Marantz NR1200 – 2.0 Audio with Analog and Digital Features

Awhile back I posted a video about my love for 2.0 channel audio and demo’d how I use it in both my retro and modern setups.  I’m always on the lookout to improve that setup (on a budget anyone can get better sound if they drop a ton of cash ;p), so when I saw the Marantz NR1200 dropped in price from $800 to $600, I picked one up to review.  Overall I liked it, but even at it’s discounted price, it’s still expensive for most people. If you’re looking for a 2-channel amp that can handle both your classic, analog consoles and more modern digital stuff (including TV / ARC), I suggest checking out the mini-review below the links and decide for yourself:

Marantz NR1200:

Other Amps & Related Equipment:
NAD C 316BEE V2:
Budget Amp:
Pioneer Elite SX-S30:
Denon DRA-800H:
ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 Speakers:
Schiit Modi DAC:

First, the basics:  This is a two-channel amplifier, with both digital and analog inputs.  This is for people who either know they don’t want a surround sound setup (like in my living room), or people who want to start with a good 2-channel amp and speakers, then eventually upgrade over time.  I explain this in the video embedded at the bottom of this post, if you want more context.

I want to use this amp for only two things:  Music via Airplay and connected to my TV via HDMI/ARC.  All the other features won’t apply to me, as my living room is all-digital, but I bet they’d be a big help in many other people’s setups (especially retro)!:  There’s a bunch of HDMI inputs, a built in phono pre-amp, analog RCA inputs and SPDIF/coax digital.  Check out the picture, as well as the main manufacturer’s page for more info:

Airplay seemed to work perfectly, with no skips or hiccups.  I tested via wifi, as that’s usually where I find most issues, but everything was pretty seamless.  So seamless in fact, that if I keep the amp, I (gasp!), might not even connect the ethernet jack!  It’s rare I trust wifi…

Connecting it to my TV worked great too, with only two issues. The first, is I needed to set my Apple TV to downgrade all audio to 2.0 stereo.  My previous Pioneer SX-S30 could decode most audio formats and it does the downmixing to 2.0.  It’ll take a few more weeks of testing to see if my Apple TV does as good of a job downmixing as my previous Pioneer, but I used this feature when testing the NAD + Schiit and I didn’t have any complaints.  There’s still a lot that can go wrong though, as downmixing can sometimes result in dialogue being harder to hear.

There were about the same amount of CEC/ARC options, which is almost always disappointing. If I never wanted to use my TV’s speakers it would be fine, but I have a strong opinion about that:  When watching TV, I strongly believe that using a nice stereo all the time cheapens the overall experience – especially for basic YouTube videos (like mine!) or watching a weather report.  I like having crappy TV speakers when it doesn’t matter, so when I do decide to use my amp, I can really feel the contrast.  Switching back and forth is a constant reminder of how much of an upgrade your amp and speakers are and I end up appreciating the sound quality upgrade even more.

It took a LOT of fiddling to figure out a workflow for this, but after going to Settings \ Video and turning all HDMI options off except ARC, it seems to work okay.  It won’t power on (or off) with my other equipment…but if I manually power it on, the TV automatically switches to ARC mode and turns off its speakers.  That means audio passes through the same HDMI cable I use to connect to my TV (port #2 on my TV is labeled ARC) and my TV (and Apple TV’s) remote will control the volume level of the amp.  While I’d like it to automatically power off with the other equipment, this is a perfectly acceptable tradeoff.

This amp also supports two output zones.  I didn’t have an opportunity to test multiple zones, although if I keep it, I might consider adding speakers to my kitchen (which is connected to the living room…it’s a small house).  One thing to note, is I think the total power is shared across all four outputs, so running it in standard (2-speaker) output mode would send more power to your main speakers then when activating the second zone.  If you’re looking for the best possible sound this amp can provide and want a second zone, it offers line-level pre-outs that you can connect to self-powered speakers.  This probably isn’t the most convenient way to run a second zone, but at least it’s an option!  For me personally, I’d use both zones when I just wanted music filling the house at a normal volume.  If I wanted to really sit and enjoy a song (a scenario where you’d want the full power going to the speakers), I’d turn off the second zone and sit on my couch.

So, overall, I liked the amp a lot.  If you’re looking for a 2.0 audio setup, it’s a step up from the (still awesome) Pioneer Elite SX-S30 I was using, but I still liked the NAD C316bee amp better.  This has a TON more features though and I think it’s my new go-to for people who want a great 2-channel amp with analog and digital inputs under $1000.  I just suggest buying it from a place like Amazon that offers returns, in case it doesn’t live up to your expectations:

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