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Marantz AV8801: Practical Use Edit
by BrolicBeast Combined Rating: 4.8

Jack of All Trades, Master of Most

The relationship between home theater enthusiasts and a/v processors is a bit of a cyclical conundrum:  We invest significant fiscal resources into devices...
Pros Cons
  • Believable sound; top-notch aesthetics
  • Frustrating setup; somewhat high MSRP

Jack of All Trades, Master of Most

The relationship between home theater enthusiasts and a/v processors is a bit of a cyclical conundrum:  We invest significant fiscal resources into devices guaranteed to achieve partial obsolescence within three years.  Once partial obsolescence is realized, additional investments are sometimes required for a new device or updates to the existing device.  This full viability of a processor’s functionality can be pared down to as narrow a window as a single year if the A/V industry is at the cusp of a technical breakthrough like HDMI 2.0.  There are exceptions to this—Anthem’s Statement D2V processor, for examplehowever, more often than not, a processor’s life-span is very limited.  As I write this in July of 2013, HDMI 2.0 approaches and the longevity of all HD products must be questioned; however, sometimes, the value of a component lies not in the longevity of its feature set, but in its raw ability to outperform and outlast its competition.  That being said, features can and do matter.  One of the most feature-laden A/V multi-channel processors available at this moment in the a/v industry timeline is the Marantz AV8801—a popular choice for music and home theater enthusiasts alike with very little competition at its $3600 MSRP price-point.  The Marantz AV 8801 has a bevy of features—many of which will go unused by enthusiasts.  As such, this is a review of the Marantz AV8801 through the lens of practical enthusiast use. The fancy, oft-times useless features will be skipped for this review, as they have been chronicled in many other locations.


The Set Up

I spent the last three years enjoying the Integra DHC 80.X series of processors.  I first purchased the 80.2 model in 2010, and made the lateral shift to the 80.3 model in 2012.  I was thoroughly impressed with the sound and ease of use that the Integra products provided.  Needless to say, the Marantz AV8801 had some Shaquille-sized shoes to fill.  The hardware replacement was extremely easy, although I will offer a bit of advice: when dealing with any processor of this complexity, it is paramount that you label your cables (name tags from an office-supply store work wonders in this regard).  I simply unplugged my cables—an enjoyable mix of WireWorld, Emotiva, Better Cables, and AudioQuest brands—from my Integra DHC-80.3, removed the unit from the rack, slid the Marantz AV 8801 into the rack and connected the cables.  Easy set-up, right?  Not necessarily. 


The Marantz AV8801 and I did not start on the right foot with each other.  Upon first start-up, the processor would not output audio or video signals.  Now, I generally give any new product a chance to get adjusted to my fairly complex HDMI-based video chain, so I gave it a week of troubleshooting, and after much trial, error, and advice from fellow enthusiasts, I ran the first-time setup out of desperation, and voila!  Perfect operation To all potential owners out there, heed my words carefully: run the first-time user setup, no matter how advanced of a user you think you are.  We don’t need the user setup, but the unit might.


After this issue was solved, it was time to run Audyssey XT32, which provides precisely one ba-jillion gazillion filters to the sound. (See footnote 1)  Running Audyssey was a breeze, with a great GUI that guided me through every step of the setup.  Audyssey is best done with a tri-pod or boom stand; I used the latter to perform my measurements and once complete, all consternation regarding my setup issues melted away.


Listen Up

What this Marantz AV 8801 does very well is sound.  Movie demonstration material ran the gamut from the bombastic final thirty minutes of Oz, the Great and Powerful, to the entire nuanced soundtrack in George Clooney’s too-soon-forgotten The American.  The audio mix of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had more crunch than usual and the crowd scenes from Hugo sounded very believable.  And then, there is the final assault on the Skyfall ranch in James Bond’s latest adventure, which was riveting from start to finish with spectacular audio moments in nearly every shot.  Other scenes played through the AV 8801 were: 1) Transformers (Desert Battle), 2) Tron: Legacy (Welcome to the Grid), 3) The Hunger Games (forest-fire scene), and 4) Fantastic Four (Rocket Launcher vs. the Human Torch).  Each of these played back at -5db below reference volume were an absolute joy to experience, but when I cranked each one up to reference volume, I was utterly and completely transported to the land within the screen and I now find myself re-visiting my favorite scenes from each film at reference leve.


Through the Marantz AV 8801, Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel soundtrack was conveyed with sheer gravitas when required, capably spewing the growing beast that is Dna, while preserving the subtleties of piano decay in the track This is Clark Kent.  Anthony Evans’ Let it Rain was extremely crisp and the bass that kicks in at the first chorus was very defined—more defined than I’ve ever experienced.  This track serves as a reminder that Redbook CD quality music is STILL a superb source of audio, despite the high-resolution files now widely available. The song Polly Come Home from Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ album Raising Sand is a song that, although far from the crispest I’ve heard, is a very moving song.  Played through the Marantz AV 8801, I could almost feel Plant’s sorrow with every word.



The Marantz AV 8801 is a processor that I can absolutely recommend. Were this an audio-only review, I would give it 5-stars in a heart-beat; however, the frustrating set-up and high MSRP do work to its detriment.  All in all, the AV 8801 is the best A/V processor on the market right now (in the context of the wallets of mere mortals) and I am proud to own it.  The A/V experiences that it has provided me with over the last few months have been nothing short of breathtaking.  If this processor is in your budget (and even it’s not), it absolutely deserves your consideration. Does it make sense to purchase a processor at this price with HDMI 2.0 on the horizon?  Instead, ask yourself this question; do you plan to replace every piece of equipment you own with HDMI 2.0-enabled gear the second that it’s announced?  I didn’t think so.  Skip Starbucks for a month; drive below 55MPH on the highway; telework three days a week; bottom line: do what you need to do in order to get a Marantz AV 8801 in your rack.


FYI: Features You Will Not Use:

  • Instaprevue

  • Internet Streaming (most HT devices already do this.)

  • Picture Adjustments


Associated Equipment

  • JVC DLA-RS56 w/ 3D Package

  • Legacy Audio Focus SE Loudspeakers

  • Legacy Marquis HD Center Speaker

  • Infinity Primus 360 Towers (surrounds)

  • Oppo BDP-105 Universal Media Player

  • HTPC powered by Jriver Media Center 18

  • Cables: Wireworld Chroma 6 | Better Cables Silver Serpent | AudioQuest Diamondback | Emotiva X-Series



Footnote 1: One ba-jillion gazillion is not an actual number and was stated purely in jest.

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boe 02-03-2014, 03:03 AM

I would DEFINITELY wait for HDMI 2.0 at this point. I just got a 4K TV - a Sony 65" 4K for under $4,000 - tax, shipping, everything included and a 3 year warranty from a Sony authorized reseller. 4K is AMAZING. Chances are if you can afford a Marantz AV8801, you will replace your TV within the next 3 years, your BR player within 2 so yes, HDMI 2.0 is worth waiting for. If Marantz promised an hdmi 2.0 upgrade then I'd consider the AV8801 otherwise it isn't really any better of a choice than a 5 year old Denon AVP. I LOVE my Denon AVP but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone even though it is absolutely one of the best prerpros on the market as I consider it a VERY short term solution without HDMI 2.0.

Mad Norseman 07-25-2013, 07:13 PM

The AV8801 is a great surround processor/HD tuner that I've been using for over five months now, and I'm still discovering new things that it can do! Highly recommended for sound, and custom adjustability per source (you don't have to set everything up 'globally'!).

BrolicBeast 07-25-2013, 11:44 AM

@Mark, Shroedk pretty much said all there is to say about surround sound in the context of both movies and multi-channel audio. As long as a lot of care goes into the positioning and tuning of the surrounds, they are perfectly fine for movies. For multi-channel audio, timbre-matching is absolutely encouraged. I happen to be a stereo-lover, so the multi-channel music limitations do not apply to me.
@Shroedk, Great response! I'm glad you're enjoying your AV8801 as much as I am In terms of your 5-year journey to find the right pre/pro, doesn't if feel good to finally find one that meets your requirements?
@HTG, Thanks a lot HTG. I'm still waiting to read your review on that 70" behemoth you just wall-mounted with what i imagine to be a mount built from rebar, steel pipes, an unobtanium

hometheatergeek 07-25-2013, 05:08 AM

Great write up again BB.

schroedk 07-25-2013, 05:04 AM

Mark, it's definitely okay to use different brands of speakers. Like you alluded to, it's best to keep the front soundstage (fronts and center) the same brand to improve the pans and blends which occur during movie soundtracks between these three speakers. However, the ability to detect the quality of pans (sound moving from speaker to speaker) is more difficult as the sound moves from the front soundstage to the surrounds. Additionally, surround speakers in many movie soundtracks are relegated to ambient sounds (rain, wind, sound effects, etc.) which are not as crucial to match the timbre from speaker to speaker. Voices, on the other hand, are more crucial, but 99% of the time voices are panning only between the fronts and the center channel.

One caveat to this is if you are into multichannel music. The timbre matching for this is more crucial, and is more likely to be noticeable between the surrounds the and front soundstage. In this instance, it would be helpful to have all speakers using the same driver materials, etc., which you would achieve best by having the same manufacturer for all speakers, as well as the same model line.

BrolicBeast, thanks for the review write-up. Most of my equipment in my dedicated theater is set, but I've had the hardest time over the past 5 years finding a receiver of pre/pro that I was content with (6 units in the past 5 years have been tried). I was debating between the 8801 and the Integra 80.3, and jumped on the 8801 when a good deal came along. I didn't experience the frustrations that you did in setup, since I had the time and went ahead and did the automatic setup before running Audyssey. I'm still in the process of tweaking individual inputs for volume gain, etc., as well as experimenting with the subwoofer boundary thing and other "features". But, overall, this unit will be in my rack for several years at the minimum. And, like you, I've enjoyed movies more since this unit was put in, as well as 2-channel music. I agree with your recommendation completely.

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