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Marantz SR8002

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Marantz SR8002 receiver

Hi-Fi World - July 2008 issue



DSD Delight

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Noel Keywood finds hidden treasure in Marantz's SR8002 receiver - SACD decoding. Is this why they call it an  "audiophile receiver"?

 

The SR8002 is Marantz’s ‘audiophile’ receiver, with copper plating to eliminate eddy currents and other niceties such as Pure Direct, where the processor is bypassed and displays switched off. Like its rivals in the A/V race, it delivers massive power - we measured up to 1600 Watts total across seven channels - and it comes with a handbook almost as heavy as the receiver itself! I exaggerate a little of course, but the point is A/V monsters like this come stuffed to the gills with every conceivable facility and are monstrously complicated. The inclusion of DTS Master Audio decoding will turn most A/V heads, but I found a hidden treat for audiophiles - it decodes DSD digital from SACD, giving superb sound quality.

 

As with all A/V receivers, CD players can be connected, as can DVD players - sometimes with surprising results, as my review of the Oppo DV-980H DVD player in this issue illustrates - and finally Blu-ray players. Unlike some recent designs though, LP is not catered for.

 

Like most receivers the SR8002 has seven amplifying channels, so it can provide 7.1 (the 0.1 is a subwoofer) surround-sound, comprising three front loudspeakers and four rear ones. Best to think of this as a future proof option as there is little true discrete 7.1 around at present. In the meantime, what goes into the Back loudspeakers, as they are called, is synthesised from the Rears of 5.1, to give a better rear sound field.

 

If you don't want Back loudspeakers, or a Centre front loudspeaker, the SR8002 can be set to do without. For quality music reproduction a Centre front loudspeaker is usually a drawback and best left out.  Using two front loudspeakers and no Backs (4.1) also allows the fronts to be bi-amped for better sound quality with the SR8002, using the unused Back channel amplifiers - another useful feature for audiophiles. Alternatively, unused channels can be used to feed another room.


AUDIO

The SR8002 possesses every audio signal processing scheme devised, to keep up in the features war. Of note are Dolby TrueHD and Digital Plus, and all DTS schemes including the top spec. HD Master Audio. These high resolution digital streams, only found on Blu-ray, need the HDMI 1.3a digital link, which the 8002 has, in and out. It does, of course, process incoming HDMI rather than just offering a feed through to a TV.  I used HDMI to pass CD, DVD-Audio and SACD into the SR8002 from an Oppo DV-980H player and it processed it all without complaint. Surprisingly, this included DSD digital code from SACD, even though the U.K. handbook does not list it as compatible (but the U.S. website does!). I also used a Samsung BD-P1400 Blu-ray for CD replay, via SP/DIF digital link.

 

Measurement suggested true DSD processing takes place internally, with no sign of intermediary conversion to PCM, but the handbook mentions a "DSD to PCM converter" and a PCM flag lights up on the display panel when receiving DSD. You can download the full handbook (15MB) from the U.S. website to peruse all this, as well as a lot more detail on facilities. Note though that the U.S. model has a different tuner to the European model reviewed here.

 

Whatever is happening inside, measured results from DSD processing were excellent, perhaps because of the resolution of the SR8002's 24/192 internal PCM convertors, and SACD sound quality was superb as a result.

 

Whilst SACD gets no honourable mention in the handbook, HDCD does. This is 20bit code on CD and it gives a smoother sound, when used that is, as it is uncommon. I see Microsoft now own the rights.


VIDEO

Video wise, there are Composite, S-Video and Component analogue inputs, plus outputs to a TV. There are also four HDMI digital inputs, plus two monitor outputs. Format conversion is provided from analogue to HDMI (but not HDMI to analogue) and between analogue formats (e.g. Composite to S-Video).  There's a interlacer/deinterlacer too. I didn't check format conversion quality, passing 1080 video straight through from both players to a hi-def TV.


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SET UP

Audyssey loudspeaker tuning is fitted and you can check its results. There is a 9-band graphic equaliser for further response tweaking and even bass and treble controls. None are useful in my acoustically treated room. I have used Audyssey many times and, although effective, I prefer careful manual adjustment. Loudspeaker sensitivity and position (i.e. time delay) can be compensated for internally, as usual. Obviously, this works for SACD as well, thanks to the SR8002's DSD processing, something that was not the case in the past thanks to the limited range of adjustments offered internally by most SACD players. Set up is a lengthy process and input assignment not well explained, but a huge range of adjustment is provided.

 

There is a 7.1 preamp out and 7.1 direct input too. I connected the Oppo DV-980H to the 7.1 input to check SACD analogue replay, a typical use for it. Connecting the Oppo's analogue output to the CD input lit up the red Peak overload warning light almost continuously unless Direct or Pure Direct were selected to bypass the A/D convertor (or ATTenuator is selected). Better to connect up digitally via SP\DIF or HDMI for hi-def digital. And you must connect up digitally to decode HDCD.

 

There are numerous ways to process surround-sound out from stereo of course, including Dolby Pro Logic IIx, complete with Panorama, Dimension and Centre Width adjustment, plus all DTS systems, Dolby headphone surround and others. This is a fully certified THX receiver, and has THX Neural. Finally, when squeaky clean digital becomes too much, good old fashioned analogue noise is available from a Medium wave tuner, in addition to FM.

 

The SR8002 is big, measuring 400mm wide, 184mm high and 396mm deep. At 15kgs it is quite a lift too. A fair amount of heat is produced, so ventilation is important, The loudspeaker terminals are fairly robust, and they are colour coded, although Marantz do not supply coloured labels, unlike Onkyo. Bare wires and 4mm plugs are accepted. The SR8002 feels solid and is well finished.

 

Having got used to the SR6001 I expected to have no trouble using the SR8002, but it proved something of a wrestling match at times, with a remote control that carries a bewildering array of options presented on a small, weakly illuminated, low contrast screen. Each input has up to 4 screens of options on this remote, often with abbreviations that were far from self-evident. To be fair, though, the remote is enormously capable, with tracts devoted to it in the handbook, but ease of understanding and use are the trade off.


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SOUND QUALITY

Having spent a long time using an SR6001 I found the SR8002 gave a familiar sound. Marantzs are very analytical, rather more so than rivals. They also have a dry balance with tight bass and a well lit upper midband. Strings of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra were deftly lifted out of a TrueHD demo track, giving them a vivid presence, with strong separation between individual instruments. Thanks to a nice sense of a bow drawing across rosined strings, violins had a natural rasp and vibrant character. The big Marantz has almost technicolour dynamics, which again were apparent by the force behind interjections of the orchestra during Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No.1 (Decca CD), also by the dry yet conspicuous power of the kettle drum. This isn't the svelte delivery of a valve amp, so much as the iron fist in a thin velvet glove that is a 1600W solid-state amplifier.

 

From a Samsung BD-P1400 connected up digitally via optical SP/DIF I couldn't fault the tremendous insight, explosive power and rigidly held timing of the combo, but HDMI was a trifle less clear and insightful I fancy, possibly due to jitter. Either way, results were impressive and stayed so over the long term, although the SR8002 wasn't as sweet as the SR6001 and here I believe I was picking up on its crossover distortion [see MEASURED PERFORMANCE].

 

Needless to say, with rock the SR8002's powerful sound worked well, Amy Winehouse given more strength and body than I have heard to date. This quintessential property of the SR8002 became even more apparent when I span a relatively old recording (1986), Billy Idol's "Sweet Sixteen". Usually sounding a trifle muddled, as you might expect of a CD from this period, through the Marantz Idol sang clearly in an uncluttered but cavernous acoustic; the SR8002 was making far more of the track than I had heard before. I suspect that the BD-P1400's ultra low jitter contributed quite substantially to what I was hearing, possibly due to re-clocking. The Eagles latest album "Long Road out of Eden'  displayed very similar qualities, drums sounding deliciously taut and impactful, instruments sharply outlined, against an almost peculiarly deep, silent background. I really couldn't fault this, other than to note that, with what seems like a lot of low level hash removed, the sound does take on a stark quality.

 

This doesn't apply to the receiver's processing of DSD digital code from SACD however,  which sounded almost as fluid as analogue, yet supremely clean and sweet too. I was taken aback by the glorious dynamism of DSD through the Marantz. It was a small but appreciable step up in quality from PCM so if you have an SACD collection and a player like the Oppo DV-980H that outputs DSD code over an HDMI link, the SR8002 is a great choice.

As expected from measurement, the VHF tuner had an easy and amenable sound, with plenty of body and strong bass, but ride cymbals did tizz a little, I noticed when listening to Heart and Radio 2. It has a decent sound, if not top notch. No fewer than 60 presets are available for stations and if you have a decent aerial they will be useful, as the auto-tune system stopped at noise from my outside array, but this is common. I tuned by station frequency to avoid locking onto noise or distant transmitters.



 

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