The numbers don't lie. Many music lovers can't afford a separate two channel system for audio and a multi-channel system for movies. Those of us knuckle dragging card carrying audiophiles have opted for the two channel system only while most civilians went the other way with a music and movie system in one. The system one selects is insignificant. Whatever enables one to enjoy this wonderful hobby of ours is just fine with me and should be just fine with all rational audiophiles. High quality music reproduction in the home can be accomplished with any well executed system. There are definitely less than stellar separates-based systems that sound vastly inferior to a well executed preamp processor or receiver. That said a well designed system of separate components is pretty tough to beat in my experience. Shortly after CES 2011 in January I started looking at preamp processors and receivers as an option for the computer audiophile without a dedicated system of separate components. I wasn't searching for a processor that could sonically better an equivalent separate component. Rather I was simply looking for a processor with several options for interfacing with a music server. I found the product I was looking for in the Marantz AV7005 Preamp Processor ($1,500 USD).
<b>Marantz AV7005 Preamp Processor</b>
First and foremost this is not a review of the AV7005. There are many other A/V sites that can give this product the full attention it deserves much better than Computer Audiophile. Plus I'm much more passionate about audio and interfacing music servers with high end audio systems. Writing a review about a topic or component that one is not passionate about is a recipe for disaster and is usually spotted by readers after the first few sentences. Thus I will share my experience and opinions about using the Marantz AV7005 in my system as a DAC and preamp processor connected to my McIntosh MC275 tube amplifier, Verity Audio loudspeakers, and a few different music servers.
<center><a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/front-l.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="av7005"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/front-m.png"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/remote-l.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="av7005"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/remote-m.png"></a> <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/rear-l.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="av7005"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/rear-m.png"></a></center>
<b>Experience & Opinion</b>
One look at the rear of the Marantz AV7005 and the average person would throw his hands up in surrender. There are so many inputs and outputs on this and all the processors and receivers that it can get quite confusing. I used four different digital input types and the L/R balanced analog outputs of the AV7005.
<img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/dlna-logo.png" style="padding: 5pt 10pt 5pt 5pt;" align="left">Of all the inputs I was most excited about the AV7005's Ethernet DLNA/UPnP capabilities. I was ready to send multi-channel audio and all kinds of high resolution two channel music to the unit from a Windows based computer. It turns out I was a bit too optimistic. I used Windows 7 with J River Media Center 16 to send audio over Ethernet. JRMC automatically recognizes the Marantz AV7005 as a DLNA/UPnP renderer capable of accepting audio via Ethernet. The AV7005 simply appears as a separate Zone selectable on the left side of the screen. Once the AV7005 is selected the user browses and plays music as if it was being output to a directly connected DAC. Mac OS X DLNA/UPnP software is way behind the capabilities of J River Media Center. Knowing this ahead of time I opted to try Windows only for DLNA/UPnP playback. This Windows / JRMC 16 combination sending audio via Ethernet worked well for the most part. Every once in awhile I would lose my connection to the Marantz processor within JRMC. To regain the connection I simply had to reselect the AV7005 within application. I can't say whether the problem originated from JRMC or the AV7005 or both. My guess is the AV7005 was the problem as I've used JRMC many times via Ethernet without this problem. One additional reason I recommend using Windows based servers when sending audio over Ethernet to the AV7005 is this processor's lackluster <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/dlna-formats.png" class="thickbox" rel="dlna-formats">support for codecs and sample rates</a>. FLAC is the best format to use with the AV7005. Both 16 and 24 bit music with frequencies from 32 kHz through 96 kHz are supported only when sending FLAC files to the processor. WMA, MP3, WAV, and AAC are all limited to 32 kHz through 48 kHz playback. Multi-channel playback is a different story. I purchased several tracks from the Laurence Juber Guitar Noir album in every possible multi-channel format available from Mark Waldrep's iTrax.com website. The only multi-channel files I was able to feed the AV7005 over Ethernet, and have the processor actually read as multi-channel, were 16 bit / 44.1 kHz <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/dts-UPnP.png" class="thickbox" rel="dts">DTS encoded WAV files</a>. Other multi-channel files were read as two channel by the AV7005 or as unplayable because the processor doesn't accept 24/96 WAV files. I did convert some of these WAV files to FLAC in an effort to play higher resolution multi-channel music but I was just as unsuccessful. In addition to sending music to the AV7005 from a PC the AV7005 can also pull files from a UPnP server like Twonky or Asset UPnP. I spent about ten minutes browsing my UPnP server via the front panel before deciding it was the absolute last way I would use the AV7005 to play music. I did connect a display to the AV7005 briefly but I still consider the interface for pulling music to the unit is less than good.
<b>Overall</b> I'd say two channel playback over Ethernet DLNA/UPnP was good in terms of usability. Certainly not flawless or great but not bad or unusable. Simply good.
<img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/airplay-graphic.png" style="padding: 5pt 10pt 5pt 5pt;" align="left">The Marantz AV7005 is advertised as AirPlay compatible. This means the unit is not AirPlay ready right out of the box. AV7005 users must upgrade the firmware then purchase the $49.99 AirPlay package directly from the Marantz website. The actual upgrade and package installation is simple and takes about 40 minutes all together. Based on my experience using the built-in AirPlay implementation of the AV7005 I do not recommend it to anyone. I tried sending music from my MacBook Pro with iTunes and directly from my iPhone 4 to the AV7005 using AirPlay. No matter what I did the audio was choppy with dropouts and frequent complete disconnections playing 16/44.1 material. The Marantz AV7005 was wired to my Gigabit Ethernet switched network as was my MacBook Pro during my tests. This network performs very well for all other streaming including via AirPlay to an AirPort Express as discussed below. I talked to one manufacturer about AirPlay a few weeks ago and was told that AirPlay is far from a finished product from Apple. There are many implementation issues for third party manufacturers trying to incorporate this into a product. If my experience is any indication of what's to come I suggest waiting for the second generation of AirPlay devices unless one can thoroughly test the product in one's home.
<b>Overall</b> I'd say the built-in AirPlay capability is not ready for prime time.
<li><b>Optical S/PDIF (TosLink)</b></li>
<img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/airplay_callout-1.png" style="padding: 5pt 10pt 5pt 5pt;" align="left">The optical input of the AV7005 worked as expected while connected directly to a Mac Pro running OS X 10.6.7. No issues playing stereo content although the optical output of Macs is currently limited to 96 kHz under OS X. Because I was still interested in sending audio to the AV7005 using AirPlay I connected an AirPort Express to the processor via a TosLink to Mini-TosLink cable. This method worked like a charm every time. I highly recommend AV7005 users spend $100 on an AirPort Express, instead of $49.99 on the AirPlay upgrade package from Marantz. It's long been known the AirPort Express does not support high resolution audio. With this in mind I thought I'd play some high resolution 24/96, 24/176.4, and 24/192 music anyway to see what happens. I was able to play music at all the aforementioned sample rates without a hiccup however, as expected, the MacBook Pro / AirPort Express combination only sent 16 bit / 44.1 kHz audio to the AV7005. This was actually a very good thing for fans of playlists. Some DACs don't play a single note when an unsupported sample rate is sent to the component. This silence is often unacceptable when running through a multi-sample rate playlist while party guests are enjoying the music. Using the AirPort Express with AirPlay allows the music to keep rolling albeit with less sound quality. When using an AirPort Express with AirPlay I'd much rather have music playing even if it's downsampled to 16/44.1. I don't expect an AirPort Express to set the high end world on fire in terms of sound quality so I don't use it for serious listening anyway. Sending audio straight from my iPhone 4 via AirPlay and AirPort Express worked without issue as well.
<b>Overall</b> using an AirPort Express instead of the built-in AirPlay capability was very functional and worked great. No unforeseen issues. The combination worked as designed.
<li><b>Electrical S/PDIF (Coaxial)</b></li>
<img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/spdif-coaxial.png" style="padding: 5pt 10pt 5pt 5pt;" align="left">Going into this AV7005 <s>experiment</s> endeavor I had high hopes for the S/PDIF coaxial input. I hoped it would support all the common sample rates and sound good. Fortunately both of these hopes came to fruition. I used a Mac Pro in combination with a Wavelength Audio WaveLink asynchronous USB to S/PDIF converter to connect to the AV7005's coaxial input. The cables used in this combination were a three meter <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/ww-p-sl.jpg" class="thickbox" rel="ww">Wire World Silver Starlight USB</a> and a three meter AudioQuest Eagle Eye 75 Ohm BNC Digital Cable. Sending audio to a DAC or preamp processor using a USB to S/PDIF converter allows the user to ignore the processor's supported file types (WAV, AIFF, FLAC, etc.) unlike sending audio via Ethernet DLNA/UPnP. The playback software already converts the encoded files such as WAV and FLAC to straight PCM before sending it out the computer's USB port. What matters for playback are the sample rates supported by the S/PDIF interface(s). Using iTunes with Amarra 2.2 and Pure Music 1.74a, while hiding Pure Music's Music Server Controls (?H), I played files from <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/coax-44.png" class="thickbox" rel="16-44">16/44.1</a> through <a href="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/graphics/2011/0512/coax-192.png" class="thickbox" rel="24-192">24/192</a> with absolute ease. I really liked the coaxial S/PDIF input on the AV7005. I highly recommend using this input if at all possible. The combination of WaveLink and AV7005 act exactly like every other DAC discussed here in the Computer Audiophile forums. The only important configuration change one must make is setting the processor to Direct Mode. This bypasses all Digital Signal Processing that is designed to change the sound by design.
<b>Overall</b> this is the best sounding and most functional digital interface on the Marantz AV7005. It's the only interface I would use for serious listening.
<b>Final Thoughts on Using a Preamp Processor or Receiver</b>
The first thought that comes to mind as I think back on my use of the Marantz AV7005 preamp processor is it's a jack of all trades and master of none. This type of component isn't typically what audiophiles use when going for the absolute best sound quality. Rather this type of component is used where most of its capabilities are needed. It's a cost effective way to meet the needs of the music lover and movie buff. As I said in the opening paragraph, I couldn't care less what components one uses to satisfy one's musical needs. In a pinch I'll take Pearl Jam's Vitology album through an AM radio. It's the music that produces a good feeling in most people. Accepting compromised sound quality isn't something I prefer when I have a choice. I'm not usually in an AM radio requiring pinch or in a position that requires the use of a preamp processor or receiver. Throughout my listening sessions with the Marantz AV7005 I compared its sonic qualities to the Bel Canto DAC 1.5 ($1,395) and the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC ($5,000). In all comparisons with all music the AV7005 could not compete with the DAC 1.5 or the Alpha DAC. The AV7005 smoothed out all music and removed all transient slam from every recording I played. The preamp processor contains very capable internal components but way too many of them to implement at a high level for a reasonable price. Even if the design team had an unlimited budget and no target price it's entirely possible that such a component simply is not capable of besting well designed high end separates. Computer Audiophile readers thinking about going the preamp processor or receiver route instead of separate components should think twice or three times before spending any money on such a component. CA readers without the option of separate components should be happy knowing they can, at a minimum, become computer audiophiles by connecting a music server to a preamp processor or receiver using one or two of the many connection options available.
<li>Product - Marantz AV7005 Preamp Processor</li>
<li>Price - $1,500</li>
<li>Product Page - <a href="http://us.marantz.com/us/Products/Pages/ProductDetails.aspx?CatId=AVSeparates&SubCatId=0&ProductId=AV7005">Link</a><a href="http://us.marantz.com/us/Products/Pages/ProductDetails.aspx?CatId=AVSeparates&SubCatId=0&ProductId=AV7005"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a></li>
<li>User Guide - <a href="http://us.marantz.com/DocumentMaster/US/AV7005_U_EN_UG_v00.pdf">(PDF 28MB)</a><a href="http://us.marantz.com/DocumentMaster/US/AV7005_U_EN_UG_v00.pdf"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a></li>
<li>Spec Sheet - <a href="http://files.computeraudiophile.com/2011/0512/AV7005-spec-sheet.pdf">(PDF)</a><a href="http://files.computeraudiophile.com/2011/0512/AV7005-spec-sheet.pdf"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a></li>
<li>Rear Drawing - <a href="http://files.computeraudiophile.com/2011/0512/AV7005-rear-drawing.pdf">(PDF)</a><a href="http://files.computeraudiophile.com/2011/0512/AV7005-rear-drawing.pdf"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a></li>
<li>AirPlay Document - <a href="http://files.computeraudiophile.com/2011/0512/AV7005-AirPlay-Flysheet.pdf">(PDF)</a><a href="http://files.computeraudiophile.com/2011/0512/AV7005-AirPlay-Flysheet.pdf"><img src="http://images.computeraudiophile.com/ca/icons/ex.png" style="padding: 0pt 0pt 0pt 3pt;" alt="link"></img></a></li>
<li>Source: <a href="http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/Computer-Audiophile-Pocket-Server-CAPS">C.A.P.S. Server</a>, <a href="http://www.apple.com/macpro/">Mac Pro</a>, <a href="http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/">MacBook Pro</a></li>
<li>Playback Software Windows 7: <a href="http://www.jriver.com/">J River Media Center 16</a></li>
<li>Amplifier: <a href="http://www.mcintoshlabs.com/products/mcintosh-mc275-vacuum-tube-power-amplifier.asp">McIntosh MC275 amplifier</a></li>
<li>Loudspeakers: <a href="http://files.computeraudiophile.com/2010/0418/Brochure_Fidelio.pdf">Verity Audio Fidelio loudspeakers</a></li>
<li>Cables: <a href="http://www.audioquest.com">AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable</a>, <a href="http://www.wireworldcable.com/products/107.html">Wire World Silver Starlight USB Cable</a>, <a href="http://www.audioquest.com">AudioQuest Redwood Loudspeaker Cable</a>, <a href="http://www.audioquest.com">AudioQuest Niagara Balanced XLR Analog Interconnects</a>, <a href="http://www.audioquest.com">AudioQuest Eagle Eye 75 Ohm BNC Digital Cable</a>, <a href="http://www.kimber.com/products/interconnects/digital/select/ks2020/">Kimber Select KS2020 Digital Cable</a></li>