Some thoughts on the 8801…
While I set it up on Christmas day, I've also been very busy with holiday affairs and reconfiguring my theater with new wides and removing a wall unit. But over the past few days, I've spent time listening to some movies, concerts, and DirecTV content. My previous processor was the Integra 80.3. Mind you that I changed my speaker and room configuration recently, but a fair about of listening was done with the prior setup, the same as was used with the Integra.
In short, I find the 8801 a refined, immersive and expressive piece of gear, really a worthy and notable upgrade from the 80.3, which is in and of itself a great processor.
Some of the qualities that I've experienced with the 8801 include:- Detail:
After a short while, you begin to realize one of the root characteristics of the enveloping sound is the amount of detail you are experiencing. If the sound the Integra painted was against a very dark grey, the Marantz canvas seems black in comparison, so the subtleties and nuances are more audible and engaging. Several lab scenes in Avatar revealed environmental cues that, if there before, did not contribute to the sound like the Marantz conveyed.- Effortlessness:
I would never accuse the 80.3 as having a grainy sound, but the 8801 sound is, well just velvety, buttery, and neutrally smooth. This is especially apparent with vocals, but noticed this with a number of music Blu Rays, including Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds Live at Radio City Music Hall.- Spatial Accuracy:
I was watching the first 15 minutes of Monsters, Inc., and dialog placement in relation to the characters positioning on screen was outstanding - if a character was 1/4, even an 1/8 off center, the sound was there; crossing the soundstage from left to right perfectly matched the dialog pan. In Stop Making Sense, as the camera circles the stage while David Byrne remains at front singing, the audio path sweeps along with great precision. Obviously, these are examples first and foremost of a great mix, but this was a quality I wasn't looking for - it just revealed itself. Dialog isn't just in the middle, it's where it needs to be.- Envelopment:
With well mixed sources, and after an Audyssey Pro 10-point calibration, the surround sound field is the aural equivalent of being in the middle of planetarium - immersed in points of sound instead of light, but always pocketed within the dome. I feel it's more engaging than the 80.3 in this regard, though occasionally the rears almost seem too hot. I'm not convinced heights are doing much, but a lot more testing to do, and they are pretty small M1's that have no chance against the Diamonds beneath them.
On the negative side:
- I think the GUI is not befitting of a processor of this cost, and there aren't as many configuration options as one gets with the 80.3 (temporary levels, Audyssey Movie and Music modes, more crossover options, more manual EQ bands, etc.) The THX mode was also nice on the Integra at times, as some of the modes and options worked well for me especially on TV content.
- I find the HDMI ports very loose - I've tried three different brands of connectors, and all can slip out easily I purchased some HDMI locks and installed them, though the spacing of the connectors does not allow me to fit the last one for some reason.
- Like the 80.3, this is not a grounded unit.
- I also wish they would have provided a printed manual - printing out the manual at home was laborious, and its never as convenient to read through than a properly bound manual.
- I find some of the Music modes interesting - I'm hearing more of an ambience. almost a reverb, with the Neo X and DSX modes for music that I definitely did not hear with the 80.3. This is a mixed bag, especially when there is varied media content - normal dialog (say in a music documentary) can have a slightly echoey effect in these modes when the environment indicates it should be relatively dry. This subtle artifact disappears completely when using the equivalent Movie modes. There may be some settings I have discovered yet, but wanted to make note of this. For actual music content, the Music modes sound fantastic.
- Finally, I don't like the method of choose surround modes, as at the moment, I don't see how this translates well to a third party remote. Using the Marantz remote, you press and hold for about three second any one of four master surround buttons - Movie, Music, Game, and Pure. This brings up a menu, by which you than either click the same button again repeatedly to cycle downward through the available modes depending upon source content, or alternatively, use the up/down directional arrows to select. Integra's use of a Home button, which put the most often used Listening Modes, Audyssey Controls, and Status options in a more conventional press/navigate buttoning scheme translates better, at least to my Roomie Remote. Marantz would do good to re-look at this, though at this point the buttons are hardwired into the remote…
Like the 80.3, I can easily configure and control the 8801 via IP from my Roomie Remote iOS app. I've had no issues triggering my McIntosh and Marantz amps using the trigger jacks. I've not tried the Marantz RCA remote connection yet.
I've not run my color meter, but I see no degradation in video quality (looks a little better if I were forced to keep one and toss the other in the river). Since I'm going through a Lumagen Mini 3D and a Darblet, I've not tested the 4k scaling, buy my Sony VPL-VW1000es does a fine job of that.
In certain ways, the 8801 is much closer to Classé SSP-800, with several benefits the Classé does not possess. Regardless, the 8801 offers an elevated, luxurious sound that enriches a system and room that is capable of passing on what the Marantz delivers.