GOODSOUND!GoodSound! "Equipment" Archives

Published May 1, 2002

 

Marantz SR4200 Audio/Video Receiver

I’m always on the lookout for budget gear to recommend to my friends, co-workers, and GoodSound! readers, and recently I received a pretty hot tip. The buzz around the last CEDIA was that Marantz’s SR4200 had all the makings of a fine surround-sound receiver at a completely reasonable list price of $430. When I got the offer to hear it, I jumped at the chance.

Features

The feature set of a $430 receiver is going to be, well, pretty basic. After all, you can’t have all the bells and whistles of a flagship receiver for a quarter, or less, of the price. To build a high-quality, reasonably priced receiver, a manufacturer has to take a good, hard look at what it can include for the money. If it adds too many frivolous features, then build quality has to suffer. If it doesn’t include enough features, the receiver may not sell. It’s a balancing act I don’t envy having to pull off.

Surprisingly, Marantz has managed to stack the SR4200's features pretty well without adding extras that most people interested in a basic system will never use. For example, they decided to forego the typical 30 or 40 surround modes some competing products offer. Customers do get 96kHz/24-bit DACs (which will offer a performance upgrade for many older CD and DVD players), as well as discrete amplifier stages. These are features that clearly enhance the SR4200's sound quality.

The SR4200's selection of inputs and outputs is limited, although it should prove quite adequate for most systems. There are four video inputs, two S-video connections in addition to two more-typical composite hookups. Don’t bother looking for component-video inputs though, as you won’t find them at this price point. There are also three audio-only inputs and a very generous four digital inputs (two coaxial, two optical) and two digital outputs (one of each type).

The unit does not offer six-channel analog inputs -- a must for connecting a multichannel SACD or DVD-Audio player -- but, in a very unusual move for a receiver in this price range, it does offer a full complement of six preamp outputs, simplifying the addition of a more powerful multichannel power amplifier. This would be extremely helpful in the event you should ever require more power than the 70Wpc the SR4200 delivers. I took the opportunity to try this arrangement, hooking the Marantz up to a Rotel 976 amplifier, and I can attest that the SR4200 works just fine as a preamp.

The SR4200 is outfitted with plastic-nut binding posts, but, alas, you can leave your dual banana plugs behind, since the posts aren’t set for the standard 3/4" spacing used in North America.

The Marantz supports Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Pro Logic II, five-channel stereo, and a handful of other surround modes. This should accommodate the majority of home theaters. The tuner has 50 presets, or at least 10 times the number of marginally listenable stations on the dial in my little corner of the world. There’s also a sleep timer, display dimmer, night listening mode, and a source-direct switch, which bypasses the subwoofer crossovers and tone controls. A multi-source universal remote completes the list. The receiver is 17.31"W x 6.5"H x 14.38"D and weighs 21.1 pounds.

Set up

Setting up the Marantz SR4200 proved simple enough. One of the advantages of a receiver that doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time wading through features and settings you may not use. The only options on the SR4200's set-up menu are Speaker Size, Speaker Distance, Channel Level, LFE Attenuation, and Digital Input Assignment.

The menu system itself is a little awkward to navigate, but once you get used to it, it’s not bad at all. To make changes, you simply navigate through the options displayed on the receiver’s front panel via the cursor keys on the remote control. You click up and down to page through the options within a level -- right takes you down a level and left takes you up one.

Basic set up consists of establishing the speaker size (a necessity for the best home-theater performance) as "Large" or "Small," plus "None" for the center and surrounds, and "Yes" or "No" for a subwoofer, as well as the previously mentioned options. That’s really all there is to it and I had mine up and running in no time. The manual helps a little with the settings, but don’t expect a primer on how each setting might affect the sound of the rest of your system.

I used a Sony DVP-S300 DVD player and an Adcom GCD-600 CD player as sources and Acoustic Energy Aesprit 300 and Acoustic Research HC6 speakers. Everything was connected with Straight Wire interconnects and Monster Cable speaker cable.

Operation

Once the SR4200 is set up, operation is straightforward. Setting the mode to Auto allows the receiver to select the appropriate mode based on the signal it sees at the digital input -- selecting Dolby Digital, DTS or stereo as it sees fit. In this mode the end-user will rarely have to do more than turn the receiver on, select the appropriate input (such as CD or DVD) and set the volume level. This is perfect for those of us who have technophobic family members.

The remote is a simple affair that’s also used for the SR5200 and therefore has some buttons that are either improperly labeled (five-channel stereo is labeled "6-Stereo") or aren’t active at all. However, the remote is fairly well laid out and once you get used to the mislabeled and inactive keys, it’s not a problem to use.

Sound

Well, it may be simple enough to operate, but the $430 question is how does it sound? In a word, great! The thing that strikes me most about this receiver is the fact that it's absolutely dead quiet. Turn the volume up to near ear-bleeding levels and this receiver emits zero noise of any kind during pauses in the music. I've heard quite a few inexpensive receivers and most emit at least some slight hiss or hum at extremely high volume levels, but I heard nothing at all from the SR4200. This contributes to a black background behind your music.

First up: The Replacement Killers soundtrack [Varese 5915] at fairly raucous levels. The SR4200 had more than enough power to drive the moderately efficient Acoustic Research HC6 satellites (a small sub/sat system with an 8" powered sub) to ear-splitting levels in my average-sized family room. I also swapped in a pair of Acoustic Energy Aesprit 300s and ran them full range to see how well the Marantz would handle the bass of this highly active soundtrack, and whether the lack of a powered sub would tax the amplifier section in any way. Much to my surprise, the SR4200 never skipped a beat, providing ample bass with good control. The Marantz also produces a very precise and detailed soundstage, which was quite apparent listening to this soundtrack.

My standard test for bass control has been "Hotel California" off of the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over CD [Geffen 24725]. The SR4200 performed quite well on this test. The bass wasn’t quite as controlled as it is with my separate Rotel amplifier, but it wasn’t all that far off, either. The Marantz's slightly fuller bass has its advantages, though. When paired with the AR HC6 system, the result was good low bass from the powered sub and a little added lushness in the midbass of the satellites. I found this aspect of the sound extremely pleasing.

The 4200's midbass lushness doesn’t come at the expense of detail and high-frequency extension. On Jane Monheit’s latest CD, Come Dream With Me [N-Coded Music NC-4219-2], every nuance of her voice is clearly there, as is the air behind the cymbals on "Over the Rainbow." The clarity of female vocals was remarkable and the receiver preserved low-level detail to a satisfyingly obvious degree.

Some time back I was asked what I thought about the prospects of Dolby Pro Logic II. I’ve never really been a big fan of music surround modes but the Marantz SR4200 gave me a chance to finally put the question to the test. Unlike some other receivers that support Dolby Pro Logic II, the SR4200 doesn’t allow for adjustment of parameters within each mode. Initially, I thought this was a glaring omission of a required capability, but after listening to several CDs I decided that it works well enough as is. Maybe it’s better to leave well enough alone on certain things.

Dolby Pro Logic II was just the ticket for me on music with high ambient sound levels like the title cut from Rod Stewart’s Human [Atlantic 83411-2], where the background vocals carried just enough extra ambience to make it sound more like a real concert hall. But I knew I was onto something when I dropped the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session [BMG 8568-2-R] into the CD player. Here the Marantz SR4200 did an incredible job of recovering the ambience of the church that the album was recorded in. This was readily apparent on several cuts, but it really shone on "Mining for Gold" and "Blue Moon Revisited."

Let me make this simple: You want Dolby Pro Logic II in your music system. End of story. As I said, I’ve never been much of a fan of artificial music surround modes, but Jim Fosgate nailed it with Dolby Pro Logic II. It’s not for everything, but for some CDs I really enjoyed this mode on the Marantz SR4200.

Conclusion

The Marantz SR4200 is an outstanding receiver for the money. It’s dead quiet in operation with nary a hint of background noise or hum. It lacks some features people might desire, but it should be versatile enough for most people most of the time.

Overall, the SR4200's sound is clean, detailed and smooth. I was quite taken by just how polished this little receiver sounded with everything I threw at it. It probably isn’t the last word in ultimate resolution, but it did far better than I ever expected at anywhere near the price. Bass control is better than average, and with reasonably efficient speakers in modest-sized rooms, it should handle the power demands of most systems with ease.

The question is: would I recommend this receiver to friends, co-workers, and you?

I already have.

Price of equipment reviewed


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