The SR6003 receivers from Marantz have gone for a different look than previous designs. It's curvier, more sophisticated, and yet also much simpler. You'll only find two dials on the fascia of the SR6003 — volume, and input selection. All of the other controls like the Menu button and direction buttons are hidden under a damped flap. The amp comes in two colours — classic black, and "New Silver" which is actually closer to Rose Gold.
In the centre of the receiver is a wide LED display, and the most "Denon-looking" yet. Of course, there's a reason it looks like this — both manufacturers are owned by the same company. That's not to say it's a poor display — anything but, and it's certainly easier to read than the equivalent Sony, for example.
The remote is quite functional, but perhaps not the most stylish the company has ever released. We still have fond memories of the almost porcelain-finished remote shipped with the older SR7200. While the new version is a learning model we'd still plump for a Logitech Harmony One, which is now available for under AU$200 online.
The SR6003 is a fully featured receiver, and given that it’s available for two-thirds of the price of the similarly specced Rotel makes it very good value indeed. Power output is high at 100W x 7, though knowing Marantz this is likely to be conservative as well. Needless to say it should power all but the most esoteric of speakers.
As a modern receiver it supports the latest HD standards — Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio — and while there are still only a handful of players that can output these streams natively, the list is definitely growing. While these formats are still relatively new, being able to offload them to a high-quality DAC will have a better result than relying on the decoders of a budget player.
We were a little disappointed to see the receiver only offers the bare minimum of three HDMI V1.3a inputs — which will fill up really quickly — but it does offer two outputs. This means you could connect both a projector and a plasma at the same time.
The SR6003 features a colour on-screen GUI. But it's not as pretty looking as the Sony STRDA5400's menu, and it's really just replacing the traditional black background with blue and sharper text, but it's easier to use than those on both the Sony and Rotel. We really liked the ability to view each source and their inputs on a single screen, and to change them on the fly. This makes set-up a breeze.
Like its competitors, the Marantz features a video upconverter/upscaler which will output video at up to 1080p, and on the audio side you can make the most of MP3 files with a USB input and the "M-DAX" music enhancer. And like most other "musical" amplifiers, the Marantz comes with Pure Direct, which turns off video circuits and the display; however, unlike some competitors there was no real effect from turning it off or on.
As we expected from a company that prides itself on audio, the Marantz was nothing short of thrilling. It was adept at movie soundtracks as it was with music, and the surprising thing was that it was able to keep up on most counts with the more expensive Rotel.
Like many of the receivers we've seen recently, the Marantz features an auto-calibration routine. And while it was less time consuming, and therefore presumably less thorough than others, the results were some of the most convincing we've seen in a while. While the current trend is for an overwhelming LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel — you know, to give you that "trouser-flapping" feeling — the Marantz's set-up routine provided excellent integration of bass effects and surround channels. Nowhere was this more evident than when decoding a Dolby TrueHD stream from the Spider-Man 3 Blu-ray. The rooftop chase scene between the new Green Goblin and Peter Parker gave us the chills. This is how home cinema should be!
DVD replay was just as exciting, and the Dolby EX mix of the Bridge of Khazad-dum from Fellowship of the Ring was handled with sure-handed restraint, and was just as exciting and affecting as ever. Affecting why? Well, we don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but Gandalf totally carks it.
As befits the Marantz heritage, the SR6003 was very good at replaying music. We used the on-board DAC, and found that the receiver was very good at locking stereo instruments in place, though not as pin-sharp as the Sony. Listening to Ben Harper's Widow of a Living Man was natural sounding, but maybe a little "smeared" in comparison to the pin-sharp imaging of the Japanese machine. While we found the Rotel to be a little better at music, it was only marginal, and perhaps not $1500 different. Rock music was equally assured, and only when it got up to 100dB reference levels did the bass from our Nick Cave test track become a little woolly — though this could also be due to the B&W speakers we use for testing.
Lastly, we tried the USB input with a memory key filled with music. It did something with the track order we hadn't seen before. It made up its own set order at random. While some will just play tracks alphabetically, and even fewer will play (correctly) by the track order number, the Marantz spat them out as it felt like. Still, files ripped at 320Kbps sounded great and didn't really need the M-DAX equaliser. The playback screen is a bit dull, but at least the amp uses a screensaver.
With the dollar in flux at the moment, the price of the Marantz SR6003 is still quite volatile. From an original AU$1899, it peaked at AU$2499 a few months ago, but now sits at a more sensible AU$2199 — and at this price it's a really good buy. It features a classic build, superb sound and tip-top usability. This is one of the best receivers we've seen for a long time.