AV receivers have a well-deserved reputation as giant, unsightly boxes, but over the last few years Marantz has shown that good sound can come in smaller packages.
The company refreshed its AV receiver line today adding two new slimline models, the NR1504 and NR1604. They're two new step-up models to last year's NR1403, which will continue to stay in the line.
Here's how I'd break down the most important features:
NR1504 ($500): 5.1 channels, six HDMI inputs (including one front-panel input), Audyssey MultEQ, networking via Ethernet, built-in AirPlay, networking, setup assistant
NR1604 ($650) step-ups: 7.1 channels, seven HDMI inputs, powered and unpowered second zone, analog video upconversion
If you've been frustrated by ugly, bulky receivers with too many features that you never use, both models are a breath of fresh air, with a compact design and an uncluttered back panel. The NR1504, in particular, comes the closest to basic "HDMI switching + amplification" that many buyers are looking for, although the $400 still seems like the best value.
The biggest missing feature on both models is built-in Wi-Fi, which would make it much easier to take advantage of networking features like built-in AirPlay, smartphone control (Marantz has an app for iOS and Android), and firmware updates. Marantz does not offer a Wi-Fi adapter, so you'll need to use a work-around if you don't have Ethernet in your living room. Both receivers also offer built-in streaming from Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM, although, in general, AV receivers can be frustrating to use as media streamers.
The NR1504 and NR1604 are both available starting today.