A home theater receiver is one piece of equipment that most enthusiasts start with in the early development of their system. While an AV receiver is an extremely convenient package, a separate AV preamp and power amp can provide even better surround sound and video processing not to mention better sound quality overall. When shopping for AV preamp, you'll find plenty to choose from if you have a healthy budget. Most home theater preamps will set you back $3,000 to $6,000 and in some instances even more. With the average home theater receiver costing somewhere between $500 and $800, your quest for a dedicated AV preamp may stop here but I urge you to read on.
The Marantz AV7005 Preamp/Processor is a powerhouse, costing a mere fraction of most home theater preamps; retailing for $1,499 there is a lot to love right off the bat. Measuring a little over 17 inches wide by seven and a half inches tall and 16 inches deep the AV7005 is pretty much the same size as your standard receiver though because it lacks an amplifier section it isn't quite as heavy at 22 pounds. The AV7005 features Marantz's new design language and is easily recognizable as a Marantz product thanks to its Spartan front fa�ade that features two large rotary dials, one for input selection and the other for volume that flank the AV7005's porthole style display.
Around back the AV7005's six HDMI v1.4a inputs make the AV7005 3D ready. It has two HDMI outputs, one featuring an Audio Return Channel, and Standby Pass-Through. Audio Return Channel is a feature that I think we will see more of in the near future, for it allows owners of networked displays to stream audio back to the processor on a single HDMI cable. If you have non-HDMI equipped sources or displays, you'll find the four component inputs and two component outputs invaluable. For even older equipment, there are five composite video inputs and two outputs. Marantz left S-Video off the AV7005, but I have long since felt that S-Video is a waste of space on a modern piece of equipment. Sorry, Laserdisc lovers. In terms of audio inputs and outputs the AV7005 features both unbalanced as well as balanced preamp outputs, which include dual subwoofer outs for what Marantz calls a 7.1 plus second subwoofer configuration. There are even preamp outs for height channels as well though they are unbalanced only. There are more analog audio inputs than most would know what to do with including a moving magnet phono input as well as two coaxial and two optical digital audio inputs. In terms of control the AV7005 has RS-232 support, which will allow it to be integrated into an automation or control system from the likes of Crestron, AMX or Control4.
On the audio front, the AV7005 can decode and process anything you throw at it. DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital TrueHD for Blu-ray as well as Digital Plus, Pro Logic IIz, IIx, II, Virtual Speaker, Dolby Headphone ES Discete6.1, Matrix6.1, Neo:6, 96/24, and Neural Surround. Bottom line, when it comes to surround sound and matrix audio formats the AV7005 has you covered. For your MP3 collection there is Marantz's M-DAX 2, an updated Marantz Dynamic Audio eXpander, which can make compressed music files sound better. Add this with the DNLA compliant Ethernet connection and you are ready to stream music from your home network, Internet Radio, Rhapsody, Napster and/or Pandora account.
Video-wise, the AV7005 includes one of the best upscaling chips on the market, Anchor Bay's 10-bit Video Processor/Scaler. The ABT2015 is Anchor Bay's fourth generation scaling chip, capable of transcoding as well as deinterlacing; all the while scaling any legacy source to 1080p via HDMI for output to your high definition display.
The AV7005 came shipped securely in a double-walled cardboard box. Inside, it was suspended in Styrofoam to protect the corners and wrapped to protect the finish from scratches. Included was, the operation manual, Audyssey setup mic, remote, two AAA batteries and radio antenna. The first thing that I noticed was the size of the manual. It is much thicker than most that I have seen and well worth a read through. I must admit that I usually jump right into a new piece of AV equipment without cracking the manual. This manual, you will want to keep near by. The feature set in the AV7005 is physically deep, and the manual will make it much easier to really tweak your setup.
The remote was a pleasant surprise and had a well-balanced feel to it. The backlit feature makes it easy to navigate while the small LCD window at the top tells you what device you are currently controlling. The remote comes pre-programmed for tons of different AV devices though you can also add your own using the program mode, which is where I was able to quickly setup the remote to control all the gear in my rack. It is also capable of recording and running macros, although I think I will leave that task to my main programmable remote.
Connecting the AV7005 to my Sunfire five-channel power amp was done via five pairs of Transparent Link RCA style interconnects. I found the RCA outputs to be properly spaced for those of us that have bulky connectors on their cables. After connecting the Ethernet and HDMI cables from my Blu-ray player, HD DVR and lastly to my projector it was off to the AV7005's setup menus.
The actual setup could not have been easier. The setup process is automatically launched when you plug in the included Audyssey calibrated microphone to the AV7005's front mounted setup mic jack. The automated setup detects what speakers are connected to the amp, how far they are located for delay purposes, crossover points, speaker levels and overall room EQ. During this setup process I was prompted to sit the microphone at ear level in varying locations within the main seating area. A minimum of three measuring points are required though Audyssey recommends placing the microphone in more than just three listening positions, which I'll discuss later. It took about 10 minutes for the whole process to complete and the results were accurate, at least for my tastes and room. From there all I had to do was rename a few inputs and the setup process for the AV7005 was complete.
One thing that I really like about the AV7005's setup procedure is the way that the on-screen menus are overlaid onto the main video. In the past, setup menus would either be displayed in 480p, requiring an ugly resolution change, or the menu would go to a black screen for the setup process. I found the overlaid setup menu to be a more professional looking. Granted you may not visit the setup often, but this is certainly a more refined way to do it.
After setup was complete I couldn't help but to jump right into a movie. J.J. Abram's Star Trek (2009) on Blu-ray (Paramount) was nearby so I popped it in - like I was going to wait until the AV7005 burned in. The film's lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack offers up just the right mix of wide multi-channel soundstage, wall shaking low frequency effects and plenty of dialogue to properly evaluate the AV7005's prowess as a home theater preamp. After hearing this same film on two different receivers and another preamp, I was pleasantly surprised. The film's soundstage was wide and detailed. The ambient sound especially on board the Enterprise, really give you the feeling of being on board the ship. Compared to my previous AVR, the sound was much more dimensional and realistic.
My only quibble was a slightly thin, hollow sound from my center channel speaker. After contacting Marantz and a conversation with one of their representatives, I re-ran the Audyssey setup using six measuring points. I started with one measuring point in the center of my main listening area, one point a foot to the right of this point and another one foot to the left of my first measuring point. I then duplicated this same pattern, one foot closer to the center speaker. After this, the sound was much improved and blended much more naturally with my other speakers. Why this made a difference I do not know, but it was something with the Audyssey software, and not the preamp itself.
Next up, was Angelina Jolie's blockbuster flop, Salt, on Blu-ray disc (Sony). While the film may have left a lot to be desired the disc itself possesses stunning visuals and a dynamic soundtrack. The AV7005 handled the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack beautifully, putting me right into the action of the film; once again placing me square within an incredibility detailed and engrossing soundstage.
In terms of video, the AV7005 simply passed the video through to my projector without any strange artifacts on 1080p and 720p sources. Salt had stunningly sharp and detailed video throughout the film. Good video in, good video out. Those with a need to tweak, Marantz provides adjustments for contrast, brightness, chroma level, hue, dynamic noise reduction as well as an enhancer setting that can be used to emphasize contours in the video. All adjustments are made to each video input and are stored independently of each other which is a very cool feature if you're trying to extract more performance from say an older DVD player but don't wish to alter the video signal on your Blu-ray player.
I was also happy to note that even after more than two hours of running at reference levels the AV7005 was barely warm to the touch, a huge advantage over many AV Receivers in its class but to be fair the AV7005 lacks internal amplification, which is why it's able to run cooler than its receiver counterparts.
As mentioned earlier, the AV7005 includes Anchor Bay's 10-bit Video Processor/Scaler. This processing chip made my DVD collection look almost HD. During my quick viewing of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (20th Century Fox), I noticed a big improvement in both detail and sharpness. DVDs projected onto a 92-inch screen can be brutal when compared to Blu-ray, but I thought the ABT2015 processing chip made a noticeable improvement over standard unprocessed 480p video. The video was sharper but there was not over sharpening of the edges of objects or over enhanced compression artifices or noise. While this was not a Blu-ray video presentation, it certainly looked much better than I expected-much better than what I believed possible from a meager DVD. Running my daughter's Wii into the component connection offered a similar improvements. Again, it was clearly not the same video quality I would expect to come from an XBOX 360 or PS3, but the upscaled 480p video wasn't too bad.
Music with the AV7005 required a bit of reading. Being a musician, I am picky when it comes to music. I know what instruments sound like live and the nuances in sound from within a live ensemble. With the Audyssey EQ engaged, I didn't get that full, wide, engaging sound stage like you do with a live performance. While the music was detailed, the sound was a bit cold and thin. I changed every parameter that I could find and finally, turned the EQ off. After a few manual EQ tweaks, I heard a renewed sound quality and presentation that totally blew away any AV receiver that I have ever owned.
Miles Davis' Seven Steps To Heaven (Columbia), was just that; warm, open and airy only begin to describe what I was hearing. Granted Miles' muted trumpet can be quite harsh on some systems, I never thought it was through the AV7005 while connected to my Pioneer Elite universal player.
Brian Bromberg is a virtuoso on acoustic jazz bass and his 2006 re-issue Wood (Artistry Music), is a fantastic recording. Jazz bass is one of the few instruments that I feel can make you system sound great or a big muddy mess. Granted, some of it has to do with speakers but if your processor has inferior DACs or other internal processing components, an upright bass can sound boomy, muddy and void of sonic detail. I was blown away with how tight and resonate Bromberg's instrument sounded. Bromberg doesn't just sit back and play the bass part of the ensemble-he takes center stage. Even during times where he is playing a flurry of notes, the sound was clear and full of harmonics that would've been easily lost on inferior equipment.
Streaming with the AV7005 was extremely simple. After connecting the Ethernet cable to the rear panel, the preamp quickly connected itself to my home network. Navigating to my media server was a breeze. I was able to stream MP3s, JPEG photos and even FLAC audio files. Pandora was also as simple as changing the source and entering my username and password. The use of the DMAX2 Dynamic Audio eXpander really helped to restore some of the dynamics and high frequencies that are typically lost with MP3 compression. Out of the box, the AV7005 does not support Apple's AIFF audio files. I found this a bit strange but a firmware download can be purchased for $49.99 that will make this piece AirPlay compatible. An optional module, the RX101, will allow you to stream from any Bluetooth capable source.
Comparison and Competition
At $1,499, the AV7005 has very little competition in its price category. The Integra DHC-40.2 retails for $1,200 and offers a few things that the Marantz does not-mainly THX Ultra 2 Plus certification and Faroudja's DCDi Cinema video processing chip. Though I find the Anchor Bay chip to be more desirable. Hey, if the Anchor Bay chip is good enough for OPPO then it's good enough for me.
Other preamps for comparison are the Integra DHC-80.2, which really just gives you 9.2 surround sound processing and Audyssey's MultEQ XT32 all for $2,300.
Beyond Integra you begin to jump up in price to the $6,000-$10,000 mark with the Anthem D2v, Arcam FMJ AV888 and the Classe' SSP-800 all of which offer similar performance and features but obviously at a much higher price point, which may be worth it to some buyers but for me the AV7005 is all the AV preamp I require and for its asking price it has little competition.
The Marantz AV7005 has a ton going for it. It has a deep feature set that may take some users a good deal of experimentation to get everything to their liking. I like the Audyssey setup feature but I feel it robs two-channel music of its essence, however for movies I feel it does a great job of taming unruly room conditions.
The remote is really well laid out and solid feeling in my hand, however I still recommend a third party, programmable, remote for daily use. To be fair, I don't know many $10,000 AV preamps that have a remote good enough to run an entire home theater system like a top universal remote control.Conclusion