Over the past decade, the popularity of multiroom audio systems has continued to expand. Most systems are built around a home theater control center that's located in the living room and is capable of distributing audio to designated rooms where users can control volume level and select what they want to hear: satellite radio, CD, digital music server, and so forth. But the hardware, labor, and installation costs required for these whole-house audio solutions keep the potential market small compared to the wider home theater population.
Marantz is hoping to change that with the ZR6001SP. The installation-free, distributed audio system is a two-part affair consisting of a ZR6001 A/V receiver and a ZC4001 audio client, the latter of which looks like a tabletop radio with built-in stereo speakers. Eschewing complicated networking solutions--and the need for professional installers--the ZR6001SP uses a technology called Digital Audio via Electrical Distribution (DAVED) which uses the AC wiring in your home to transmit audio signals from the ZR6001 receiver to the ZC4001 client. While the $1,300 package comes with a single ZC4001, the system can support up to a total of six (additional clients are available for $300 each). The DAVED streaming technology is definitely impressive, and the ZR6001 is a great A/V receiver, but plug-and-play simplicity of the system is tempered by its inability to stream from digital audio sources and the fact that the sound quality of the ZC4001 client is merely on par with a small table radio.
Editors' note: Marantz America will not honor the warranty on Marantz components purchased from unauthorized dealers or if the original factory serial number has been removed, defaced, or replaced. If in doubt about a particular online or brick-and-mortar retailer, call Marantz at 630/741-0300. The nexus of the Marantz ZR6001SP system is the ZR6001 A/V receiver. It has the same luxurious look and feel we found on last year's Marantz SR5500. The 30.2-pound receiver is 6.44 inches high by 17.25 wide by 18.25 deep. The receiver lacks auto setup and calibration, but the manual on-screen logistics were above average, so we had everything squared away in a matter of minutes.
That intuitive elegance wasn't carried over to the large remote; it isn't backlit and has tiny buttons, so it won't win any awards for ergonomic design or layout. It controls both the A/V receiver and the ZC4001 client. The dearth of separate remotes is a strange oversight given that the components are designed to reside in separate rooms. We would have preferred if Marantz included an additional, smaller remote with basic functions for the ZC4001 client.
The ZC4001 audio client is about the size a decent tabletop radio: It is 5.1 inches high by 14.25 wide by 4.5 deep and weighs 6.6 pounds. The curved dark grey cabinet is constructed from medium-density fiberboard (MDF), and the silver front panel has a large LED display, and a backlit Marantz logo. The top surface has volume up and down buttons, a mute control, a row of ten input-selector buttons and basic transport controls for a CD player. (There's no built-in disc player, but it can control a player attached to the receiver in the other room). You can mate up to six clients from one ZR6001 A/V receiver and extra ones can be purchased for $300 apiece. Or you can just move one client from room to room when the need arises (the built-in handle makes it easy to tote). The Marantz ZR6001SP system is comprised of the ZR6001 A/V receiver and the ZC4001 audio client. The ZR6001's amplifiers produce 95 watts for each of the seven channels with 8-ohm rated speakers and 115 watts for 6-ohm speakers. The onboard 32-bit processor decodes all the standard Dolby and DTS surround sound formats, SRS Circle Surround II, and Dolby Headphone processing (which produces satisfying surround effects over conventional stereo headphones).
The ZR6001 has a total of five A/V inputs, including the front panel's set, but only two accept component video sources (three is the industry standard). The receiver will convert composite and S-video sources, such as VCRs, to component video, which means you'll only need to run one set of video cables from your receiver to your TV. At least, you'll only need one set of analog video cables: We were disappointed to note the ZR6001 isn't equipped with HDMI inputs or switching, which will be increasingly useful as HDMI-equipped high-definition A/V sources (PlayStation 3, HD-DVD/Blu-ray players, HD cable/satellite boxes) become more popular. Instead, you'll have to run any of your HDMI sources straight to your HDTV, and limit the ZR6001 to handling their audio instead.
There are three sets of stereo analog audio inputs, two of which have tape-out loops. Digital audio connectivity runs to four inputs (two optical, two coaxial) and two outputs (one each: optical and coaxial). The 7.1-channel analog inputs ensure compatibility with soundtracks from DVD-audio, SACD, Blu-ray, and HD-DVD players. And, if the need or desire for more power ever arises, you can use the 7.1-channel preamp outputs to drive a separate power amplifier.
Rounding out the ZR6001's standard connections is an RS-232C port for use with computer-controlled systems and fixed and variable stereo audio outputs. The ZR6001 is a seven-channel receiver, but if you use only five channels in your main system, you can reassign the "surround Back" channel amplifiers to drive a set of "B" stereo speakers in another room (in lieu of another ZC4001).
Just being able to stream audio from the receiver to the clients would be nice, but Marantz has provided the ability to remotely control additional audio components as well. A set of RC-5 connectors and four infrared (IR) emitters on the back panel (for interfacing with Marantz and third-party devices, respectively) allow the ZR6001 to control audio sources such as CD/DVD players and changers, satellite TV and radio tuners, tape decks, and more. If the device isn't already part of the receiver's list of built-in control codes, the system can "learn" the IR codes for other audio sources (just like a good universal remote can), so your choice of components is wide open.
The major "gotcha" of the ZR6001 is that it can transmit audio signals to the ZC4001 clients only from components hooked up to the receiver's analog inputs. This means you might have to make multiple connections for some components (CD/DVD players, satellite radios) if you prefer the digital signal in the main room. Multiple users can listen to multiple sources on each ZC4001 simultaneously--for instance, listening to the FM radio in the bedroom and CDs in the kitchen, while someone else is watching a DVD on the home base ZR6001. And since the DAVED system is bidirectional, you can change radio stations or CD tracks from those remotely located ZC4001s as well.
The ZC4001 audio client has sleep and wake-up timers, so it can be used as an alarm clock. The stereo speakers' size wasn't listed, but they're pretty small, and each one is powered by its own 7-watt amplifier. There's also a single set of analog audio inputs, so you can just use the client as an impromptu set of speakers for, say, an iPod.
When you consider the value of the included ZC4001 ($300) and the ZR6001 receiver (which is otherwise very similar to the $650 SR5600), you're essentially paying about $350 for the DAVED technology. Yes, the ZR6001SP's total $1,300 price is far less expensive (and easier) than running wires between two or more rooms in your house, but you could accomplish nearly the same level of multiroom usability by putting a decent table radio/CD player, such as the Cambridge SoundWorks Radio CD 740 ($350), in each room. But that wouldn't be as well integrated as the ZR6001SP system, as cool-looking, or capable of playing the same music in every room of your home. (Those with large digital music collections might also consider the Sonos Digital Music System.) If you have a pool in your backyard, you can even plug in a ZR4001 speaker and have your music out there as well. Another advantage over conventional, wired multiroom systems is that if you move to a different house or apartment, you can take the DAVED system with you. It's also worth noting that Marantz is developing other systems with this technology.The ZR6001 A/V receiver's sound on music and movies was excellent. Despite Bruce Willis sleepwalking through his role, the cop thriller 16 Blocks proved the ZR6001's home theater skills were up to snuff. The DVD's street scene atmospheres were vividly portrayed, and the occasional violence erupted with brutal ferocity. Turning to music, the nervous energy pulsing through the first tune of Tom Petty's Highway Companion CD was clear and precise. By comparison, the ZR6001 sounded a little more open--with better and deeper bass, and a more spacious soundstage--than the Pioneer VSX-1016TXV receiver ($499 list).
The ZC4001 speaker's fidelity is good for its size, but the limitations of its size and paltry power renders a sound that's more or less on par with a Boston Acoustics or Tivoli table radio. That might have something to do with the fact that the ZC4001's stereo speakers are too close together to produce much separation. Meanwhile, while the speaker features SRS WOW processing to create a "panoramic" spatial sound-field, we barely detected any improvement or change to the sound when we engaged the effect. The ZC4001's speakers are too small to produce much bass, and while the Bass Boost feature was helpful, the resulting extra bass also added extra distortion to bass-heavy music.
Marantz's DAVED system uses a new type of PLC (power line communication) to transmit digitally coded signals over your AC power lines in your house or apartment. PLC systems have existed for years, but they frequently suffer from intrusive background noise. However, the all-digital DAVED system uses high frequency signals that are said to be immune to such interference; we certainly never detected any static, hum or noise while listening to the ZC4001's speaker. The system was also free from sound dropouts and background noise intruding on the music. However, we're aware of at least one torture test on a pre-production version of the ZR6001SP system--sharing an electrical circuit with a vacuum cleaner and a hair dryer--that was able to cause some disruption. Likewise, you may need to plug both units directly into a wall socket (without an intervening surge protector) for best results.
Controlling other sources devices (CD players, satellite radios, etc.) from the ZC4001 client was fairly straightforward after we set them up on the ZR6001. But we were miffed that we needed to supply our own IR blasters. And the client's basic controls weren't sufficient for more advanced functions, making us wonder again why Marantz doesn't include a second remote.