What is the Marantz NR1200?
This is because the NR1200 is very clearly aimed at customers who have had an AV Receiver and speakers in the lounge for a few years but don’t want to continue with speakers in every corner. Conceptually, it is much closer to the company’s AV Receivers than it is the stereo amps and it doesn’t replace either. It is almost the perfect archetype for this burgeoning category of ‘Post AV’ equipment; two channel that meets the demands of former AV users.
Of course, being an archetype on paper and a great product in reality is not the same thing. Unlike some of the heftier amps we’ve looked at recently, the Marantz has to get everything done while costing £600. This means that on top of the bits an amplifier needs to have to work, it has extra components, more socketry and more licensing. Can this ambitious piece of kit deliver where it matters?
Specification and Design
This amp can be accessed in the ‘normal’ manner via three RCA line inputs and a moving magnet phono stage. Again, this might not seem a huge number compared to the options available from more traditional stereo amps but, as mentioned a few times recently, the number of people who have more than three analogue sources is pretty limited. Then, because to Marantz’s eternal credit, they never stopped fitting them, there is a moving magnet phono stage as well.
These trad inputs are then partnered with a rather more modern set of accompanying features. There is a single example of a coaxial and optical connection that can be assigned to any of the existing inputs. Then, in keeping with a number of rivals, there is a completely self-contained streaming module. This uses the HEOS platform which now provides the backbone for most Denon and Marantz product. HEOS is a combination streamer and smart platform, so an NR1200 can be used in the same house as another HEOS device, be it a smart speaker, AV receiver or soundbar and they will all appear in the same app.
This is actually the first time I’ve spent any meaningful time with HEOS and my response to it is largely positive with a few reservations. First, the good stuff. The app is stable, fast and fairly intuitive to use. There are plenty of embedded streaming services - the only real omission being Qobuz. There are some less desirable aspects though. The use of a queue function will forever annoy me. If I click on a track, I simply want it to play with any tracks that follow in that list - be it an album or playlist being played thereafter. HEOS has an unnecessarily elaborate Play Now/Next/Replace Queue system that adds nothing to the experience other than to induce delay. There also seems to be some issues with metadata recognition on some material I have here but that is the sort of thing you could sort in an afternoon if you were committing to HEOS long term.
The HEOS module is accompanied by AirPlay2 support and can be used wired or wirelessly. As well as the app, there is also a full function remote control that means that using the Marantz as a normal Hi-Fi product is no more difficult than a conventional amplifier. Like the Quad Vena II Play that passed through in the same period, you never feel that the standard functions are an afterthought.
Where the NR1200 heads off into new territory is that alongside this already respectable selection of inputs are five HDMI connections and a single output with ARC. These are able to process stereo audio but more usefully support HDCP 2.3, 4K Ultra HD 60Hz video, 4:4:4 Pure Colour sub-sampling, HLG, High Dynamic Range (HDR10), 21:9 video, 3D and BT.2020 pass-through - so everything save HDR10+ basically. No less significantly, there are two sub outputs and a separate left/right pre-out. These are customisable via an on screen menu system that will be completely familiar to anyone that has used an AV receiver in the last 20 years. Thanks to the presence of on board bass management and speaker positioning adjustment, the NR1200 has the scope to work in environments that other stereo amps are likely to struggle in.
The aesthetics of the NR1200 are entirely in keeping with the standard ‘design language’ of Marantz and if you like that (and I do), it won’t offend. Crucially, although the front panel is busy, it all makes sense and using the Marantz as the hub of a busy real world system of consoles, set top boxes and a random turntable (as Marantz presumably intends) is the sort of thing that works intuitively rather than being a struggle. The display is usually sufficiently informative to show you what is going on and if that fails, the app or on screen menu will help you work out what the issue might be.
The only real area where something has clearly had to give in the NR1200 is that it feels adequately but not exceptionally well bolted together. Marantz has long been very good at making their affordable products feel solid but there are limits to the amount of magic that can be worked here because that extremely broad specification has to be paid for somehow. Compared to an identically priced Rega Brio, the Marantz feels a little lightweight and insubstantial. There are two very important caveats to this though. The first is that the Brio - quite literally - does a fifth as much as the NR1200. The second is that - at the time of writing (Jan 1st 2020), the NR1200 can be found in many retailers for quite a bit less than the £600 suggested retail price. Judged at the £450-500 it can be picked up for, the NR1200 feels more solid.
How was the NR1200 Tested?
Initially running without the subwoofer attached, the Marantz reveals that some of this urgency is down to the bass extension being fractionally lighter than something like the Quad Vena II Play. The trade-off for this is largely a positive one because it helps that feeling of speed and general get up and go. The bass that it does produce is detailed, well defined and starts and stops convincingly. With a tiny sealed box speaker like the A1, it feels a bit lean. Partnered with the sort of affordable floorstander that might once have been the left and right speakers in a five-channel package being repurposed as a stereo pair, it is likely to make things rather better.
What is also immediately welcome is the top end. The NR1200 uses an AKM DAC rather than the almost ubiquitous ESS Sabre. Whether it is because of this or myriad other variables in the digital stage, the NR1200 manages to combine a ‘well lit’ top end with enough sweetness to ensure that even poorer recordings will stay sufficiently refined to be enjoyable. Again, via the Spendor, this is not really an issue but it will help with speakers with a more forward presentation.
Attaching a sub to the system works a charm. Running the BK on axis with the A1s means that a 60Hz crossover works beautifully, allowing the Spendor to naturally run almost to the bottom of its flat response and be effortlessly backed up by the BK. The speaker positioning options aren’t the same as a pure EQ system but do give the option to tweak settings to slightly improve the stereo image. The NAD M10 remains the undisputed champion of 2.1 operation but this, for a hell of a lot less, is very impressive.
It also means that TV and film material works well too. Continuing through the second season of Final Space, the Marantz does a good job of keeping up with the general insanity of the on screen visuals and presenting a convincing and enveloping performance. There is no attempt at virtual surround and this means that this immersion will depend to an extent on your speakers but if they can image properly, the effect is something that allows for the suspension of disbelief.
Briefly making use of the PS4 running via the NR1200 serves to prove that I’m somehow even worse at Red Dead Redemption II than I am at Grand Theft Auto V and that the stability, general latency and behaviour of the Marantz is as it should be. Perhaps the only area that might be seen to be a little off the pace at the price point is the phono stage. If you are keen on using records, the amplifier of the NR1200 is up the job but there will be benefits to an external phono stage. As there are spare inputs to do this, it is hardly the most heinous of crimes in an amp that can do its own streaming, internet radio and even offers DAB and FM.
- Superbly flexible selection of features
- Easy to use
- Lively and engaging sound
- Feels a little lightweight
- HEOS has some minor operational niggles
- Phono stage is good rather than great
Marantz NR1200 Stereo Receiver Review
Let’s return briefly to an amp already referenced once in this review as a build quality benchmark, the Rega Brio. If you have source equipment, no TV and a room that allows for the correct placement of speakers, the Rega is - by quite a considerable margin - the better of these two amplifiers. Having made this comparison, I must now point out, it is meaningless. These two products do not occupy the same space and should not be on the same shortlist. Like a few amps we’ve looked at recently, the Marantz should really be seen as an all-in-one system to which you just add speakers, be they new or repurposed and, when seen that way, it’s exceptional value for money. If you have become fond of the video and input collation of an AV receiver but feel that it is time to reduce the number of speakers in the house, this is an indispensable piece of kit. The Post AV category is starting to take shape and the Marantz is part of it that and comes Highly Recommended.
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