Generally, when you're buying an AV receiver it comes down to features and performance, with aesthetics being a wash--there's little difference between all the bulky, black boxes. But in the case of the Marantz NR1601, the main appeal is its slimline design: its 4.19-inch height is substantially smaller than a traditional AV receiver. Even better, the Marantz's slender dimensions don't have a negative impact on its sound quality; it's one of the better-sounding midrange receivers we've tested this year. The main trade-offs are HDMI inputs and price. The NR1601 only features four HDMI inputs, whereas many competitors have six, and its $600 price tag is notably more than, say, the $450 Pioneer VSX-1020-K. However, if you don't need tons of HDMI connectivity and are willing to pay for its good looks, the Marantz NR1601 is the way to go.
The NR1601's slimline design makes it unique in the AV receiver market. At just 4.19 inches high, it's much smaller than your typical AV receiver, looking more like a high-end Blu-ray player than any of its competitors. It's also a tad shallower than a traditional AV receiver at 14.5 inches. In fact, it's possible to rackmount the NR1601 with the optional RMK1501NR rack mount kit. Aside from the smaller size, it also has a symmetrical look that we liked, with large knobs on both sides and a large LCD display in the center. Front panel buttons are kept to a minimum and we appreciate the selection of front panel ports, including headphones, setup mic input, a USB port, and a minijack input. The bottom line is that Marantz NR1601 is the most stylish AV receiver we've seen this year, by far.
The include remote is decent, although like virtually all AV receiver remotes, it's overwhelming. The remote is packed with buttons, and many of them have similar sizes, which makes navigating by feel difficult. The good news is that volume and input button rockers are centrally located, as is the directional pad. We also appreciated that the remote is fully backlit, which makes it much easier to use in a darkened home theater. Still, as we often suggest, it's wise to consider a quality universal remote to control all your gear.
If you press the menu button, it will bring up the NR1601's graphical user interface. It quickly becomes clear that the Marantz's good looks are limited to the exterior, as the menus are limited to blocky white text on a black background. The same goes for browsing a connected iPod; you won't get to see cover art like on the Pioneer VSX-1020-K. On the upside, you'll probably only use the menus to set up the NR1601, although if you use the iPod functionality you'll see them on a more regular basis.
|Key AV receiver features|
|Channels||7.1||Analog video upconversion||Yes|
|Graphical user interface||Text-based||Automatic speaker calibration||Yes|
The Marantz hits most of the features you'd expect at this price range, including analog video upconversion and automatic speaker calibration. As mentioned before, the onscreen display is limited to shaky white text on a black background, whereas competitors like the Sony STR-DN1010 and the Yamaha RX-V667 feature more-impressive GUIs. On the upside, Marantz's three-year warranty is a full year more than most competitors, especially welcome on a product like an AV receiver that you're likely to hold onto for a while.
|HDMI version||1.4a||3D pass-through||Yes|
|Audio return channel||Yes||Standby pass-through||Yes|
Like most midrange receivers this year, the NR1601 comes with a full suite of the new HDMI features offered this year. It supports 3D pass-through, which means it can pass a 3D video signal from a 3D video source to a 3D HDTV. The Marantz also supports audio return channel functionality, as well as standby pass-through. Those features give it the edge over the Pioneer VSX-1020-K in that department.
|Audio decoding features|
|Dolby TrueHD||Yes||DTS-HD Master Audio||Yes|
|Dolby ProLogic IIz||Yes|
|Other: Audyssey Dynamic Volume, Dynamic EQ and MultEQ|
Onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby ProLogic IIz is included, as is expected at this price level. The NR1601 also comes with a full suite of Audyssey sound modes, such as Dynamic Volume for limiting volume spikes during, say, loud commercials. It's worth pointing out that many competitors offer their own proprietary versions of these types of sound modes (read more on how Audyssey sounded on the Marantz in the performance section).
|HDMI inputs||4||Component video inputs||3|
|Composite video inputs||3||Max connected HD devices||6|
Four HDMI inputs are the minimum we expect at this price level, although many competitors offer six, including the Pioneer VSX-1020-K, the Onkyo TX-SR608, and the Yamaha RX-V667. The NR1601's three component video inputs are better than average, but that's less of a concern to us now that nearly every home theater gadget features HDMI. Altogether the Marantz can switch between six HD devices at a time, but we still wish it featured more HDMI ports.
|Optical inputs||2||Coaxial inputs||1|
|Stereo analog audio inputs||5||Multichannel analog inputs||No|
The NR1601 is also a little light on audio connections. Nearly every other midrange AV receiver offers four total digital audio inputs, but the Marantz is limited to three. Analog multichannel inputs and a phono input are both missing, but that's pretty much standard these days. (Check out the Yamaha RX-V667 if you need analog multichannel inputs.) We were pleased to see a minijack input conveniently located on the front panel.