Introduction to the Marantz AV8801 SSP
While Marantz was showing off their new AV7701 preamplifier at CEDIA 2012 last September, there were already quiet rumors at the show that something else was in the works. I remember being at the show wondering why Marantz wasn’t showing any products with the latest Audyssey room correction while their partners over at Denon were offering new products with Audyssey MultEQ XT32 functionality. Just two months later, Marantz put the rumors to rest by officially announcing the AV8801 AV preamplifier/processor. The AV8801 features support for 11.2 channels and includes the latest Audyssey MultEQ XT32 processing. The AV8801 enters the market at a price point which is still well below the premium processors on the market while offering a wide array of functionality. Let’s take a closer look at the features of the AV8801 and see how well Marantz’s flagship processor performs.
MARANTZ AV8801 SSP SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: 11.2 A/V Processor
- Codecs: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Pro Logic IIz, DTS, DTS-ES (Discrete, Matrix), DTS 96/24, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio
- Audyssey: MultEQ XT32, Sub EQ HT, Dynamic EQ, Dynamic Volume, DSX, LFC
- DACs: Texas Instruments PCM1795 32-Bit/192kHz
- DSP: Analog Devices ADSP21487
- 4-Zone Operation
- AM/FM/HD Radio Tuner
- Video Connections: HDMI 1.4a (6 Rear In, 1 Front In, 3 Out), Component (3 In, 2 Out), Composite (4 In, 3 Out), No S-Video
- Audio Connections: Stereo Inputs (7 RCA In, 1 XLR In, 3 Out), Optical (2 In), Coaxial Digital (2 In), 7.1 Multi-channel (1 In), Pre-amp out (11.2 RCA and XLR), USB (1 Front)
- Other Connections: Ethernet (Internet Radio, DLNA, Streaming and Firmware), 12V triggers (2), RS-232, IR (1 In), 2nd Zone (Composite Video, Component Video, Stereo Audio), 3rd Zone (Stereo Audio), 4th Zone (HDMI), Headphone Jack (6.3mm), AirPlay
- Dimensions: 7.28″ H x 17.32″ W x 15.33″ D
- Weight: 30.6 Pounds
- MSRP: $3,599.99 USD
- SECRETS Tags: Marantz, SSP, Surround Sound, 11.2
The Design of the Marantz AV8801 SSP
The Marantz AV8801 processor continues the Marantz design trend of clean lines and refined simplicity. The front of the AV8801 only has a power button and two large control knobs, one for volume control and the other for input selection. In the center of the AV8801 is a small porthole display that shows the current input selection and volume or tuner band and station. The porthole display is accented with a small blue ring which is illuminated when the AV8801 is on. The center portion of the front panel is made from brushed aluminum, and the left and right side panels are made from curved resin which gives the processor its refined appearance.
Opening the door at the bottom of the AV8801 reveals a large LED display, which shows the current input source, processing mode, signal type, HDMI status, and zone and channel indicators. To the left of the display are buttons for directly controlling audio processing options such as Audyssey Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume. To the right of the display is a standard set of cursor buttons that allow for easy navigation of the AV8801 setup menus as well as its multi-media interface. Directly under the display are buttons for the various input modes, HDMI output selection, and zone selection. At the bottom of the AV8801 is the headphone jack, the microphone jack for Audyssey, an HDMI/MHL port, and a USB port. In the lower-right corner of the AV8801 is an auxiliary input, which provides analog audio inputs and a composite video input.
The first thing that I noticed on the rear panel of the AV8801 was all the XLR outputs. There are thirteen balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA preamp outputs, which include front height and width channels in addition to two independent subwoofer channels.
Marantz has included a copper-plated chassis on the AV8801 and the rear panel is silk-screened in black with inputs having a sold black background while outputs have a checkered background. The AV8801 processor supports seven HDMI 1.4a inputs and three HDMI 1.4a outputs, which can be operated simultaneously or independently. This should be more than enough to handle the HDMI devices in a typical home theater with plenty of room for expansion. The processor supports a full complement of analog audio and video inputs with three component video inputs, four composite video inputs, one 7.1 multi-channel input, seven sets of stereo analog RCA inputs, and one stereo XLR input. The AV8801 does away with S-Video inputs. The AV8801 supports four digital audio inputs (2 coaxial and 2 optical). The AV8801 includes a second USB input on the rear panel, which can be used with a USB storage device or your favorite Apple iDevice.
Since so many devices in our home theaters are requiring network connections, Marantz has thoughtfully included a four-port 10/100 Ethernet hub in the AV8801. The remaining connections on the AV8801 back panel allow for antenna connections for the AM/FM/HD tuner. The AV8801 includes an M-X port for the connection of an optional RX-101 Bluetooth receiver. The AV8801 includes one IR input and one IR output jack as well as an RS-232 jack, which can be used to control the AV8801 with an external control system. Two 12 Volt DC Triggers are also included, which allows you to turn on another device, such as an external amplifier for multi-zone operations.
The AV8801 comes with a nice backlit remote.
From a technology perspective, the AV8801 uses the latest Audyssey MultEQ XT32 technology, which according to Audyssey, delivers 32 times the filter resolution of the MultEQ XT technology. Audyssey states that MultEQ XT32 provides more than ten thousand individual control points and applies its filter technology to all channels, including the subwoofers. Marantz also includes Audyssey Sub EQ HT, which allows the AV8801 to individually adjust the level and delay of both subwoofer outputs. The AV8801 supports Audyssey Pro, which allows a professional calibrator the ability to measure up to 32 positions in the room and adjust the target sound curves using a graphical interface on a PC. The Audyssey LFC (Low Frequency Containment) in the AV8801 attempts to contain low frequency sounds that can penetrate walls and ceilings and disturb your neighbors. The AV8801 uses three Analog Devices ADSP21487 DSP chips to perform all of its processing.
For those lucky enough to have a theater with front-height and front-wide speakers, the AV8801 provides three different processing solutions to help you enjoy those extra channels. Dolby PLIIz processing can start with stereo or 5.1/7.1 channels and deliver a 7.1/9.1 channel mix using the front-height channels. Audyssey DSX processing starts with 5.1/7.1 channels and a DTS, DTS-ES, or DTS-HD mix and adds the front-wide channels and/or the front-height channels, if present, to deliver up to an 11.1 channel mix. DTS Neo:X processing starts with stereo, 5.1/6.1/7.1 channels or a DTS, DTS-ES or DTS-HD mix and delivers up to an 11.1 channel mix using both the front-height and front-wide channels. Since the AV8801 supports 11.2 channels, the rear-surround channels, if present, are also active when the AV8801 is processing both the front-height and front-wide channels.
On the video side of things, the AV8801 uses an Analog Devices ADV8003 video signal processor that supports upscaling of SD and HD content to a 4K resolution of 3840×2160 at 24/25/30 Hz. The AV8801 also supports pass-through of 3D and 4K video signals. While we are seeing a lot of manufacturers include 4K pass-through, we still have a long way to go before native 4K content sources are generally available. For now, the 4K pass-through might come in handy if you happen to be an early 4K adopter and have a 4K display and a 4K media player like the Sony FMP-X1 in your theater. Marantz also includes InstaPrevue, which provides picture-in-picture previews of sources connected to the HDMI inputs of the AV8801.
Marantz shared with me some of the design changes incorporated into the AV8801 that differentiate it from the Marantz AV7701 processor. The AV8801 uses a low noise toroidal power supply and PMSA11S3 capacitors to deliver clean power and reduce residual noise.
The AV8801 has a completely new ground design and the Marantz proprietary Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module (HDAM) circuits are separated into 13 individual circuit boards, one for each output channel.
The AV8801 also uses Texas Instruments PCM1795 DACs to improve the dynamic range of the AV8801. Marantz says that all of these design choices contribute to the overall sound quality of the AV8801.
Setup of the Marantz AV8801 SSP
Setting up a product like a modern A/V receiver or processor is usually a daunting task. The manual is often not organized or written in the easiest way and it may be confusing to make all those speaker and source connections. Marantz has taken a different approach to system setup with the AV8801 by not including a printed manual. Instead, the full 200+ page manual is included as a PDF file on an included CD and in its place is a very short getting started manual. It turns out that Marantz has included an on-screen setup assistant that walks you through making the connections to the AV8801. I simply connected the AV8801 to my TV with an HDMI cable, turned on the AV8801 and the TV, and followed the on-screen directions.
The first part of the setup assistant guides you through connecting the AV8801 to the amplifier and connecting the speakers to the amplifier. During the connection process, the power amplifier needs to be turned off. The on-screen directions are very clear and cover the basics of proper speaker wiring as well as speaker placement in the listening room.
The setup assistant helps you select the speakers that are present in your system, and for each speaker selected, it asks you to specify the connection type of RCA or XLR.
The setup assistant also shows you where to connect the cable from the amplifier to the AV8801.
The front speakers in my system are Definitive Technology BP-3000TL towers and each has a built-in subwoofer. For use with Audyssey, I disconnected the low frequency jumpers on the speakers which gave me two independent subwoofers. This lets the AV8801 see the BP-3000TL speakers as small speakers without bass capability. I then connected the two AV8801 subwoofer outputs to the full-range low-level inputs on the BP-3000TL towers. Although the BP-3000TL speakers are capable of full range, Audyssey delivers the best results when it can manage the subwoofers independently.
With the speaker and subwoofer connections made, the setup assistant instructs you to turn on the power amplifier and then walks you through the Audyssey calibration process. I unpacked the basic Audyssey microphone that comes with the AV8801 and connected the microphone to a tripod so that I could easily position the microphone in my listening room. I plugged the microphone jack into the front of the AV8801 as directed and proceeded to let the setup assistant walk me through the measurement process for eight positions in my listening room.
During the calibration process, the setup assistant lets you verify that all your speakers have been properly detected and it also helps you balance the subwoofer levels. Once everything is finished, the results are analyzed and stored, and the AV8801 is configured with Audyssey MultEQ XT32, Dynamic EQ, and Dynamic volume enabled for all inputs.
With the speaker setup out of the way, the setup assistant walks you through making a connection to the internet and verifies the connection by tuning the AV8801 to an internet radio station. The last step in the setup process is to connect each of your source devices to the AV8801. The setup assistant prompts you to select each source and specify the type of video and audio connection. The options are pretty standard at this point in the setup process. For example, the CD player setup expects an audio-only device. If you want to assign a source to the CD player with a video input, that option is not directly available from the setup assistant and must be done later using the AV8801 setup menus.
Once a connection has been made between a source device and the AV8801, the setup assistant instructs you to turn on that source to verify the connection. I must confess that making connections with the processor powered on is not something I would ever consider. It has always been a best practice to never make connections with components turned on. Marantz has taken care of this concern by turning off the current to the input and output connections on the AV8801 when the setup assistant is running. Please keep in mind that you can make all of the component and amplifier connections ahead of time and then just run through the AV8801 setup assistant to confirm your configuration. I connected my satellite DVR, an Oppo BDP-105 and the latest generation AppleTV to the AV8801 and was finally done with the setup process.
The last setup item to consider is upgrading the firmware on the AV8801. Marantz occasionally offers firmware upgrades and they can be easily performed over the network. The AV8801 will let you know that a new firmware update is available as long as it is connected to the internet. The length of time can vary depending on what’s included in the update, but a full upgrade will take about 43 minutes. During that time, you have to be patient as the only sign of life from the AV8801 is a small counter in the porthole display that is oddly reminiscent of the HAL 9000.
While I liked the approach that Marantz took with the AV8801 setup assistant, I can’t help but wonder how many people never take the time to read or even glance at the actual manual. The last step in the getting started guide is a reminder about where to find the owner’s manual. It presumes that everyone still has a CD-ROM drive in their computer which is becoming less and less the norm these days. It needs to have an easy URL printed on the page that directs the consumer to the web site so that they can easily download the manual. Better yet, just put a copy in the box.
The Marantz AV8801 SSP In Use
For my listening tests, I was using a McIntosh MC8207 amplifier and a seven-speaker configuration from Definitive Technology, including a pair of BP-3000TL speakers with powered subwoofers for the front mains, a CLR 2002 speaker for the center channel, and four Definitive Technology UIW 94/A speakers for the surrounds and rear channels. I used an Oppo BDP-105 as my primary source device.
I started my listening tests on the AV8801 with the latest James Bond thriller Sky Fall. From the exhilarating rooftop motorcycle chase to the back of the train being ripped apart as only Bond can do, the performance of the AV8801 was spectacular. I loved the roar of the waterfall as James is swept away and the opening credits begin to roll as the soundtrack transitions to Adele’s beautiful vocals. The crash of the train in the tunnel and the mayhem with the helicopter at Sky Fall gave the AV8801 a workout in driving the surround channels and in delivering deep, controlled bass. The AV8801 effortlessly drew me into the movie. Dialog was very clear, surround effects simply impressive, and overall imaging was precise and balanced. I found that my preference was to leave Audyssey MultEQ XT32 and Audyssey Dynamic EQ enabled by default. The Audyssey Dynamic EQ worked very effectively, especially at lower listening volumes, and I was surprised at the effective bass response even at lower volumes. As for Audyssey Dynamic Volume, I preferred the compression at the Light setting if listening at a lower volume. From the video perspective, Sky Fall looked gorgeous with the AV8801 doing nothing to take away from the details of the new MI6 headquarters or the gorgeous colors of the dragons and the fireworks at the casino. I did try a quick test using Audyssey LFC and it did keep the adjoining rooms in my house from rumbling by minimizing much of the extreme bass response in the main listening room.
I listened to many different types of music on the AV8801 including pop, jazz, rock, country, and classical. The AV8801 has a very natural sound and was generally really easy to listen to with a great midrange. If I had any reservation on the AV8801 when it comes to music, it was that the soundstage would sometimes feel a bit compressed. I especially noticed this when listening to vocals. For example, when listening to the track “Broken Vow” from Josh Groban’s Closer, I found myself wanting more from the AV8801. It’s not that it didn’t sound great because it certainly did. I have heard the vocals on that track appear from utter silence and the piano notes slowly decay amidst the emotion in his voice. I just wanted to hear a bit more transparency, energy, and passion from the AV8801.
In listening to music on the AV8801, I consistently preferred to listen in stereo with Audyssey processing enabled rather than in direct mode without processing. Audyssey MultEQ XT32 processing definitely improved the overall imaging and detail in music and the bass response in my room was much cleaner as well. I was also really pleased with the overall sound quality of Audyssey Dynamic Volume. This feature supports several levels of processing, and I found that the “Light” setting did a great job of improving the overall quality of the presentation and allowed me to enjoy the AV8801 at lower volumes without losing dynamic range.
When it came to Audyssey Dynamic EQ, I almost always preferred to turn this off when listening to music. Since Dynamic EQ is referenced to the standard level used for mixing movies, the Reference Level Offset must be adjusted in order to properly apply the correct amount of equalization. Options for the Reference Level Offset range from 0 dB for movies, 5 dB for classical music, 10 dB for TV or jazz, and 15 dB for pop and rock music. I found that Dynamic EQ overly compressed the sound for my tastes unless I properly adjusted the Reference Level Offset. Unfortunately, it was extremely frustrating that there was no quick way to adjust the Reference Level Offset without a lengthy trip through the Audio Setup menu. I hope that Marantz adds a shortcut menu for Audyssey options sometime in the future.
From a video perspective, the AV8801 did not display any handshake problems when changing resolutions on my satellite box or when changing inputs to another HDMI source. We will talk more about the video performance in the benchmark.
From an operational perspective, the AV8801 was pretty simple to use. Source inputs can be selected just by turning the knob on the front of the processor or by pressing a button on the remote. Sound processing modes are grouped into four categories named Movie, Music, Game and Pure. Pure turns off all processing modes including Audyssey MultEQ XT32. To change to a different processing mode like Dolby PLIIx Movie while watching a movie for example, I simply had to press and hold the Movie button on the remote and a small menu appears on the screen which shows all available processing options for that source.
From a control perspective, the remote that comes with the AV8801 gets the job done and can be programmed to support other devices. The remote is backlit but unfortunately the backlighting isn’t bright enough to illuminate the text above the very small buttons on the remote. Marantz includes a very nice browser-based interface which allows for control and setup of the AV8801. The interface is often quicker to use than the internal setup menus and I would recommend that anyone that owns the AV8801 explore this functionality.
I was able to control the AV8801 from my iPhone and iPad using the free Marantz Remote app, which is available for both Apple iDevices and Android devices. The main interface of the Remote app provides access to power, input, zone selection, and listening modes.
Pressing the current sound mode brings up a list of available sound options that can be selected for the current source. I really wish Marantz would include a similar option to control all the Audyssey settings for a source.
Some of the functionality within the Remote app is not obvious, but a simple press of the question mark icon brings up a screen overlay which provides helpful hints.
The shortcut icons at the bottom of the app are user customizable and it is well integrated with the built-in applications in the AV8801 like Pandora and the Media Server. I appreciated the fact that the Remote app even shows the album artwork. Overall, I liked the Remote app and Marantz has done a great job with it.
On the networking side of things, the AV8801 offers a wide array of options. The vTuner application is included, which allows access to thousands of internet radio stations from around the world. DLNA support is provided for accessing local media servers on your home network. Music services Pandora, SiriusXM and Spotify are included. I explored vTuner, Pandora, and DLNA with the AV8801 and had no problems in accessing my network or the internet. From an interface perspective, the apps are pretty basic and don’t really take advantage of any significant graphics processing to make a more sophisticated or appealing interface.
The AV8801 offers a graphical user interface which allows for quick browsing of music files on USB media. The AV8801 supports WAV, WMA, MP3, FLAC, and ALAC formats. The AV8801 supports Apple’s AirPlay, which makes it very convenient to stream audio directly from your favorite iDevice to the AV8801. The only caveat is that the AV8801 volume control is directly tied to the volume control on the iDevice. You must turn down the volume control on your iDevice or in iTunes or you may be surprised at the sudden jump in volume from the AV8801. I found this limitation to be extremely annoying and I preferred to use AirPlay through an AppleTV directly connected to the AV8801.
The mention of the AppleTV reminds me of my last thought on using the AV8801. I enjoy listening to music in multiple rooms in my home and I used the Zone 2 outputs of the AV8801 to connect to an external amplifier. Marantz still supports only analog connections for Zone 2 but they do provide an option for All Zone Stereo so that you can listen to a digital source in all zones. This sounded like a very reasonable approach to me until I turned on the option. It should really be called “All Zone All Channel Stereo,” since enabling the feature plays every channel in the main zone while also providing a stereo signal for the other zones. While that is a nice option for a party, it’s definitely not what I have in mind when listening to music. I hope Marantz reconsiders how the feature is implemented.
The Marantz AV8801 SSP On The Bench
My standard benchmark tests were done using Direct Mode so that all digital signal processing was off. On tests using the XLR input I measured the XLR preamp output of the AV8801. On tests using an RCA input I measured the RCA preamp output of the AV8801.
At 1 kHz into the XLR input, THD+N was 0.002852%. We see a number of even and odd harmonics as well which continue out into the spectrum, which average about 95 dB below 0 dBFS. As expected, the distortion numbers are low since we are measuring a preamp output. It is interesting to note that the third harmonic dominates the second harmonic on this test.
At 1 kHz into the RCA input, THD+N was 0.009480%. The major difference between this and the previous graph is related to the voltage difference. For a power amplifier with the typical gain of 20 (26db), a 2 VRMS RCA input is required to produce 200 Watts out into 8 ohms. With 2 VRMS balanced as shown in the previous graph, you only have 1 VRMS single ended which is what runs internally inside the AV8801. In this test, we have 2 VRMS single ended which accounts for the higher distortion and higher distortion spurs.
At 10 kHz into the XLR input, THD+N was 0.006671%. We see more distortion spurs at the higher frequencies with the largest peak being the second harmonic at 20 kHz which is almost 80 dB below 0 dBFS. The THD+N value is slightly higher but overall the spectrum is well behaved.
At 10 kHz into the RCA input, THD+N was 0.017012%. We see more distortion spurs at the higher frequencies with the largest peak being the second harmonic at 20 kHz which is 70 dB below 0 dBFS.
The IMD measurement using the XLR input was 0.001833%.
The IMD measurement using the RCA input was 0.001475%.
Here are the results for 19 kHz, 20 kHz combined test frequencies using the XLR input. There is a small visible B-A peak at 1 kHz about 87 dB below 0 dBFS. We see distortion spurs throughout the spectrum with the largest peak being at 18 kHz and around 89 dB below 0 dBFS.
Here are the results for 19 kHz, 20 kHz combined test frequencies using the RCA input. There is a large visible B-A peak at 1 kHz about 68 dB below 0 dBFS. We see significant distortion spurs throughout the spectrum with the largest peak being at 18 KHz and around 44 dB below 0 dBFS.
The frequency response of the AV8801 was ruler flat past 20 kHz and starts to roll-off at 44 kHz.
Here’s the test that was the most surprising of all. When Audyssey MultEQ XT32 is enabled, the AV8801 downsamples the input signal to 24 bit, 48 kHz which results in all information beyond that frequency being discarded. This behavior is not specific to the AV8801, but to all current Audyssey receivers and processors. The issue is not related to the Audyssey algorithms themselves, but rather a limitation of the DSP chipsets used in current products like the AV8801. So does this really matter? It really depends on how much high resolution content you listen to and whether the benefits of room correction outweigh any loss in resolution. The good thing about the AV8801 is that you can turn off Audyssey and perform an A-B comparison for yourself and decide your preference. I would like to give Secrets Dr. David Rich kudos for discovering this limitation by researching the AV8801 service manual. I tested this for him when he was publishing his work on Anthem’s Room Correction (ARC) which does perform room correction out to 96 kHz.
On the video side of things, while the AV8801 passed all of our standard deinterlacing tests, there were some problems with loss of fine detail with the 4:2:2 color space and HDMI. The component video processing side of the AV8801 had some other issues, including the inability to pass whiter-than-white. There was also some loss of fine detail in the burst patterns with component video. If you want the best video results with the AV8801, I would recommend disabling the video scaling.
Conclusions about the Marantz AV8801 Processor
During my review time with the AV8801, Secrets’ Dr. David Rich has had the opportunity to thoroughly review the service manual for the AV8801 and his findings have lead us to ask Marantz some tougher questions about the components that make up the AV8801.
Here’s the last question that Dr. Rich posed regarding the HDAM circuits in the AV8801.
“The marketing material for the AV8801 states that HDAM technology is used in the line driver and that the HDAM is made from discrete blocks and no opamps. Based on my analysis, the actual circuitry has no HDAM blocks and uses two opamps which ultimately define the performance of the circuit. ”
Here is the response from Paul Belanger, Technical Product Manager for Marantz:
“We use a discretely designed circuit in lieu of a standard Op-amp. The HDAM itself is sandwiched between 2 Op-amps in a diamond buffer configuration – the 8801 features 13 of these “discrete” HDAM boards – 1 for each channel. The HDAM SA2 is the circuitry sitting between the OP-Amps and is mainly defining the characteristic of the sound. The OP-Amps might not look best on the data sheet, however in this configuration with the HDAM and current feedback topology it was our choice for a good balance in sound.
Dr. Rich tends to focus very much on singular devices and the data sheets associated with them – Our design philosophy is quite different at Marantz. We use the appropriate component for the outcome and final sound quality we are trying to achieve. He may believe that the 8801 would sound no better than an entry level Yamaha via its preouts based on our choice of volume IC – but I can tell you in my experience, singular components do not make or break the final sound; from overall and surrounding circuit design, vibration resistance, materials to grounding points, there is SO much more involved in building a great sounding piece of audio gear.”
I can’t settle the fundamental debate on component parts between Dr. Rich and Marantz. What I can settle is that the overall goal of a product like the AV8801 is to allow the consumer to enjoy movies and music and it certainly does that very well. My reservations about the two channel audio performance of the AV8801 stem from the perspective that Marantz can do so much better. Marantz makes wonderful reference quality stereo gear and I was personally hoping that they would have included that reference level analog output in the AV8801. I also realize that doing so may have completely blown the price point for the product.
The bottom line is that the AV8801 does its job very well and offers just about every conceivable feature that someone might want including support for 4K. It comes in at a price point which puts it in competition with the Integra DHC-80.3, the Onkyo PS5509, the Yamaha CX-A5000 and Marantz’ own AV7701. If you are looking for a processor, I would certainly recommend that you visit a dealer and give the AV8801 a listen.