As the owner of Marantz's AV8003 AV processor, I was excited to get my hands on the new AV8801. The interim models had some of the bells and whistles that were missing from the AV8003, but none seemed to be able to match its sound quality. Rumor had it that the AV8801 was capable of meeting or exceeding the AV8003's level of performance. The combination of this level of performance, along with an incredibly full feature set, intrigued me. At $3,599, the AV8801 is more expensive than its predecessors but would be well worth the extra money, in my opinion, if it could deliver the goods.
Marantz receivers and AV processors released over the past few years have had a reputation for being light on features, especially when compared with Marantz's sister brand Denon. Comparably-priced Denon units would typically have a much larger feature set than the Marantz units, while Marantz was said to provide a more "musical" sound. Any complaints concerning a stripped-down feature set are completely annihilated by the AV8801. The audio feature set is ridiculously complete with 11.2 channels, all of the latest DTS and Dolby surround codecs, balanced outputs for all channels, HD Radio, a phono input, a headphone output, and Audyssey's MultEQ XT32, DSX, Sub EQ HT and LFC. The AV8801 is also Audyssey MultEQ Pro-capable, a feature definitely worth utilizing. Marantz did not abandon its audiophile heritage, as the audio "bells and whistles" are backed up with solid engineering, including a Hybrid PLL jitter reducer, M-DAX (Marantz Dynamic Audio eXpander), Marantz's proprietary HDAMs (Hyper Dynamic Amplification Module), and 192-kHz/32-bit DACs on all channels, all housed in an extremely solid copper-plated chassis and powered by a large toroidal transformer.
On the video side of things, the AV8801 supports 4K Ultra HD, 3D, Deep Color, ARC, and Auto Lip Sync through any of its seven HDMI inputs (one of which is also MHL-compliant). Three HDMI outputs allow for dual display devices (think flat panel and projector) in the main room and one output for a remote zone. The Analog Devices video processing circuitry can upconvert video signals to 4K resolution and employs that company's proprietary Noise Shaped Video, which is said to move noise in the video signal to where it can be more easily extracted from the signal. The AV8801 also features InstaPrevue, a feature I had not used before, which allows live picture-in-picture viewing of HDMI sources and allows for faster switching between HDMI sources. Video processing and upconversion get a lot of attention, but I found InstaPrevue to be the video feature that I used the most.
The AV8801's feature set extends beyond the audio and video realms to include a four-port Ethernet switch to make network connections easy, as well as DLNA, Bluetooth, and AirPlay support and streaming from a wide variety of Internet sources like Spotify and Pandora. I have been utilizing DLNA playback for my music library more and more over the years, so I appreciated this capability, especially since the AV8801 could handle WAV and FLAC files up to 192-kHz/24-bit and ALAC to 96-kHz/24-bit - with gapless playback, too! (Alas, there's no AIFF support, but perhaps a firmware upgrade can add that capability.) Control and integration are facilitated by a variety of physical connections (RS-232, 12-volt triggers, etc.), as well as iOS- and Android-compatible applications. There are many other features and specifications; for a full list, visit the Marantz website.
All of the above is contained within a solid chassis that weighs in at just over 30 pounds and features Marantz's current industrial design with the curved faceplate corners, a retro-style porthole display that pays homage to Marantz products from the past, and a flip-down door. The design matches other recent products, including the MM8077 amplifier, with which the AV8801 is likely to be paired.
I placed the Marantz AV8801 into my Middle Atlantic rack in the space vacated by the Anthem D2V processor. Sources included the Oppo BDP-95 and a PS Audio PerfectWave DAC MkII. The speaker system included B&W 800 Diamonds up front with the HTM2 Diamond in the center position and 805 Diamonds in the back. As the AV8801 is dual subwoofer-capable, I used a Paradigm Sub25, along with the B&W DB-1 subwoofer. For amplification, I started with Krell's Theater Amplifier Stndard and later brought in Marantz's companion amplifier, the MM8077 (separate review to come). Cabling was Kimber for all multi-channel connections, and I used both Kimber Select and Transparent Ultra for the balanced stereo connections between the source components and the AV8801.
The physical connections were quite simple, and the four-port Ethernet switch came in handy, freeing up space on my main network switch and cleaning up the cabling as well. The Setup Assistant on the AV8801 is a much improved version over past iterations. The Assistant is informative, easy to use, and has graphics befitting an upscale component. I ran through the Assistant and the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 setup process with ease and had no need for the exhaustive manual that comes with the processor.
As I mentioned, the AV8801 is Audyssey MultEQ Pro-capable. MultEQ Pro calibration requires the use of a special microphone kit and software running on a Windows computer. This calibration is typically performed by a professional installer who is trained in the additional features that the Pro system provides, but Audyssey kindly agreed to send me the Pro calibration kit. Audyssey explains that the Pro system has a much more accurate microphone, and the installer has more target curve choices and control. The kit comes in a large, soft-sided case containing a tripod, microphone, microphone preamplifier, software, and cables. The software is only available in a Windows version and would not run on a Mac running Windows via Parallels. The hardest part of the Audyssey MultEQ Pro installation was getting the software up and running on one of my older Windows laptops. This process took nearly a month to troubleshoot, as I ran through multiple updates on two older Windows laptops. However, this should not be an issue for most users, as the MultEQ Pro calibration is almost always performed by professional installers. The microphone is placed into tripod, and the Windows computer is connected to the processor via a serial connection; the microphone, microphone preamplifier, and processor are also connected with the supplied cables and adapters that allow for use with either single-ended or balanced systems. Once the software was loaded and the multitude of cables connected, the Audyssey MultEQ Pro program was only slightly more complicated to run than the versions that are found packaged with receivers. While I will save the performance details for later in the review, I can say it was worth the effort to get the MultEQ Pro system installed.
Click over to Page 2 for the Performance, the Downside, Comparison and Competition and the Conclusion . . .