Home theater receivers have one thing in common and that is their massive weight because of the numerous components that are necessary to provide power to every channel resulting to massive sound amplifications. Some of the higher-end home theater receivers need to be designed in a special way to reduce vibrations so the sound quality isn’t affected. However, Marantz wants to put an interesting twist to some of their more affordable home theater receivers. The company’s SR series of receivers rule the high-end spectrum while the NR series not only serve as the sub-$1,000 solutions but also the l low-profile solutions where space is limited. The Marantz NR1603 serves as the bigger brother of the two NR home theater receivers but costs $250 more. However, it costs $200 less than the cheapest Marantz full-size home theater receiver model. Does the NR1603 make any sacrifices compared to any of the SR models? Read on to find out.
Measuring slightly more than 4 inches high, the Marantz NR1603 is about half the height of ordinary receivers. It also manages to weigh less than 20 pounds which is still very heavy but it is considerably lighter compared to the mid-range and high-end models. While a thinner profile means less space for the front panel controls, Marantz does a pretty good job in squeezing in the essential controls and ports.
It features a dual-knob configuration so you can easily select the input source or adjust the volume. If you want to switch to a certain source, however, you must use the remote control to do this. It also features a reasonably-sized display so you can check the status. There are some buttons on the bottom of the display too so you can use features like Zone 2. The ports on the front of the NR1603 are very minimal with just a phones jack, setup mic, HDMI port and USB port. This isn’t exactly most convenient if you are used to plugging in old devices to the traditional composite ports that just about all home theater receivers have on the front but it could be better in the future as even the most affordable gadgets support HDMI.
The back of the Marantz NR1603 shows a huge difference in the amount of connections compared to the cheaper and also low-profile Marantz NR1403. The back of the Marantz NR1603 features 5 more HDMI inputs just like the NR1403 along with a single HDMI output. But the NR1603 also features some component video inputs and outputs along with an Ethernet jack making this home theater receiver just as complete as the full-size entry-level models.
Below is the back panel layout. Click on image to enlarge for a clearer view.
The Marantz NR1603 packs a lot of power in a small package which is a neat feat. It features discrete power amplifiers being able to provide 50 watts to each of the 7 channels. If you cannot use all of the channels, you can use an alternate configuration where you can set up a 5.1-channel home theater system and use the multi-zone feature so you can send another audio signal to a smaller stereo system located in another room.
The NR1603 is also capable of networking thanks to the Ethernet port. While there is no way to add Wi-Fi support to this particular home theater receiver, you can allow the NR1603 to receive content wirelessly if you just connect an Ethernet cable from the home theater receiver to a wireless router. Once a connection is established, the NR1603 can connect to online streaming services including SiriusXM and Pandora. But one of the coolest features that the Marantz NR1603 offers is exclusively for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users. The NR1603 offers AirPlay support which means that you can easily use your iOS device to stream music to the home theater receiver wirelessly. No additional accessories are needed to take advantage of this feature.
Unfortunately for other mobile operating systems like Android, you need to get the Marantz RX-101 accessory which is sold separately just so you can stream music through Bluetooth which is considerably weaker than AirPlay. But if you have a laptop or desktop that is connected to the Internet, all you have to do is install iTunes so the system can use AirPlay even if it is running Windows.
Android users are not completely left out though because the Marantz Remote App is available for both iOS and Android users. This app presents a friendly remote interface so you can conveniently control various aspects of the home theater receiver using your device’s touchscreen. The ordinary remote control is still available complete with batteries and should be pretty easy to learn. In fact, you are greeted with a setup assistant the moment you turn on the home theater receiver for the first time. This simplifies the installation process so you can get started after you made the necessary connections.
The audio quality of the Marantz NR1603 is just what you would expect from a full-size home theater receiver and the Audyssey MultEQ helps a lot in balancing the sound. Even 3D Blu-ray movies sound great and play back just fine thanks to the 3D pass-through technology.
Home theater receivers will continue to evolve every year and most of the manufacturers are trying to be up-to-date by incorporating the latest networking features and other technologies since more people are getting into mobile entertainment. At the same time, improvements need to be made on the audio quality. Marantz doesn’t have to really do this with the NR1603 since this is an entry-level AV receiver anyway but Marantz certainly took a clever approach to make entry-level home theater receivers attractive by reducing the footprint.
Because of the minimal design, the Marantz NR1603 should automatically be a consideration if you are looking for a home theater receiver that is priced under $700. It is safe to say that this home theater receiver is just as good as the larger models in this price range and AirPlay support and online streaming are major pluses. This is a great sign that future models may slim down without sacrificing features.
Update: There is a newer model > Marantz NR1608