Media Streamer

Marantz NA7004 Network Music Streamer

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use - Internet, USB Connectivity, Home Network and Control

All of the various functions on the NA7004 are accessed by selecting one of eleven inputs. Selecting an input is as simple as turning the small knob on the front of the player or using the remote or the Wizz App. The front panel on the NA7004 shows you which input you are currently selecting and it shows you the number of that input (e.g. 2/11).

This is a really nice touch since it allows you to see exactly where you are in the menu structure. With eleven inputs, the NA7004 offers a lot of connectivity options. In this section I will cover internet services, USB connectivity, home network connectivity, control applications, and some final thoughts on the sound. I tested the NA7004 with an Anthem Statement D2 processor, a Rotel RB-1080 amplifier, Definitive Technology BP-3000TL speakers, and cables from Cardas and Monster. Internet connectivity was provided via a 6 Mbps DSL connection.

Internet Services

The first major feature on the NA7004 is internet radio. The vTuner software provides a comprehensive list of streaming audio content from all across the world. Whether you are in the mood for some music from your own backyard, or from your favorite city or radio personality around the globe, the NA7004 provides a simple interface to find that station and stream the content to your player. The interface shows you the name of the channel and displays the name of the content that is currently playing. If you press the Display button on the front panel, you can also get a sense of how that content is being streamed.

I frequently saw content in WMA, MP3, and AAC formats at transmission rates of 16, 32, 64, 128, and 320 kbps. This also gives you a sense of why some stations sound so much better or worse than others. I generally have low expectations when listening to internet radio, but I was frequently surprised at how good some of the channels sounded on the NA7004. For example, one of our local university stations, WJCU 88.7 FM, was streaming at 128 kbps while major stations here in Cleveland were only streaming at 64 kbps. The difference was very noticeable. At the other end of the spectrum was Linn Radio streaming at 320 kbps. This offered a superb listening experience on the NA7004 and also gave me a chance to preview some of the content in Linn’s high resolution audio store. The NA7004 allows you to add up to 50 internet radio stations to a “Favorites” list. The list can be directly accessed via the “Favorites” input on the NA7004.

The next major feature is Pandora radio. In case you are not familiar with Pandora, this free internet music service allows you to pick a song or artist and Pandora will then create a custom channel with other songs that are similar to your selection. The NA7004 allows you to manage up to 100 Pandora channels.

The Pandora menu offers access to any Pandora radio channels that you have already created as well as the Quick Mix menu which offers the option to shuffle selections across your favorite channels. The Pandora interface also allows you to quickly create a new channel directly from the NA7004. You can enter an artist’s name or use the search function to find what you are looking for. Once the new channel is created, the NA7004 adds it to your channel list and the music starts playing. Pandora streams in the MP3 format at 128 kbps. I was generally pleased with the quality of Pandora audio from the NA7004. If you haven’t used Pandora, I recommend that you try it if for no other reason than to discover other artists that might match your tastes.

Pandora pays for its services via advertisements which are shown in a traditional browser environment. While there are no advertisements on the NA7004, you are still limited to the Pandora use restrictions. For example, you can only skip 6 songs per hour per station, and you are limited to 12 total skips per day. The NA7004 Pandora interface also allows you to use the Thumbs Up / Down feature on any track and you can bookmark a track and view the bookmarks at Pandora.com. Pandora does offer an upgraded service called Pandora One which is fee based and offers no advertisements and streams at 192 kbps. Unfortunately, Pandora does not support Pandora One on standalone devices such as the NA7004 at this time.

In addition to Pandora radio, the NA7004 supports Napster and Rhapsody. Napster is a monthly subscription based music distribution service and Rhapsody is a subscription based broadcast service. I did not explore the interface for either service with the NA7004.

USB Connectivity

Now that we’ve covered the internet services on the NA7004, let’s move on to the USB capabilities. On the front of the NA7004 is a USB input which accepts a standard Type A USB connector. If you plug an iPod or iPhone into this connection, and select the iPod/USB input on the NA7004, you now have a very nice dock for your favorite Apple device. The NA7004 comes with a small plastic stand which you can use to support the iPod. When used as an iPod dock, the NA7004 can operate in one of two modes. In “Direct mode”, all song information is displayed on the iPod itself. In “Remote mode”, the iPod information is shown on the display of the NA7004. This connection also allowed me to play ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) to the NA7004.

If you connect a USB drive to the front USB input on the NA7004, the front display of the NA7004 will allow you to navigate the file and folder structure on the USB device. To play a song, you simply have to press the Enter button on the remote or on the front panel of the NA7004 and the song begins to play. The Display button allows you to see the artist name, album name, and the file type and bitrate of the media that you are currently playing. I had no trouble playing MP3, Windows Media Audio 9.2 and FLAC encoded media. I was able to play MPEG-4 AAC files with variable bit rate, average bit rate, and constant bit rate encodings. I was not able to play WMA 9.2 Lossless media directly. This is a limitation of the internal decoder in the NA7004, but there are at least three ways around this limitation as we’ll see in a moment.

On the back of the NA7004 is another USB input which accepts a standard type B USB connector. I connected a laptop running Windows 7 to this rear USB input and selected the “Digital In USB” input on the NA7004. A Windows dialog box appeared informing me that my device was ready to use.

In order to use a USB device with the Windows Media Player, you have to change the application’s audio device. I opened up the Windows Media Player application and opened the “Options” dialog and selected the “Devices” tab.

Select “Speakers” and press the “Properties” button, and you finally see the “Speaker Properties” dialog.

Select “SPDIF Interface (USB Audio Device)” as your audio device and you will finally be ready to enjoy music from Windows 7 via the USB output. While the Windows Media Player setup interface was far from straightforward, this configuration rewarded me with the ability to play WMA 9.2 Lossless media to the NA7004.

Home Network Connectivity

If you select the “Music Server” input on the NA7004, the player will display a list of the DLNA compliant music servers on your home network. Simply select a server from the list and you will be able to browse by album, artist, etc. and play your selections with the NA7004.

In this configuration, the NA7004 is acting as a Digital Media Player. I tested the NA7004 using the Asset UPnP / DLNA server from Illustrate as well as with TwonkyServer from PacketVideo. The NA7004 worked well with both servers and had no trouble playing MP3, WMA and 24 bit 88.2 kHz as well as 96 kHz FLAC format files. Using the “Music Server” input also allows you to take advantage of WMA 9.2 Lossless media. The WMA 9.2 Lossless format is transcoded to PCM by your server software and sent to the NA7004.

If you have Microsoft Windows 7, then you can make use of the Play To functionality. This is by far one of the simplest ways to get music to your NA7004. Simply find a directory or individual music file, right click, and select “Play To” from the menu.

In this example, I right-clicked on the Raising Sand album directory, and Windows 7 automatically added the album contents to a playlist.

If you enabled “Network Standby” on the NA7004, then the NA7004 will automatically turn on when it receives the Play To request from Windows. Simply turn on your stereo, and you will be enjoying music from your Windows 7 environment. The Play To functionality automatically handles WMA 9.2 Lossless media as well.

Not being one to take sides, the NA7004 also supports Apple’s AirPlay functionality. As we discussed earlier, you have to purchase a separate upgrade package from Marantz in order to enable AirPlay. To make use of AirPlay within iTunes, you just need to look in the lower right hand corner of your iTunes application.

Selecting the AirPlay icon brings up the following dialog:

Simply select the NA7004 and your iTunes content will be streamed to your NA7004. Another benefit of AirPlay is that you can stream content to multiple destinations.

You can play content to your local computer and to the NA7004 simultaneously. If you have multiple AirPlay enabled devices in your home, you can stream simultaneously to those devices as well. This same functionality works with the iPad and later generation iPhones and advanced iPods. AirPlay allows you to directly stream content stored on any of those devices to the NA7004. This was an extremely enjoyable feature and I loved streaming content directly from my iPhone to the NA7004 without the need to turn on my PC.

Control Applications

Thanks to the networking connectivity offered by the NA7004, there are multiple options to control the player. The first method is with the Wizz App.

The first page of this application lets you see the current input, power on/off the NA7004 and select from a quick list of your top six favorite inputs. If you need access to a less frequently used input, simply press “Source Select” and you will get a complete list of all the inputs on the NA7004. The “Favorite” input is missing from the list and must be selected from the remote or the front panel on the player. The “Digital Out” button lets you toggle the player’s digital output on or off. The same goes for the “M-DAX” button which cycles the M-DAX filter through its various values. The small icon in the lower right corner brings up a small set of transport buttons.

My biggest complaint with page one of the Wizz App was the M-DAX button. Since it is at the bottom of the page, it was really easy to accidentally hit the button when moving to another page in the Wizz App. This had the undesired result of turning on M-DAX when I didn’t want the filter engaged. I quickly learned to swipe my finger over the top part of the screen to avoid the problem. The “Play/Pause” would also not work consistently.

The second page of the Wizz App was context sensitive based on the selected input on the NA7004. For example, if you selected “Music Server” and were browsing album content, the Wizz App would display the album hierarchy returned from the current DLNA server.

The solid white line indicated the current position in the list which was “[All Albums]” in this example. The most aggravating aspect of Wizz App is that it does not support simple scrolling. While “A-F” is displayed, you have to move your finger up the page to cause the application to get the next batch of letters which are “G-M”. Repeat this process again to get “N-T” and once more to get “U-Z” and “0-9”. Needless to say, this gets really old very quickly. This same type of batch oriented scrolling is common throughout Wizz App.

The last page of Wizz App displays the currently playing song, the artist name, and a very small album art graphic. In this example, I was playing one of Secrets greatest hits - the “60 Hz and 7 kHz IMD” test track.

There is a lot of wasted space on this page and I really wish the album art was bigger. The front panel on the NA7004 will show the same information and is generally much easier to read.

Despite the limitations in some areas, the Wizz App proved very handy in controlling the NA7004. I communicated my feedback to Marantz, and I hope to see some of these usability issues addressed in future versions of Wizz App.

There are a couple of other control applications for the NA7004 that I would like to mention. The first is the Apple Remote application available for free at the App Store. If you have an Apple iPod, iPhone or iPad, then you should definitely be using the Remote application to control any iTunes library or Apple TV on your network. Since you can stream from iTunes to the NA7004 using AirPlay, the Remote application becomes one of the best free remotes available for the NA7004.

Since the NA7004 is also a DLNA Renderer, you can control the player from other applications that support DLNA. For example, I used Asset Control from Illustrate and TwonkyManager from PacketVideo to directly control the NA7004. I selected songs, servers, and playlists, and the NA7004 played my music.

Despite all of the underlying complexities of networking, file formats, and different vendors and software, I was really amazed at just how well the NA7004 stood up to the challenges. If there was any really weak area, it was simply in the device’s ability to gracefully handle simultaneous access from multiple control points. For example, I was playing music from my computer’s DLNA server (Asset UPnP) and then decided to try using the “Play To” functionality from Windows 7. I was controlling the music from Wizz App. On my computer, I highlighted some music, right clicked, and hit “Play To Marantz: [NA7004]”. The NA7004 seemed to just lose its mind. The display on the NA7004 continued to show the last song that it was playing from the prior DLNA server session. It would then intermittently show “Server Error”. Simply reselecting the “Music Server” input corrected the problem, but this sort of thing could be frustrating to casual users. My best advice is to simply stop playing the current “Music Server” source before selecting a new server. When I did that, the NA7004 seemed to behave very well. I should also note that the AirPlay implementation performed the best in this regard and warned that the NA7004 was in use if I accessed the player from multiple Apple sources concurrently.

Overall, I was very impressed with the sound quality of the NA7004. Given all the inputs and the varied formats, this player did an excellent job rendering music. Internet music at low bit rates sounded really bad at times. Playing low resolution MP3 files was dull and unsatisfying. While the player’s M-DAX filter attempted to smooth out the sound on poor content, I generally found that it did not really enhance the sound quality in a substantial way for my listening tastes. The best way to make the NA7004 shine was to give it a high quality source. Streaming CD quality music from some of my favorites artists like Diana Krall, Melody Gardot, Michael Bublé and Madeleine Peyroux was a totally enjoyable experience. Vocals were well defined. The soundstage sounded very natural. I was able to just sit back and enjoy FLAC files streaming over my network courtesy of DLNA. The best part of the experience was not shuffling discs into a CD player.

While listening to CD content was very satisfying, perhaps the best thing about the NA7004 is that it also lets you explore and enjoy high resolution audio.

Marantz NA7004 Network Audio Player

Marantz NA7004 Network Audio Player

Listening to the 24 bit 96 kHz sampler tracks from HDTracks and the 24 bit 96 kHz studio master of Dawn Langstroth’s Highwire album took the NA7004 to a whole new level. I was now listening to SACD quality music with all of its depth, detail, and engaging realism from a high resolution audio file streaming over my network. I was thrilled that I could enjoy music with such exceptional quality on the NA7004.