|Marantz NA7004 Network Player Review|
|Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers|
|Written by Andre Marc|
|Wednesday, 18 May 2011|
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Set Up and Listening:
Setting up the NA7004 was a breeze. I plugged it in using an Element Cable Red Storm AC cable, connected the Ethernet cable, Kimber Hero Ag interconnects, and was ready to roll. The next thing I did was download Twonky, a great UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) software that allows network players to talk to your computer. It scanned the 2TB live soundboard music collection I have stored on several drives in FLAC format, which are connected to my Mac Mini. I then had the NA7004 connect to my home network, find my music collection, and was able to scroll through all the folders with the hand held remote and the front panel controls and OELD display. You can also control the NA7004 via web browser or via the Wiz App on the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. Incidentally, the NA7004 can connect to your network using DHCP protocol or via Proxy. In case you were wondering, the NA7004 is not WiFi capable.
After this brief set up period I was able to enjoy my entire collection by selecting folders and files, hitting play, and sitting back and enjoying full, rich, and very satisfying sound. I was extremely pleased with the sonics, typical of what I have come to expect from Marantz at all price points. It is obvious to me that Marantz made darn sure the internal DAC and analog output stage were high quality, and very well implemented. After a few weeks, I have to admit, I was fully hooked. When I streamed a recent high quality U2 live FM recording from Cape Town, South Africa, the FLAC files sounded phenomenal, with huge, stadium quality bass, plenty of definition, and gobs of “you are there” ambiance.
I then cued up a great live performance from Esperanza Spalding and her amazing band in Paris. I can see why she won that Grammy. This is adventurous stuff, jazzy, rhythmic, and full of virtuosity. Spalding’s death defying bass playing and vocalizing are showcased in some very harmonically complex compositions. But the clincher is that this is still accessible and catchy. Her appeal reaches beyond music nerds. The NA7004 did a fantastic job of preserving the energy of the performance, the vibe present in the venue. Live music is about excitement and the artist communicating with the audience. The NA7004 allowed for all of this.
FLAC files ripped from CDs and stored on and SD card on my Mac Mini streamed to the NA7004 sounded excellent. Various rips from artists as diverse as Ireland’s Clannad, 70’s am gold revivalists Hem, and alternative singer songwriter Jose Gonzalez all sounded every bit as good as their CD counterparts. It was becoming pretty obvious to me the NA7004 was designed to be a versatile performer.
Wanting a taste of “hi-rez” music, namely 96 khz 24 bit files, I called up an HDTracks.com sampler album. While I was unfamiliar with the artists, sonically it was a knockout, with the added depth and dimensionality of higher bandwidth recordings easy to hear. I had the same results with free FLAC files available from other vendors. If by some chance you have files at higher sampling rates than 96 Khz, which I don’t, you can use an external DAC.
Moving on to some of the other features in the NA7004, I loaded up a USB stick with FLAC files and inserted in to the slot on the front panel. It played back all files no sweat. You can also connect an external hard drive, as long as it is formatted in either FAT16 or FAT32 format. This is a great plug and play feature. You can rip various collections to hard drives, and plug in which ever fits your mood. I did notice that the NA7004 was a bit finicky about the type of USB thumb drive. I experienced some stuttering on a few FLAC files when using cheapo no name USB devices. The NA7004 allows for direct connection to a computer via the USB input on the back panel as well.
I decided I wanted to spend some time with online-based features, like Internet Radio and Pandora. I signed up for a Pandora account, a bit reluctantly to be honest. But I am now a believer. You plug in artists you like, and Pandora creates a virtual “station” of that, and similar artists’ music. I created three stations, and miraculously a nonstop stream of tunes emerged. And the sound was very acceptable for a compressed stream. As matter of fact, it was surprisingly good. The same applies to Internet Radio. Quite impressive and amazingly convenient.
I found the Wizz App for the iPod Touch to be really cool as well. It was quick and responsive to commands, and the interface was well done. My one complaint is there seems to be no search function. You have to scroll all the way up or down to get to artists or albums you are interested in, which can get annoying after a while. The browser interface was nice, stripped down, and no frills, which I prefer.
Marantz is very forward looking, and even brave, to offer a product like the NA7004. It is a true digital hub that really knocked me out with its sound quality and feature set. It is very nicely built and in my opinion is worth every penny of the $799 asking price and then some. Firmware upgrades insure the NA7004 can keep up with the changing digital music landscape. I even hope they offer a Reference line version.
The NA7004 is not perfect however. There were several things I was disappointed in. The lack of support for gapless FLAC playback was the biggest issue for me, as I stream a large collection of live music, you can imagine gaps between FLAC files gets old very quickly. Secondly, the lack of AIFF support may turn off some Apple users who prefer it for uncompressed file playback. Lastly, WAV support is limited to 16 bits, which is not really a huge issue as 24 bit 96 Khz WAV file would be huge, and one would be much better served converting it to FLAC. My only other complaint is the WizzApp for iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad can be improved, with some sort of search function included. Some might bemoan the lack of WiFi support, but I really don’t feel WiFi is high fidelity, based on my own comparisons to Ethernet.
Aside from the above, I can easily recommend the NA7004 for those looking for a more complete package than the Logitech Squeezebox, as the unit’s internal DAC, connectivity to external storage devices, and overall build quality put it in another league. It also works with a variety of third party UPnP software packages. I also liked the way it operated like a CD player, but of course it reaches way beyond fixed physical media. The digital inputs and outputs ensure maximum flexibility is granted the user. I say well done Marantz!
Supported File Types: MP3, WMA, MPEG-4 AAC, WAV, and FLAC
DAC: Cirrus Logic CS4398
MFR: 2 Hz – 50 kHz - 3 dB
THD+N: 0.001% @1 kHz
Outputs: RCA Analog, Headphone, Coax, Toslink Optical Digital
Inputs: Ethernet, Coax, Toslink Optical Digital, USB (2)
Dimensions: 14.25" H x 17.4" W x 13.5" D
Weight: 14.33 Pounds
CD Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables: DH Labs Revelation (IC), Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Element Cable Element Cord, (AC) Shunyata Venom (AC) Pangea AC-9 (AC) Audience powerChord e.(AC)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner, Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Salamander rack
CD Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox 3
DAC: CIA VDA-2 with VAC-1 Power Supply
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
Amplifier: Belles Soloist 5, Revox A722
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC), Pangea Audio, RS Cables, Element Cable, Belkin Gold (USB)