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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