|Marantz SR7200 Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Monday, 01 July 2002|
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The surround mode offers a source direct option, where the source is fed straight to the output via minimal necessary processing --- not as direct as the seven-channel input, but pretty close --- a night-time mode and a whole bunch of other modes. These can be cycled through with the remote or from the unit itself at any time with the big left-hand knob. They are: Auto,- which works out what the source is, generally correctly; Stereo,- which bypasses any surround processing and mixes down any surround information to two-channel (and it is interesting to note that the converters in this unit will all handle 24-bit, 96 kHz signals, which many DVD-V and DVD-A players will deliver, and the left and right front converters will do 192 kHz,- which would of course be ideal for the highest-quality DVD-A stereo recordings if there were some method of connecting the player digitally, but that facility is only just arriving); Dolby,- which features both Dolby Pro Logic II and regular Pro Logic capabilities; DTS; 6.1 Surround, which supports Dolby EX and DTS-ES; a set of the usual synthesized DSP Modes, which I personally never use; a Virtual mode, which does quite an interesting job of recreating a surround effect if you only have two speakers; six-channel stereo, which generates a surround signal from two-channel source material; and, finally, Circle Surround 5.1, which will do a creditable job of decoding two-channel non-Dolby matrixed surround (such as the Ambisonic UHJ technology used by Nimbus and others) into 5.1, and producing a surround effect from stereo.
The first thing I noticed about the Marantz SR7200 was, once again, that it was an excellent performer for its price range. I tried it on two speaker systems: my standard JBL rig, with the assistance of the Morel active sub (reviewed previously), and the RBH satellite/sub system (also reviewed earlier). In both cases, I was particularly impressed by the bass handling, which was firm yet full, and the transient handling, which was also exemplary. The cannons at the end of the new Telarc 1812 (I used the SACD version) rattled the windows effectively and once again underlined excellent transient handling.
The top end was clean and very well defined, and the midrange was smooth and well integrated. Talking of integration, the 100 Hz sub crossover frequency suited both the Morel sub and the RBH system extremely well, with no serious lumps or dips in the response with a standard sweep test. Stereo imaging was what I would expect from the two speaker systems, notably stable and accurate with the RBH system, where the smaller drivers tightened up localization and indicated that the receiver was not a limiting factor in this respect. Tracks from Bucky Pizzarelli’s Swing Live on DVD-A backed up my early impressions on the accuracy of localization. At serious levels, the 105 watts of power per channel delivered the goods, with plenty of oomph and no unpleasant effects. My now-standard test track from Alan Parsons’ On Air revealed that the bass management system in the 7200 behaved correctly, with no bass being thrown at my smaller speakers. I ran some relevant tests contained on the Chesky Ultimate DVD Surround Sampler & 5.1 Setup Disc (see separate review) and the 7200 handled them all well.
Both of my DVD players are capable of delivering 24-bit, 96 kHz digital audio to an external receiver, and comparing the 7200’s converters with those in my recently-acquired Kenwood DV-5700 DVD-A player (which costs over twice the price of the 7200) indicated that the 7200 handled this part of the digital audio reproduction process very well, but not quite at the level of the higher-priced Kenwood DVD-Audio unit.
To test the Circle Surround’s decoding capability, which is not particularly common on a receiver, I played some CDs from UK record company Nimbus, which has recently returned to the marketplace. Nimbus was for many years the best vinyl pressing company in Britain and was the first UK manufacturer of CDs (in fact, the second CD they pressed was one I engineered and produced). Virtually all Nimbus Records releases have been made with a two-channel matrix version of the British-designed Ambisonic process, which is related to the technology Chesky used on Swing Live and some other albums. Although the two-channel version of Ambisonics is less common these days (just as Dolby Pro Logic and other two-channel surround encoding schemes have been largely superseded), it is still extremely effective.
Circle Surround uses a very similar technique and decodes the information to a 5.1 speaker system. I used the Nimbus Ambisonic Demonstration Disc (a special sampler made for Mitsubishi in 1991), Nimbus Natural Sound Volumes 1 and 2, and a very early Nimbus CD, Bacchanales by the Equale Brass, plus Alan Parsons’ Ambisonic album Stereotomy, and a couple of my own CDs mixed with the technology. I noted that, although not quite as stable as my own Ambisonic decoder, localization in the Circle Surround mode acquitted itself very well, and was noticeably superior to other two-channel matrix decoding schemes provided in the unit. It also did a nice job of wrapping regular stereo sources around the room.
I was pleased to note that patching video through and around the 7200 did not result in any noticeable video signal degradation. In addition to experiencing the SR7200 in daily use for a few weeks, including all my usual sources such as digital satellite, CD, and DVD-A/V, I also tested the unit with some DVD sources I know to have impressive, full-range soundtracks. “The Fifth Element” (regular version, Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment) is a particularly good example here, and was actually the very first thing I played to check the system. The deep rumbles out in space associated with the evil object, the attempts to destroy the menace, and the operatic scene, in which the diva’s stage performance is rapidly intercut with mayhem below decks, exhibited the good bass handling and transient capability of the unit, even at high levels, just as had been experienced with music source material.
Performance on both Dolby AC-3 and DTS soundtracks was exemplary, with DTS having the edge in most cases, as would be expected. The classic T-Rex footfalls in the original “Jurassic Park,” a good example in DTS of the cinematic use of the Low Frequency Effects channel, came through loud and clear, without apparent distortion or lack of ability to deliver the power required. The 7200 actually has a good, massive power transformer, the power supply often being the limiting factor in these cases. While not as hefty as the one in the Denon unit I reviewed a few months ago, the transformer in the 7200 is once again better than you can usually expect in this price range.
I could find very little wrong with the 7200, especially when you consider the price. To criticize the lack of subwoofer frequency choices under the circumstances would be churlish, as would criticism of the lack of a built-in remote control library to accompany the remote’s learning function, as- the remote in general being an extremely creditable effort (and I’m notoriously difficult to please on this front). Vinyl fans might complain about the lack of phono input, but I certainly wouldn’t make a big issue of it. If you were going to play LPs on a system receiver like this, you’d likely look to an aftermarket, outboard phono section costing nearly as much as the receiver.
The big deal with the Marantz SR7200 is that it behaves like a much more expensive unit. It’s unusual to see so many useful features,- notably the digital inputs, onscreen display, multi-zone operation, etc.,- on a unit so comparatively inexpensive, and yet the sound is there, too. My only criticisms are minor niggles. As a result, I think I could happily recommend this unit to anyone looking for those apparently impossible combinations of features, sound and low price. Value for money is where this unit excels, and if you are looking in this price range, I think I can confidently say that it would be difficult to find such a fully-featured unit elsewhere. You should certainly check it out. Congratulations to Marantz for an excellent piece of work.