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Marantz NR1508 review: The go-to receiver if you want a shorter big black box

When Marantz debuted its slim-line NR receivers way back in 2009, it was reasonable to assume they'd spark a revolution. Why did receivers need to be huge anyway?

marantz-nr1508
8.0

Marantz NR1508

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The Marantz NR1508 offers a plethora of features and commendable performance in a compact package. Despite its small size, the receiver sounds completely at home with blockbuster soundtracks. The HEOS system brings multiroom music to the company's entry- to midlevel line for the first time.

The Bad

No Dolby Atmos support and lower power than competing receivers. HEOS lags behind competitors such as Sonos and Google Cast in terms of the number of supported services and ease of use, and Play-Fi in the number of products available.

The Bottom Line

The Marantz NR1508 serves up a winning combination of performance and features in a sleek (for an AV receiver) package.

That change didn't quite come, and most receivers are still big and chunky. This year Onkyo and Pioneer did attempt their own slimline units, but neither is as well-built or as powerful as the NR1508 reviewed here.

Marantz is still the original and best, and while little has changed in terms of power or performance, the NR1508 is the most feature-filled example yet. Alongside 4K HDR support on the HDMI ports, it's also one of the first receivers to include Denon's HEOS multi-room music system.

With excellent performance and discreet looks the Marantz NR1508 is still the slim-line receiver to get, but if you're willing to go full-size, the Sony STR-DN1080 is a better receiver overall.

The Marantz is available for $550 or £499, and though Australian availability is yet to be confirmed you can expect it to run AU$1,000 or more.

Two inches shorter, still packs a punch

marantz-nr1508
Sarah Tew/CNET

After eight years Marantz still retains the original, distinguished NR look with only a few minor tweaks. The NR1508 features a black aluminum front panel with rounded resin edges and a pair of control knobs: one for volume and another for source selection. It stands only 4.1 inches high -- compared to the more typical 6.1 for the Sony -- but still manages to fit a large blue LED display onboard. Despite its squat height, it's still a regular 17.3 inches wide and 14.8 inches deep.

While Marantz has made some headway recently with updated onscreen displays, the NR1508 menu is still stuck in the past and not nearly much as as Sony or Yamaha. At least they've now allowed full-screen art from the "Now Playing" screen when you're streaming music.

marantz-nr1508
Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is kind of cute (in a remote control-ish way) and offers easy access to all of the receiver's main functions.

Features

Unlike almost every other receiver out there, Marantz's slim-line range is only refreshed every second year. The NR1508 replaces the NR1506, and with a small $50 bump comes the addition of the HEOS multiroom music system. The receiver also includes Airplay and Bluetooth, while a front-mounted USB port lets you play music files from a flash drive or charge your phone.

marantz-nr1508
Sarah Tew/CNET

The receiver offers five channels at 50W each, in addition to dual subwoofer outputs. The 1508 supports most surround standards including DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, but unlike the NR1608, it lacks playback for height-channel standards Atmos and DTS:X.

Connectivity includes six HDMI inputs (including one on the front) with HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 for playback of 4K and HDR media, with specific attention paid to Dolby Vision support. In addition, the Marantz offers one optical and one coaxial digital plus three analog inputs.

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The HEOS app offers a number of different streaming options

Using HEOS

HEOS is Denon's proprietary competitor to multiroom systems like Sonos and DTS Play-Fi. Seemingly hamstrung by legal spats with Sonos for a few years, it's now here in a bigger way and just started appearing in affordable receivers like the NR1508. 

HEOS allows you to use the phone app to send music to any compatible device on the network. It supports Spotify, Internet radio, Pandora, Amazon Music and SiriusXM, among others. It's just as easy to use as Yamaha's MusicCast system, and much easier than DTS Play-Fi. Streaming to the NR1508 using the app was straightforward, and sound quality was just as good as you'd anticipate from any digital source.

Sonos still wins for ease of use and service support, however, but it's not built directly into any receivers. Google Cast, meanwhile, appears on units like the Sony and provides superb support and ease of use.

Setup for HEOS speakers can be convoluted because you need a special three-pin cable to connect the speakers to the phone -- lose the cable and setup gets a lot harder. The receiver didn't require that cable, however, and was much easier to set up. We quickly got it working wirelessly through the setup menu, and the app picked up the receiver menu with no problems.

Listening

Now that we've spent a good deal of time auditioning Dolby Atmos & DTS:X equipped AV receivers with height channel speakers, we wondered how the Marantz NR1508 receiver would fare. With just five speaker channels and one subwoofer, would we feel like we're missing out? The short answer is, "not for one second" -- the NR1508's five-channel sound easily filled the small CNET listening room, thank you very much. Of course, larger rooms might do better with five speakers, plus height speakers in the front and rear channels, so nine-channel (or more) receivers might be required for maximum shock and awe in big rooms. How much is enough surround for you?

The NR1508 has just 50 watts per channel, while most other receivers passing through our listening room are rated at closer to 100 watts per speaker. Yet even when we pushed the volume way up via our ELAC Debut B5 speakers in the front left/right positions, Debut C5 center channel, and Debut B5 surround channel speakers, the NR1508 never sounded like it was working very hard. So 50 watts per proved more than adequate for movies and music. We also used a Klipsch R-110SW subwoofer for all of our tests.

We started listening in earnest with a concert DVD, "The Pixies Acoustic: Live in Newport," which was shot a couple of years after the band's reformation in 2004. The performances are loose and freewheeling, and the DVD's sound is absolutely superb, very clear and unprocessed. The NR1508 did its job by letting the band's music shine. We had no complaints and just enjoyed the show.

Then we turned up the heat with the World War II film "Hacksaw Ridge," and the sheer intensity of the machine gun fire, artillery blasts and exploding grenades were so powerful we could feel them through our feet! Fifty watts per channel indeed.

At that point we switched over to a Sony STR-DN1080 Dolby Atmos receiver. We returned to "Hacksaw Ridge," and noted the dialogue was less clear in the battle scenes than it was with the NR1508. Still, that one's soundstage spread over the five Elac speakers weren't as enveloping as what we heard from the STR-DN1080's extra height speakers.

Continuing with a DVD from the TV series "Lost" that was shot on location in Hawaii, the scenes in the jungle had great atmosphere, every detail of footsteps crunching the underbrush, thunderstorms, rain pelting leaves, and other ambient sounds were well played by the NR1508.

Two-channel music was also satisfying when we cranked up The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Honey's Dead" and the sheer pleasure of hearing a wall of massively distorted, albeit melodically distorted guitars, proved the NR1508 could rock out with assurance.

Should you buy it?

if you can live without Dolby Atmos and DTS-X "object-based" height surround effects, and simply "make do" with 5.1 sound, the Marantz NR1508 receiver deserves your consideration. We used Elac's entry-level speakers, but there's no reason why the NR1508 couldn't be teamed up with some higher-end KEF, Klipsch, or Emotiva speakers for even better sound.

Yet while the feature count has changed, and even improved with the addition of HEOS, it seems to have stood still in other areas. It looks the same as previous models and has identical power specs. Competitors are nipping at Marantz's heels, and the NR is no longer the outstanding product it was when it debuted all those years ago. 

But if you want slim, there's nothing to match the NR1508. Yet.

marantz-nr1508
8.0

Marantz NR1508

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 8