So here goes in the way of a "preliminary" review (though I doubt there will be a more in-depth one later......) for perhaps the few dozen people worldwide who may actually have an interest comparing super high end processors circa 2004 to a modern mid-market receiver.
Suffering lingering dissatisfaction the usual audiophile has if they don't own some rarer / uber-expensive brand, I set out to see if I could do better than the Marantz SR5005 receiver (circa 2011) I have been using as a preamp / processor for mainly home theater duties. Having upgraded the speakers to Magnepans (1.7 fronts / MMGC / MMG for side / MMG-W rears), I thought I would do more 2 channel listening, and therefore should seek out something better.
Therefore the primary criteria was something that would better do 2 channel listening, rationalizing that if all was better here, that multichannel would fall in place. This is not 100% true as multichannel will usually rely on the DPS / DAC, etc chips and therefore there's that to consider. BUT, I figured that the usual pops, bangs and booms of a movie were less critical than the 2 channel reproduction, though I'm sure some home theater & multichannel audio buffs will beg to differ.
Some additional criteria in my selection:
1) Price should be at or under $1,000. The Marantz I have may be worth $400 currently on the used market, so I wasn't willing to spend much more than double, as I'm a cheapskate & I doubted anything was going to sound more than twice as good.
2) I am willing to give up automated room correction, HDMI and the latest DTS-HD + DD-Trued HD codecs, but the processor must support all the other common formats.
Giving up ARC to some here has been a substantial bone of contention some feel that giving up Audyssey flavors is a hugh step backward and a big mistake. My personal experience and polling of users, reviewers, dealers is that Audyssey and the like is not always a 100% slam dunk, and that many had been able to set things up well without it. That's a whole debate I'd prefer not to get back into.
As for HDMI, that can be achieved at more inconvenience with a switcher.
DTS-HD / DD-TRUE HD. These can be achieved with a blu ray player w/ 7.1 channel outputs. Which brings me to criteria #3
3) Must have 7.1 channel inputs & outputs. Furthermore, I limited it to units with 7.1. BALANCED outputs, as I have a Krell amp & it prefers balanced inputs (less hum & other issues).
4) Focusing mostly on the "high-end" and "super-high-end" brands. The rationale was that these SHOULD
have a better preamp section to justify their megabuck original price tags than mass market brands.
Given all of the above, I focused on perhaps two of the better known brands : Krell and Anthem. Some worthy brands such as EAD, Proceed, Lexicon, Classe, Theta didn't make the cut because either they were above the budget, or else lacked some of the key features mentioned above.
Here is what I did use / buy, with more comment on each. This is again for 2 channel stereo comparison - I have not done a comparison for multichannel audio.1) Marantz SR5005 / New MSRP: $800 / Bought: $500 2011 / Used Value: $400 approx.
2) Marantz AV7005 / New MSRP: $1500 / Loan from dealer / Used Value: $1000 approx
3) Krell Showcase Processor / New MSRP: $4000 / Bought: $800 / Used Value: Probably $750 with remote. Ebay sometimes at $650, but without remote
4) Anthem AVM 30 / New MSRP: $3000 / Bought: $330 / Used Value: Probably $400.
5) Anthem D1 / New MSRP: $5000 / Bought: $585 / Used Value: Probably $625Associated Equipment / Set-Up:
Bel Canto 1.5 DAC w/ Squeezebox Duet modded and with AR-T powersupplySpeakers:
Totem Arros (no did not use Magnepans - it was easier to do the set up in the room w/ the Totems)Amplifier:
Krell Showcase 7Cables:
Interconnects : XLR Z500 Liberty Cable OCC & Wireworld Oasis 6 XLR & RCA; Speaker Cable: Acoustic Zen OCC
All processors were plugged into the same Furman DST-8D strip using the dedicated digital outlets, all using the same Wireworld Aurora 5 power cable, and all let to warm up at least 15 minutes before use.
All processors were used in their purest / most direct inputs with the same XLR cables. The Marantz(s) only do singled ended for input, though the AV7005 has "fake" balanced output, whereas the SR5005 only has singled ended / RCA output. The Wireworld Oasis 6 is a higher grade interconnect vs the liberty cable, so the Marantz(s) were not handicapped.
Music: Steely Dan, Two Against Nature, Tracks 3-7. I use this album as a demo album because its mostly well recorded, has a mix of rock / pop / and jazz elements, with lots of different instruments & rhythms. As these are mostly the class of music I listen to. It is NOT my favorite SD album, nor is SD my favorite artist.
1) Marantz SR5005 :
Good tonality & soundstage & bass. Did not match well with the Krell amp because of a hum over singled ended input - though this is likely as much the fault of the Krell than the Marantz. With that said, it was very listenable and more than pulled it's weight for the price.
Likely these comments would be the same for the SR6005 as they are mostly the same w/ the exception of more power and a few extra features.
2) Marantz AV7005
: Sonic signature is obviously similar to the SR5005, but more clean & refined. If I had to put it in #'s, I'd say a 25% improvement over the SR5005. Most of the grain of the SR5005 is removed. As this is a processor vs a receiver, I imagine part of that is removing the amplifier section. The other key differences from peering in the case is that the AV7005 has a better toroidal transformer, and seems to use a few more audiophile grade caps. I saw some Elna gold caps in the AV7005 that weren't in the SR5005. So in other words, better power supply pays dividends.
Both the Marantz's are attractive w/ a minimalist front panel design in contrast to the Anthems. The remote is decent & lighted, but with some many same size buttons, can be a challenge to manage.
So, is the AV7005 twice as good as the SR5005 at almost twice the price? Probably not. But in dollar terms if you're talking maybe $600 net between the two, the sound quality difference & extra features of the AV7005 may very well be worth it to you - particularly if you have a sensitive pair of ears.
3) Krell Showcase Processor:
"Clear" but also too bright / sibilant at times. The thinnest sound by far of all the processors. Soundstage was farther back than the other processors. Snare drums "thocks" sounded too brittle at times. I really wanted to like the Krell the best, having owned Krell & using a Krell amp, but unfortunately it was the worst, some times substantially so. Apologists will say that you have to use the very best sources and recording material. I did - and still it could sound all the ways Krells are often criticized for: "bright" / "brittle" / etc. Even with a warmer amp this would not substantially improve the thinness in the sound. My only guess for this is that the Analog Devices op-amp choice may not be the best, and if these were swapped out, perhaps something nicer would ensue. I wasn't about to mod it as you can see, I have it up for sale. Keep it quiet though please : someone like me is going to buy it for non-audio reasons.
And these are - a beautiful case, cool "credit card" remote, and the Krell name. Oddly enough without a heavy transformer in it, the case didn't have that substantial feel. I don't know if it's aluminum or steel - but I will say that it' s thin enough that it seems to transmit heat pretty quickly, particularly in the Krell amps of that era (including the Showcase 7 I tested it with).
Two other complaints about the Krell:
A) Using 7 channel XLR analog inputs & XLR outputs, but not the subwoofer XLR as my subwoofer doesn't support XLR, I couldn't get the subwoofer to work over the single ended output. I know the blu ray was putting out the signal, because I tested it. And all channels would work fine using digital input into the Krell. So if like me you are trying 7 channel analog bypass with the XLR out, but sub without XLR, beware.
B) I contacted Krell about a software update. They basically said they "didn't support", though there is no reason why they couldn't have emailed or allowed me to download the software / firmware update. Anthem does. If something as simple as this is not supported, seems to me they don't care much about supporting their non-current models.
So overall a disappointment - considering this was the most expensive used processor - and I really wanted to like the Krell the best, particularly for looks, match w/ the amp, and even the parametric eq feature. But sonically, it's really no good. Yes, I would take the humble Marantz SR5005 over it.4) Anthem AVM 30.
Honestly, not so dissimilar (I know - double negative) to the Marantz SR5005, just I would say a 20-25% refinement in all the key aspects. I.e. better / wider soundstage, better definition of instruments / voices, tighter / less plummy bass. It's been said of these era Anthem processors that they are detailed, but clean and balanced. And I think this is mostly true. More of "sins of omission" than commission.
It should be said that the AVM 20 is basically the same with respect to sound quality, so if you can live w/ some fewer features and minor cosmetic changes, you can probably save yourself another $80 or so.
The overall fit & finish is better than I had expected seeing them in photos. I.e the case is a satisfyingly thick steel, the face plate has a decent feel to it, and the controls, while somewhat light, have a decent feel as well. They put dual transformers in these, so there's a nice heft there more associated w/ a receiver than a processor.5) Anthem D1.
Naturally as much is shared between the AVM30 & the D1, sound-wise there is not a hugh difference. I'd say on the order of maybe 20% better for the D1. I guess for some this may be a very significant difference. I'd liken it to Johnnie Walker Red vs Black. The D1 is more refined, and if you're going to down a whole bottle, you'll probably be happier w/ the JW Black than Red. Whoops - I mean the D1 vs the AVM30. You'll be happy with either choice.
Funny thing, talking JW Black vs Red, like with these I sometimes find myself slightly preferring the thicker "flavor", particularly in the mid-range, of the AVM30 vs the D1, just as often I prefer the "bolder" flavor of Red vs Black.
My understanding of the sound quality differences is due to a slight change in the op-amps between the two, and that the D1 may have a sprinkling of better parts on the pre-amp board vs the AVM30. After all - they had to justify they extra $2K somehow!
Sound quality aside, there were a few more things that might tilt things in the D1's favor at $250 or so market price above the AVM30:
A) Yes, the front face plate does look a little better w/ the "wings" and blue lights for everything, the rest seems largely the same. The case of the D1 does seem to have ventilated sides - and you can see one of the toroidal transformers (it's got 2 vs 1 + an EI for the AVM30).
B) Perhaps most important for the automated room correction fan-boys: you can use the optional Anthem Room Correction unit, which is basically a USB mike, stand, and software you run off of a pc & connect via the serial port. This retailed for $400, and I bought it for $150 off of ebay. And when I'm done with the set-up, it will probably go back on Ebay.
Despite Anthem saying each kit has been custom made for a particular unit, on calling Anthem tech support this doesn't seem true. The hardware is the same, and you can use the latest updated software downloaded from their website. Thanks Anthem for not being so miserly like Krell!
C) I believe the analog to digital converters are of higher quality - and they upsample as well. So if your going to have analog sources you want converted to the digital domain (e.g. for bass management, equalization, etc), this is a good thing. One note : despite one reviewers saying this AD conversion is totally transparent and the same as the original signal, i.e that analog-direct sounds the same as analog-DSP, I did not find this to be true. Analog direct sounded better, no doubt. Maybe if your source is not that good.........
D) Lastly, the D1 tended to be sold with 2 remotes - and if you're lucky as I was - the PO will have both and not have used one. Why is this good? I don't know what it is about the material anthem uses for their remotes, but with time & use it's as if a 3 year old ran their peanut butter smeared hands all over it. Gummy / sticky / nasty. Nothing I've done to try to clean it off has helped. Thankfully there's that other nice new clean remote.Conclusion:
If you made it this far, my ranking would be:1) Anthem D1
2) Marantz AV7005
3) Anthem AVM30
4) Marantz SR5005
5) Krell Showcase Processor
#1 & #2 sorta echo the stereophile ratings, placing the successor to the D1 (the D2V) at "A" and the Marantz at "B". To be 100% honest my choice of the Anthem is based on two reasons. The first is that the D1, even with the optional ARC unit, can be had for less than the Marantz. I.e. In my case about $800 total vs probably more about $1100 for the Marantz.
The other reason is that the Anthem is a better match with the Krell - it's a bit warmer & meatier than the Marantz, and the Krell tends towards lean. If you were using the Marantz with say a Marantz multichannel amp, or some other warmer amp, the Marantz might be the better choice. Furthermore, if you value all the additional & considerable features of the Marantz, such as built in automated room correction software, all the connectivity options (HDMI, network, ipod, airplay, among others), then the $300 extra is money well spent. Considering the potential investment in 8 good analog cables for a blu ray player that would be needed for the Anthem, the price difference probably shrinks to nothing or may even favor the Marantz.
So no, this is not a slam dunk #1 ranking for the Anthem. The Marantz under the considerations I mentioned could very well be the #1 choice, though in my very particular case, it isn't.
Some conclusions from this whole exercise :
1) Newer units at least for Marantz can more than hold their own for even just pure 2 channel stereo vs the megabuck processors of yore.
2) Nonetheless, buying older high end processors can be a very good value, particularly if you don't need / want HDMI. The shelf life is very short, and the depreciation is so substantial, that you can end up with something very good for 2 channel stereo & for home theater use for dimes on the dollar. E.g. both the Anthems now sell for almost 10% of their original value. Even better buys are probably the AVM20, which with the exception of a few features is essentially the same as the AVM30. Other very inexpensive old high end processors are the Reference series from B&K. I've seen Reference 20's for under $100, 30's for under $200, and 50's for under $400. I only didn't buy these to try because I was told they were "buggy" and a bit of testing fatigue.
I know from at least one audiophile who assembled a system using a cheap and older Anthem processor for 2 channel stereo - and he has spent into the six figures over the decades on equipment. It's the cheapest system he's ever had, and he's perfectly happy - for the moment at least.
So probably no major unexpected revelations here - other than how bad the Krell is - and even that is probably not a surprise to many. I'll probably end up selling the Marantz SR5005 for that extra refinement of the Anthem D1 and match w/ the Krell - and in no small part because like many audiophiles, I'm a badge snob & sucker.
Yes, having a metal tower in the middle of the room is not ideal for soundstaging, but it was the only way to quickly change components while my ears / memory was still "fresh". AV7005 not shown, but basically very similar in appearance to the SR5005 : slightly higher, deeper knobs, and the portal thing in the middle vs the square lcd.