AV receivers can be intimidating, with their giant metal chassis and overwhelming back panels. The Marantz NR1403 ($400) seems like a reaction to that, with a slimline design and sparse back panel that's decidedly different than your typical mainstream AV receiver's. There are sacrifices made in the spirit of simplification, most notably the lack of any networking capability, which rules out gee-whiz features like smartphone control and integrated streaming services. On the other hand, it's well-stocked with HDMI connectivity for the price, offering up six inputs, including a front-panel port. And despite the small size, its sound quality is excellent, comparing with some of the top 2013 models we've listened to.
Overall, if you're not interested in networking (and there are plenty of good reasons not to be), the Marantz NR1403 strikes us as an excellent value, especially if you appreciate its svelte profile.
Design: Slim and stylish
If you're frustrated by big, boxy AV receivers on the market, the Marantz NR1403 is a breath of fresh air. The difference starts with the "slimline" design that comes in at just 4.1 inches tall; for comparison, the Onkyo TX-NR626 is 6.8 inches tall. The NR1403 also just plain looks nice, with a subtly curved front panel that doesn't give the harsh impression that most of the "big metal box" models do. The one catch with the NR1403's handsome look is that while it is short, it is relatively wide (17.3 inches) and deep (14.4 inches). The NR1403 could also lose even the few front-panel buttons it has, but that's a nitpick on what is another rarity: a great-looking AV receiver.
The included remote is pretty decent, if you could say that about any AV receiver remote. It gets the basics right by not including too many buttons, while also giving critical keys like the volume rocker its proper prominence. It is a little disappointing that the NR1403 doesn't include the even better remote included on the step up NR1604, but it will suffice, especially if you'll mostly be using a universal remote.
Features: No networking, but does it matter?
Depending on your viewpoint, the Marantz NR1403 is either underfeatured or tastefully minimalist.
The big difference between the NR1403 and larger, mainstream AV receivers is that the NR1403 lacks any kind of networking functionality. There's Ethernet or Wi-Fi, which means you'll be missing out on newer features like smartphone control and integrated streaming services and AirPlay.
However, network capabilities have always been a mixed bag on AV receivers. Most receivers still require Ethernet, which is often a pain to set up in the living room. And if you're able to get your AV receiver on the Internet, the payoff is underwhelming. Streaming services are clunky on receivers, smartphone control is rarely practically useful, and firmware updates usually only fix the networking features that aren't great in the first place. AirPlay is great for Apple fans, but many buyers would be better off with an Apple TV, which offers a lot more and a pretty interface. If you couldn't tell already, we don't miss the networking features that much.
The NR1403 does provide plenty of connectivity with six HDMI inputs, including one front-panel input. That matches the most you'll find at this price level, from full-size receivers such as the Onkyo TX-NR525 and Pioneer VSX-823-K. The rest of the connections are sparse, with no component video ports at all, but it's not much a problem with most devices using HDMI.
Other feature considerations are less important for mainstream buyers. The NR1403 is "only" a 5.1-channel receiver, but most buyers won't need the extra functionality that a seven-channel receiver makes possible: surround back channels, powered second-zone audio, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz "height" channels. There's no analog video upconversion, but again, that's less of a concern now that most modern devices use HDMI.
Marantz does throw in one extra more worthwhile step-up: a three-year warranty. That's one more year than most manufacturers offer, providing much-appreciated peace of mind for a $400 purchase.
If you're looking for more-detailed feature comparisons, check out our giant AV receiver spreadsheet, which compares the NR1403 with other 2013 models as we review them.
Setup: Accurate and easy
The NR1403 features Audyssey's MultEQ automatic speaker calibration, which helps adjust the sound to suit your listening room. Plugging the supplied measurement mic into the receiver automatically brings up the Audyssey MultEQ onscreen display. Then it's simply a matter of starting the program, which sends a short series of tones through all the speakers and subwoofer. Once the initial series of tones are run, the display indicates Audyssey's findings, but for best results Audyssey recommends taking up to six measurement rounds, moving the mic to different positions near the main listening location, which takes around 10 minutes to complete.