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Marantz NR1506 review: A compact home theater dynamo

If all of that wasn't enough, the NR1506 also offers Bluetooth connectivity, so you can play any smartphone or tablet-based audio app to your big speakers. A front-mounted USB port lets you play music files from a flash drive, or charge your phone.

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The receiver offers five channels at 50W each, in addition to dual subwoofer outputs. If you trade up to the 1606 you'll get an extra two channels or the option for a second powered zone. While the 1506 supports most surround standards including DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, it does lack playback for height-channel standards Atmos and DTS:X. (Hint: the vast majority of you won't miss them.)

One of the biggest changes to the new model is support for next-gen video standards -- something even last year's 1605 lacked. The NR1506 offers six HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0a compatibility, which also includes HDCP 2.2 for playback of 4K media. In addition, the Marantz offers one optical and one coaxial digital plus three analog inputs.

Performance

Starting with the brand-new high-resolution, 5.1-channel surround remix of Roger Waters' "Amused to Death" Blu-ray, soundstage depth and spaciousness were impressive, the pounding drums, frenetic guitars, and Waters' snarling vocals completely energized the CNET listening room. Between songs we heard the mix's quiet sounds of birds and insects fan out across the perimeter of the room. The Marantz NR1506's layered soundstage had plenty of depth and spaciousness.

Listening to the scene in "Master & Commander" where a small group of British naval officers are playing chamber music below decks, the NR1506 not only did a fine job with the sound of their string instruments, every creak and groan of the wooden ship, and the pounding surf outside provided an atmospheric backdrop for the music. Later, when the crew practices loading and firing the ship's cannons the NR1506 power reserves were put to the test. Would its 50 watts per channel provide the necessary oomph? Yes, up to a point: the NR1506 played the cannon blasts loud, but when we pushed the volume control louder than we normally would listen the NR1506 sounded a little strained.

The more expensive Onkyo TX-NR646 receiver did a better job unleashing those ferocious blasts, but otherwise the two receivers sounded similar. The TX-NR646's bass definition was a tad better, and the midrange was clearer, but the two receivers were more alike than different sounding.

Continuing with the ocean-going theme we watched a bit of "Titanic," focusing on the scenes where the water crashes down the stairs and hallways; the powerful roar of the flood and screams of panicked passengers sounded eerily realistic.

After that, we settled down with a few acoustic jazz CDs in stereo, and the NR1506's refinement and warmth were on full display. It's much more accomplished than the Onkyo when it comes to playing music.

When it came to streaming we compared the NR1506 against the more expensive (and one year older) NR1605 using both Bluetooth and DLNA streaming via the Marantz control app. Any concerns that the cheaper amp lacked the authority of the NR1605 was immediately dispelled: we were able to crank the dynamic track Yulunga (Spirit Dance) by Dead Can Dance to over 100dB in our listening room without the NR1506 breaking a sweat. When compared with the same volume levels on the dials both amps produced identical sound levels and sound quality.

Switching to Bluetooth on the NR1506 and the weaknesses in the wireless standard became immediately apparent: using Jason Isbell's 24 Frames as a reference the singer's voice appeared to retreat back into the hall and the guitars lost sparkle compared against a DLNA stream. If you can go Wi-Fi with this receiver -- whether by DLNA or Spotify Connect -- it's worth the extra effort and the system can easily show you the benefits.

Conclusion

We really liked last year's NR1605, as it offered great features and great sound, and now Marantz's NR1506 rushes up to meet it on both counts. If you don't need a second zone, 7.2 channels or eight HDMI inputs, there is no real reason to upgrade to the 1606.

The Marantz NR1506 exudes confidence; we liked its low-slung design, mostly up-to-date features set and sound quality -- as long as we didn't play movies and music at annoy the neighbors volume levels. True, it lacks Dolby Atmos and DTS:X height channel surround capabilities, but we doubt those small omissions will be deal breakers for most potential NR1506 buyers. This receiver is a very strong contender in its price class, and a "best of both worlds" solution for anyone who wants all the latest audio streaming options along with the old-school surround sound and video switching chops.

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