Marantz NR1603

Getting enough oomph from your home cinema system normally requires you to store a super-size brick of a receiver underneath your television. Marantz likes to think otherwise, with its slimline set of NR receivers.

Sitting in the middle of the new range is the NR1603. Featuring a 7.1 channel setup, USB port, AirPlay support and plenty more as well, is this the sub-£400 receiver to go for? Or does its size let it down in the sound department?

Connectivity

The NR1603 checks all the boxes when it comes to connectivity. Things are so tightly packed around the back, in fact, that we can see those who have every possible connection hooked up having issues in terms of space.

So what do you get? Try to say all this in one breath: seven speaker binding posts, Ethernet, six HDMI inputs, one HDMI output - with audio return channel - one subwoofer output, preamp outputs, a USB connection, two component, and three composite video RCA sockets, a component video monitor output, one optical and one coaxial digital audio input and two stereo audio RCA jacks.

The lack of wireless connectivity can be a bit of an issue. Of course, you could connect the unit using a wireless bridge but this apparently doesn't allow for firmware updates, according to some forum reports. The long Ethernet connection route is worth it however, as the Marantz is bursting with internet.

Airplay

AirPlay is an essential feature if you happen to have any Apple products. Even PC users aren't left out, as long as they install iTunes. If you don't know already, AirPlay allows you to take an Apple device, or iTunes, and send the audio to an AirPlay receiver. It's a single button press to enable, and it's really very handy.

It's built in to the Marantz, but perhaps a slightly better solution would be just to buy an Apple TV and hook it that way, as you'd then ge full AirPlay connectivity - with video - all wire-free.

Design

The NR1603 is 43.9 x 10.4 x 39.6cm in size. It takes up roughly half the space of a normal full-size home cinema receiver.

Marantz's usual high-quality build is here. The dual-dial system on the front is quick for switching inputs and controlling volume. The display is nice and bright and the front-mounted USB is particularly handy for connecting iPhones and iPods. AirPlay renders that slightly redundant, although via USB you get to keep your phone charged too.

We especially like the way the symmetry of the two dials sits with the whole design of the Marantz. It looks slick and ensures that the NR1603 is fairly understated.

Marantz has opted for a choice of finishes with the NR1603. You can go for either a matte black or a silver/gold finish. The black is definitely our favourite. It's also - and this is a minor point - less eye-catching when sitting beneath your television, which should mean it won't distract you during movie-watching sessions with the lights dimmed.

Sound

The reason for the slightly bigger size in most AV receivers is a combination of plentiful connections and the internal wiring, power supplies and components of a home cinema system. With a size reduction in mind, the NR1603 works some technological design wonders to keep its size compact. The good news is that this clever design has had very little, perhaps even no, impact on the system's sound.

We loved the surround sound performance, but perhaps more surprisingly we also thought it was a solid stereo amp. This is actually more rare than you might think in AV receivers, so it's impressive that the Marantz does such a compelling job with stereo music.

The Audyssey MultEQ is a nice inclusion and further adds to the flexibility of audio you can get from the system. It essentially "listens" to your room and adjusts sound to best suit the environment. In practice, it can work wonders, given the right situation.

You get a powerful and complete sound from the system. It is clean and packs enough punch to add plenty of excitement to movies and music alike.

Verdict

The Marantz system represents a rounded and complete home cinema solution for anyone who doesn't fancy blowing a fortune on a set-up, but still wants good audio quality.

The slim design and good looks are more a bonus than anything, and as always Marantz's build quality is top-notch.

If you have got the money, and  the speaker set-up - or are prepared to invest in getting one - then this is a very safe bet.