NR1501 Listening Tests and Conclusion
We placed this receiver into Reference System 2 which uses the RBH Sound Signature SI-760/R speakers placed within a CinemaSITE system. These Signature Series speakers are extremely detailed and transparent and my listening has never been more enjoyable. As it is configured now, the system contains three SI-760/R speakers across the front, a pair of 66-SE dipole surround speakers and a pair of SI-1010P powered subwoofers. With the exception of the dipole surrounds, the Signature in-wall speakers reside within the CinemaSITE structure, which also supports the 92-inch Masquerade projector screen masking system from Carada. Video is shown through an Epson Pro Cinema 1080UB LCD projector and the source is a Lexicon BD-30 Blu-ray player without the external case and aluminum faceplate... oh, and with firmware loaded from the Oppo BDP-83. I am able, when not reviewing receivers, to utilize Audyssey's MultEQ Pro system to aid in smoothing out the bass response from the subwoofers in this room and have treated the room with absorption panels provided by RPG Diffusors. All audio electronics are conditioned and protected by an APC S15 system with additional SBATT. When the power goes out in Central Florida, this home theater can continue to play a movie all the way through the credits.
I wanted to know how well the system drove my speakers without wondering how much could be attributed to DSP, so I disengaged M.R.A.C. and focused on listening to the soundstage, dynamics and frequency response of the selected two-channel tracks. While I listened to dozens of tracks over the review period, I spent considerable time documenting a couple of two-channel discs in particular.
CD: The Music of Apollo/Saturn V Center
Many many moons ago I worked on the primary Visitors' Center video wall program for the Kennedy Space Center. During that time, one of my bosses spent his time in a neighboring room composing what would become the theme music for the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Recorded at L.A. East Studios in Salt Lake City, Utah and mixed at Signet Sound, this CD is mastered with a ton of dynamic range. "The Firing Room" sets the theme for the entire soundtrack, introducing the theme with a solo trumpet and bringing in strings and brass that ebbed and swelled. The Marantz seemed to push the RBH Sound speakers well, driving them to release the dynamics of the piece with lots of gusto. "Eagle Lands on the Moon" is a piece that builds up into mini crescendos with lots of percussion and plenty of ballsy brass. It's a moving piece that tells the story of the adventure of that first moon landing and I felt that the NR1501 did at least an admiral job of pushing out the material. My reference AVR-5308CI seemed to deliver a lot more in terms of dynamics and bass control on this disc overall, but at 9x the price I think that's acceptable. I was pleased at the ability of the Marantz NR1501 to go back and forth between thick swells of instrumentation and quiet solo passages with a low noise floor. This is, however, the definition of dynamics and owners of this receiver should be very pleased.
CD: Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill
"All I Really Want" is a great tune with a really driving beat that pushed out distorted (on purpose) stereo guitars from each channel while Alanis' vocals poured forth like the angry white chick she is (vocally, anyway). I loved the clarity of her voice as it contrasted the overall "thickness" of this tune. I noted the lack of any compression on the top end of her sibilance notes and the wah-wah guitars delivered a lot of gritty texture that poured out with all the authenticity of a live performance. "You Oughta Know", one of her more popular songs, was a pleasure to listen to on my Reference system and the Marantz NR1501 drove the speakers without missing a beat. The stereo vocals were awesome and the punctuated bass really pushed the system's mid-bass response hard, coming through clear an without taking on that boxy tone that often accompanies an amp that can't deliver enough power to push speakers to higher SPL levels on-demand. By the time we got to "Wake Up" I was really appreciative of the refreshingly clean vocal line and underlying bass line that exercised the midrange drivers of my system. Alanis' voice sounded true-to-life and the speakers seemed to really disappear into the room, leaving me to enjoy the music unencumbered by artifacts or compression.
I love multi-channel audio and movies with excellent surround, and the Marantz NR1501 excelled at producing beautiful 5.1-channel music. I grabbed a few of my favorite high resolution discs and played them back through the system in standard surround modes. For most, that meant multi-channel DVD-Audio (MLP) or Dolby TrueHD soundtracks.
I've actually heard this show live in Vegas, so it's always interesting to compare my recollection of the show to the multi-channel soundtrack. "Eleanor Rigby" is my favorite track on this disc, though it's only a transitional piece. The pinpoint accurate placement of the strings (violins, violas and cellos – each distinctly separated) made me close my eyes and just enjoy the accurate representation offered by the NR1501. The instruments are placed both vertically and horizontally across the soundstage and are segregated sonically from the left to right - an impressive effect. George Harrison's backing vocals truly popped and the song is simply powerful. "Here Comes the Sun / The Inner Light" is another transitional piece (I seemed to really like this vignettes more than the extended main tracks themselves) that really stood out to me. The percussion and stand-out vocals really displayed a transparency that surprised me. I had initially thought the demand of a multi-channel performance like this would put undue strain on the mere 50W/channel offered by the Marantz receiver, but it really seemed to thrive and allocate the required power to produce accurate audio with gusto.
Blu-ray: Batman: The Dark Night
This movie was absolutely over the top. From the very opening scenes, the crispness of the weapons and rigging sounds used to get the bank robbers into the bank. Simple things, like the impact of the drill against the bank vault door simply shook the room. The shotgun used by William Fichtner's character as he assaults the bad guys in the bank was absolutely explosive and the dialogue had the top end effect of being inside a large bank. Batman's motorcycle, when it emerges from the revised Tumbler, is an incredibly powerful symphony of detailed and layered sounds that were crisp and punchy. Glass breaking, cars denting, buildings going up in flames with subsonic sweeteners playing out underneath... there was so much to love about the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack on this movie I was at a loss for words (much like a kid in a candy store.) What I can say is that I was not disappointed. Not in the least. At my normal listening levels, the NR1501 played through the powerful soundtrack like it was singing a lullaby to a preschooler. Only when I really cranked it up to ear-bleeding levels did I see the difference as the top end seemed to get a tad compressed. For those in larger rooms or with tons of treatment, you may want to opt for a more powerful solution from Marantz, but 50W goes a long way in many homes and I don't foresee this being an issue for the intended target demographic looking at this product.
Conclusions and Overall Perceptions
I really like the design and layout of this receiver. The NR1501 doesn't have a lot of frills, but it's got 90% of the features anyone will likely need in a typical one-room setting. If you have the requirement of a second Zone or analogue preamp inputs or outputs, you'll want to go elsewhere. If your room is more than 2500 cubic feet, you may also want to consider stepping up to one of Marantz' more powerful offerings. But for those looking for a smaller form factor that will fit into your apartment, dorm, or home – the Marantz NR1501 is quite possibly the best-sounding product you're going to find for your hard-earned money.
100 Corporate Drive
Mahwah, N.J. 07430-2041
The Score Card
The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:
Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating
Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.
Audioholics Rating Scale
- — Excellent
- — Very Good
- — Good
- — Fair
- — Poor
|Multi-channel Audio Performance|
|Two-channel Audio Performance|
|Fit and Finish|
|Ergonomics & Usability|
|Ease of Setup|
On the video side I'm switching Satellite (HDMI), DVD (Component), iPhone (Component) to a Plasma via a single HDMI.
The system is great for the space and price. FYI, $599 will get you a MR1601 now. You can still pickup used NR1501 for a lot less.
I live in a small (450 sq ft) city studio, so I don't need power. Given my space constraints and neighbors, I've given up on big speakers and critical listening - I'm using a JMlab 5.1 mini-speaker system and mostly play straight from the iPod (can't remember the last time I even turned my SACD player on). I basically want another receiver like this JVC - decent HDMI and upconversion capabilities. Simplicity of cabling and operation are key.
When I move to a larger place, I'll get back to my old setup (top shelf receiver, real speakers, and a 110" projector). In the meantime, is there anything on the market that's an improvement on a NOS D402?
The Marantz sure seems nicer on the audio side, but it doesn't take up any space to put a decent video processor in these chassis. I guess I should be thankful I don't have a good excuse to replace my 402.
Did you spend any time with the MRAC system. I'm a little curious as to how accurate it is and how the EQ portion performed.