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Marantz NR1403 review: A slim, simple receiver without frills

The Marantz NR1403 is a slim, handsome AV receiver with excellent sound and plenty of HDMI connectivity, although it lacks built-in networking.

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Matthew Moskovciak Steve Guttenberg
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Matthew Moskovciak

Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

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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.

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7 min read

AV receivers can be intimidating, with their giant metal chassis and overwhelming back panels. The Marantz NR1403 ($400) seems like a reaction to that, with a slimline design and sparse back panel that's decidedly different than your typical mainstream AV receiver's. There are sacrifices made in the spirit of simplification, most notably the lack of any networking capability, which rules out gee-whiz features like smartphone control and integrated streaming services. On the other hand, it's well-stocked with HDMI connectivity for the price, offering up six inputs, including a front-panel port. And despite the small size, its sound quality is excellent, comparing with some of the top 2013 models we've listened to.

Onkyo_TX-NR626_35636573_08.jpg
8.0

Marantz NR1403

The Good

The <b>Marantz NR1403's</b> is significantly thinner than most AV receivers. It packs in six HDMI inputs, which is the most you'll find at this price level. And despite the compact design, its sound quality is comparable to the best we've heard this year.

The Bad

There's no built-in Wi-Fi or Ethernet, so features like smartphone control and integrated streaming are missing. There's also no built-in Bluetooth, so you'll need a separate device for wireless audio streaming.

The Bottom Line

The Marantz NR1403 is a slim, handsome AV receiver with excellent sound and plenty of HDMI connectivity, although it lacks built-in networking.

Overall, if you're not interested in networking (and there are plenty of good reasons not to be), the Marantz NR1403 strikes us as an excellent value, especially if you appreciate its svelte profile.

Design: Slim and stylish
If you're frustrated by big, boxy AV receivers on the market, the Marantz NR1403 is a breath of fresh air. The difference starts with the "slimline" design that comes in at just 4.1 inches tall; for comparison, the Onkyo TX-NR626 is 6.8 inches tall. The NR1403 also just plain looks nice, with a subtly curved front panel that doesn't give the harsh impression that most of the "big metal box" models do. The one catch with the NR1403's handsome look is that while it is short, it is relatively wide (17.3 inches) and deep (14.4 inches). The NR1403 could also lose even the few front-panel buttons it has, but that's a nitpick on what is another rarity: a great-looking AV receiver.

Marantz vs. Onkyo
The Marantz (right) is much slimmer than the Onkyo TX-NR626. Sarah Tew/CNET
Marantz NR1403
Sarah Tew/CNET

The included remote is pretty decent, if you could say that about any AV receiver remote. It gets the basics right by not including too many buttons, while also giving critical keys like the volume rocker its proper prominence. It is a little disappointing that the NR1403 doesn't include the even better remote included on the step up NR1604, but it will suffice, especially if you'll mostly be using a universal remote.

Features: No networking, but does it matter?
Depending on your viewpoint, the Marantz NR1403 is either underfeatured or tastefully minimalist.

Marantz NR1403
Click to enlarge. Sarah Tew/CNET

The big difference between the NR1403 and larger, mainstream AV receivers is that the NR1403 lacks any kind of networking functionality. There's Ethernet or Wi-Fi, which means you'll be missing out on newer features like smartphone control and integrated streaming services and AirPlay.

However, network capabilities have always been a mixed bag on AV receivers. Most receivers still require Ethernet, which is often a pain to set up in the living room. And if you're able to get your AV receiver on the Internet, the payoff is underwhelming. Streaming services are clunky on receivers, smartphone control is rarely practically useful, and firmware updates usually only fix the networking features that aren't great in the first place. AirPlay is great for Apple fans, but many buyers would be better off with an Apple TV, which offers a lot more and a pretty interface. If you couldn't tell already, we don't miss the networking features that much.

Marantz NR1403
There's a front panel HDMI input, too. Sarah Tew/CNET

The NR1403 does provide plenty of connectivity with six HDMI inputs, including one front-panel input. That matches the most you'll find at this price level, from full-size receivers such as the Onkyo TX-NR525 and Pioneer VSX-823-K. The rest of the connections are sparse, with no component video ports at all, but it's not much a problem with most devices using HDMI.

Other feature considerations are less important for mainstream buyers. The NR1403 is "only" a 5.1-channel receiver, but most buyers won't need the extra functionality that a seven-channel receiver makes possible: surround back channels, powered second-zone audio, and Dolby Pro Logic IIz "height" channels. There's no analog video upconversion, but again, that's less of a concern now that most modern devices use HDMI.

Marantz does throw in one extra more worthwhile step-up: a three-year warranty. That's one more year than most manufacturers offer, providing much-appreciated peace of mind for a $400 purchase.

If you're looking for more-detailed feature comparisons, check out our giant AV receiver spreadsheet, which compares the NR1403 with other 2013 models as we review them.

Setup: Accurate and easy
The NR1403 features Audyssey's MultEQ automatic speaker calibration, which helps adjust the sound to suit your listening room. Plugging the supplied measurement mic into the receiver automatically brings up the Audyssey MultEQ onscreen display. Then it's simply a matter of starting the program, which sends a short series of tones through all the speakers and subwoofer. Once the initial series of tones are run, the display indicates Audyssey's findings, but for best results Audyssey recommends taking up to six measurement rounds, moving the mic to different positions near the main listening location, which takes around 10 minutes to complete.

Marantz NR1403
Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike some recent receivers we've reviewed, we found that the results were accurate. Audyssey onscreen does ask if you'd like the Dynamic Volume feature turned on, which reduces abrupt soft-to-loud volume changes, such as those that happen with commercial breaks between television programs or special effects in movies. We recommend leaving it off to hear the NR1403 sound at its best, and you can always toggle it back on using a single button on the remote when you need it for late-night listening.

Sound quality: Huge sound in a small package
Sound-quality evaluations of AV receivers (and other amplifiers) are controversial. Some say all AV receivers sound the same, others disagree, and we're not likely to settle that argument anytime soon.

What we can say is that AV receiver sound quality has much, much less effect on overall sound quality than speakers or room acoustics, so you're better off spending your home theater budget there. CNET's sound quality evaluations are strictly subjective, with resident golden ear Steve Guttenberg comparing similarly priced models in an identical listening environment using the same speakers.

The NR1403 may "only" be a 50-watt-per-channel receiver, but it's one of the best-sounding models we've tested of late. We showed it no mercy and played the train crash scene from the "Super 8" Blu-ray at a healthy volume, and the NR1403 didn't hold anything back. Even compared with one of the best-sounding receivers, the 165-watt-per-channel Sony STR-DN1040, the two receivers sounded about the same. The low bass impact of the crash was visceral with both receivers, though we should point out that most of that oomph was supplied by our Hsu Research VTF-1 subwoofer.

Marantz NR1403
Sarah Tew/CNET

It was much the same story with music. Pat Metheny's "Stranger in Town" on Dolby's "The Sound of HD3" Blu-ray sampler features the jazz guitarist playing off a battery of percussion instruments. Metheny's guitar seemed to float above the dense array of sounds spread out over the front and surround channels. The two receivers were closely matched, but the STR-DN1040 brought out a little more shimmer and sparkle from the cymbals and bells, while individual bass drum beats were easier to hear on the NR1403.

We next tested the Audyssey Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ features that promise to minimize abrupt soft-to-loud volume changes for late-night listening sessions. In the past we've sometimes felt that while Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume did the job, they also blunted the sound and sucked the life out of soundtracks, but that was less of a problem with the NR1403. The two features hushed the loudest parts of the "Black Hawk Down" Blu-ray without losing too much of the mayhem's sonic detail.

We finished up with sultry jazz singer Patricia Barber's high-resolution, audio-only Blu-ray of her classic album, "Modern Cool," to put the NR1403's musical talents to the test. This 1998 album was remixed in surround for the Blu-ray, with spectacular results. The bass, drums, percussion, piano, and guitar supporting Barber were reproduced with vivid accuracy, and the vocals sounded utterly natural. This is one of the best-sounding audio-only Blu rays we've heard to date, and the NR1403 didn't hold anything back. The stand-up bass' timbre was perfect, there was no thickening or bloat, and the instrument sounded like it was in the room. The NR1403's two-channel soundstage was broad and deep, so listening to CDs in stereo was hardly a letdown.

What are the alternatives?
If you like the Marantz NR1403's slimline look, but think it makes too many sacrifices features-wise, Marantz offers two step-up models: the NR1504 ($500) and the NR1604 ($650). The NR1504 adds networking and AirPlay, whereas the NR1604 steps up to 7.1 channels, seven HDMI inputs, and analog video upconversion. The NR1403 still sticks out as the best value for our tastes, but the other two models may work better depending on your needs. Harman-Kardon has also recently released a new line of somewhat slimmer AV receivers, and the AVR 1610 ($400) adds both networking and built-in Bluetooth for the same price.

If you're willing to consider a full-size receiver, the best value this year is the Sony STR-DN840, which packs built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay for $450. If you care about wireless features and don't mind the bulky look, you can't beat the STR-DN840 this year for value.

Finally, it's worth considering whether you even need a full-fledged AV receiver in the first place. If you're willing to downsize your home audio system to stereo, you might be able to use a compact integrated amplifier. They sound great, take up even less room than the Marantz, and can make your home theater simpler.

Conclusion: Excellent slimline value
The Marantz NR1403 ultimately comes down to its unique form factor. You'll be giving up networking features, but that strikes us as a fair compromise if you're going to use other devices for streaming anyway. Overall, if you're into the design, it's an excellent value that sounds great and has plenty of HDMI ports for all your gear.

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8.0

Marantz NR1403

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 6Sound 8Value 8