This second installment of Pirates is a bottomless chest of whiz-bang surround-sound nuggets, and the Marantz delivered every one with head-snapping enthusiasm. For example, the all-channels rush of that slimy mega-octopus sea-monster thing (the Kraken - you see, I was too paying attention!) sucking down some ship or other (but not that much attention) was wholly cinematic: enveloping, powerful, and all-encompassing. And the Marantz had no trouble whatsoever producing fully movie-theater-like levels. I heard no sign of strain over the entire 2½ hours at that volume, which, on a noisy movie such as this, is just plain loud.
Marantz equips the SR7002 with SRS/Circle Surround II in addition to the usual buffet of Dolby- and DTS-branded options. This offers another flavor of surround for stereo or matrix-encoded material, though I generally preferred either Dolby Pro Logic IIx Music or DTS Neo:6 Music/Cinema, depending on the program. Of course, home theater buffs with Libertarian or Bull Moose Party leanings might prefer Circle Surround just on principle. And in all seriousness, listeners who favor more aggressive surround envelopment may very well find CS II a worthwhile new weapon.
The SR7002 also includes a feature called M-DAX, for Marantz Dynamic Audio eXpander, which promises to ". . . [make] up for lost audio content in MP3 or AAC sources (from lossy compression)." Seems like just about every other A/V receiver brand has an equivalent DSP circuit onboard nowadays - and I have about as much faith in their restorative abilities as I do in hair-regrowth creams. That said, upon close headphone listening, Marantz's M-DAX proved to be fairly non-intrusive. Although it did impose an audible tonal shift (probably due to some sort of equalization, whether static or dynamic), it didn't seem to make music sound overtly worse - which is something that can't be said for every such system I've tried. In general, I advise leaving these things disengaged. And besides, with half-terabyte hard drives costing no more than the full Pirates trilogy on Blu-ray, why should we be listening to compressed files at home anyway?
The SR7002 comes with two remote controls: a multi-component, backlit-LCD-equipped one and a simpler, quite elegant basic handset shown here that's usable in the main room or for a remote room or zone. Neither remote is perfect - but on balance, each is above average, in its own way. The big unit gives extensive control via its paged-LCD soft keys, and it offers decent legibility. (I wish it had a true auto-on mode for the display backlight; you have to push a Light key to fire up the glow, which then comes back on if you continue using the handset for a while.) Paradoxically, the simpler remote also has fully illuminated keys and much bigger lettering. (And it does have a permanent auto-on lighting function).
In fact, on balance I found the SR7002 easy to use and quite straightforward. In its otherwise very solid ergonomic layout, one possible shortcoming - at least to inveterate tweakers like myself - is the way it manages onscreen displays via the HDMI output. The main setup menus will come up over HDMI (though with a switching delay of several seconds to re-sync the screen to 480 or back). But workaday menus like input-select, surround-mode, and volume changes - and the useful, single-page screen of XM satellite-radio artist/song data - will only display via HDMI if there's no signal at the current input's HDMI jack. This means that in the receiver's default input-setup, which keeps the last-selected video input passing through when switched to an audio-only source (like XM), you'll get no onscreen display - unless you power down the offending video-source component. I can see this being the cause of considerable confusion to first-timers.
All things considered, the SR7002 is a trouble-free zone. Its A/V performance was beyond reproach, and its everyday usability was above average. Sure, it lacks some of the video features that a few competitors promote. But note these two reality checks before you judge: First, 1080p mostly matters when you're sitting 7 feet from a 50-inch screen or viewing high-end front-projection on a really big screen. Second, in the current HDMI era, video scaling is in general not very important for a receiver. If your video source has an HDMI output, it is by definition already scaled as the source-component's designer thought best, probably to at least 1080i. Rescaling it won't always result in meaningful improvement - and might just have the opposite effect. So then, should you really care that the Marantz SR7002 lacks the 1080p and HDMI-scaling sizzle of several recent high-end receivers? From the perspective of what really matters, the SR7002 does most everything you truly need from an A/V receiver, and does it very well indeed.
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