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Positive Feedback ISSUE 69
SR7008 AV Receiver and UD7007 Universal Blu-ray Player
as reviewed by Robert Youman
I am still an old school two channel guy, but I have been sitting back and waiting (in the weeds as always). I thought that home theater was a wonderful experience, but I never found myself getting too serious over the quality of sound reproduction that it could offer. For some, a rumbling tumbling dinosaur sounded like a rumbling tumbling dinosaur regardless of the system, but I was always determined to be open minded for the long run.
I have been saving my old multi-channel DVD-A and SACD discs which never sounded quite right on my former surround sound system back in the day. Family and friends continued to drop off both formats on the way to Goodwill. Most were not audiophiles and almost all were transitioning to iTunes for all their home and mobile musical needs. I noticed that a few new Blu-ray music releases were getting rave reviews for sound, but again I never really had a desire to jump into the pool.
Earlier this year, I was invited over to a neighbor's home for a home theater demonstration. The focus was on music - not movies. I was asked to bring some of my DVD-A collection that I have not listened to in years. I also brought along some multi-channel SACDs that I was familiar with and sounded very good on my two channel system.
The key components of this home theater system were the Marantz SR7007 AV Receiver ($1799), Oppo BDP-105 Universal Blu-ray Player ($1199), two pairs of Totem Mites speakers ($775 per pair) and two REL T-7 subwoofers ($999 each).
Bottom line: I was pleasantly surprised if not very excited over what I heard!
My gosh, the aggregate cost of this system was less than one pair of interconnects for my two channel system! Only two boxes and not much wire connecting everything together! This was probably not what most proponents would consider as an expensive high end home theater system, but I did not care. Something special was happening here.
Don't get me wrong, the level of sophistication and refinement compared to the big rig was just not there. Neither were the quality and quantity of the frequency extremes. Midrange reproduction was not in the audiophile team picture. But... it was fun and entertaining and very musical. It got me thinking. Maybe it was time. I needed to hear this or something like this in my own listening room.
The Journey Begins
I have been very fortunate in the last two years to audition and review some very fine Integrated Amplifiers: Pass Labs INT-30A ($7150), Pass Labs INT-150 ($7150), BMC Audio CS-2 ($8390), Simaudio 700I ($12,000) and just recently the Vitus RI-100 ($13,000). The RI-100 review will be published in the next month or two. If you stick to one digital front end, Integrated Amplifiers can support a simple two box solution.
My curiosity got the better of me. I know it was a huge reach and probably for some a disrespectful if not sacrilegious thought, but how would a new top of the line AV Receiver sound in comparison to these high end products for two channel sound? And, how did the multi-channel experience stack up to the two channel experience despite the investment differences? Could it pass the goose bump test for musical enjoyment and emotional connection? Please continue.
There are many fine AV Receivers out there, but after this audition, I was understandably partial to the Marantz sound and I wanted to follow through with additional listening. I called Marantz and was told that the just released Marantz SR7008 AV Receiver ($1999) was the way to go. A SR7008 was soon in transit. Just for grins, I also asked for their top of the line UD7007 Universal Blu-ray Player ($1199). I thought it would be a nice comparison to the Oppo BDP-105.
I also called Oppo and Totem. Again, everyone was up for this interesting combination and review. The BDP-105 and Mites were soon at my door (reviews will follow in the coming months). I used two pairs of Mites for my front and rear speakers. My neighbor let me borrow his REL T-7 subs for a few weeks. I used some older TG Audio power cords, interconnects and speaker cable that I had on hand to support basic wire needs. Audioquest Vodka HDMI cable was used for all HDMI connections. We were ready to go!
System synergy and personal taste are critical when evaluating audio products. This review is based on my subjective requirements, my subjective ears, and my specific system. These combinations of components are only a few data points of many that exist out there. For further insight into my personal biases, check out the "Meet The Writers" section of Positive Feedback Online. Please consider my comments and analysis appropriately.
Let's be clear. This is not a home theater review with comments about video. The focus here is on two channel music reproduction with some additional thoughts on multi-channel. The Marantz products have an incredible list of available home theater features and technology. You can find that list with some excellent descriptions and specifications on the Marantz website.
Marantz SR7008 AV Receiver
The SR7008 is a 9.2 channel 125 Wpc (rated at 8 Ohms) receiver with HDMI, USB, and RCA inputs. XLR inputs are not provided. Set up was remarkably easy for a newbie like me using either a terminal or hard copy users guide. The SR7008 remote was a little busy as you can imagine, but after a few days my fingers were reaching for the volume and other functions without a problem.
For the UB7007 and BDP-105 Universal Players, I was able to connect via both HDMI and RCA inputs. This allowed me to compare the sound using the SR7008 DAC for HDMI and the Universal Player DACs through the RCA single ended inputs.
The SR7008 also provides phono preamp functionality via a pair of RCA inputs.
I connected my VPI Aries Extended turntable, VPI Memorial 12.6 tone arm and Van den Hul Frog high output cartridge. Yes, this is over kill and probably not the typical analog set up for such a system, but it was nice that the SR7008 at least had this added functionality.
One of the advantages of the SR7008 is that it can handle two subwoofers. The REL T-7 subs were easy to dial in using both the Marantz and REL controls. The T-7's were an excellent match for the Totem Mites. I detected very little cross over problems and frequencies from high to low were reasonably seamless—especially at this level of investment. The T-7's were a real bargain and played a significant role in the quality of sound reproduction for this system.
Serious listening began after four weeks of burn in on all the components. Using the unbalanced inputs and thus the Universal Player DACs, I found the sound to be absolutely gorgeous and nicely resolving. Timbre, pitch and level of detail were not quite what I was used to, but I found the overall sound to be very musical and enjoyable. Pace, rhythm and timing (PRAT) were beyond acceptable—my toes were tapping away. Was I connected? Absolutely!
Listening to an audiophile standard like the Muddy Waters Folk Singer SACD, I was very impressed. On the track "Good Morning Little School Girl", Muddy's image was placed dead center with a fair amount of warmth, texture and resolve in his voice. In contrast, midrange performance should not to be confused with the addictive qualities that the Pass Labs INT-30A can provide, but the SR7008 more than held its own.
Buddy Guy on acoustic guitar was definitely sitting in the room to the right though I was not sensing the exact position or size of his image as I can with other amplifiers. Guitar strings had a golden glow with no excessive edge or stridency. Snare drums had just the right amount of splash and sizzle. Again, my toes were dancing away!
Next up was Donald Fagen's Morph The Cat on CD. The title track is a little goosed up on the low end, but if an amplifier can hold on and grip the opening bass guitar line without distortion, you have got something to smile about. The SR7008 and T-7's did this and more. Bass guitar had a wonderful slam and level of inner texture with little or no bloat and overhang. We are not talking Vitus RI-100 bass performance, but I was fully satisfied if not surprised by the quality of output.
I was also pleased by the tone and speed provided when the horn section kicked in. I love it when an amplifier can get proper blat without that ear ringing sensation that digital and solid state are known for on inferior designs.
One additional comment on the SR7008 and UD7007 combination. The Pure Direct Mode option bypasses all the DSP processing. I found the sound to be different but not always better. I experimented with several CDs and SACDs, but the results were so inconsistent to my ears that I left it off for most of the review.
UD7007 Universal Blu-ray Player
The UD7007 is a universal player in that it supports Blu-ray, DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, Super Audio CD, and CD formats. It also provides two HDMI outputs and HDAM balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) outputs for audio. I could only use the unbalanced outputs for this review in that the SR7008 only provides unbalanced inputs on its end. USB and Ethernet ports are provided for software upgrades and streaming functionality.
At 21 pounds, the UD7007 has some decent weight to its design. Build quality was very good, but let's not confuse this with some of the high end Integrated Amps mentioned earlier. Those products look and feel like they were built to military specifications. Again, the remote was well laid out but fairly busy. I had no problem getting quickly acclimated to the feel and basic ergonomics.
The UD7007 has a wonderful rich presentation with superb dynamics and a warm detailed performance. I found the UD7007 in this system was slightly more musical and rounded than the Oppo BDP-105. Maybe this was due to some synergy realized when used with the SR7008. On the other hand, the BDP-105 and its more neutral sound might be a better fit with a different group of components. The BDP-105 also provided slightly better resolution, imaging and soundstage.
For both the UD7007 and BDP-105, I preferred the unbalanced analog RCA outputs over the HDMI outputs to the SR7008. In essence, this means that I preferred the DAC performance in both Universal Players over the DAC in the SR7008. Yes, there are other factors involved like wire choices and settings on all three machines, but I could not ignore the difference. The Universal Player DACs provided a more natural and organic sound across the entire frequency range. My comments below are specific to using the UD7007 and unbalanced RCA outputs.
Listening to the Janis Ian Breaking Silence CD, track 11 "Some People's Lives" is a good test for female vocals and piano. With the UD7007, I found JI's voice to be quite creamy and enchanting - not always the case with other front ends. I did not have to lean forward into the music to hear an excellent level of detail and vibrato. Piano was also lovely with just enough weight and proper timbre to feel transported into the recording venue.
Reference Recordings has always been one of my favorite labels for both sound quality and performance. The CD by Chicago Pro Musica performing Igor Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale" lives up to the legacy for both the label and especially Mr. Stravinsky. This chamber music ensemble with musicians from the Chicago Symphony is in a class of its own IMHO. Recorded in the Medinah Temple in Chicago, this work is usually performed by a large orchestra but I find the interpretation to be absolutely delightful and entertaining.
The UD7007 provides a recording venue that is well defined. I can hear deep into the corners of the Medinah sound stage. Instruments can be placed reasonably well though the sound does not extend well beyond the speakers as it can with other front ends. It feels like am sitting up close and personal to the musicians - maybe tenth row or closer. Instruments sounded lush and well balanced.
The new Blade Runner SACD soundtrack from the Audio Fidelity label is a real winner. Track 11 "End Titles" is so much fun that even my normally shy teenage daughter had to giggle. With the UD7007, Vangelis's synthesizer was explosive and spewing out in all directions beyond the speakers. You could feel the bass drum in both your chest and your arse as it weaved in and out of the music.
Even with all this excitement, the sound was never over the top. There was no edge or enhanced tremble. Not bad for such a humble little system. My suspicions are that the UD7007 had much to do with the stimulating and scintillating dynamics. Ridley Scott would be more than content with the results.
As mentioned earlier, the SR7008 does provide phono preamp functionality via unbalanced inputs. This is limited to moving magnet cartridges or very high output moving coil cartridges. Try as I might with a few phone calls and some searches on the Internet, I could not find any additional specifications or direction for using this option.
My Aries/ Memorial/Frog analog front end worked just fine, but the bottom line is that this phono section is somewhat limited. The soundstage was slightly compressed and tremble was a little on the bright side. Still, some analog qualities still shined through. There was a natural feel and flow to the music that most digital front ends would find hard to duplicate.
My guess is that the development and manufacturing costs to provide this design were on the low side. Still, I applaud Marantz for providing this functionality to the end user as vinyl continues to be a viable and rewarding product in the market place.
One thing that all of these high end Integrated Amplifiers cannot do is to provide a multi-channel listening experience on their own. I dusted off some of my old DVD-A's and even a few newer multi-channel SACD's and sat back for a listen with the UD7007 and AV7008.
For all my multi-channel listening, I used the built in Audyssey MultEQ XT technology to calibrate and equalize settings on the AV7008. This customized the audio performance specifically to my listening room. Audyssey calibration made a significant difference - especially for rear channel and bass quality. Surprisingly, for two channel sound I preferred my own settings after tweaking the default settings by ear.
Over the years, I have read rave reviews about the Eagles Hotel California DVD-A. I never understood what all the commotion was about until now. The title track in this multi-channel mix is significantly different from the two channel mix but it might be even more rewarding to my ears. Purists may not agree.
The key difference is the guitar mix. On two channel formats (LP and CD), Don Felder and Glen Fry are together on both channels - somewhat of a layered effect. The DVD-A separates them and places them individually on left and right channels. This allows both to really pop out and shine. This additional separation and possibly the high resolution format adds a tremendous amount of clarity and breathes new life into the track.
Henley's voice also seems much better defined with a more pronounced level of texture and detail. Drums and bass are nicely distributed with tremendous slam and impact. Nice!
The Roxy Music Avalon multichannel SACD is a revelation. So good that you might speculate that this was the format that Brian Ferry and company had in mind from the beginning. Again, you have to wonder if it's all about the high resolution format or if the new mix is responsible for this extraordinary new sound experience. Probably both.
"More Than This" is an absolute stand out for me. The multi-channel mix provides so much more air and space that it almost sounds like a different song. Separation, clarity and crispness are three words that come to mind. Ray Manzanera's guitar never sounded better. The effect is a haunting dream like landscape that will make you smile from ear to ear.
A friend brought over a Blu-ray release that he said might open both my eyes and ears when considering multi-channel possibilities. Entitled Bach: Goldberg Variations Acoustica by the AIX All Star Band, this release is available on the AIX Records label. This is a Jazz sextet interpretation of Johann Subastian Bach's famous classical work for harpsichord and it's a killer! Not sure if the performance is everyone's cup of tea, but the acoustics are outstanding.
Talk about dynamics! This is the real deal! Rear channel sound was more prominent than most of the other multi-channel CDs and SACDs that I have heard and it made a difference.
Every instrument came through with a level of transparency and immediacy that had me wanting more. Piano is always a difficult instrument to reproduce digitally, but AIX got it right with some of the best combinations of weight and harmonics that I have heard - easily giving any audiophile vinyl recording a good run for the money. From a performance perspective, of special note was Kevin Axt with some delicious and very creative bass solos.
I must say that this adventure was well worth the time and effort. I was definitely enlightened! The Marantz SR7008 AV Receiver and UD7007 Universal 3D Blu-ray Player easily passed the goose bump test for two channel sound reproduction. No, they may not have been as refined and articulate as some of the high end products that I have owned and auditioned (at typically several times the price), but they are both extremely musical and provide a satisfying and rewarding alternative. This is a small two box footprint solution that can provide plenty of flexibility. Both are loaded with the latest audio and video features, leading edge technologies and can provide outstanding performance value.
I know that I am way behind the curve on Home Theater. Most advocates are probably dismissing this late call for a reservation. After my multi-channel experience with these products, I must now reconsider my priorities. I was absolutely delighted with the sound and emotional connection that was realized. My two channel system will not be going anywhere, but without question, I will soon be building a new home theater system and an appropriate second listening room. Hold on to those old DVD-A releases and I strongly recommend that you consider checking out music on multi-channel SACD and Blu-ray! Robert Youman
Marantz SR7008 AV Receiver
Marantz UD7007 Universal 3D Blu-ray Player