Marantz was founded decades ago by the legendary highend audio pioneer Saul Marantz, and so the firm’s modern-day products have a lofty reputation to uphold. Fortunately, Marantz’s flagship SR9600 AVR is up to the task, delivering the sonic goods in all the areas that matter most, and bristling with features, functions, and inputs—including dual HDMI and i.Link inputs. The receiver’s signature feature is its automated MRAC (Marantz Room Acoustic Calibration) system. Using an included calibration microphone, MRAC determines the system’s speaker configuration, applies appropriate speaker size and distance settings, and then calculates two sets of speaker- and room-specific EQ curves. The AUTO 1 settings equalize for flat in-room frequency response, while the AUTO 2 settings adjust center-channel and surround speaker voicing to match the L/R mains.
On films, the SR9600 reveals two personas, one that is delicate and full of finesse, and the other exhibiting take-no-prisoners power. On Jim Jarmusch’s brooding and introspective Broken Flowers, for example, the SR9600 perfectly captured lead actor Bill Murray’s subtle vocal inflections along with the soft, atmospheric sound effects that establish the film’s mood. Soundtrack reproduction doesn’t get much more refined than this. Yet on big action sequences, the SR9600 turns into an absolute tiger. On demanding scenes such as the “Echo Game” sequence from House of Flying Daggers, the “Under Attack” sequence from Master and Commander, or “The Flying Boat” sequence from The Aviator, the Marantz delivers explosive dynamics while preserving fine textural details. The SR9600’s intoxicating combination of abundant power (140Wpc) and precise control is hard to fault.
On music, the SR9600’s sound is characterized by sweet and detailed highs, a relaxed and open midrange, and potent foundational mid-bass that sounds rich yet clear. Overall, the Marantz impresses with its almost self-effacingly natural sound, but when the receiver’s PURE DIRECT mode is engaged, the sound becomes noticeably more transparent. The PURE DIRECT mode helps the SR9600 nail the deep, smoky sound of Patricia Barber’s voice and the intricate textures of her keyboard work on “Bye Bye Blackbird” from the artist’s Nightclub SACD [MFSL]. The SR9600 is at its best when playing audiophile classics that make lesser AVRs sound coarse and compressed.