Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
The AV7703 is Marantz's latest and most full-featured AV processor. At $2,199 it is just over half the price of the flagship AV8802A, yet it has several features not found on the flagship processor. The AV7703 is an 11.2-channel processor with a full feature list that includes: Dolby Atmos and DTS:X; lots of connectivity options (including WiFi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet); built-in hi-res streaming capabilities (including TIDAL, Pandora, AirPlay, Spotify, SiriusXM, and more); built-in HD Radio and AM/FM tuners; 32-bit/192-kHz D/A converters on all channels; Audyssey MultEQ32; eight HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2 that support pass-through of HDR and BT.2020 color; and ISF certification.
Although the majority of users will have a myriad of the devices connected through HDMI, the AV7703 has many other inputs, including 5.1 analog inputs, composite and component video, and an MM phono input. The main zone has both XLR and single-ended outputs, including dual subwoofer outputs. The second zone has HDMI and stereo outputs, and the third zone has stereo audio. All of the above can be controlled through the LCD screen, the supplied multi-device remote, or the free Marantz control app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices. While I left off the myriad of control connections and options that can be found on the Marantz website, I saved one of the best features for last: built-in HEOS, the wireless multi-room music network system first developed by sister company Denon.
In addition to everything that comes standard on the AV7703, there are a couple of optional features. The first is the Audyssey MultEQ Editor App available from either the Apple or Google Store for $19.95, and the second is Auro-3D processing. I sprung the money for the MultEQ app and will discuss it below. If you have Auro-3D software and the appropriate speaker setup, I would encourage you to get this upgrade, as my experience with Auro-3D has been that it produces a very nice and natural-sounding experience.
That the AV7703 has such a robust list of features comes as a bit of a surprise for me, since Marantz has had a reputation for focusing on performance over features. I was a bit nervous that this priority might have changed with the latest generation of AV products. My fears were put to rest when I read that the AV7703 utilized Marantz's newest HDAM circuitry and high-performance DACs with not only high-resolution capability but DSD (2.8/5.6MHz) capability.
I've been using Marantz's flagship AV8802 as my reference processor for a while now, and I was curious to see what performance decisions were made in designing a processor that has more features yet costs just over half that of the AV8802. From what I can discern, the AV7703 differs from the AV8802 in that it does not use the reference-grade balanced circuitry, including the fully discrete current feedback HDAM-SA2 modules, the low-noise toroidal power transformer, and some of the other power supply components found in the AV8802. Also, the AV8802 is built like a tank, with its copper-plated chassis. How much of a difference do these differences make, if any?
Opening the box I found the AV7703 to have the same industrial design as other recent Marantz AV components, with a brushed-black front panel with a porthole-style display. Source and volume knobs are at the outer edges of the center panel, where it transitions on each side to curved panels that make for a clean and modern-looking unit. A second display, along with some additional controls, is hidden behind a drop-down panel on the bottom half of the center panel. The panel also hides connections for headphones, the Audyssey setup microphone, a USB input, and an HDMI and analog A/V input. The rear panel is logically laid out and, as I already detailed, has a plethora of AV and control connections.
Before I placed the AV7703 in my rack, I connected the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi antennas. I connected my DirecTV DVR and Oppo UDP-203 via HDMI, as well as my PS Audio DirectStream DAC and network player via single-ended analog audio cables. Connections to the amplifiers were made with balanced audio cables, with a Marantz MM8077 driving the four height channels and a Krell Theater Amplifier Standard driving the front, center, and surround channels. Marantz thoughtfully includes color-coordinated stickers to identify each channel. All connections (except the Ethernet cable) were made with Kimber Cable products: Select Series cables were used for the interconnects and 8TC for the speaker connections. I used two different projectors for my video display, including Sony's VPL-VW675ES 4K projector. I also connected the 12v trigger outputs to the external amplifiers.
For speakers I used MartinLogan Expression 13As and the complementary ESL34A center channel. Later in my listening sessions I used a pair of Revel Performa3 F208s (with no center) as my front speakers. A Paradigm Signature SUB25 subwoofer remained in the system throughout all my listening.
Once I had the AV7703 connected and placed in my rack, I powered it up. The updated Marantz GUI made setup a breeze. I configured the streaming services I wanted to use and created a HEOS account so that I could test that feature. My initial speaker setup and calibration were made with the included Audyssey microphone and stand. For this initial round, I did it the traditional way with the remote to advance the process after measuring each of the eight positions. Later on, I tried the setup process with the optional Audyssey MultEQ App, which allows you to use your mobile device to control the setup process. I liked this, as I prefer to step outside the room when the tones are played, and using the app allowed me to leave the room and close the door before starting the tones started. If that were the only benefit, I would say to skip the app, but it has a bunch of other features that show you on nice graphs what Audyssey is doing and lets you take control of some parameters so that you can adjust the processing to suit your tastes. The app shows you the Audyssey speaker detection results and lets you modify the setup. This came in handy for correcting the subwoofer distance. The app also provides graphs of before and after processing, which is helpful to see what your room is doing and what changes have been made. If you do not like the Audyssey target curves or the roll-off curves, you can change them, decide whether or not to enable midrange compensation, and save your calibration results.
The app crashed during the middle of the speaker measurement process when I received a call on my iPhone, but otherwise it ran smoothly. I liked having the additional control options available to me; however, if you are the set-and-forget type of person, the traditional Audyssey setup and control is still available to you without spending an extra $20.
I was able to audition the AV7703 with both 5.1.4 and 2.0 speaker systems. For my evaluation, I went back and used some of the same media I used in my review of the Marantz AV8802, as well as some more current pieces.
My listening and viewing started with the MartinLogan speaker system and Sony projector in place. Star Trek Beyond (4K UHD and Blu-ray, Paramount) has a solid Dolby Atmos soundtrack that makes good use of the height channels, starting right at the beginning of the movie when some small creatures swarm down onto Captain Kirk. It should come as no surprise to fans of the franchise that Star Trek Beyond has an extremely dynamic soundtrack. I watched this movie on the AV8802 shortly before installing the AV7703, so the A/B comparison is not perfect--but I did perceive some subtle differences, the most noticeable being with the big dynamic scenes. The AV7703 had great dynamic range, but the AV8802 seemed to have a slightly faster leading edge. The difference was not huge, and I may not have noticed it if I had not listened to both units on the same day. Not surprisingly, the AV7703 did a fine job with positioning sonic cues in space, and in this regard I did not notice any difference between the AV7703 and AV8802. When it comes to the all-important vocals, the AV7703 reproduced voices with great clarity, and human voices sounded natural. (I cannot speak Klingon or any of the other Star Trek language, so I will leave it to others to opine about those.)
Audio is only part of the story, and I'm pleased to say that the AV7703 did well with video, too. While I have read of some people having problems with older Marantz units and 4K signals, the AV7703 passed the video signal from this and every other UHD disc (and Netflix show) without any signs of degradation, regardless of whether the onscreen display and video conversion were activated or not. For those of you interested in the AV7703's scaling capabilities, it was a solid performer when upconverting 480 and 1080 signals to 4K. I went back and forth between having the Oppo and Marantz do the scaling with a handful of test discs and Blu-rays. Overall, the Oppo edged out the Marantz. With the Marantz, there was the occasional jagged edge or moire when converting 480 to 4K, which I did not notice with the Oppo. The Marantz was extremely good, but the Oppo was even better. When I used my 1080p projector, I found the Marantz's scaling of 480p to 1080p to be very close to that of the Oppo.
Now, back to how the AV7703 sounds ... During my time with the AV7703, I had the opportunity to watch two movies I used in my original review of the Marantz AV8802: American Sniper (Blu-ray, Warner Home Video) and Gravity (Blu-ray, Warner Home Video). Both have Dolby Atmos soundtracks, but they are very different in quality. My favorite scenes from American Sniper were loud and brash, whereas Gravity excelled with delicate nuances that emphasized the space around you (pun, intended). Regardless of the soundtrack style, I found the AV7703 to excel. The last AV processor I reviewed in this price range was the Onkyo PR-SC5508, which is no longer available. In comparison, I found the newer Marantz to be more detailed and have a fuller midrange; this was particularly evident with music.
I recently used Jennifer Warnes' album Famous Blue Raincoat (CD, Private Music) in my review of the MartinLogan Expression 13A, and I also took that opportunity to play it through the Marantz. I used the Oppo as the transport and switched between having the Marantz and PS Audio do the digital-to-analog decoding. As the PS Audio costs several times the entire price of the Marantz unit, this was an unfair comparison of DACs, but who says I need to be fair. My favorite track on this album is "Bird on a Wire." It's no surprise that the PS Audio was clearly better, but the AV7703 came a lot closer than I thought it would, with the biggest differences being the amount of resolution and low-level detail. I also tried comparing the Oppo's DAC to the Marantz and found them to be a closer match, with the Marantz having a more solid midrange and more overall texture, particularly on the decaying notes. Many AV processors and receivers are not revealing enough to allow me to discern these differences. Not only did the AV7703's internal DACs perform well, but the analog section is solid and revealing enough to allow you to take advantage of your favorite DAC or analog source.
I spent a lot of time listening to stereo and multi-channel music through the MartinLogan speakers and stereo music through the Revels. The AV7703 did a good job; but, if my primary purpose for the system was high-performance music, I would choose the AV8802 instead. The AV7703 offers 90 percent of the AV8802's performance, but the AV8802 has better transients, a lower noise floor, and (to my ears) a warmer midrange that sounds more musical. However, if the processor was not going to be placed in an audiophile-grade system or is primarily for movies, I would be extremely happy to use the AV7703.
The HEOS system will be the subject of a separate review, but I would be remiss not to discuss it at all. HEOS is a multi-room, wireless audio system that started off by being built into speakers of various sizes and small source components but is now being incorporated into some receivers and processors like the AV7703. HEOS is now on its second generation and is compatible with high-resolution audio files up to 24-bit/192-kHz, as well as DSD 2.8/5.6. I was able to stream 5.6 DSD files to the AV7703 via HEOS that I was unable to play through the AV7703's direct Media Player input.
During actual use, the one thing that jumped out at me was the clicking of a relay when there was a change of audio formats. I had some problems with 5.6 DSD files when played through the Media Player input, but I was able to play them through the HEOS input. The video processor's upscaling capabilities were good; however, if you need to scale 480p up to 4K, you may want to use your source device or experiment with other processors in the signal path. The AV7703's video processor is just as good as (if not better than) the processors in most video displays and will look great to most people--so I do not see this as something of great import.
The Audyssey MultEQ app is off to a promising start, but I would like to see more stability (so it doesn't crash if your phone rings during calibration) and an expanded feature set for even more functionality.
Comparison and Competition
Options for AV processors in this general price range are slim. Anthem's AVM 60 ($2,999) is another full-featured 11.2-channel AV processor that has Anthem's respected Room Correction system, as well as DTS Play-Fi for multi-room music streaming. I have not heard this processor but have spent time with other Anthem processors, and the sound quality is impressive. Yamaha's CX-A5100 ($2,495) is also an 11.2-channel AV processor and features Yamaha's MusicCast multi-room system. Neither of these components have Auro-3D processing as an option.
The AV7703 provides a high level of audio performance and the utmost in flexibility, making it a worthy candidate for just about any AV system. I use my AV processors primarily for movies and found myself getting completely enveloped when watching movies through the AV7703; it would be hard to ask for more. Voices and other familiar sounds were natural and well formed. However, I did note that the AV7703 does not have the typical Marantz "house sound" in that it's a bit cooler and leans more toward the analytical. This will be a matter of taste, as is the age-old solid state vs. tubes debate. However, there is one situation where I would recommend stepping up to a higher-end processor like Marantz's AV 8802--that is if I were looking primarily for multi-channel music playback and the rest of my system was extremely revealing. To be clear, the AV7703 does not do anything wrong, but the AV8802 does audio even better.
That said, if I were in the market today for an AV processor that would be the centerpiece of a high-performance, multi-purpose system, the Marantz AV7703 is an easy choice. It provides extremely good audio performance and handles HD and UHD video very well. The HEOS system was very easy to use, sounded better than Bluetooth or AirPlay, and provides lots of expansion options. The overall user experience with the AV7703--from setup to playback--was intuitive, and the feature set provides a multitude of options that should fill the needs of just about any user. All in all, the AV7003 performs above its class.
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