With the (relative) maturity of the HDMI specification has come a rash of AV receivers designed to make the most of its powerful capabilities. The Marantz SR7001 is the latest amplifier in this league, albeit one with a music rather than home theatre focus.
A lot of thought has gone into making this amplifier, and this is obvious from first glance. The casework is incredibly solid, and a peek through the ventilation grills demonstrates the amount of copper (an audiophile's favourite metal) used in its construction.
One of the touches that demonstrate this thoughtful approach is the shielded speaker terminals. Ordinary amplifiers can be blown if you accidentally touch speaker wires to the wrong parts of the chassis, and to prevent this the Marantz employs a clear plastic shield attached to the back of the amp.
However, there are some things missing that are definitely missed. For example, there isn't a mute button on the receiver, as on other units in Marantz's range, which can be annoying if you need to quickly kill the sound if you don't have the remote.
Also, like most other amps, the SR7001 comes with two volume and input selection knobs. Selector knobs are a matter of preference -- we prefer a separate button for each input as they're faster -- and we found that this one in particular was a little "sloppy", with too much throw and lacking the exact click of rivals.
For features, this receiver is an audiophile's delight--huge copper transformers, an excellent digital/analog converter (DAC), and HDMI 1.2 support with DVD-A and SACD capability. The DAC is a crisp-sounding Crystal 192kHz/24-bit and there are several Direct Modes to maximise the signal running through it.
As we've mentioned, this is a musical beast, but it's not the best choice for videophiles. Unlike some of the other receivers we've seen recently, the Marantz is not an upscaling amp, just upconverting. What this means is that will produce a progressive version of whatever source you plug into it (for instance convert 576i DVDs to 576p), but it won't let you upscale to a HD resolution such as 720p or 1080i.For the price this is disappointing, as the Pioneer VSXAX2AS-S does this for a lot less -- and uses a decent Faroudja DCDi upscaler as well.
But inputs are well catered for, and the ability to use a single HDMI cable out is still very handy. Four HDMI inputs will also cater for most current and future AV set-ups as well.
Interestingly, considering the music focus, there isn't a Phono input, and, perhaps less surprisingly given its hi-fi heritage, there isn't the facility for iPod connection.
Controlling the SR7001 is a straightforward process, and while the learning remote is fully featured, we don't like the ugly and spartan menu system. Most AV amps -- even some budget ones -- include an auto set-up routine which caters to your individual room, and here it's called Acoustic EQ in the menu.
The Marantz's version involves quite a long calibration process, with a lot of input needed by the user, with the end result exhibiting none of the sophistication shown by the Pioneer.
Even after calibration, the sound field wasn't as enveloping or as gripping as the Pioneer's in surround mode. The rear channels were a little "mushy" during the brontosaurus stampede in King Kong, and where the Pioneer made you feel like you could be stepped upon at any moment, the Marantz had the effect of pushing the action towards the screen, and keeping you at a safe distance. Not what we anticipate Mr Jackson had intended. However, the dialogue remained snappy and the scene still retained most of its intensity.
So movies are a little lack-lustre, what about music? Good. In fact excellent, but with some caveats. Like other Marantz amps we've seen before, the SR7001 has a low tolerance for components which have a high signal output. This causes the "Peak" light to come on more often than not. And when it does the sound hardens into a tight little ball, losing all the detail and nuance. This is obviously pretty terrible if you want to listen to music, but thankfully, the Source Direct and Pure Direct modes overcome this by shutting off all unimportant circuits like the front display and video. The result is actually quite striking, and if you have a decent music spinner we recommend using Pure Direct all the time.
Using a DVD-Audio of the self-titled Metallica album we had to check if there was subwoofer connected -- so powerful was the bass. Switch to CD and the onboard DACs have an equally intense and punchy sound -- especially with the stop-start dynamics of Okkervil River's For Real. But you wouldn't want to partner this receiver with overly boomy speakers as the bass could overwhelm.
Like a lot of other Marantz products, this receiver is ... ahem ... "wired for sound". For an extra thousand pieces of paper, unless music is of utmost importance, there is little to recommend this over the Pioneer.