I received an Auro-3D Demo disc a few weeks before the AV8805 arrived, so I was anxious to check it out as soon as I had the AV8805 configured. Auro-3D has impressed me when I heard it at tradeshow demonstrations, despite it being a channel-based system as opposed to Dolby Atmos, which is channel- and object-based. Object-based encoding gives an object a place in the 3D place as opposed to a specific channel. To those of you who are fact checking me here, I acknowledge that Auro-3D is capable of object based decoding, but only when 20 plus channels are in use. Auro-3D proudly points out that it utilizes three height layers, whereas Dolby Atmos and DTS:X only use two layers.
The disc has an assortment of short clips, including a couple from movies I already had at home and was familiar with. Playing the Penguins of Madagascar and Ghostbusters clips, I was able to compare Auro-3D to DTS-HD. While the clips were short, everyone who listened to them with me clearly preferred the Auro-3D. This was not surprising, as these clips were carefully selected by Auro-3D. However, when I listened to all of the Auro-3D clips through the AV8805 I found the sound to be involving and immersive. (This is probably why they call Auro-3D, DTS:X, and Dolby Atmos immersive formats.) Whether it was a demonstration featuring nature sounds, or action scenes, or music, the sound field was enveloping, circling all around me and above me with convincing transitions as the objects moved from one location to the next.
After spending an hour or so with the Auro-3D disc, I received a request for my family to play an actual movie, so I selected Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The film's Dolby Atmos soundtrack delivers a good aural workout when the mischievous creatures wreak havoc in the city, destroying buildings and causing debris to fall. The AV8805 uses this immersive soundtrack to reproduce a three-dimensional sound field that features objects smoothly moving from one channel to another both from overhead positions and multiple positions at ear level.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is a typical Michael Bay production with absolutely nonstop action. In this iteration there are mini-drones, aircraft, and alien ships above you as well as lots of action around you, all of which provide ample opportunity for plenty of shooting, rockets, and explosions.
In the Ratchet chase scene, the AB8805's detail and resolving power kept all of the separate objects distinct.
The same scene, along with many others, also allowed the AV8805's dynamic prowess to shine with rocket blasts, explosions, and crashes that were reproduced with great dynamics.
During my time with the AV8805, I watched some of the same movies I watched during my AV7703 review, including Star Trek Beyond. I found the sonic profile to be more similar to the AV8802 than the AV7703, even exceeding the detail of the AV8802.
Other movies that I watched on all three processors included American Sniper and Gravity. These movies confirmed my impression that the AV8805 sonic capabilities exceed the earlier AV7703 and AV8802 in terms of resolving power, while retaining the warmth and liquidity of the AV8802.
If you read my review of the AV7703, you may remember my discussion of Jennifer Warnes' album Famous Blue Raincoat (Private Music) . I found the track "Bird on a Wire" to be a good demonstration of the relative amount of resolution and low-level detail between the AV7703 and my reference DAC, the PS Audio DirectStream DAC. The PS Audio DirectStream costs more than the AV8805 and way, way more than the AV7703, so I was not surprised that it bested the latter in its overall performance. What did surprise me was how much closer the AV8805 came to the more expensive PS Audio's performance level. While the nuances in space, rhythm, and detail still place the PS Audio ahead, the Marantz AV8805 easily exceeded the DACs in my various Oppo players (BDP-83SE, BDP-95, and UDP-203) and came extremely close to the reference DAC.
The PS Audio had faster leading edges and a more precise soundstage, but the AV8805 came very close. In order to take advantage of the AV8805's lower noise floor and greater resolving capabilities, I also listened to both the CD and DSD versions of "The Girl from Ipanema" by Stand Getz and Joao Gilberto from the album Getz and Gilberto (Verve).
The AV8805 was able to utilize the increased resolution of the DSD file, elevating the reproduction form very good to outright exceptional. With the DSD file I found there to be much greater nuance with the saxophone, making the reproduction believable and quite lifelike. Likewise, Astrud Gilberto's voice is simply captivating, with rock solid imaging. Listening to the DSD version of this song several times in a row I heard new details in her voice each time which work together to make this vocal track raw, sensual, and emotional. Any audio component that can reach down and reproduce the nuanced details of a piece of music with a natural and balanced tone as the AV8805 did gets my seal of approval.
Lastly, the AV8805 has a headphone jack. In my room, the positioning of the theater rack is not conducive to headphone listening, but I did move in a chair so that I could sit down by the rack to give it a try. The headphone circuit is quiet and has more detail than I find in most components in this category or class (meaning non-dedicated headphone amps). When used with my relatively sensitive in-ear monitors, there was a higher noise floor than with a separate dedicated headphone amplifier, but it was not high enough to be readily noticeable except on very quiet passages. The AV8805's headphone jack had no problem driving most of my headphones, but harder-to-drive cans, such as those from HiFiMan, or AKG K701s, will still benefit form a dedicated headphone amplifier to achieve their full dynamic capabilities.
I briefly connected the AV8805 to my 65-inch Sony 4K OLED television to test its video capabilities. To my eyes, the video performance was very similar to that of the AV7703. It did a good job scaling standard and high definition signals to 4K and passed each and every 4K signal I could through at it. If I was playing non-4K discs through my Oppo, I would still use the Oppo's internal processor, as it had slightly fewer artifacts. Otherwise, I would not hesitate to use the Marantz's scaler. The AV8805 also includes a lot of video processing options that will let those with multiple sources and/or displays get the most out of their systems.
As I said above, the Audyssey MultEQ App supported by the AV8805 improves upon the base Audyssey system, but I still find the pre-defined Audyssey curves to be somewhat lacking until you adjust them. If you are not afraid to experiment with different curves and settings, you can obtain good results, but you need to work a bit for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Another minor concern is the fact that sound mode presets are configured by incoming audio signal, and can't be set separately for each input, except through the use of Marantz's Quick Select functionality. The AV8805 does remember the last sound mode used for each input, though.
As the AV8805 is billed as an audiophile piece, and rightly so, I would also like to see it fully compatible with the leading music server software, Roon. The AV8805 can be accessed on Roon via AirPlay but not as a direct Roon endpoint. While this does not impact the ease of playback, it can impact audio quality. I suspect that this could feasibly be remedied via a firmware update, and hope that this is in the works, as it adds one more juicy feature that will make the Marantz 8805 irresistible for music lovers as much as movie buffs.
Finally, the lack of HDMI 2.1 connectivity is worth noting. Of course, this is a concern with literally any new AV preamp or receiver at this point, given that HDMI 2.1 is just not available as of this time, but it's looming over AV enthusiasts like you and I like a technological anvil. Marantz has a fantastic track record of updating HDMI boards to accommodate newer standard, so the main downside is losing the use of the AV8805 during the upgrade process, and of course the costs associated with the upgrade. I wouldn't say "don't buy this preamp because it doesn't have HDMI 2.1," since--really--what else are you going to buy right now that does? But I had to at least mention it as a consideration for anyone purchasing an AV preamp anytime soon.
Competition and Comparison
Options for AV preamps in this general price range have traditionally been slim, but there are more exciting options coming to market. Anthem's excellent AVM 60 ($2,999) is another full-featured 11.2 AV Processor with DTS Play-Fi multi-room system and an undeniable heritage.
The Lyngdorf MP-50AV ($9,999) recently impressed my colleague Greg Handy and has HDBase-T support built in. Like the AV8805, the MP-50AV is prepped for a future 2.1 update. However, the Lyngdorf has no legacy connections.
The AudioControl Maestro M9 ($8,999) and Lexicon MC-10 both feature the excellent Dirac Live room correction.
Perhaps as an ultimate compliment to the Marantz, I would mention it in the same breath as the reference standard, the Trinnov Altitude 16 that Dennis Burger recently took a deep look at. This $16,000 AV preamp is seemingly the king, with the most effective, powerful room correction and incredible audiophile performance, along with sixteen discrete processed channels. But despite its straight-out-of-the-screening-room pedigree, the Trinnov doesn't have all of the ancillary features that the AV8805 has.
Finally, the much-anticipated Emotiva RMC-1 ($5,000) should be released soon and also features Dirac Live for its 16 channels of processing. With that said, Emotiva has a spotty record with their products. Some are genius and incredible values, and others struggle out of the gate with issues that can take some time to correct via firmware.
If you couldn't already tell, the Marantz AV8805 is an absolute winner. It combines high-performance object-based surround with cutting-edge video management, paired with a very good room correction, as well as a feature set that is hard to replicate at any price. Marantz's track record as a company that delivers both value and performance along with great long-term support and updates makes this a safe bet for an AV preamp investment, and I say that fully aware that so many of us have taken a bath (or two) on past AV preamps that simply couldn't keep up with the ever-changing standards of home theater formats.
Right now, I just don't think you can find this combination of features and performance wrapped up in one component for anywhere close to the price of the Marantz AV8805. The checkbook is out because this sucker isn't leaving here for a long time.