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.
I kicked off my critical evaluation of the NR1200 with John Mayer’s Continuum on vinyl (Columbia). Straight away, let me just say this: it took using three different turntables in my house to get a feel for what the NR1200 sounds like. The first I tried, Pro-Ject’s X1, proved not to be a good match for the NR1200’s internal phono stage. It wasn’t a good match because the NR1200 didn’t seem to possess the requisite gain needed for the X1. Moving to my U-Turn Audio Orbit was a bit better, even passable, but it wasn’t until I bumped it up to my U-Turn Audio Orbit Special with its Ortofon 2M Red cartridge that I started to feel like I had arrived at a combination I could live with and enjoy. Admittedly, when I engaged the Orbit Special’s built-in phono stage and connected it to one of the NR1200’s regular line-level inputs, I felt like I had arrived. I don’t know if my NR1200 sample had an issue, or if this is indicative of all NR1200s, and suffice to say, your mileage may vary when it comes to the performance of its internal phono preamp.
With that out of the way, the good news is, whether you use the NR1200’s internal phono stage or an outboard one, the sound of listening to vinyl records through the Marantz is pleasing. Mayer’s vocals throughout were rendered cleanly and clearly, with terrific center focus that allowed them to stand out more in three-dimensional space. They just lacked a bit of weight in terms of his timbre. In truth, the NR1200’s bottom octaves and even mid-bass seemed ever-so-slightly lithe throughout the album. The high frequencies had good detail and extension, though they did lack a bit of sparkle and sheen. Cymbal crashes, for example, seemed a little dry. Not smooth or recessed--just lacking in that bit of metallic shimmer one expects from a cymbal.
Speaking of crashes, dynamically the NR1200 is a bit on the polite side. I would have chalked this up to its 75 watts of power not being the right match for my JBLs, except when I did connect an outboard power amp--my Crown Audio XLS DriveCore 2--things didn’t really change that much. Sure, I didn’t have to push the NR1200 that hard, and everything I just described above came about easier, with a bit more focus, but the presence of more power didn’t radically change or alter the NR1200’s sound. It’s simply polite and non-aggressive.
In terms of soundstage definition, the NR1200 was excellent, as there was solid separation and air around the musicians, with good front-to-back as well as side-to-side delineation throughout. The sound didn’t extend beyond the front baffles of my JBLs, but it did seem to reach back quite a bit, well beyond the boundaries of my front wall. The same was true for the NR1200’s lateral soundstage performance.
I played several more records, ranging from Tool’s Ænima (Zoo) to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (Blue Note) and came away from each album with largely the same feeling towards the NR1200’s sound. On a whole, there is little that I found to be objectionable. The NR1200 never sounded bad. It is a very pleasing sounding amplifier indeed. It just isn’t going to bowl you over, or surprise you with any one thing that makes you stand up and go, “wow.” In that respect it’s kind of neutral, in that it doesn’t call that much, if any, attention to itself as a component. You really only notice the NR1200 when you reach the limits of its capabilities, which for the majority of consumers isn’t likely going to happen all that much.
Moving on to digital music, I streamed some of my favorite albums through TIDAL, my digital music service of choice. I know a lot of people are buzzing about Amazon’s new Amazon Music HD service, which the NR1200 supports, but I’m still team TIDAL, so here we go. I cued up an all-time favorite of mine, Moby’s Play (V2), which isn’t available in “Master Quality” via TIDAL, but rather HiFi, which is more than sufficient. The track “Everloving” is one of my go-to demos, and via the NR1200 I found the track, on a whole, to be on par with a lot of components in and around its price range--including many multi-channel AV receivers. Again, the NR1200 didn’t prove to be the last word in absolutes; it lacked a bit of low-end heft and snap combined with a touch of polite roll-off in the highs, but never at the expense of my overall enjoyment.
The NR1200’s sonic character does appear to be all about the sum total rather than highlighting any one trait or characteristic. It’s just a smooth operator, one that you’re likely going to want to play, live with, and relax in front of, rather than listen to critically for hours--and that’s okay. Truth is, not every component needs to be a scalpel or a litigator; sometimes we just want to get on with the act of listening and enjoying our favorite tracks, which is where the NR1200 excels.
I ended my evaluation of the NR1200 with Luc Besson’s latest action romp, Anna on Vudu in UHD. I can say the HDMI switching, CEC, and ARC capabilities of the NR1200 are among the more stable that I’ve seen and experienced in a long time. In terms of sound quality, there were a number of big action set pieces that through the NR1200 proved exciting enough to keep me engaged with this admittedly garbage film. With the volume set so that peaks were hitting around 95dB at my listening position, the NR1200 was nothing if not wholly enjoyable. Dynamics were the best in this test compared to all my previous observations. I still wouldn’t classify the NR1200 as explosive, but definitely attention grabbing when called upon to be so. Again, that inherit smoothness and subtle politeness was still present, even with cinematic content. Shattering glass and crunching metal for example, lacked that last ounce of violence and edge, which I did miss a little. The brawl inside the restaurant was pure fun, though, as the sequence proved to be the NR1200’s best showcase of its bass prowess and extension out of all my demos by far. Body blows landed with good impact and subsequent heft, even in my system, which lacks a sub. More impressive still was the scale the sound took on throughout the scene, easily transforming the entirety of my front wall (and then some) into the restaurant and placing me front and center of the action.
I won’t lie to you and say that the NR1200 dished out a truly surround sound experience from a mere two speakers, but what I did get was beyond what I’ve experienced from any comparably priced soundbar trying to fool me into thinking I was hearing more channels. The NR1200 provided me with a cinematic wall of sound, one that possessed the same sonic characteristics (for the most part) as I noted in my music tests. The sound was well defined, clearly and cleanly rendered. Dialogue had good presence and was easily intelligible, even midst chaotic action. Highs were clean and extended, if not a touch rolled off at the extremes. But bass did seem to pack on a few needed pounds, which didn’t overpower the rest of the performance, but rather ground it just a little more firmly. It was an engaging enough performance, one that saw me all the way through to the end of the film, which in this case is high praise because, damn, Anna is godawful.
The NR1200 is a nice piece of kit, one that definitely checks a lot of boxes for me on a personal level. I love its size, modern I/O options, and overall feature set, but there are a few items that I took exception with. For starters, and this is not unique to the NR1200, as my NR1509 is guilty of this too, but it’s just loud. Not noisy, but rather the unit itself is just loud. Turning on the NR1200 will result in an audible mechanical thump followed by a loud crack. Again, this sound does not come out of your speakers, but rather from the chassis of the NR1200 itself.
Moreover, the chassis is not very well-damped, so every mechanical whiz or motor hum is audible if the ambient room noise is low enough. Now, I know the NR1200 is on the more affordable side of the spectrum, but it just strikes me as out of character for a moniker like Marantz, which supposedly has an eye and ear for excellence, to allow for these noises to be so in-your-face.
While I generally love it when a two-channel product like the NR1200 has a built-in phono preamp, the one inside the NR1200 is a bit lackluster. It’s fine enough, I guess, and for those just getting their feet wet with vinyl playback it’s a good starting point, but it lacks the requisite gain to play nice with a wider variety of tables compared to other built-in options I’ve seen, even at this price point. It sounded okay with my base U-Turn Orbit turntable, but positively uninspired and dull with the Pro-Ject X1. Utilizing a turntable with an outboard or built-in phono stage gets around this issue, I just expected (maybe) a little more from the NR1200.
Lastly, for speakers that may require a bit more power, the NR1200 will no doubt require the use of an outboard amplifier. When connected to my JBL L100 Classic loudspeakers, I found the NR1200 to be sufficient for 95 percent of my viewing and listening habits, but when I wanted to flex a little, I could feel the limitations of its power reserves start to creep in. The L100s have a sensitivity of 90dB, which puts them on the more sensitive side of the spectrum; a lot of budget offerings these days have ratings in the mid-80s. If you’re not one to push the envelope, though, then you’ll likely be more than fine with the NR1200’s 75 watts.
Competition and Comparisons
There is no shortage of integrated stereo amplifiers on the market today, especially in the roughly $600 range. If you don’t want modern conveniences such as HDMI connectivity and wireless media streaming, then you can definitely find options from the likes of NAD, Onkyo, Denon, and Arcam that will fit the bill.
However, add in modern necessities such as HDMI and the field shrinks considerably. Denon’s DRA-800H stereo receiver at $499.99 is a NR1200 alternative, as is the Onkyo TX-8270 at the same price. Both the Denon and Onkyo boast higher power ratings (on paper) at 100 Watts per channel and have largely the same feature set as the NR1200--though they’re not as compact.
You can jump upmarket quite a bit and go with the Arcam SR250 at $2,499.99, which will get you a decidedly more attractive chassis, more power, more HDMI options, including three HDMI outputs, and Dirac Live support for digital room correction. Strangely, for all that money, you give up a phono preamp with the Arcam.
The Marantz NR1200 two-channel AV receiver is a bit of a Goldielocks product for me, and I think for a lot of other enthusiasts on the market today. For one, every AV component manufactured nowadays competes with the likes of either smart wireless speakers or soundbars. Both smart speakers and soundbars have their place, and many of them sound very, very good, but they don’t really offer much, if anything, in the way of an upgrade path. Not every consumer wants to get on the AV hamster wheel, but some get bit by the bug and want more. The NR1200 is the ideal product for consumers looking for just a little more, but not too much, enabling them to experiment with different speakers, other sources--both digital and analog--and maybe even add a power amp down the line, all the while not getting too overly complicated.
Meanwhile, for the rest of us who maybe are looking to scale back, or take a different approach to their home entertainment needs, the NR1200 represents damn near everything one would need. I fall into the latter of these two groups, which is why, for me, the NR1200 is near perfect on paper. While I wish it had a slightly better phono stage, and perhaps a little beefier amp for those rare occasions when I want to wake the neighbors, on a whole the NR1200 has and does what I need.
The NR1200 is not a daunting product for first time users, provides enough flexibility where it counts, and has a pleasing overall sound that I think will suit a wide range of listeners and listening tastes.
• Visit the Marantz website for more product information.
• Visit our AV Receivers category page to read reviews of similar products.
• Marantz NR1509 Slim 5.2 Channel AV Receiver with HEOS Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.