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The battle for supremacy at the top end of the Blu-ray player market is becoming ferocious. Players above £1000 seem to emerge weekly as big name manufacturers attempt to create a definitive statement product from which they will hang, in marketing speak, their more affordable mass-market offerings. You need to be at the cutting edge of the Blu-ray game just to keep up with the Joneses these days.

FANCY AUDIO
Unless you are Marantz of course. Perhaps because the Joneses for Marantz is its technology-centric corporate neighbour, Denon, the company is not pushing the BD8002 on specification. Just as well, because this is a Profile 1.1 Blu-ray player without any network connection or BD Live compatibility. Of course all that on-line, added-feature movie paraphernalia is not everyone’s cup of tea, so no great omission in my opinion.
   What the BD8002 does have is some very fancy audio and video processing engines. The latter is powerful enough to decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio formats internally and output them to 7.1 channel analogue RCAs. Unfortunately the dedicated two-channel output is RCA only rather than balanced XLR, and while the BD8002 will handle MP3 and WMA compressed audio files, it doesn’t do SACD or DVD-A.
   Marantz claims performance is this machine’s key selling point. This is supported by its fancy component count of hot silicon in the form of SHARC DSPs and a Silicon Optix’ Realta processor with Hollywood Quality Video (HQV). The player is HDMI 1.3a compliant with support for 24fps and Deep Colour, and has an excellent 12-bit DAC driving the component video output. It also offers audio playback from an SD card which, Marantz’s marketing guff claims, makes it a ‘truly universal player’. Oh, shoot me now.
   I also suspect Marantz has been rummaging around in the Joneses’ parts bin. The BD8002 shares exactly the same remote control and on-screen GUI as Denon’s DVD-2500BT transport. With much of the specification looking rather similar and the bought-in Silicon being sourced from the same supplier, I am guessing there has been a liaison slightly more serious than a rummage. As I happen to own a DVD-2500BT a swift A-B comparison proved very enlightening...

IRON AND SILK
The reason I own said Denon Blu-ray player is that its performance was at the top of its game six months ago – and you can say exactly the same about the BD8002. Through the HDMI outputs, both HD formats and LPCM transfers are smooth as silk and have a tempo that is utterly infectious. Bass packs a punch with the speed of Hatton and it neatly encompasses adrenaline-fuelled movie bravado and audiophile refinement as required.
   The piano on Chick Corea’s ‘Armando’s Rhumba’ from the Legends of Jazz: Showcase Blu-ray disc is wonderfully natural and the track moves with superb pace. The hand-damped strings at the beginning are full of urgency and passion but are just a little too smooth for their own good, the BD8002 removing some top-end sharpness and lightly damping the percussive edge.
   Switch to the analogue output and its sound steps up a notch. Using the Classé SSP-800 [see p76] there is expansion in the top-end dynamic, the overall stance is a little more lithe and frisky, and the midband is infused with greater depth and solidity. In this set-up I would go analogue for Blu-ray music and HDMI for Blu-ray movies.

PLAYING IT SAFE
   There is remarkable similarity between the BD8002 and Denon’s DVD-2500BT where picture quality is concerned – and both are very good indeed. Blacks are inky, there’s no hint of processing issues and colours are gloriously rich. Movement processing cannot be faulted for its smooth scrolling and pans while detailing in extremely bright and shadowy areas is excellent.
   The Legends of Jazz disc highlights the effective dynamic range of the picture and the contrast between Jane Monheit’s well-lit pale skin and the dark recesses of the stage is jaw dropping to behold. The trouble is, recently launched range-topping Blu-ray players from Pioneer and Sony are even better. Their picture leaps off of the screen with a clarity and razor precision that makes the Marantz’s picture look soft in comparison.
   Just like the sound, the BD8002’s picture has a definite character on the safe side of neutral. Sure, it’s never going to fatigue the eye but neither is it going to really take your breath away with larger than life visual drama or edge-of-the-seat audio dynamics.

VERDICT
Something of a refined gentleman’s tourer in a market full of dynamic sports coupés, the Marantz BD8002 eschews eye-watering sharpness and ear-searing clarity for an altogether more subtle and mellifluous approach. An excellent all-rounder that will never fatigue the senses, it is a player undermined only by the stellar performances of its recent peers.

 

Originally published in the May 2009 issue