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 façade 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.