It’s a tough job being a modern-day AV receiver, what with all manner of high definition demands coming from all directions. The AV receiver’s role used to just be looking after the processing of analog surround sound, but that’s largely a distant memory. Video upscaling, deinterlacing, analog-to-digital switching, not to mention the demands of high definition audio and all the data that HDMI throws back and forth, means today’s AV receiver has well and truly got its work cut out.
Marantz has enjoyed a niche of sorts over the many years it’s been producing AV surround sound hardware, and it’s one that other manufacturers have only relatively recently woken up to. Surround sound is one thing, but music is a different matter all together. Marantz AV gear has always sounded great with all channels blaring, but if all you desire is traditional stereo performance it has delivered that in spades too.
The SR5003 carries on this heritage and adds all the features the avid HD digital video or audiophile demands. Priced at $1,599 and occupying the middle of Marantz’ AV receiver range, the 5003 is aimed squarely at the user who doesn’t necessarily want the top-deck, most powerful mega-receiver, but doesn’t want to miss out on much either. This is the sort of AV receiver that strikes a nice balance.
Three HDMI inputs and one output are fairly standard in number and the 5003 is capable of upscaling and deinterlacing video from all analog input and outputting it at 1080p over HDMI to a display. On the audio side, the 5003 includes onboard decoding of Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, DTS-HD Master Audio and 7.1 multichannel PCM from Blu-ray. Power output is rated at 7 x 90 watts per channel, and Marantz doesn’t usually exaggerate this figure.
Audyssey’s MultEQ auto-calibration is a nice one-touch inclusion and it’s one of the better auto setup functions out there. Marantz has also included a couple of DSP rarities – namely Neural Surround THX and SRS Circle Surround II. Both are stereo-to-surround enhancers, but as yet not often licensed and used by other manufacturers. And for the audio purist there’s a Pure Direct Mode that switches off all but the necessary audio processing circuits, plus the 5003 will give MP3 audio files a boost with its M-DAX digital audio expander.
The remote control handset is a reasonable unit and it’s nice to see backlit buttons, which isn’t always the case, but absolutely necessary especially if you’re using projected video in a dark room.
The Audyssey calibration worked a treat and is so simple to use, plus it’s accurate. As per my testing norm, I started out with music – this is Marantz after all. Rhythmically it’s no slouch and carries on the Marantz tradition of being able to hold a tune. Playing a Super Audio CD or high-quality conventional CD, the Marantz’ bass lines have excellent speed and extension, and the amplifier is fully able to convey the weight and power of a symphony orchestra. It offers an extended frequency range too, which enables it to handle a good variety of recordings, and reproduce wide-open, atmospheric and above all, natural, sound.
This flair continues with movies, with the Marantz extracting ample crispness and energy from moving picture soundtracks. Its onboard decoding, regardless of the flavour, produces good sound steering and accurate effects placement, something that’s clearly audible when playing the BD of Wanted. Encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, this no-brainer action is very entertaining and the Marantz handles the big audio moments without any problem. It manages big dynamic shifts well and those 90 watts sound like they’re all being delivered – I pushed the 5003 to a whisker of ‘reference level’ (very loud, at around 105dB) and the Marantz remained unflustered; it was quite happy to be tested to this limit, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so for long – for the sake of both the amp and your ears.
The receiver’s i-Chips Technology-based video engine works well too. In the interest of research, I upscaled good old analog 480i Laserdisc to 1080p and it looked, well, like upscaled analog video, but with the appearance of somewhat higher resolution than the original source material can offer on its lonesome. High definition video is best viewed in its native resolution so stick with Blu-ray and ‘proper’ 1080p. If you’re a tragic and still watch the likes of Laserdisc or videocassettes, then make use the upscaling.
There’s much to like about this mid-priced Marantz. It will handle all the latest audio formats and comes with a few unexpected features to boot. Build-quality and the new look design face also impresses, making the SR5003 a sound choice for any mid-level AV system that’s to be used as much for music as it is movies.