A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Marantz took the whole THX concept to heart.

The technology has since been widely implemented on its AV amplifiers and receivers down the years, even as some other AVR brands appeared to lose interest in the philosophy, with the SR8002 the latest to boast certification, this time in the form of THX Select2. £1,300 is, at first glance, quite a high price for what is the 'budget' iteration of THX post processing.

But given that even Marantz's rebel alliance partner Denon now offers a range largely bereft of THX movie modes, its inclusion should be viewed as a welcome bonus.

Identical amplifiers

The downsized sibling to THX Ultra2, THX Select2 is specifically-aimed at improving surround sound in small-to-medium-sized home cinema rooms.

The SR8002 is a subtle evolution of last years' SR8001. Very subtle. So subtle, in fact, I initially reviewed the wrong model by mistake and didn't notice until the photographer spotted the badge...!

Still, this genteel evolution is no bad thing, because the older model had sophisticated charms with films and a maestro's touch with music - and the SR8002 follows hot in those foot-tapping steps.

Powerful receiver

Like its predecessor, this rather attractively-apportioned receiver is easy on the eye, with a copper-plated chassis finished in a light, brushed aluminium colour.

It offers seven channels of 100W+ in current-feedback configuration, which Marantz claims results in very low phase shift, fast transient response and greater transparency over the full bandwidth up to 100kHz. You get a whopping torroidal power supply, 32bit DSPs and 192kHz/24bit DACs for all channels (despite what it says on Marantz's own website).

Sadly, several less than buff features also remain. The block-text onscreen menus are about an aeon away from the competition's fancy GUIs and the level of control you have over the 8002's operation, sound and video is minimal.

It's lack of information is painful for a modern receiver with a four-figure price tag - particularly its refusal to show you what sound format it is auto-decoding either in the menus or on the display.

The whole operation is somewhat saved by a swanky new remote control, the RC101. While this light-grey plastic stick with blue buttons might look a little like its predecessor, the RC101 is a fully-programmable device with multiroom ability.

Loaded with features

What else does the new all-singing, all-dancing SR8002 bring to the table?

Well, the HDMI ports are now v1.3a spec, allowing DeepColor and auto lip-sync with suitably-equipped source and display components, and there is, of course, decoding for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. There's also a compressed music enhancer should you want to hook up your iPod. And then there is... no, hang on, that's it.

Strange, then, that the error that lead to me ushering the SR8001 back into my listening room before auditioning the SR8002 in fairly quick succession revealed such startling sonic differences...

Measured sound

We commended the SR8001 for its robust sound, gizzard-wobbling bass and high-volume entertainment - although it wasn't the subtlest or most detailed performer. Engage its Audyssey system and its radical EQ curves ensured the balance did a complete about face.

Suddenly you got stunning top-end detail, fabulous projection and sparkling high-frequency effects - that got rather bright at high volume. Not so the SR8002. While the basic, rock-solid sound is still there, the Audyssey system produces a completely different EQ pattern.

No longer does it apply wholesale bass attenuation and overt treble boost, but instead adds ever-so-subtle tweaks, rarely adjusting any frequency by more than 1dB or 2dB in any direction.

The result is far removed from the bi-polar disorder suffered by its predecessor, neatly rounding out a very impressive receiver design with a well-balanced and sophisticated sound. In full flight it mixes grace and power in equal measure and will certainly put a big smile on your face with any action adventure flick you care to throw at it.

A romp through the ultra-colourful and highly-detailed Curse of The Golden Flower (Blu-ray) sees this Marantz flexing its muscles with fabulous weight and authority. The chanting in the temple scene simply fills the room, and the drums as the large doors open are fearsome and utterly convincing.

Improved clarity

Engage THX Select2 post-processing and the sound comes across as a wave that is thoroughly immersive, although there could be a little more separation of individual effects when all hell is breaking loose on screen. Personally, I would have hoped for full-bore THX Ultra2 processing for a premium product like this.

That said, the sound of armoured men moving into battle in Curse...'s following scene is quite convincing, with precise imaging. The effects are all there, from the gentle tinkling of wind chimes to the rippling of water and distant voices echoing around the temple halls.

The sound is smooth and well-poised, and with a little manual tweaking of the EQ settings you can gain good presence and detail, too. While possible to generate your own preset EQ balance, this is not a job for the faint-of-heart, as the Audyssey setup's multiband system is far from simple to control from the block-text on-screen interface.

The extra resolution offered by Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD MA soundtracks allows the SR8002 to shine. Compared to standard Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks, the new lossless formats appear to increase ten-fold sonic detail and clarity.

Of course, it is sometimes difficult to separate the relative acoustic merits of the player from that of the new formats, but the SR8002's solid sound with ultra-clean bass and natural dialogue articulation are right on the money.

Playing SACD

Moreover, the Marantz is not just a digital diva. It has quite a penchant for analogue sources. Using a Super Audio CD player hooked up to the multichannel inputs, the sound is clearly hi-fi, with a solid, tuneful bass.

This has always been the forté of Marantz AV amps and receivers, and makes them the ideal choice for those who will listen to as muchCD/ACD music as DVDs.

The only difference this year is that the competition has been playing catch-up. Both Denon's AVR-3808 and Yamaha's RX-V3800 have been fitted out with audiophile-grade components and both rival the Marantz's musical fidelity.

Clean and powerful

For both day-to-day listening, and those heady moments of high-volume entertainment, you can't fault the Marantz SR8002 for offering a clean and polished sound with rock-solid bass.

Cinema sound is big - but perhaps not as potent or aggressive as some of the competition - though it remains a front-runner for stereo and multichannel music. Given a diet of classical recordings, for example, it will show most manufacturer's £2,000+ models a thing or two.

But for pure home cinema it remains a little reserved against the stiff competition (we measured 103W with five channels driven) and the lack of networking, video upscaling and an easy-to-use GUI really won't sway those sitting on the fence.