Following the financial collapse of 2008, many (present company included) had to figure out how to make do with less. As a result, many began to rethink their priorities and so-called investments in luxuries--luxuries like over-the-top home theater systems. Ten-plus years later, it would appear luxury home theaters and luxury consumer electronics are on the rise for some; but for many, the realities of doing more with less never left. For some of you, this may mean buying second hand, and for others it might mean hanging onto aging gear until its dying breath. For me, the collapse brought about a sea change in thinking, and as a result a substantial downsize in the physical size of my theater needs.
Some time back, I predicted the future of the hobby would be all about having less. Fewer boxes. Fewer channels. Fewer hassles. I also said the first company to embrace this shift would likely "win," because they would have a segment of the market all to themselves. If there's one thing I've learned about home theater it is this: this industry largely resists change despite its claims to the contrary. The minimalist utopia I dreamt and spoke about many moons ago has still not quite come to pass, as manufacturers continue to do what they always do and play to their base by churning out boxes packed with more. But now, in late 2019, it would appear some companies have finally gotten the memo.
Case in point, Marantz's $599 NR1200 two-channel slim receiver, a product I've been waiting for someone to make for a while now. While two-channel receivers are nothing new to hi-fi or even home theater, none have embraced the modern "receiver" moniker more than the NR1200 reviewed here--at least none at a price point I would consider to be in the ballpark of the average consumer. The NR1200, in my opinion, is the natural progression of Marantz's slim-line multichannel AV products of the past few years. It is essentially the NR1509 I reviewed last year sans several channels of amplification and with a bit more power per channel. On the surface, the NR1200 looks largely the same as the NR1509 (now NR1510), save for the inclusion of large, front-mounted tone and balance controls. The NR1200 measures 17.3 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep and a scant four inches tall. It tips the scales at 18 pounds, which for a receiver as compact as the NR1200, is rather substantial.
The NR1200 comes in an all-black finish and features two large dials (one for input selection, the other volume) that frame a very receiver-like display found dead center of the unit's faceplate. Below the monochromatic display, you'll find a few rather inconsequential control hot buttons before coming to the three large tone and balance knobs I spoke about a moment ago. Throw in a USB input and quarter-inch headphone jack and you have the NR1200 facade all wrapped up.
Around back, things are decidedly more receiver-ish thanks to the inclusion of six HDMI ports (5 in/1 out) that largely dominate the top of the NR1200's back panel. To the left of the HDMI board rests an Ethernet port followed by two digital audio inputs--one optical the other coaxial. There are two wi-fi antenna ports on either side of the chassis, as well. Analog audio options include a built-in phono preamp (MM), an AM/FM antenna, and three line-level (RCA) inputs. There is a pair of preamp outputs for a second zone, as well as preamp outs for the main zone should you want to pair it with a third-party amplifier. The NR1200 even gives you not one but two subwoofer outs. Lastly, you'll find four pairs of five-way binding posts, which are good for a stereo pair of speakers in two zones/rooms, or to drive a single pair of bi-wireable loudspeakers in one room. There is no configuration that allows for a four-channel surround sound setup here.
Under the hood, the NR1200 boasts a high-current, discrete power amp good for 75 watts of power per channel into 8 ohms. The NR1200's HDMI inputs are all HDCP 2.3 compliant, and are capable of supporting 4K Ultra HD 60Hz video signals sampled at 4:4:4. HDR compatibility is also present, as the NR1200 supports HLG and HDR10 passthrough. The unit is also technically capable of passing a Dolby Vision signal, despite the lack of certification for such and indications on the product page that DV isn't supported. 3D and BT.2020 passthrough are also present. Lastly, the NR1200 also features ARC and HDMI CEC for simple, single-cable connections between receiver and display. Obviously, with the NR1200 being a stereo receiver, there is no surround sound decoding of any kind.
In addition to its video chops, the NR1200 also has a dual differential internal DAC design. It also decodes high-resolution audio files such as ALAC, FLAC, and WAV up to 192kHz/24-bit. It can even play back DSD tracks (2.8MHz and 5.6MHz). The receiver also supports a host of wireless streaming options, beginning with HEOS, which allows you to stream from most all the usual suspects, including TIDAL, Spotify, Amazon Music, and more all from a single app. Of course, AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth are also available. Speaking of AirPlay 2, the NR1200 does have the ability to be voice controlled via Siri, as well as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
The NR1200 replaced the fantastic Technics SU-G700 stereo integrated amplifier that I raved about this past September in my main viewing/listening setup. The SU-G700 was a near perfect stereo integrated for my personal tastes. I say near-perfect because it lacked two features that would've otherwise made it bulletproof in today's modern era: wireless connectivity and HDMI ports. Still, all things considered, the G700 is an absolute beast and a difficult act to follow.
I connected the NR1200 to my display, which right now is a 65-inch OLED from LG. Using a single HDMI cable from Monoprice, I connected the two together utilizing the LG's second HDMI port, which is equipped with ARC and going directly into the NR1200's monitor out. I should note that I also enabled control over HDMI (CEC) on both products to ensure a single remote setup when I was done.
From there, I connected a bevy of turntables to the NR1200's internal phono stage, starting with my U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus, followed by Pro-Ject's X1. I also connected a U-Turn Audio Orbit Special, which has a built-in phono stage, to one of the Marantz's line level inputs just to test the veracity of its phono stage. As for third-party phono preamps, I utilized both a U-Turn Audio Pluto as well as Pro-Ject's Phono Box Ultra 500.
I connected my only other source of record, a Roku Ultra streaming media player, to the NR1200, though admittedly I didn't use it much, as the streaming apps built into the LG OLED TV were more than sufficient for the purposes of this review.
With everything connected, it was time to setup the NR1200, which is pretty straightforward. Not unlike its surround sound counterparts, the NR1200 does allow a fair amount of higher customization within its internal menus, which sadly do not hold up in 2019 from a design perspective. Still, being able to set distances, levels. and crossover points (among other things) is a benefit compared to traditional stereo integrated amplifiers.
Additionally, it is possible to integrate the NR1200 into an even more modern, voice-controlled lifestyle via Alexa or Google Assistant, though that integration does come with an asterisk, as both operate through the HEOS App, which I'm not the biggest fan of. Moreover, the integration isn't fully fleshed out yet, so depending on which service you prefer, you may find your ability to command the NR1200 limited. For the most part, you can expect control over volume, start, and stop, with other commands being more hit or miss. Because I'm not the world's foremost expert on HEOS, I found myself simply streaming to the NR1200 via Bluetooth or AirPlay directly from my streaming App, which was just easier.
With the NR1200 dialed in and playing nicely with the rest of the components in my system, though, I sat down for a listen.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...