Music in the Round #94: Benchmark & Marantz Page 2

The Marantz AV8805 ($4499) is the fourth Marantz pre-pro I've used, with little change in external appearance or user interface since the first. The most widely promoted features new in the AV8805 concern home theater (eg, 13.2-channel processing and eARC, the latter being the latest version of HDMI's Audio Return Channel) and video (eg, DolbyVision HDR or high-dynamic-range imaging). It includes HEOS, a wireless streaming app from Denon and Marantz that runs over Bluetooth and WiFi and is compatible with Alexa and Apple AirPlay. HEOS is interesting, but would be far more useful if it could be used to wirelessly implement some of the AV8805's 13.2 channels! But until recordings with more channels appear in significant numbers, I'm still limited to 5.1. I won't replace my trusty Fujitsu 50" plasma video display unless it dies before I do. The AV8805 can stream signals of resolutions up to 24/192 PCM and DSD128—but in only two channels.

What most interests me about the AV8805 is what it carries over from its immediate predecessor, the AV8802a, including Marantz's unique, wideband Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module (HDAM) discrete buffer output stage for each output channel. These were upgraded for the AV8802a, and are driven by premium-grade AKM AK4490 32-bit DACs. Another important carryover is support for the top-tier Audyssey Room Correction suite—but instead of the increasingly elusive Audyssey Pro kit, the AV8805 supports the brand-new Audyssey MultEQ Editor app. Retained from the 8802a are multichannel analog inputs and outputs (RCA and XLR), and the ability to feed analog signals from input to output without digitization.

I listened to multichannel recordings fed from my server—a Mac mini laptop running JRiver Media Center—directly to the HDMI input of the AV8805, as well as from the server via a miniDSP U-DIO8 multichannel USB-to-AES-EBU or S/PDIF interface and a trio of DACs feeding the analog 7.1-channel input. To make comparisons easy, I set the Marantz's unused Phono input to play audio from the analog 7.1CH IN jacks, and to play video from the HDMI input connected to the server. Then, I programmed this input into the Smart Select Button 1 on the Marantz's remote handset. Finally, in JRiver, I linked the server's HDMI output to the Marantz and its USB output to the U-DIO8, so that both outputs were playing the same music stream and I could select one or the other with a single button press on the handset.


I found that three Modi 2 Uber DACs from Schiit Audio didn't sound as full or as clear as the direct HDMI input. It says a lot for the AV8805 and its HDMI input that buying three Modi 2 Ubers ($149 each) and a U-DIO8 ($299) wouldn't be worth their total cost of $746. Swapping in three Cambridge DacMagic Pluses ($349.99 each) was equally fascinating—though they sounded different from the HDMI feed, it was hard to know which I preferred. By a tiny margin, the bass was fuller with the Cambridges—but I can't justify spending over $1000 on them as add-ons to the AV8805 just for that.

But a trio of Benchmark Media Systems DAC3 HGC DACs (see above) turned the tables. Now the HDMI input stream seemed a tad less detailed and open, and the bass, while as extended, had less impact. It seemed that adding a package of DACs costing over $6500 can beat the AV8805's built-in processing and D/A conversion—but that's good news for Marantz fans.

In terms of any multichannel DAC setup one could reasonably consider adding to the Marantz AV8805, the bottom lines are: 1) The direct HDMI route from server through AV8805 is likely to be just as good; 2) the AV8805's 7.1-channel analog input is quite good enough to reveal the quality of the DACs; and 3) it's win/win.

Another feature of the AV8805 is the replacement of Audyssey Pro with Audyssey's MultEQ Editor app for iOS and Android devices. As far as I know, no devices support both, which might make this a critical issue for anyone trying to decide about replacing, say, an AV8802a with an AV8805. Audyssey Pro originally cost about $550, with an additional $150 licensing fee for each device. It included a preamp, calibrated microphone, mike stand, and carrying case, and required the use of a computer. The Audyssey MultEQ Editor app costs $20, uses the standard Audyssey mike provided with the pre-pro, and runs on a smartphone or tablet. Jeff Clark of Audyssey described the functional differences:

• First, the low frequencies are handled a bit differently between Pro and the app. This is mostly attributed to an improvement to room-correction accuracy, but the app does apply a 3dB rolloff at a minimum of 20Hz, even for large, capable speakers. We're evaluating ways to improve how that is handled. Although reasonable in the majority of cases, it can cut the lowest lows just a little bit for some users.

• MultEQ Pro has a feature that models sat/sub blend and computes a rolloff for the satellite speakers that minimizes spectral deviation through the crossover region. I can't say if or when that feature might make it into the app, due to the tremendous amount of data processing involved.

• The app supports limiting the correction to low frequencies only. This was requested by many users over time, and is only in the app. It won't be added to Pro.

• Target-curve editing is supported in the app similarly to MultEQ Pro, although the UI is not quite the same. Most notably with respect to preventing control points closer than ½ octave apart. It's one more aspect of the app that we're looking to improve to make it function as robustly as possible while creating a simple-to-use experience.

Clearly, the app will continue to evolve, but that's what you get now with the AV8805. So let's deal with it:

Ease of Use—Hands down, the app wins. No cables are needed except for the original mike cable. The interface for measuring is as clear as with Audyssey Pro and, being wireless, there's no clutter. The editing features are intuitive and useful, and I experienced no glitches in uploading and installing the EQ filters in the AV8805.

Low-Frequency Rolloff—This is applied not only to Large speakers but to subwoofers, and at the moment can't be overridden. That's probably much more significant for home-theater users than for music-only listeners.

Limiting the Correction Bandwidth—This is new, and welcome. Many believe that room/speaker correction should be limited to the region below the critical Schroeder frequency (usually, below 200 or 300Hz in a typical listening room), where the irregularities are most influential.

Editing Option—All features of Audyssey Pro are retained, including choice of target curve, defeat of the midrange correction cut, and manual editing of distances, levels, and crossovers. A very useful feature is that the app allows editing without the presence of an app-capable device, a great convenience.

In practice, the Audyssey app gave me better results than the AV8805's built-in Audyssey XT32, even with the same microphone. This is the first time that any Audyssey calibration has suggested that my floorstanding left, center, and right speakers (currently Monitor Audio Silver 8s) should be operated as Small with a 40Hz crossover, something which I've always determined as optimal by trial-and-error auditions. Suggested speaker distances were spot on for the main channels, and appropriate for the subs. The levels suggested were correct, though I preferred adding a 2dB bump for the subs.

I also experimented with comparing full-range correction with bandwidth limitations to below 300Hz (suggested by my room dimensions) or below 500Hz (the nominal crossover frequency between the woofers and midranges). There was really very little difference—the uncorrected frequency response of my front speakers was fairly flat to over 10kHz, with a smooth rolloff beyond. Superimposed on that were mostly random variations, but with dips above and below the 4–4.5kHz region common to all three speakers; Audyssey corrected those dips (fig.1). Overall, I liked the new Audyssey app, but I'd love to see an option for using a better microphone.


Fig.1 Monitor Audio Silver 8 loudspeakers, measured effect of the Audyssey app, L–R: for EQ below 300Hz (red), measured response without EQ (green), and EQ full-range (red). (Each 20Hz–20kHz, 5dB/vertical div.)

I was impressed with the Marantz AV8805—for multichannel audio, it's a significant evolutionary advance over the AV8802a. If you already own an AV8802a, should you replace it with the AV8805 just to get those audio functions? Maybe, but only if you're using it for more than just multichannel music playback—its new HT and streaming features help tip the scales. Coming from a pre-pro from another manufacturer? Well, the Marantz AV8805 is, like its predecessors, the standard bearer in home theater and multichannel audio.

jeffhenning's picture

Unfortunately, most AV pre-amps don't have serious output capabilities. Given that most consumer amps have upwards of 30dB in gain, there's not much incentive for them to offer it.

I used to own a Marantz 3800 pre-amp that I bought in the early 80's and it was rated at 9.8V output (or so...had it for 20+ years). The new Marantz 8805 is rated at one third of that or less. They don't offer much in the way of performance specs for their new stuff.

I've found the Emotiva XMC-1 to have some serious output, but, no, it's not near 18V. For my subs (Rythmik) and surrounds (Presonus S6), though, I do turn their levels down as far as I can and drive the pre fairly hard (it sounds great). Do the same with the Parasound that's powering my LS50's. I will be interested in seeing how my system sounds with an AHB2 in it. That's my next amp buy.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I just realised that the legend for the Audyssey graphs is not entirely accurate. The center panel is, indeed, the measured unequalized FR. The left panel represents the measured and unequalized FR above 300Hz along with the predicted FR in the equalized range below. The right panel is the predicted FR for a full spectrum correction.