Marantz NR1508 cYou need very good ears to hear sonic differences between amplifiers of roughly similar price and power and there’s an upside to this. It means that if your ears are only normal rather than golden, buying an amplifier becomes easy. Stick with good brands and it boils down to price, power and features. And, I’ve learned the hard way, user friendliness.

Thirteen years ago I bought a tuner/amp that worked the price, power and features equation very nicely, and it came highly recommended by the guy at the shop, who also installed it. He knew what he was doing, I figured I’d learn by doing. But whenever I have to do anything at all out of the ordinary – like hook in a streamer or try to get sound as well as vision from Netflix through an Apple TV or change the tuner presets (or even find the tuner presets) this thing fights me so hard that on more than one occasion I have simply waved the white flag and retreated.

The wretched thing also has a remote that can control various other devices from the same brand, none of which I have, and if two little slide controls are not fully to the left a number of vital buttons generate no reaction at all. When you have a house full of people, especially small people who play with remotes, this can cause a family train smash.

I hate this amp. The trouble is that 13 years is a relatively short life for a good amp and it seems a bit irresponsible to junk something that’s still doing the job.

Marantz NR1508 aAmps are generally more user friendly these days, especially when the menu comes up on the television screen, and the latest one I’ve tried has put forward a compelling case for finally turning my old amp into a boat anchor. It’s the new entry-level Marantz home cinema receiver, the NR1508 5.2-channel. The most striking thing about it is that it’s just 105 mm tall, so it’s not an unnecessarily large lump like so many surround-sound amps. The second-most striking thing is the value.

Consider: Spotify Connect, Tidal, Deezer, AirPlay, Bluetooth (but only basic SBC), internet radio, Wi-Fi, six HDMI inputs (one with audio return) plus another on the front panel, DSD, FLAC, ALAC and WAV support and there’s a front-panel USB to plug in an external drive. It taps into Heos multi-room technology, it’s 4K and HDR compatible, hey it even has an eco mode. But the great thing is that all of this is easily set up and easily selected; to get sound from the TV you press the ‘TV audio’ button. There are buttons for Blu-ray, CD, games and a media player among others. This makes explaining it to she-who-presses-every-button-when-it-won’t-give-her-what-she-wants delightfully simple.

Marantz NR1508 bMarantz has always put sound quality on a pedestal so there’s a pure direct mode for playing stereo music. This shuts down unnecessary circuitry, such as video, to minimise electronic noise.

Power? Depending on the literature you read it’s either 50 watts per channel or 85. The 50-watt figure is into eight ohms with two channels driven, the 85 into six ohms with one channel driven. So 85 is the figure used by marketing departments and advertising agencies, 50 watts is the real-life music playing figure.

It sounds sweet, everything works and even non-technical folk can figure it out. And the price is definitely right. It lists for $999 but the guy at the shop offered me one for $850.

So what’s the downside? No ‘phono’ input. Tsk tsk.

Published October 2017

 

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