Although most AV receivers are brutish slabs, Marantz's NR1602 is refreshing proof that a chassis the size of a small dog kennel isn't a prerequisite for best-of-breed performance. Available in black and silvery gold, this receiver is about half the height of a traditional home-cinema amp. Indeed, it's small enough to sit comfortably on the shelves of regular TV furniture.
But that's not to say this second-generation addition to Marantz' slim-line NR range is short on features. Beneath the lid lurk 7.1 channels of amplification, enlivened by network connectivity, media-streaming support and Apple AirPlay compatibility.
The NR1602 is available now for around £530.
Design and connectivity
Marantz hasn't been afraid to add a few design flourishes. The NR1602's curving fascia is emphasised by a vertical ridge that runs through twin volume and input dials. This marries well with a matching Marantz Blu-ray player to create quite a snazzy system.
On the back panel, you'll find four, 3D-compatible HDMI inputs, two component inputs, three phono AV sockets and an Ethernet jack. There's also a front-facing USB input for use with an iPod, iPhone, memory stick or external hard drive. We used the USB port to browse both an 8GB thumb drive and a 160GB external hard drive, without any problems. Should you need more connectivity, you can always buy the optional RX101 Bluetooth receiver.
The NR1602 is very easy to use. We particularly like the menu system. It's high-res and intuitive. An on-screen wizard leads you though the speaker-connection, room-tuning and system-configuration processes.
Auto-calibration is based around Audyssey's MultEQ system. The AV receiver also uses Audyssey's Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume features. Dynamic EQ should only be used if you're a compulsive tweaker, while Dynamic Volume should be switched off immediately, as its only purpose is to iron out dynamic peaks in your source material. It's useful only for making the NR1602 sound lifeless.
A big chunk of the NR1602's appeal lies in its network functionality. It offers access to Internet radio services, Last.fm, Napster and photo-sharing site Flickr.
The latter might seem like an odd bedfellow, but it's actually a brilliant fit. When listening to Internet radio, you can see slideshows. Tuned into Jpop on Sky.fm? Do a quick search for Japanese images on Flickr and let the results play out. This is not only fun, but protects against screen burn if you own a plasma TV. Incidentally, the NR1602 will automatically fade out the video when listening to Net radio for much the same reason.
The provision of Apple AirPlay support is certain to generate interest. It allows you to wirelessly stream your iTunes library to the receiver from a networked PC or Mac, or, more entertainingly, directly from an iOS handheld device, such as an iPhone. Browsing music on an iPad, and pushing whichever tracks you fancy to your receiver is a cool way to enjoy your music.
The NR1602's network-streaming ability may be restricted to audio files, but compatibility is broad. Across our test network, the NR1602 played MP3, Ogg, WMA, WAV, FLAC and AAC files. Album art also displays when available. This level of support also applies to files played via the front-mounted USB drive. All artist, album, and genre metadata is read without confusion.
While the NR1602 may look under-powered on paper -- Marantz quotes a cautious 7x50W output -- there's genuine power to its performance. Sci-fi Blu-ray action film Battle: Los Angeles isn't short of explosive DTS-HD Master Audio drama, and the NR1609 is more than able to keep pace. Even during the most chaotic battle scenes, its delivery is fast and dynamic.
With stereo music, there's a warmth to its presentation that's beguiling. Mozart's Violin Concerto in D Major, on CD via the stereo analogue input with 'pure direct' selected, sounds sweet and light. There's no digital edge to the mid-range strings.
The NR1602 isn't big on digital-signal processing modes. You can engage one of the standard surround-sound codecs -- Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD, including their lossy counterparts -- run in stereo, or select the pure-direct mode. Or you can keep it simple, and leave everything in auto mode.
The Marantz NR1602 is an outstanding AV receiver. Not only is it slimmer and prettier than the competition, it's also a gorgeous performer. An audiophile lineage is evidenced in its two-channel performance, yet it's fast and fun with movies. It's also a cut above the rest when it comes to networking capability. Media streaming across a LAN is refined, and Apple AirPlay works beautifully with the iPad2 as a source. We're smitten.
Edited by Charles Kloet