The Marantz stand at IFA last September positively bristled with new kit, and the SR7001 is the first of a classy new line-up of AV receivers. In the past, Marantz's receivers have tended to concentrate on sound quality at the expense of the latest widgets and gadgetry - but not so the SR7001.
Under the hood are all the hallmarks of Marantz audiophile design, including Crystal 192kHz/24-bit DACs for all channels, and a transformer that looks like it could run a small housing estate. But, uncharacteristically, the features count has caught up with the competition.
Four-in one-out HDMI switching with the latest 1.2 spec connectors, 1080p compatibility, video Interlaced to Progressive conversion from all inputs to HDMI, and full auto- setup with Audyssey's MultEQ calibration system head up the goodies list.
At the heart of the SR7001 is an advanced 32-bit DSP chipset to decode the regular remit of Dolby and DTS surround sound formats, plus CircleSurround II, Dolby Virtual Speaker and Dolby Headphone for a bit of personal home cinema. Connections are in the numerous, with powered Zone 2 audio output (or to bi-amp the front speakers) and four-in two-out component video.
There's no networking, USB or iPod connectivity - but those may not be a features to float your boat anyway. That aside, the Marantz has all the home-cinema toys and, for around £1,000, is looking like damn fine value already.
Build quality is well up to muster, being a little larger, heavier and more excitingly chunky than most of its peers. The looks hint at stark minimalism, particularly with the flap closed, although the blue LEDs over the two main knobs are more clunky than classy. The graphic legends on the volume knob saying which way is up and which is down are worthy of a chuckle too - 'grandma' and 'sucking eggs' come to mind.
However, the RC8001R remote control is a real smooth operator. Stylish, easy to handle, backlit in vivid blue, programmable and incorporating a large dot-matrix LCD display - perfect. Okay, unlike Yamaha's similarly priced receivers you don't get a second remote for Zone 2, but I think the Marantz remote more than makes up for it with its sheer class.
Not so luxurious is the onscreen display, which is old-school block text and far removed from the gorgeous GUI of Yamaha's RX-V2700, which the Marantz followed onto the test bench. It does the job, though, and, anyway, do you buy an AV receiver to watch menus or watch movies?
The basic menus lead to ultra-simple setup, which is to be saluted where Audyssey MultiEQ is concerned. Stick the supplied mic in a few listening positions, and the rest is done for you. The room EQ and tuning results are easy to trim manually - which is just as well because in full auto-mode the MultEQ had a spot of madness, acoustically speaking.
The good news is that little of Marantz's core hi-fidelity sound has been sacrificed to squeeze in those features. With the Audyssey 'off' the SR7001 has big, solid sound rich in bass and mid-range detail but a little shy of top end sparkle. Dialogue is particularly impressive, with a neat combination of clarity, depth and projection without the cuppy or forward balance that often goes with well-projected voices.
The sound begs for decent floor-standing speakers, as the SR7001 is an amp capable of great scale and impact and demands you go loud.
A timely revisit to The Phantom Menace showed the Marantz's mettle in creating a big scene with bass effects that start somewhere in the subterranean depths. The howling battle sequences are just pure gung-ho enjoyment, and before you know it the HCC editor is harassing you for the review and you are still cheering on the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi...
Before listening to the Audyssey-tweaked sound, we couldn't help but look at the onscreen frequency charts to see what the MultiEQ has implemented - and, in my room's case, it wasn't pretty.
Despite a decent sized room (5.5m x 3.5m) and capable speakers (Tannoy Dimension TD system), the overall Audyssey implementation added progressively more gain as the frequency increased, culminating in a whopping 9dB at 16kHz on many channels. After several re-runs to ensure the supplied mic hadn't gone tone-deaf, the results remained. This should lead to a sound on the bright side of brighter than a bright thing on bright street.
The Audyssey-tuned sound as standard is certainly not going to be everyone's cup of tea. Yes - it cleans up the midrange spectacularly. Yes - it adds amazing sparkle and clarity to the top end. And yes - it adds several perceived acres to the soundstage. But the trade-off is the SR7001's low-frequency impact and bass richness is all but gone; in its place is a lean and dry balance that turns splashy and sibilant at high volumes.
The Marantz's menus do, however, let you access the RoomEQ settings with ease - albeit without any Q adjustment to the filtering. Manually trimming back some of the HF gain begins to mix the best of both worlds, the SR7001's richness with the Audyssey-borne clarity and space.
Looking at past notes, this is near identical to the results we got from the first Denon receiver with Audyssey MultEQ I tested, and the conclusion is the same. The Audyssey has a lot of potential - but don't expect instant results without spending time fine-tuning the gain on all 56 filters - nine frequency points across each of the seven channels.
The SR7001 is a great receiver. It's well-specified, well-equipped, good-looking and possesses a rich, warm balance that is a winner with big action movies and up-tempo music alike. The MultEQ implementation is far from 'plug and play', though, but for the audio enthusiast, the SR7001 is still very tempting indeed.