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Marantz ES7001 SSX review: Marantz ES7001 SSX

Marantz ES7001 SSX

headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
Steve Guttenberg
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

5 min read

As one of America's oldest audio brands, it was inevitable Marantz would offer a single-speaker surround system. Every few months another manufacturer unveils a new one, and now it's Marantz's turn. With the ES7001 SSX Front Surround Speaker System, Marantz built a model that competes in the upper end of the single-speaker surround range. The ES7001 is self-powered, with above-average connectivity including HDMI switching for two sources and audio-only inputs for five more, and it has onboard Dolby and DTS surround processing. So if that's enough to handle your full range of AV sources, there's no need to buy a separate AV receiver.

7.4

Marantz ES7001 SSX

The Good

Virtual surround home theater system/speaker; three-way, tweeter/midrange/woofer design; supereasy hookup; 2 HDMI inputs plus fiive audio-only inputs (two analog, three digital); on-wall, on- or under -TV mounting options; optional matching subwoofer.

The Bad

Expensive; virtual surround is only so-so; no analog video inputs or radio tuner.

The Bottom Line

The Marantz ES7001 has a bigger, more full-bodied sound than most virtual surround speakers.

Design
The ES7001 is handsome in an understated way. Most of its front baffle is covered by a nonremovable black cloth grille. The cabinet's lower edge is trimmed in satin silver and has an input selector and volume controls. A small, centrally located display indicates volume level, as well as setup menu information. Tiny LED indicators convey status of the Mode, Subwoofer, and a DTS/Dolby/PCM operation. Build quality is commensurate with the ES7001's upscale list price.

The Marantz is sized to match medium to large flat-panel TVs. The speaker is 6.2 inches high, 42.5 wide, and 5.75 deep, and it weighs 26.5 pounds. Shelf-mounting above or below your display are the most likely placement scenarios, and the ES7001 can be wall mounted as well.

We used the ES7001's remote for setup and installation in the CNET listening room. There's no auto setup per se, but the ES7001's sound is fine-tuned by inputting information about its height (under or above the display), number of listeners (one or two-plus), and listener distance from the display. Finally, you let the ES7001 know if a powered subwoofer is hooked up. We would have appreciated an onscreen display, but we can't complain too much--the entire procedure took just a couple of minutes.

The remote isn't backlit, though it's generally easy to use. But since it has many of the setup controls mixed in with the buttons, chances are you'll inadvertently meddle with the setup or turn off the subwoofer output. We did, a few times.

Like most of the soundbars we've tested, the ES7001 doesn't offer bass and treble controls--if you like to fiddle with your sound, you're out of luck.

Features
The ES7001 uses two 0.75-inch tweeters, two 3.25-inch midrange drivers, and two 4.75-inch woofers to produce surround sound. That makes it a three-way design, a rarity for soundbar designs. Each of the six drivers gets its own amplifier, and power is specified at 26 watts, but we're unclear if that's the total power output, or if it's 26 watts for each driver. Marantz doesn't provide any information about the ES7001's OPSODIS (OPtimal SOurce DIStribution) surround technology, so we can't comment about it.

Connectivity is above average: you get two HDMI inputs (they're version 1.1 instead of the latest 1.3, but it didn't seem to have any adverse effect) and one output; two stereo analog, three optical digital inputs, and a subwoofer output jack. There's also a D-BUS (RC-5 Out) remote connection output jack for use with other Marantz components. Clearance around the HDMI connectors is very tight, so if your HDMI cables are thick and/or inflexible, you may have to work extra hard to make those connections.

Unlike the Yamaha YSP-4000, there aren't any analog video connections. That means any non-HDMI sources will have to be routed directly to your TV, with just the audio going through the Marantz. Also, if you have more than two HDMI sources, you could add an HDMI switcher to the mix, and use a universal remote macro to switch inputs accordingly.

Unlike many such single-speaker systems, the Marantz doesn't include a built-in radio either. If that's important to you, add a standalone tuner after the fact.

Marantz didn't send along the matching SW7001 subwoofer ($200), so we can't comment on how the ES7001 would sound with it.

The ES7001 comes with a three-year warranty; most single speaker surround systems offer just a single year of protection.

Performance
We used the Black Hawk Down Blu-ray to test the ES7001's home theater stamina. The film covers the true story of the American siege of the Somalian city of Mogadishu in October 1993. Before the action got going we were impressed with the sound of the dialog, it was more natural and full-bodied than what we've come to expect from single-speaker surround systems.

When the Black Hawk helicopter gets hit by rocket-propelled grenades, the ES7001 delivered the impact with gusto. Still, when the helicopter crashed we missed the room-shaking bass we'd get from a subwoofer. We hooked up our Aperion Bravus 8D subwoofer to the ES7001, which improved the experience noticeably. Not only did it add bass, but the ES7001 sounded better overall and dynamics improved thanks to the sub.

At this point we compared the ES7001 with Denon's single speaker surround home theater system, the DHT-FS3. The Denon is a whole lot smaller and half the weight, but comes with its own subwoofer. The first thing we heard from the Denon was that it projected a bigger and more precisely defined surround field. The Marantz--with or without the Aperion subwoofer--sounded more substantial. The Denon was tonally thinner, and scaled back the battle scenes' explosions and gunfire. When the helicopter crashes and its rotor blades are ripped off, the Denon lets you hear each sheared blade's destruction as a separate sonic event. The Marantz blurs the sounds together, but portrays the same scene with greater visceral force.

The Denon's surround can be heard by listeners seated over to the left and right, as well as the center of the couch; the Marantz's surround is best only for the centrally located listener.

That said, the ES7001 (with or without a sub) is an above-average sounding virtual surround speaker. The Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live At Radio City Blu-ray sounded clear and clean. When Reynold's string-bending slide guitar solos were cheered on by the crowd, the ES7001 put us in the best seat in the house.

We finished up listening to CDs. Again, the ES7001's clarity came to the fore. Thunder, by bass players Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Victor Wooten made the case for the speaker's musicality. Sans sub, the bass went deep enough, and the pitch definition of the three players was decent. Turned up nice and loud, the Black Keys blues rock was also beyond what we expect from this type of speaker.

As always, that's not to say you couldn't buy much better sound for the price of the ES7001 by opting for a 5.1-channel satellite/subwoofer system, like the Energy RC-Micro. But even a microsatellite system like that would involve a lot more wires and potential clutter than the single-speaker Marantz.

7.4

Marantz ES7001 SSX

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7
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