A surround receiver is the hub of a home theater. It accepts audio and video signals from all of your sources and outputs them to your display and speakers. Finding a receiver that has all of the features, inputs and outputs that you desire can be challenging unless you have $5000 to spend. But Marantz doesn’t seem to think so and proves it with their under-$2000 SR8500 surround receiver, only one model below their flagship SR9600.
The Marantz SR8500 surround receiver is a clean but beefy looking receiver. Its front panel is free of buttons (with the exception of a power button), with only two control knobs: one for source selection and a second for volume control. Out of sight, navigation buttons can be found behind a front panel door. In practice, this configuration worked very well, at least for me, because changing the source or adjusting the volume are the only settings that I tampered with directly on the receiver. Generally, if I need to access any of the menus, I find the comfortable spot on my couch first. Also on the front panel, are an auxiliary input and a headphone jack. The auxiliary inputs can be covered with an included jack cover further simplifying the receiver’s appearance.
As with any receiver in this price range, the THX-Select certified SR8500 comes with a full suite of sound decoding technology including all incarnations of Dolby Pro-Logic, Dolby Digital and DTS. HDCD decoding is provided for playback of HDCD music discs, but the technology also works with regular CDs by upsampling them. HDCD music discs are encoded using 20 bits as opposed to 16 bits used to encode regular CDs. This results in more dynamic range, a more focused soundstage and natural vocals and musical timbre. In addition, this receiver also comes with Dolby Headphone decoding, a technology that creates a surround experience using any pair of headphones. Make sure to read our Headphone article in this issue for more details on the Dolby Headphone format. Only a handful of receivers can decode this relatively new format so it’s a nice feature to find in this unit. The SR85000 is capable of driving each of its seven channels with 125 watts of power with less than 0.08% THD (20 Hz – 20 kHz) and has a signal to noise ratio of 105 dB. Digital to analog conversion is performed by 24-bit/192 kHz DACs, with Cirrus Logic supplying the dual-chip 32-bit DSP engine. Its chassis is reinforced by a copper-clad double bottom plate to isolate internal circuits from RF interference.
The front display shows all of the information that you would expect from a modern receiver. It also shows the channels that are receiving a signal when a source is playing. The location of the indicator for each channel (on the display) is relative to the position of the speaker in your room. For example, if the input signal is 2 channel PCM audio, the “L” and “R” indicators will be lit up. If the input signal is 5.1 Dolby Digital, the “L”, “C”, “R”, “SL”, “SR” and “LFE” will be illuminated. The indicators are large enough that I could read them from my couch and were very useful in telling me what discrete channels were encoded on each disc that was playing.
But there’s more than good looks to the SR8500. The rear panel hosts more inputs and outputs than the average mid-range receiver, something that will be welcome by those who wish to connect everything they own to this receiver. The panel is neatly divided with the video section located in the top left, audio section in the bottom right and speaker connection and AC input/outlets on the right.
In the video section, you will find 4 of each composite, S-Video and component as well as 2 DVI inputs. Its outputs include 4 composite, 3 S-Video, 1 component and 1 DVI. Basically you could connect all of your standard home theater equipment to this receiver and still have enough space for an Xbox, PS2 and a Gamecube.
On the audio side, there are 7 stereo analog, 3 coaxial and 3 optical inputs. Outputs include 5 stereo analog, and 1 each of coaxial and optical. For multichannel music enjoyment, 7.1 channel analog inputs are also provided for connecting a DVD-Audio or SACD player. The SR8500’s preamp outputs can be used to connect an external power amplifier.
Don’t forget that the front also sports auxiliary input that offers a composite/S-Video input with analog and digital inputs for audio.
A lip sync adjustment is also onboard for synchronizing the audio with the picture. The receiver’s multi-room capability allows you to listen to the same or a different source in another room.
The learning remote controller (RC8500SR) is fully backlit and has a small LCD screen. The LCD screen not only makes the remote look sleek, it makes the remote remarkably easy to use.
I set up the Marantz SR8500 with my Sinclair Audio Brighton speakers and used the Pioneer DV-563A for audio and video playback. As expected from a receiver at this price point, the SR8500 features automatic room calibration, in this case called the Marantz Room Acoustic Calibration (MRAC). This process is accomplished with the help of a supplied microphone. I placed the microphone in my listening position and hit the MRAC button. Following an ambient noise level check, a series of pink noise tests moved from speaker to speaker. I went into the manual speaker settings to see what the MRAC system came up with and it was dead on – a correct balance, volume and distance for each speaker was configured.
It took me almost 10 minutes to find the instructions on how to configure the remote to be able to control my DVD player and television with it, but only a couple of minutes to enter the codes for both devices. At this point, it became clear just how important the LCD screen was in simplifying the remote controller operation. When I pressed the DVD source button, the screen displayed all of the functions related to my DVD player. Similarly, only my television set’s functions appeared when I pressed the TV source button. I could now control all three devices with this single remote with ease. Forget looking for a button on the remote, all relevant functions were displayed on the LCD screen! The functionality of the remote was so intuitive, I learned how to operate this receiver quicker than any other receiver I’ve used in the past.
I began by listening to a selection of music on regular CDs, SACDs and DVD-As. My initial findings, listening to a Romantic Moments with Beethoven DVD-A, were that the SR8500 had a rich and warm character and this proved to be true throughout my listening session. It produced an impressively large and wide-open soundstage during the playback of larger performances. The SR8500 had no problems moving through the entire dynamic range – it did so with precision and excitement. When I popped in high-resolution, multichannel material the window opened even further. The tonal balance was stunning from top to bottom. Subtle sounds, mashed together by some receivers, were clearly audible with the SR8500.
I cranked the volume and played a few DVDs including Star Wars: A New Hope, Behind Enemy Lines and Kung Fu Hustle. The THX intro on the Star Wars DVD was nothing short of breathtaking. The transition from the soft notes to the loud notes was smooth with an incredibly powerful ending, yet without being uncomfortable. The remastering of this film’s soundtrack is spectacular. Thrust of engines and countless explosions had a lot of punch and energy but were well controlled by the SR8500. During scenes from Behind Enemy Lines, the SR8500 did an incredible job at imaging from front to back and left to right as an F-18 Hornet engaged its afterburners through the channels. Sounds of radar and other instruments came through all of the channels over the cruise of the jet’s engine. If you haven’t seen Kung Fu Hustle yet, I strongly recommend that you do. It has Matrix-like fight sequences with humor, drama and an odd but entertaining storyline. It gave the surround channels a great workout: from soft sound effects to weapons slicing through the air to loud explosions. This again showed the SR8500’s ability to handle anything from quiet passages to earth-shaking loud scenes. I was also very impressed by how clear the dialogue coming from the centre channel was during every movie that I watched. I never felt the need to adjust the volume.
If you’re looking for more excitement in your home theater, the Marantz SR8500 may just help you fall in love with the concept of the home theater all over again. At $1900, this receiver offers many features and an extensive number of inputs and outputs not found in other similar priced units. It would make a perfect building block whether you’re setting up your first home theater or looking to bring new life to your existing one.
Marantz SR8500 Surround Receiver
• Power Output (8 Ohm): 125 Watts x 7 channels (<0.08%, 20 Hz – 20 kHz/THD)
• S/N Ratio: 105 dB
• Video input: composite x 5, S-Video x 5, component x 4, DVI x 2
• Video output: composite x 4, S-Video x 3, component x 1, DVI x 1
• Audio input: analog x 8, optical x 5, coaxial x 3
• Audio output: analog x 5, optical x 1, coaxial x 1
• Remote Control: Learning/Pre-coded with LCD screen
• Dimensions (WxHxD): 17-5/16 x 7-1/4 x 18-1/4 inches
• Weight: 33.1 lbs