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 AV8802 is Marantz's flagship AV processor and is the successor to the AV8801 that we favorably reviewed in 2014. At first glance, the AV8802 looks a lot like the AV8801: the chassis is similar, the feature set is similar, and so on. I wondered if Marantz simply added a couple new surround sound formats and features and called it good. However, a more thorough review of the AV8802 revealed that Marantz not only added more bells and whistles, but some serious performance upgrades, as well.
The AV8802 retails for $3,999, which is $400 more than the AV8801--which was (and still is) an extremely capable AV processor. As an audio consumer, I'd rather not see prices go up. However, I do not mind paying more if I am getting something additional for my hard-earned dollars. The AV8802 has several new features, including: built in Wi-Fi, Dolby Atmos capability, Auro-3D support (paid upgrade required), DTS:X (via a free firmware update that's coming later this year), HDMI with HDCP 2.2 (the current units ship with the HDCP 2.2 boards, while older units may be upgraded at no charge other than one-way shipping), and gapless playback support for DSD, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV. The AV8802 also supports 24/192 playback of AIFF and FLAC, plus 24/96 ALAC files.
The AV8802 is also loaded down with just about every other feature one could want from a AV processor, such as 11.2 channels of processing, configurable 13.2-channel outputs (all of which are fully balanced), Audyssey's full Platinum suite (which is Audyssey Pro capable), eight HDMI inputs, three zones, 4K Ultra HD support, ISF calibration, Spotify Connect, SiriusXM, Flickr, Pandora, a phono input, a headphone output, and of course a control app for iOS and Android devices. The above recitation only touches on the AV8802's feature set; for further information on the AV8802's current features and capabilities, please see the Marantz website.
In addition to the updated feature set, Marantz made a bunch of changes to the components that affect the performance of the AV8802. While these updates do not jump out on the spec sheet, they are every bit as important as all of those new features. The toroidal power supply has been upgraded with four 10,000?F capacitors. This doubles the power reserves of the AV8801. Four DSP chips supply ample computing power to handle 11.2 channels for any of the new surround sound codecs, including Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D, DTS Neo:X 11.1, or DTS:X, along with the concurrent Audyssey signal processing. The AV8801 and AV8802 both have 32-bit/192-kHz DACs; however, the AV8802 DACs have been upgraded to seven of the AKM AK4490 DACs, along with other chipset upgrades. Marantz uses a new version of its proprietary HDAM modules from its Reference Series in the AV8802, which use a Current Feedback topology (as opposed to voltage feedback) and fully discrete circuitry. All of these revisions are reported to provide reduced jitter, increased dynamic range, faster response times, and a lower noise floor.
Even though most of the press releases and news blurbs I read about the AV8802 while I was waiting for it to arrive focused on the updated feature set, especially the Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D capabilities, the performance upgrades that I just touched upon are of greater interest to me--the quality of performance remains important over the years, keeping gear relevant and enjoyable even when it does not have the very latest surround sound codec or newest feature set.
I have never been one for the "unwrapping" or "opening the box" videos that one can find in YouTube reviews; however, as I was opening the Marantz AV8802's package, there were some things I noted as being nice first impressions. The packaging was pretty traditional, with a heavy cardboard box, Styrofoam inserts, and a thin sheet of foam wrapped around the processor. As review samples eventually need to be sent back, I try to take special care not to damage the packaging materials. For Marantz, the most fragile piece has been the thin sheets of foam wrap, which the company has used for the past few years. This was the first time I noticed a manufacturer folding back the tape ends to make the unwrapping process easier. I know that this has absolutely no impact on the product or its performance, but it is a nod toward enhancing the customer experience. Another first for me was an adjustable microphone stand made out of heavy cardstock to hold the Audyssey microphone during the measurement process.
The Marantz AV8802 replaced my Marantz AV8801 in my reference theater system. In addition to the Marantz processors, I have also been using an Anthem D2V processor. Sources included the Oppo BDP-95 and a PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream DAC. I used two different speaker systems during my review of the AV8802. My primary reference speaker system consists of B&W 800 Diamonds up front with the HTM2 Diamond in the center position and 805 Diamonds in the back. Like the AV8801, the AV8802 is dual subwoofer capable, so I used a Paradigm Sub25 along with the B&W DB-1 subwoofer. The second speaker system was a GoldenEar system featuring the SuperCinema 3D Array XL sound bar up front, SuperSat 3s in the rear, and a ForceField 5 subwoofer (look for my SuperCinema 3D Array XL review soon). GoldenEar was also kind enough to send over some Invisa HTR-7000 in-ceiling speakers, which I will use to review the Dolby Atmos performance as soon as I can get them installed.
I mated the AV8802 with two different amplifiers: my reference Krell Theater Amplifier Standard and Marantz's companion amplifier, the MM8077. Both amplifiers were up to the task with the GoldenEar speakers, but the B&Ws preferred the extra power of the Krell. Cabling was Kimber for all multichannel connections, and I used both Kimber Select and Transparent Ultra for the balanced stereo connections between the source components and the AV8802.
Connecting the AV8002 was quite simple. The biggest connection changes between the AV8801 and AV8802 involve network connections. The AV8802 is missing the four-port Ethernet switch that was included with its predecessor, but it adds built-in Wi-Fi. Marantz continues to make improvements with the user interface, and the Setup Assistant on the AV8802 was intuitive and easy to use. The microphone tower stand assisted with the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 setup process, as I no longer needed to find something to hold the Audyssey microphone in the proper positions.
I started my listening with stereo music. The AV8802 can play music from traditional sources, such as disc players and DACs, as well as Internet streaming services, wireless streaming via Bluetooth and Airplay, and USB/network drives.
I recently bought an SACD copy of Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms album (Warner Brothers/Mobile Fidelity). I played the disc back through the Oppo BDP-95 using both the balanced audio stereo inputs and HDMI. Listening mode was Pure Audio. Brothers In Arms is an album that I have listened to hundreds of times over the years, including numerous times with my prior processor, the Marantz AV8801. The AV8802 is a big step forward in sound quality. The opening of "Money for Nothing" is well known for the guitar and drum tracks that build into a crescendo. The AV8802 is much more dynamic than its predecessor. In addition to increased dynamics, there is also increased detail and clarity. I changed between the digital and analog inputs so that I could compare the DACs between the Oppo and Marantz. The biggest difference between the two was that the Oppo was a bit more analytical in the midrange than the Marantz. Switching between the analog and digital inputs, I noted similarly sized soundstages; however, the specific positioning of the instruments within the soundstage was different. I then played a DSF file of this track through my PS Audio DirectStream, and the PS Audio provided more detail and a more solid image than either the Marantz's internal DACs or the Oppo.
Some things that stood out for me while listening to the rest of the album were the naturalness of the drums and guitars, especially on the track "Why Worry." The Marantz's DACs came a lot closer to my reference DAC than I anticipated they would, providing a balance of detail and cohesiveness from the bottom octaves to the top.
While listening to music through the AV8802, I reviewed my listening notes from the AV8801. During my time with the AV8801, I listened to many hours of music and enjoyed what I heard. However, the AV8802 is significantly better. The dynamic range of Hans Zimmer's Gladiator soundtrack (CD, Decca) is noticeably better with the AV8802 than its predecessor. There is also greater detail, which I noticed particularly in the bass notes--such as with Holly Cole's "Train Song" from the album It Happened One Night (CD, Metro Blue). Through the AV8802, there was more texture in the notes, and the decay lasted longer with a smoother ending.
American Sniper (Blu-ray, Warner Home Video) begins with tanks driving down a war-torn street. The growl of the tank engines and the crunching of the tracks on the road sounded powerful yet detailed, accurately portraying the power and size of the tanks. The soundtrack also contains sounds of the dismounted soldiers moving down the street and checking the adjacent structures. The Marantz did a great job with sound placement, as well as discerning between the weight and impact of the various sonic elements without any of them becoming lost in the mix. There is a rooftop battle scene later in the movie that has a wide variety of different elements, including gunshots, explosions, and a sand storm. This well-recorded and well-mixed scene does a great job demonstrating the Marantz's abilities with both the dynamic, over-the-top effects and the more subtle ones. The scene has gunfights and explosions that are more dramatic, but the myriad of voices coming from different distances and the effects from the sand storm contained more nuanced effects.
I was not able to try out the Dolby Atmos soundtrack on the American Sniper disc, as we were not able to get the ceiling speakers installed before I had to finish this article. However, I am looking forward to comparing the Atmos and 5.1 soundtracks as soon as the ceiling speakers are installed, and I will post an update.
Another movie I watched through the Marantz was Gravity (Blu-ray, Warner Home Video). Gravity features many scenes with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in outer space, both in the enclosed space of a ship and out in space walks. The gravity-free environment has them moving both vertically and horizontally. The panning was smooth, as it had been with the other movies I watched, and there was some sense of vertical change to track the vertical motions on the screen. This is definitely an area I think will benefit from Atmos. Keep your eyes open for the Atmos update. In the interim, I can report that Gravity, when played through the Marantz, sounded great: the dynamics and weight of the sounds from the fire scene or when items were crashing around were reproduced well, both spatially and with solidity. While there was plenty of detail in the dynamic scenes, even more impressive was the use of voices and specifically the differences in the voices based upon whether the listening character was wearing a helmet. The nuance between the voices, coupled with the silence of space, was very effective.
In addition to the new music and video pieces, I went back and played some of the samples I used in my review of the Marantz AV8801. Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds' concert Blu-ray Live at Radio City (Sony BMG) is one I spent a lot of time with. I played the concert back through the AV8802, paying particular attention to the audio performance. I always found Mathews' voice in "Crash Into Me" to be full of emotion. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack revealed more information than before. The increased detail was noticeable not only with the vocals and instruments but with the rest of the hall, providing more auditory details of the audience and room. The increase in background details painted a more complete picture of the room, but the improved performance with the music and vocals conveyed an even more convincing and emotionally charged performance.
I watched Skyfall (Blu-ray, MGM) again, as it was a movie I watched several times using the AV8801. The AV8801 did a good job with the action scenes, but the AV8802 was even more dynamic without sacrificing any detail. Positioning of the various elements was very similar, but the AV8802 seemed to convey more information.
Before we leave audio performance, I would be remiss not to note that the AV8802's improved audio performance carries over to the headphone output. I listened to the headphone output with a variety of headphones, including the Sennheiser HD700, Audeze LCD-XC, and Monster DNA Pro 2.0. The headphone output seemed to benefit from the sonic improvements that I heard during my other listening experiences through the line-level outputs, but the more difficult-to-drive headphones will still benefit greatly from a headphone amplifier, such as the Questyle CMA800i that I had in house for comparison (review pending).
The above focuses on sound quality, but the AV8802 also contains a sophisticated video processor. There are numerous adjustments and settings that can be selected on a source-by-source basis. The AV8802 is capable of scaling video to 4K, but I was unable to test this, as I did not have a 4K display available. However, I was able to try out some of the video processing. While viewing standard-definition signals from DVDs and DirecTV sources, I compared the scaling done by the AV8802 with that of my Marantz VP-11S2 projector. The AV8802's video processor was able to scale standard-definition (and 720p) signals to 1080p with fewer artifacts than my projector's processor. The ability to create various presets with customized image processing settings should allow viewers to get the best picture possible from each of their sources.
The Marantz iOS application has improved a bit over the years since I first used it. The application provides a lot of control options, and you can now tap the first letter of your selection so that you can get to your listening faster. The interface is still not as inviting as some other third-party options, but functionality is good and getting better. The remote supplied with the Marantz is a universal and learning remote that should be able to control most components in your system.
The AV8802 lost the four-port Ethernet switch found on the AV8801, which I really liked, as it helped streamline some wiring. (The added Wi-Fi is probably of more benefit to most.)
Another feature I would still like to see added, and may be possible to add via firmware update, is video streaming via services like Amazon and Netflix. While these are typically included in most new smart TVs, having the capability built into the Marantz would make it easier to run the audio through the audio system that you have assembled.
The remote is okay, but it is not very intuitive with the lights off and has limited range, especially at off-angles. Another quirky thing that I've noted with the AV8802 is that I've often found it turned on and set to the AirPlay input when I have not (knowingly) sent it a signal from one of my many AirPlay-enabled sources. I was able to remedy this by changing some network settings to limit the power-on function, but this precludes me from turning the unit on via the Marantz iOS application. First-world problems, indeed.
Competition and Comparison
The Marantz is most often compared to processors like the Krell Foundation, now priced at $7,500, or the NAD Master M17 at $5,499. I have heard the NAD at fellow writer Greg Handy's house, and it sounds great--but it lacks the height channel capabilities needed for Atmos, Auro-3D, and DTS:X. Likewise, the Krell is reported to have better audio performance (my personal auditions were too limited to confirm) but also has a limited feature set in comparison to the Marantz. Classé's new Sigma AV preamp at $5,000 is another audiophile favorite that will be reviewed by Jerry Del Colliano in the coming weeks. Like the Krell, it doesn't yet have Atmos and DTS:X capabilities like this Marantz, but it will via a fall firmware update. Early reports from Jerry on the Classé are good, especially for music playback.
The ability to update the HDMI boards and add new surround codecs via firmware are attractive features, given the not-insignificant price and speed by which AV processors can become outdated. The ability to update your processor to keep it current can extend its lifespan in a rapidly changing world, but having an updated specification sheet means little without the performance to back it up.
Marantz's AV8802 is a processor that offers great performance. It is a big step forward from its predecessor, much more so than the specification sheet would suggest. There may be a big debate as to whether trickle-down economics would ever work, but I have no doubt that trickle-down technology is a good thing. The technology from Marantz's Reference line utilized in the AV8802 elevates its performance well beyond expectations. The gap between the Marantz and the "audiophile" brand processors has been narrowed. I am still keeping my PS Audio DirectStream DAC, but the Marantz is closing the gap with its stereo performance. The Marantz AV8802 is one of very few processors that I can recommend as a centerpiece to both a multi-channel AV system and a stereo music system. Certainly you can find components that may outperform certain aspects of the Marantz, but it will be difficult to find a component that does as much as the Marantz does as well as it does.
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