It’s not often that I get the opportunity to review traditional hi-fi gear because the audio market is changing rapidly. Increasingly, consumers want all-in-one devices that can deliver a full range of audio sources in one easy-to-use package. You only have to look at the soaring popularity of products like Naim’s Uniti range or some of the mini streaming systems from Denon or NAD to see where the market is heading. Smaller homes and a newer approach to technology mean audio systems are becoming more compact and flexible.
For many audiophiles, there’s nothing quite like the allure of a high-quality amplifier and a pair of great loudspeakers. Music enthusiasts still demand a great phono input, a traditional radio tuner, plus a streamer that can play music from the likes of TIDAL, Qobuz, and Spotify. Thankfully, Marantz has recognized that there’s still a demand for these premium audio centerpieces with the ability to connect to other sources like TVs, CD players, or NAS music servers. Marantz has addressed this need with the new NR1200, an incredibly capable stereo receiver that’s designed for audiophiles on a budget while offering almost every conceivable input and output in one premium audio box.
There’s nothing budget about the look of this beast of a device that is available in silver-gold or black finishes. The NR1200 features the classic curvy faceplate that Marantz is famous for and two oversized knobs for selecting inputs and adjusting volume levels. In the center of the faceplate, there’s a single-line FL (fluoro luminescent) display that scrolls basic text such as input source, volume level, and track titles, etc. Beneath the display is a row of knobs for a few basic functions like tone controls, speaker selectors and music control.
The NR1200 has been designed from the ground up as a high-performance, two-channel stereo receiver for people who want a great stereo with the option to play TV audio, but who don’t want a full 5.1 surround sound system. There’s a good reason for this as anyone who’s ever used an AV Receiver as a hi-fi component will testify. Surround sound AVRs just don’t have the same finesse when handling stereo music sources because there’s a lot of sonic processing going on.
Marantz engineers have developed the NR1200 in Europe and Japan using audiophile-grade components such as capacitors, power transistors and custom power supplies. At its heart, the NR1200 has a high-current amplifier delivering 75 W per channel into 8Ω. There are outputs for two pairs of loudspeakers and the output can be split between two zones labeled A and B. You can install two pairs of speakers and they can either play the same music in different rooms, or you can have one source playing in Zone A and another music source or TV routed to Zone B. For example, NR1200 could be located in a living room, playing the TV sound through stereo loudspeakers, while radio or Spotify can be played through a pair of speakers in another room at the same time.
The NR1200 has symmetrical left and right power amplifier circuits that are entirely separate from each other powered by a shared power supply with independent windings for each of the NR1200’s critical functions. To reduce the possibility of interference, the NR1200’s power supply is wired independently from the amplifier, preamplifier, wireless module, and front display circuits. Additionally, there are two separate DACs (digital-to-analog converters) for each channel to increase the dynamic range of the audio signal as well as delivering a lower signal-to-noise ratio. This dual-channel design improves channel separation, lowers crosstalk and produces a better soundstage. The stereo imaging of the NR1200 is superb – almost spine-tingling – but more about that later.
When it comes to inputs, the NR1200 can handle just about any source you could ever want to play. Let’s take a quick tour around the back to see exactly what’s on offer. First off, there are no fewer than five HDMI inputs plus an HDMI eARC output that carries sound to and from a TV. All five of the HDMI inputs support the latest HDMI standards, including HDCP 2.3, 4K Ultra HD 60Hz video, 4:4:4 Pure Color sub-sampling, HLG, High Dynamic Range (HDR10), 21:9 video, 3D and BT.2020 pass-through. The inclusion of eARC means the NR1200’s volume level can also be controlled using a TV remote control.
Additionally, there are optical and coaxial inputs for hooking up a CD transport or any other digital device that has an SPDIF output. For connecting analog devices there are three line-level RCA stereo inputs. Vinyl enthusiasts will be happy to know there is a high-quality phono input featuring a proprietary HDAM phono stage that Marantz claims can outperform cheaper op-amp phono stages. Finally, an F-connector is provided for an external FM or DAB+ antenna to feed the built-in tuner. For those who store their digital music on a USB drive, there’s a regular USB port on the front of the player as well as built-in support for network music servers.
Now let’s turn to the NR1200’s outputs. First off, there are pre-amp outputs for both Zone A and Zone B so the NR1200 can drive a more powerful amplifier if required. Two subwoofer outputs are provided for each speaker pair as well as two pairs of speaker binding posts that can accept bare wires or banana plugs. The speakers are switchable so pair A and B can work separately or play at the same time. Finally, there are two wireless antennas for receiving dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. An Ethernet port is also provided for those who prefer to have a hard-wired network. Incidentally, the NR1200 can also transmit music wirelessly to a pair of Bluetooth headphones or loudspeakers. That’s a nice little feature that I wish more audio manufacturers would include.
As well as support for streaming via Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2, the NR1200 also supports HEOS, the multi-room audio protocol used by Denon and Marantz. HEOS support means the NR1200 can stream to any HEOS-enabled device such as Denon’s range of wireless speakers, or any other components that support the HEOS standard. Baked into the NR1200’s firmware is embedded support for streaming from Spotify Connect, Deezer, TIDAL, Napster, Pandora, and SiriusXM. Embedded streaming is vital because it enables streaming without the need to tether a smartphone. With embedded streaming you can select the music you want to stream using a smartphone and the NR1200 will then fetch the data itself so you can move out of network range and the music will still carry on playing. Embedded streaming can handle audio at much higher resolutions than either Bluetooth or AirPlay can, which is ideal for subscribers to TIDAL’s Hi-Fi or the Qobuz top tier subscription.
And now to the slightly odd thing about this clever device; it has one of the strangest and most idiosyncratic interfaces I’ve ever used. With just a single FL display to navigate around menus and options, it’s not the most intuitive system and can be a bit cumbersome when entering things like a Wi-Fi password or HEOS account details. Fortunately, there’s a way around this shortcoming by plugging the NR1200 into a TV via an HDMI cable and an interface will appear on the screen to make setting up the NR1200 a bit easier. The TV can also display the album artwork for whatever music you happen to be streaming. The on-screen interface isn’t the prettiest or most intuitive I’ve ever used, but it’s better than nothing. The TV interface also makes setting up or logging into a HEOS account much easier. A HEOS account is essential if you want the NR1200 to access your streaming subscriptions and it works as an aggregator of your music sources whether that be a streaming service or music files stored on a local server.
Ordinarily, the NR1200 can be controlled using the free Marantz AV Remote app. However, to access HEOS for streaming services, it’s necessary to use the free HEOS app. It’s not easy or intuitive juggling two apps to play music on one device, but fortunately there is a link to launch the HEOS app from within the Marantz app. Please stay awake at the back! There’s also a physical remote control that has direct access to all input sources which can be used to control music, adjust volume and access menu options. The remote control also has four “Smart Select” buttons that provide one-press access to favorite music sources and input settings. For example, one Smart Select button might be programmed to recall a favorite FM radio station, while another could switch to a vinyl setup. A third Smart Select button could be used for streaming Spotify, while the fourth could store an Internet radio station on Tune-In. These four buttons make using the NR1200 a lot less hassle once they’ve been programmed.
As I’ve hinted already, the sound of the Marantz NR1200 is as good as anything I’ve ever heard before at this price point. The inclusion of premium-grade electronic components – such as capacitors and power transistors – really make themselves heard. The sound is beautifully clean, clear and neutral, with a flat response that doesn’t color or muddy the music. There are tone controls for treble and bass if you want them, but the direct sound is spot on for my tastes. With a combined 150 W of power into 8Ω, the NR1200 has a muscular bass that underpins the music beautifully. The midrange has a splendid clarity while the top end is silky smooth and always controlled. Most of all, the stereo channel separation is incredibly precise, creating a fabulously focussed soundstage that locates instruments accurately. You can partner the NR1200 with almost any loudspeakers because there’s enough power to drive even a demanding pair of floorstanders or a subwoofer, if you want one.
The NR1200 has a choice of three sound modes: Stereo, Direct, and Pure Direct. The Stereo mode routes the audio via the NR1200’s tone controls and will apply M-DAX if it’s been selected. M-DAX is a kind of sound processing that can boost the bass and treble of lower-quality MP3 files or other audio of dubious heritage. M-DAX is probably best ignored most of the time and the Direct Mode cuts out the sonic influence of M-DAX and the tone controls. Finally, Pure Direct does much the same as Direct Mode but additionally disables the FL display and a few other bits of circuitry that may create electrical noise that might affect the sound. Most listeners will be quite happy using the default Stereo Mode but purists will definitely opt for the Pure Direct Mode.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Marantz NR1200 is how much it can be customized to suit a user’s needs. Inputs can be renamed and have their volume adjusted to give uniform sound levels across all inputs. So many settings can be tweaked and stored that nerds like me will be in their element just leafing through the 200-page user’s manual and tinkering to create the perfect sound system.
Verdict: I loved the Marantz NR1200 stereo receiver because it has just about every input and output you could ever want from a home audio system. The sound is beautifully clean and perfectly balanced with plenty of power to drive even the most demanding loudspeakers. The detail and musicality of the NR1200 is captivating. With some great loudspeakers, the NR1200 makes for a solid and affordable centerpiece for any home audio system. All you need to add is a vinyl turntable and a CD player and you have all your music bases covered. Using the five HDMI inputs, it’s possible to link up a DVD player, TV Box, PlayStation, or any other video device. Perhaps my only criticism is the rather convoluted interface and lack of a color LCD display for album artwork. If you want an all-in-one stereo receiver that offers incredible value for money and superb performance, the Marantz NR1200 is really hard to beat.
Pricing and availability: £599 / $599 / €599
More info: www.marantz.co.uk
- Two-channel discrete power amplifier with separate L/R power amp circuit and power transformer with 75W per channel.
- Streaming support via Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, Internet Radio, Spotify Free and Premium, Amazon Music, Tidal, Network Audio Streaming.
- HEOS wireless multi-room audio, voice control, digital music streaming via App
- Hi-Res Audio support for ALAC, FLAC and WAV lossless files up to 24-bit/192-kHz, as well as DSD 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz tracks. Listen to music via the front panel USB port or over network sources.
- Integrated phono input for vinyl turntables.
- Five HDMI inputs with full HDCP 2.3 support plus one HDMI out with ARC.
- Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM): Ensures Xbox One users have a more responsive and immersive gaming experience when connected with select TV models that also support ALLM.
- HDMI CEC Functionality for controlling the NR1200 with a Smart TV remote via the HDMI CEC functionality associated with Smart TVs.
- Included Setup Assistant offers clear, graphical on-screen direction, and the Quick Start Guide ensures optimal setup for any configuration.
- Four Smart Select function buttons on the included remote control store preferred setup. With the push of a button, the NR1200 configures for any source, from Blu-ray to TV set-top box, to users’ favorite Internet radio station and more.
- Bluetooth Headphone out: Listen to music or TV programs via wireless headphones, either simultaneously with the speakers on, or individually. A regular socket is also included for wired headphone listening.
- Dual Subwoofer Outputs: Supports dual subwoofers for even, lower-frequency bass response.
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I’ve been a tech journalist for more than 35 years and I’ve written for both Mac and PC computing titles as well as spending many years writing about audio, imaging and digital cameras for a raft of tech publications. I enjoy all aspects of technology, especially using gadgets that make life more enjoyable, creative and productive. A large part of my time is spent hunting down and testing some of the best and most innovative technology on the market today.