If traditional home cinema is to flourish, it needs AV receivers like the Marantz NR1604. It’s no secret that real-world consumers have fallen out of love with the surround sound behemoths of yesteryear – incredible hulks just don’t cut it anymore (unless they’re green gamma-soaked scientists). Home audio has downsized dramatically, and AVRs have been slow to follow suit. Just as well then, that this third iteration of Marantz’ slim-line NR models is, simply put, the best yet. When it comes to form, functionality and outright fun the NR1604 pretty much nails it. 

It goes without saying that by its nature this style of receiver isn’t so much about reckless performance, as usability (an often ignored phrase in the hedonistic world of home theatre). The dinosaur, it seems, is evolving.

Chip off the old block

Cosmetically, the NR1604 looks much the same as its slim forebears, with distinctive Marantz fascia moulding. The display is legible from a distance and connectivity reasonable. There are six HDMI inputs (actually seven, but one of the rears is a mirror of one on the fascia) and a single output, augmented by a host of assignable analogue and digital inputs. There are two component inputs, phono AV, a trio of stereo connectors and optical/coaxial digital inputs. The fascia USB is optimised for iOS device playback but can stream music files from any connected USB thumb drive.

There’s also a second zone stereo phono output, Ethernet connection and M-Xport accessory dock with 6v power output. The receiver will support 4K passthrough, should you add a 3,840 x 2,160 source at some point. This is a 7.1 design, but if you don’t need the additional rears, or 4K future-proofing, it’s probably worth considering the NR1504, a more affordable 5.1 alternative.

Setup couldn’t be simpler. Indeed, the first thing you seen when you power up is the graphical setup assistant, which will hold your hand and mop your brow as you configure the AVR. Covering everything from speaker configuration to inputs, the experience is newbie-friendly; you’re also invited to instigate Audyssey calibration at this point. 

Marantz has also improved the logic of its UI, with some of the obfuscation of previous models seemingly sorted. It may lack the bulk of a Jurassic AVR, but there’s no shortage of thrills to be had. In full-flight 7.1 mode the NR1604 is text-book immersive. Image steering is coherent and the main soundstage suitably spacious. You will, however, probably end up nudging the Audyssey settings. In terms of speaker location and basic calibration, the entry-level MultiEQ system here does a reasonable job. The process allows up to six seating positions to be mic’d, and applies Adaptive Low Frequency Correction along with crossover, delays and levels. Filter resolution is basic, a reflection of the limited DSP processing power onboard. 



By default the system also engages Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ, both of which are a debateable benefit. When these settings are turned off, the soundstage issues a sigh of relief. You can, of course, manually set crossovers and level. If you know how to tickle your own enclosures, great results can be gleaned. 

Officially rated at 50W-per-channel (into eight Ohms) this is not a volume monster. Crank it too high and the soundstage hardens and becomes a bit thumpy. In the average living room, though, there’s more than enough welly on tap to keep Gravity in orbit. The opening sequence in Fast & Furious 6 is a good litmus test for any system. When the duelling cars shift gears, the best sound systems deliver rapid, concussive acceleration. The NR1604 doesn’t manage that, but this is no criticism. You need to look much higher up the price ladder, perhaps at the brand’s SR line, to find those kind of driving thrills. It does, however, provide an engaging ride in the passenger seat.
 
And in terms of multichannel atmosphere this receiver doesn’t miss a beat. Nanny McPhee may not be an HCC demo regular, but it’s rich in broadly-painted ambience that this Marantz magically recreates.

Naturally, the NR1604 provides all the regular codec support and post-processing modes available, from lossless to DD 5.1 EX, in addition to a modicum of DSP modality. But there are more important niceties which endear this receiver to family usage, such as HDMI passthrough. You can leave a Sky+HD box, for instance, tethered to the receiver, and other family members can continue to use it without having to contend with activating the AVR.
 
The receiver also plays ball on a network. Pop it onto a LAN and you can listen to internet radio, play Spotify or stream music from a NAS or PC. File support covers MP3, FLAC , WAV, AAC and WMA. The receiver is also AirPlay compatible for iOS owners.

As a two-channel amplifier the NR1604 is on the right side of polite. It’s more BRITs than baroque, but has an articulate, poppy sensibility. 

Up to the task

Marantz has got everything just about right with this network-friendly, slinky AVR. If you don’t want a home cinema monster, but need a well-specified multichannel hub able to make the most of set-top boxes and Blu-ray – and savvy enough for file server and internet streaming – it’s well worth consideration. There’s equal lashings of common sense and pucker high-fidelity DNA on offer here. And if you doubt its prowess, shoot it out against any High Street all-in-one package. This non-Hulk will smash it.