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.
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.
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.