Marantz NA7004 Network Player Review 
Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers
Written by Andre Marc   
Wednesday, 18 May 2011

20 years ago source components could be divided into three categories: turntables, tape machines, and digital disc players. That was then, this is now. Today, a source component may have no moving parts and require no physical media to operate.  Two of these types include the music server with a built in ripping drive, and the network player with no internal hard drive. The network player allows you to stream files via Ethernet or WiFi from a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, a computer, or directly from a portable USB hard drive. 

Some of the well known, cost effective network players include the Logitech Squeezebox and the Sonos system, and they have been around for a while. But network players are going upscale, with offerings from established firms like Linn, Naim, Bryston, and startups like Auralati.  To make it all more complex, each company has their own unique approach. For instance the Naim NDX has an on board DAC and digital inputs, while Bryston takes a more purist approach on their BDP-1, with no on board DAC.

The subject of this review is a new network player from Marantz, the NA7004, priced at $799. As you will see, the NA7004 is a very exciting product, especially given the price point. What makes it even more compelling is that there is nothing else like it in the Marantz line, except for a few features found on their AV receivers.  There is also no other competing product at this price point of which I’m aware.  Yes, the Squeezebox Touch is about one third the price of the NA7004, but the analog outputs are in my opinion not high fidelity, which necessitates the purchase of an outboard DAC and digital cable. Plus the NA7004 allows for the direct connection of a computer, IPod, and includes S/PDIF digital inputs, and the Squeezebox does not. 

Marantz NA7004 with remote

The NA7004 is ruggedly built, with the same solid black hybrid case material Marantz uses for its components, except for those in the Reference line. It weighs in at just over 14 lbs and has high quality connectors on the back and front panel. 

There is a lot going on under the hood too. The NA7004 is based on the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) architecture and, via its Ethernet port, can access Pandora, Rhapsody, Napster, and Internet Radio. There are multiple optical and coaxial inputs, one rear panel USB type B input that for direct connection to a computer, and one front panel USB type A slot for iPods/iPhones, external hard drives, or memory sticks.  You can also use AirPlay to wirelessly stream from any networked computer, iPod, iPhone or iPad running iTunes. 

On a performance level, the NA7004 has HDAM circuitry, prevalent throughout the Marantz line.  If you decide to use the unit with an out board DAC, there are also digital outputs. By any standards, this is a pretty complete set of features. And did I mention Bluetooth connectivity and a headphone jack?

The NA7004 handles WAV, FLAC, Mp3, AAC, and WMA formats.  There are some limitations however. With the internal DAC, WAV support is limited to 16 bits. Also, there is no gapless FLAC support, which is a bummer in my opinion. There is also no AIFF support, which I find a bit odd, since many MAC users use AIFF instead of WAV when ripping CDs.  Lastly, sample rates up to 96 Khz are supported.  A simple workaround to these limitations, for those who have music ripped in problematic codecs, is to use iTunes / AirPlay.


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.

Marantz NA7004 back panel

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 NA7004

Conclusion:

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!

Marantz NA7004 Specifications



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
MSRP: $799.99

Reviewer System 1



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

Reviewer System 2



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)






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