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I started off my surround sound adventure with an older Marantz, but the call of DVD Audio proved to be too strong once I had actually heard (and felt) it.
I take great pride in my HC system, and it has taken several years to get it right. Some earlier components did not match sonically with others, and it took about 4 years of juggling to get the setup I now have. This currently comprises the following, and this is the system as reviewed :
The Denon 1803 AV receiver Pioneer 656A DVD player Thompson 32" WS 100Hz TV Sony VHS recorder Sky TV
Speakers : Fronts : Acoustic Energy Aegis EVO3's Rears : KEF Coda 7's Centre : Tannoy MXC Sub : Yamaha YST-SW320
All speaker cabling is bi-wired where possible, with as chunky a cable as my house furnishings will allow ! Interconnects are generally optical where possible, or QED Gold Ends otherwise. One cable (to the sub woofer) was home made due to length constraints.
OK, where to start ? How about the overall feel first of all ?
*** Stonking !
With the system as its stands, the Denon kicks out a heart thudding chunky sound for Home Cinema use, with the subwoofer playing a very prominent role at the lowest end of the frequency spectrum. I confess, I am a LFE (low frequency effects) junkie, I love explosions, car chases, gunfire etc. A lot of my DVD collection confirms this !
BUT, the system is equally at home playing Classic FM on the radio, or any of my 400+ CDs, and the sound is smooth, with no apparent lumps or bumps in the soundfield.
Right, on to the techie stuff. I'll try and make this as painless as possible.
*** Amp section :
This is a 6.1 surround amplifier. That means two front, two rear, one front centre, one rear centre (those are the "6") and one sub woofer (usually referred to as the ".1" as it is not power driven). Although 7.1 systems are now available, there is not yet enough in the way of source material on DVD to make this upgrade worthwhile, for me at least ... In fact, I still only use the 5.1 system as I have not yet had the nerve to annoy my wife and stick yet *another* loudspeaker up on the rear wall :-)
The amp section offers a full 6 actively driven channels at 80 watts per channel into 8 ohms, 20Hz to 20KHz, all at less than 0.08% THD (total harmonic distortion). The sub output (the ".1" part) is low level as the Yamaha has its own built in amplifier, as do most modern sub woofers.
For my room which is about 30 feet by 18, this will fill it will sound at only about 1/3rd of full power. I only ever turn the volume up REAL loud to impress guests. The volume control is calibrated in decibels, which takes a little getting used to, but once you know that -12dB is VERY loud, and your regular News at Ten listening level is -28dB, it starts to make a bit more sense.
The inputs are many and varied, with switch position for CD, Tape, CDR/MD, DVD, VCR and radio. Optical inputs are also assignable to these switch positions, so that if you have a DVD/CD player, you may choose to accept a digital signal from the DVD part, or an analogue signal from the CD part. Very versatile, very user friendly too. A menu system helps set everything up and there is even a calibration section to set the size of the room, the volume of the speakers, *and* their distance from the listening position. Not only that, but also - if you do not have a subwoofer, the system can be calibrated to handle the low end sounds in the other speakers - this is classy and so easy to use !
The one very important feature for me (in fact, the reason I bought it) was the facility to wire in 6 channels discretely, via a six way cable assembly from the DVD player - This is the only way to listen to DVD Audio discs, which the amp handles beautifully. In fact, DVD Audio is the highest quality source of music currently available, but it cannot as yet be decoded in the amplifier itself. It needs to be decoded by the DVD player, which then feeds the 5.1 channels into the amplifier via the 6 way cable assembly.
DVD Audio can, of all music media, be likened the most to "being there" in a concert hall. And the Denon takes me to the Albert Hall, and Birmingham Symphony Hall on regular visits. Im a happy old musician now !
*** Radio :
The radio section has FM and AM bands, with more presets than I can use. Classic FM and Radio Three proved to be excellent tests for classical music, whilst the ever present Radio 1 and 2 offered more up tempo music for my listening tests. The tuner section is very sensitive, low noise, and has full RDS system fitted as standard.
For FM stereo, sensitivity is 23 microvolts for 50dB quieting, and the overall SN ratio is about 75dB for stereo, but over 80 for mono !
RDS is useful, and may be rotated through several stages of information levels. Stations carrying news flashes and traffic news may be selected to switch over automatically, although I do not use this feature.
*** Surround Functions :
Wow ! More functions than I can shake a stick at... However, the sad part is, I hardly EVER use anything but the standard NEO 6 DTS setting unless the source material calls for one of the older Pro Logic II settings, for example, or if I'm using DVD Audio, I switch to external inputs.
But, if you like to jazz up your old CDs or tapes, or even make a mono movie or TV station sound a bit livelier, then there is a host of functions such as : Rock Arena Jazz Club Video Game Mono Movie Matrix or Virtual
These are known as DSP (digital signal processing) functions, and they simulate the effect they describe fairly accurately.
Apart from the NEO6 DTS, there is standard DTS surround, Dolby Digital (standard 5.1), Dolby Pro Logic II, 5ch/6ch Stereo, ordinary stereo, or direct. Switching to direct every now and then shows just how much processing you are using, and sometimes it can be a bit of a surprise !
Anyway - this should be more than enough to keep any gamer, telly addict, rock fan or audio purist *very* happy....
The calibration setup, accessed via the main menu, sets the size of the room, volume of each of the speakers in turn, sets sub on or off and compensates if no sub is present, and also allows one to programme in the distance the speakers are from the listener. This cancels out any phasing effects and makes for a much more solid three dimensional sound stage.
The amplifier can also route your video signals from VHS, DVD or satellite box, along with their relevant audio signals. So it integrates into the overall system very nicely.
The remote control handset is comprehensive and relatively easy to learn. It may be programmed to use with other items such as the VHS, TV, or DVD player, and to this end, there is a page full of codes at the rear of the (also very comprehensive) handbook for other manufacturers devices.
This model is now a few years old, but still holds its own easily against very stiff competition (such as Marantz).
So, are we done yet ? Yeah, I think so.... much more than this and your eyes will start to glaze over, and you will think "what IS he talking about now ?"
In summary then, this is a very powerful AV tuner / amplifier, giving up to 80 watts into each of its 6 driven channels, thats a storming total of nearly 500 watts, and we are talking RMS watts here, not your cheap car amplifier "peak music power" specification (if you want to apply that silly spec, then there is well in excess of 2 KW here !)
It's easy to setup and use, has never let me down in the 16 months of use, and it has got to the stage now where I dont even "hear" my hifi, I just listen to my music.
Highly recommended, especially if you want a start in DVD Audio.
I paid £399 in Jan 2003. Colour : Gold Size in mm : 434w x 171h x 417d Weight : a chunky 12KG
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