Marantz NR1403 Review
By Luther Ward
By Luther Ward
Home theater like most things is not a black or white thing but a lot of gray. What should I buy? What do I need? How much is too much? Is this OK? The list goes on and on. The one question you must take into consideration is how good is good enough. There will always be someone with more and someone with less, regardless of what you’re talking about. The trick is figuring out where you want to be, at least for the moment. For those of you looking to put together your first 5.1 home theater system or those that just want a nice simple no hassle 5.1 system, keep reading on about the Marantz NR1403. If you have been in the audio/home theater realm at any level, you have heard of Marantz. Most of us have grown up with the name that is synonymous with quality and innovations. From high end audio to entry level home theater and all points in between, we have come to expect great things from Marantz’s lineup. Take a look at these high points and then read on.
•Slim design with half the height of traditional receivers
•5.1-channel AV receiver, 50 watts per channel
•Audyssey MultEQ automatic speaker calibration
•Six HDMI inputs (including one front-panel input)
•Built-in 3D pass-through support for playing 3D videos
•Two digital inputs (one optical, one coaxial)
•Intuitive, on-screen "Setup Assistant" for easy installation
Build Quality and Appearance
In a world of big bulky and heavy receivers the Marantz’s new Slim Line series that is only a tad over 4” tall almost seems small. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It fits easily into cabinets, on shelving or by your TV. The clean lines and modern face look nice in most any décor and maybe more importantly blends in without the “hey look at me” façade making it home friendly.
Even with the smaller fascia on the NR1403, you still get all the controls you really need on the front panel. The large knob on the left is your input selector and the large knob on the right your volume control. Then the row of control buttons below the display, which is easy to read. There is a headphone jack on the left for late night listening or when others are sleeping. You even get an HDMI jack on the face for hooking up a gaming console or other input.
About the only fault I can find, and it is more a personal observation than a fault, is the remote. I know this is an entry level receiver but the remote just feels like a toy. It only weights a few ounces and that is with the batteries. I almost wanted to put a couple metal washers inside to give it more of a substantial feel. Now having said that, the remote is laid out well and easy to use even one handed.
The N1403 splits the sources into two groups. The analog video inputs (CBL/SAT, DVD, Blu-ray) only output via the analog video out. The HDMI (CBL/SAT/ DVD, Blu-ray, Game, Media Player) output via the single HDMI out. Note I said a single HDMI out, so you only have one option at a time for viewing. I’m pretty sure Marantz was thinking of a basic 5.1 using a TV. A projector would most likely put you outside the price point of a simple system, but if you have one you are not dead in the water, but it would require you to manually switch the cables between the TV and projector. There are also additional digital inputs by way of an optical and a coaxial input.
You get five discrete channels to drive your speakers (Front L&R, Surround L&R, and Center) each with five way binding posts. A very nice feature found on the NR1403 is front L&R line level outputs that allow you to add an external amplifier for your mains. This makes upgrading a simple task. I commend Marantz for adding this feature not normally found on an entry level receiver.
Setup / Auto Room Correction
The fun really begins once you plug the receiver in and start the out of box. This is one of the easiest receivers I have ever set up. From plugging it in to watching a movie was only about 15 minutes with the easy to follow on screen setup.
The getting started guide is an actual paper manual. I like being able to hold on to something I’m reading while doing the initial setup. The actual owner’s manual is on CD. I wish they would have provided it as a paper manual too, but I’m just being picky.
Even someone who has never setup a receiver can do this. You start by putting the batteries in the remote control. Next plug your cable (not provided in the box) into the receiver and then the TV. Buy the cable that works for your installation; HDMI or composite video cable. Turn the TV on and select the input from the NR1403. Now plug in the supplied power cord to the receiver, then into a 120v AC outlet and turn the receiver on.
Now press setup on the remote control and then select Setup Assistant. There will be a series of prompts to walk you through the system setup. You use the enter button and surrounding arrow buttons to make your selections. The first selection is language; English or Spanish.
Next are speaker connections. Click on Next to move through the screens. First you hookup the Front Right speaker wires to the receiver. There is a picture diagram shown on screen so you know which red and black terminals to use. Note: again you must supply the speaker wire. It does not come with in the box. Each series of screens walks you through your front left and right speakers, the center channel speaker (it will ask you have one), surround left and right speakers (it will ask if you have them) and the subwoofer (it will ask if you have one).
Now your speakers are ready for calibration. It is time for the Audyssey MultEQ technology to calibrate your system. The screen prompt will have you plug the supplied microphone into the front of the receiver. The system will not let you proceed until it detects the microphone. The screen prompt will have you place the microphone in the first of six listening positions. A series of test tones will be played for each location. After each position the screen will tell you where to place the microphone next. Once all positions are completed it will take a couple minutes for Audyssey MultEQ to compile the data and make the necessary adjustments to the receiver.
You’re almost finished. You just need to go through Input Setup. There will be options on screen for CBL/SAT, DVD, Blu-ray, GAME, MEDIA PLAYER, CD, and TV AUDIO. Use the arrow buttons on the remote to pick the items you want to hookup. A screen will be shown on where to hook up that piece of equipment. Once all the pieces are connected, press the setup button and you are ready to enjoy your new home theater system.
For my setup I used a mix of speakers to see how well the Audyssey MultEQ could handle it. I used a pair of B&W CDM9NT for the mains, a Martin Logan Cinema center channel, JBL SAT2 surrounds and a Danley Sound Labs DTS-10 subwoofer. For sources I used a Oppo BDP-83, cable TV box and a Sony Wii game console.
I sampled only four positions and skipped the last two for my room. Audyssey MultEQ did very well getting the range of speakers balanced for listening in multiple locations. The sound was spot on and worked well for both movies and 2-channel music.
Speaking of music, I found to get the best sound I switched from Stereo to Direct (pure). This you may do from the remote control, so it is easy to sample back and forth and hear instantly the difference. With Direct there was more separation in the music, depth and a larger soundstage. This is impressive from an entry level receiver. The 50 watts per channel had no problem driving the B&W CDM9NT, even being only 89dB efficient, to beyond normal listening levels.
Note: this is the basic setup procedure. There are advanced setup and additional features found in the owner’s manual starting on page 43 with placement of speakers in your room. Then additional functions like sleep timer, dual backup memory, and front panel lock. There are detailed settings including M-Dax that helps to uncompressed mp3 music, naming sources, and a handy feature called dynamic volume to compensate for large variations in volume levels between TV shows, commercials and movies.
Adele - Live at Royal Albert Hall
If you have listened at all to the radio in the last couple years, you have heard Adele. Her powerful songs like Set Fire To The Rain and Rolling in the Deep touch your heart and trigger emotions in most all of us. Now we experience a new side to Adele. Playing this CD or the Blu-ray brings her into your home speaking from the heart and as she puts it just being mates sitting around eating take away. Her speaking voice is more a street savvy girl from a dodgy flat in Essex but her singing voice is magical. The NR1403 produced vocals that were crisp, clean and a little forward bringing her right into the room. You get the richness of her voice and the emotion of the crowd. You are there taking in the Royal Albert Hall. TIP: use the Direct audio setting and the audio shines giving you all the detail and not getting in the way of the music.
Porcupine Tree - In Absentia
Ok time to take it up a notch or two. This one may not be as familiar to most of you but Steven Wilson is a musical genius pushing the boundary of progressive rock. The first cut, Blackest Eyes starts with a wicked guitar riff that had me pushing the power and the NR1403 delivered with serious punch. For those of you that want to turn it up to eleven, this is where you add your external amp and get as much power as you want. For the rest of us the receiver plays louder than you would want to stay in the room.
Zuill Bailey - The Bach Cello Suites
Now we go to the opposite end of the music spectrum. Classical music is complex and each musician brings his own interpretation, feeling and emotion to it. This can be difficult for an audio system to capture and bring to life. For me this makes classical music a great way to test the capabilities of an audio system. The Bach Cello Suites are one of my favorite pieces. For years János Starker was my go to cellist for Suite No. 1 In G Major, but Zuill Bailey brings new emotion and warmth to the piece. The NR1403 did a great job bringing this music to life. There was good depth, the strings had a nice resonance, and the notes hung on air with realistic decay.
James Bond - Skyfall
Time for some nitty gritty and what we all do with our receivers; watch movies. For me the latest edition to the James Bond saga is the best. It is closer to the books and less campy than some of the earlier Bond films. Not only the story but this movie is feast for the eyes and ears. The NR1403 did a fantastic job letting the cinematography shine through. The night-time sequences in Shanghai and Macao were rich and sumptuous; the cityscapes of Turkey and London real; and you could almost feel the cold of an overcast Scotland.
This brings me to the sound; in a word, brilliant. The explosions had impact, the bullets screaming by and tires screeching. This is what I live for. I found myself looking left and right at times when something startled me from the surrounds. But we know there are more to movies than the adrenaline rush. The voices were easy to understand and the music blended seamlessly. The NR1403 gave a complete soundstage without being gimmicky or taking away from the movie.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Having spent years in higher end audio I was excited to spend some time with the NR1403. To get back to the roots of a simple no fuss 5.1 system. I must say I was impressed with what Marantz has packed into their Slim Line chassis. It proved what I have said many times, “contentment comes not from what you have but knowing what you can live without.” While not for everyone, the NR1403 is a solid receiver for those looking to put together an entry level 5.1 system. It simply does what it was designed to do. It gives you a good foundation to build your system and gives you some flexibility to expand, there by extending the time you may use it. You can run through basic setup and start watching movies in short order. If you're a tweaker, there are advanced options that allow you to fine tune the system. For some of you this will be all you will ever want and for the rest of you, there is always your next Marantz.
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