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. Classe'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 Classe 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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