of the opening musical montage without dominating. Imaging was stellar, with 3D positioning of elements in the surround mix exceeding anything I had previously heard on my system.
To quote one of my subwoofer reviews:
"Dredd is over the top, it’s a little campy and it’s a whole lot of fun. It just so happens that Dredd is also overflowing with LFE. I will admit to replaying a certain scene involving a high-caliber machine gun and some concrete shredding over and over again when testing subwoofers."
The AV8801 brought my SubMersive HP+ to new heights, with bass that literally shook the walls, the ceiling and everything not nailed down. I also noticed a dramatic improvement in mid-bass slam after swapping processors, which indicates much better bass management and equalization. Surround pans demonstrated the quality of the AV8801’s post calibration imaging as they completely immersed me in the film while dialogue was crystal clear.
Since I first saw the AV8801 advertised, I coveted this beautiful looking piece of gear. I’d been in the market for a new processor for a long time, but hadn’t yet found the combination of Audyssey XT32, balanced outputs and overall quality that I was looking for. My time with the AV8801 has literally flown by, because I’ve never owned a processor I found easier to use, better sounding or as perfectly matched to my needs in the home theater. The AV8801 has every extra feature I could ever ask for, supports 3D & 4K, handles even the most complex audio material with the same aplomb as the Anthem processor I reviewed last year at triple the cost, and finally – it has the best bass management and EQ solution out there at the moment (in this reviewer’s humble opinion). My AV8801 will not be going back to Marantz. Despite the price tag, the simple truth is that this piece of equipment has raised the collective performance of everything else I own more than any other purchase I’ve made. Highly recommended.
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