The Marantz ES7001 is an ambitious design that shows off some of the more interesting possibilities in soundbar technology. The entire system - which contains two .75-inch dome tweeters, two 3.25-inch midranges, and two 4 [3/4]-inch woofers - is housed in one 42-inch-wide aluminum cabinet. Each speaker has its own 26-watt (into 6 ohms) amplifier channel. There's Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, but no subwoofer - it's expected that you'll add a self-powered unit.
The ES7001 relies on proprietary OPSODIS (Optimal Source Distribution) signal processing to provide virtual surround sound. The processing is based on a crosstalk-cancellation principle where sound from the left channel is reversed in phase and added to the right channel so that it cancels out, causing the right ear to hear only the right channel and giving a binaural effect. The processing and the spread of the drivers in the soundbar are also meant to make different frequencies appear to be nearer or further from the listener, with (according to a diagram in the manual) bass information seeming to come from further back in the room and treble information appearing to originate from up front.
|Price $1,300 / us.marantz.com / 201-762-6500|
|•(2) 4.75-in woofers; (2) 3.25-in midranges; (2) 0.75-in dome tweeters
•42.5 x 6.1 x 5.75 in; 26.5 lb
Neatly aligned along the ES7001's front panel are power, volume, and input source controls, as well as several status lights and a small display window. The rear panel sports three digital optical inputs, two HDMI inputs, and two pair of analog stereo inputs. On the output side are one HDMI connection for passing video to a display when the HDMI source inputs are used (there's no audio pass-through), a subwoofer pre-amp output, and a remote out jack and subwoofer control output (both for use with optional Marantz gear).
The full-featured remote control performed as expected, and throws in a few surprises. For example, you can choose a "higher" or "lower" position to optimize playback depending on whether the bar is mounted above or below your screen. Similarly, you can select between one-person or two-person (or more) listening audiences, and optimize the sound for a seating distance less then, equal to, or greater than 2 meters. Back in the old days, we used to have to change the distance between stereo speakers to adjust the width of the stereo panorama.
Setup was quick and painless. I placed the soundbar under my TV and used HDMI to connect both a DVD player and the display. After taking a moment to select display height, a listener number, seating distance, and no subwoofer, I was off to the races.
Spatial fidelity is important, but my main concern is the speaker's tonal fidelity. I was immediately struck by the ES7001's bright and lively sound. Vocals and solo instruments were very forward in the mix, and hi-hat and cymbals were prominent and sometimes hard. Climaxes, like the line "windswept road" in Kashmir's "Kalifornia," were nicely handled by the amplifiers and speakers when played at moderate levels. The system can get quite loud if you push it, though obvious distortion ruins playback at the loudest levels. On its own, the soundbar managed to pump out some decent upper-bass response, giving some credence to floor toms, but you'll definitely want to add a subwoofer for lower-bass support. When I added my sub, I was happy with the blend between the two.
Technically, you should only use the soundbar's "binaural" mode when playing back a binaural recording. But I found that it slightly (and pleasantly) juiced up the panorama of conventional stereo recordings.
Superman Returns is an FX spectacular, with lots of places where ambient sound can step on the dialogue. The soundbar's upfront, bright sound ensured clear dialogue intelligibility even in the thickest mixes. The orchestral score was similarly dynamic and bright, although thin without a sub. Superman also has hard-working surround channels. The OPSODIS system did widen the front soundstage a good bit, but certainly didn't envelop me in sound. In this regard, I found it typical of most of the bars tested here.
The ES7001 hits the soundbar sweet spot. Good connectivity, easy setup, and ease of use. The only downside is that you'll need to add a sub. If you're willing to add that expense or already have a full theater with sub that you're looking to downsize for some reason, this could be an interesting path toward simplifying your audio system.
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