KIT power amplifier vs integrated amplifier
Stan is about to buy a new amplifier, but has just realised that there are many different types and is quite confused. He bought a DVD player a few months ago and wants to enjoy all of its features, such as 5.1 channel sound. He asks if it is better to get a power amplifier or an integrated amplifier? Is a power amp "more" for music listeners and "less" for people who want to see a great DVD film with all the
features mentioned above? Since he lives in Stockholm, he also asks where he should buy the system.
Stan is right
to say that there are many different types of amplifier on the market but in
the end they all do basically the same job, which is to turn a small electrical
audio signal into a big one, attempting not to alter its character by adding or
taking anything away. The differences, such as they are, tend to be more
noticeable on top-end products, especially when used in conjunction with high
performance speakers and source components. The sonic differences between a
power amplifier and an integrated amplifier from the same manufacturer are
generally insignificant as the actual amplifier stages are usually identical. These
days Dolby Digital and dts decoders add comparatively little (sometimes
nothing) to the cost of mid-market AV amplifiers; in some cases they use the
same (or very similar chip) sets as DVD players, moreover there tends to be
only minor and sometime very subtle differences in decoder performance between
the brands. Where integrated amps really score is the simplicity of
connections; only one optical or coaxial 'bitstream' cable is required to
connect the DVD player to the amplifier whereas five or six phono-to-phono
leads will be needed if Stan uses the decoder in his DVD player. Sorry, Stan
our knowledge of the Stockholm AV dealer scene is a tad limited…
NAME David Keiller
KIT Aiwa 8200 VCR
David saw that we recommended the Aiwa HV-FX7700 VCR and bought the next model
up, the HV-FX8200, after his seven-year old Mitsubishi model died. He thinks
the 8200 is just the same as the 7700 (but with front AV inputs) and was amazed at how poor the quality or video playback,
from both original tapes or from
recordings made on it. He reckons his Mitsubishi
was actually better even after seven years. He can't return the VCR and asks if
VCRs settle down after a bit. If he decides to replace the Aiwa, would our best
buy VCR, the Hitachi VT-FX980 give a good picture?
This is a
slightly curious tale. Samples we have seen of the Aiwa models David mentioned
performed reasonably well in our tests. Picture quality wasn't spectacular, but
they were up to the kind of standard we would expect from a mid-market machine.
It is true that the heads on some VCRs need a few hours to 'bed in' after which
there may be some improvement in picture quality but it is usually so small as
to be insignificant. If, as David seems to suggest, picture quality is well
below average then it seems likely that there is a fault with the VCR and it
should be returned to wherever it came from to be checked over; the question
is, why is this not possible? If he bought it new from a normal retail or
mail-order outlet the dealer is obliged by law to repair, replace or refund, if
there's a fault. Even if they've gone bust it will still be covered by the
manufacturer's own warranty. If on the other hand it was bought second hand, or
from a bloke down the pub then he has no way of knowing its recent history and
may well have been sold a pup. The Hitachi VT-FX980 is a fine machine, but
David should make sure he buys it from a reputable dealer…
Marcellus wants a new A/V receiver for listening to music and home theatre. In
our reviews, he sees the Sony STR-DB840 does well. He has also looked at the
Yamaha RX-V800 and has heard good reports of the Denon AVR-3300. All of his
units are Sony and also enquires whether we have heard about the Sony
STR-V333ES receiver? He asks which of all these receivers would you suit him
put together a somewhat eclectic wish list of products, at least in terms of
prices, which makes things rather difficult, even though they all share a
similar core specification. The Denon amp sells for around £800, the Yamaha
model can be found for £500 or so, the Sony STR-DB480 has a street price of
£400 and the STR-V333 we have seen selling on the web for £650. Picking one of
them out of the hat is a bit of a tall order since they're all highly rated and
the price differentials are mirrored in the number of secondary features.
Marcellus hasn't really told us enough about his setup or situation for us to
know what he wants or needs from an AV amp, so he's going to have to do a bit
of research for himself and work his way through the feature lists of each one
in turn. Detailed specifications of all four models can be found on the web –
just type the model numbers into any one of the main search engines (Google is
particularly good at www.google.com) -- and this should also throw up a few
newsgroup postings, with opinions – good and bad – from real world owners who
actually use the things.
Keni is looking for a new amplifier and asks if there a good amp, in the same
vein as the Sony STR-DE445, that has FireWire inputs and outputs?
It appears that
Keni may have got his wires crossed because the STR-DE445 doesn’t' have a
FireWire connection, nor is there any reason why it, (or any other AV amp),
would need one. For the record, FireWire, (also known as IEEE 1394 and iLink),
is a high-speed serial data communication system, originally developed by
Apple. These days it is mostly to be found on digital camcorders where it is
used to copy digital recordings across to a suitably equipped PCs and laptops
for editing and post-production.
There was talk
some time ago about fitting FireWire sockets to digital set-top boxes, TVs and
digital video recorders, so they could be connected together, but that hasn't
happened. Recordable DVD machines might have them, but it could only be used
for copying digital camcorder recordings; anti-copy systems would prevent them
being used for duplicating DVDs.
digital inputs on the Sony amp are the coaxial and optical connections, which
carry the 'bitstream' output from a DVD player. This is basically the raw,
unprocessed digital audio data as it comes off the disc, which is passed onto
the amplifier which has it's own built-in Dolby Digital surround sound
NAME Jason Hannon
Jason is looking to buy a DVD player and has narrowed his selection down to the
Panasonic A7, Pioneer 636 and Sony's 536. Which would we recommend for picture
and sound quality?
players, but once again, a bit of an odd choice taking into account the
difference in prices and specification. The Panasonic machine is a fairly
exotic design with DVD Audio replay and built-in 5.1 decoders and it can be
bought for £700 or less, if Jason does a bit of shopping around. The Pioneer
model also has on-board digital surround decoders and costs £400 whilst the
Sony DVP-S535 is a decoderless design, which is reflected in the lower selling
price of just under £300. In other words three quite distinct players aimed at
different segments of the market. Judging the three on the basis of picture and
sound quality isn't going to be much help either. Clearly the Panasonic A7 has
the most advanced audio facilities and picture quality on samples we've tested
is very good, but we would hesitate to nominate it as the best of the three.
The Pioneer player does well for both picture and sound but it's let down by
mediocre picture search facilities – should that be included in an overall
assessment of picture performance? We haven't tested the Sony 536 yet but we
believe it to be based on familiar deck and AV processor components, so it
should do well. Sorry to sit on the fence but this is not a decision we can
make for Jason; it's between him, his eyes and ears and his credit card.
NAME David Yates.
KIT Yamaha DSP E-800 amplifier
David has just bought the Yamaha DSP E-800 amplifier to go with his older
Yamaha S700 DVD player. First of all, he asks whether the optical or coaxial
digital connection is better. Also, his TV only has only SCART connector, so he
likes to send all video sources to the AV processor and then to the TV. In
trying to find the best results for this, he bought an S-Video to SCART cable,
but can only get black and white pictures. Is this the best way to connect and,
if so, why can't he get colour?
to many different types and makes of cable, on a wide range of equipment, the
answer to question one is an unequivocal, it depends…Coaxial and optical cables
carry digital data, which is a basically a stream of pulses of uniform
amplitude. The data either gets through, or it doesn't so unlike analogue
signal connections there are no half measures. The construction of the cable
has negligible influence on the passage of the data and noise is much less of
an issue, providing it remains at a level below which it could be confused as
data. Therefore this shifts the emphasis on to the components and processing
devices at either end of the cables, and here you will find minor variations.
The only way to say which works is best on a particular combination of player
and amp is to try them both.
say much about his TV but the most likely explanation for the black and white
picture is that his telly doesn't have an S-Video input on the SCART socket, or
if it does, it hasn't been set to S-Video from the TV's setup menu. The reason
he's getting a black and white picture is because the 'Y' or luminance
(brightness) component of the S-Video signal is connected to the TV's composite
video input on the SCART socket.
NAME David van
David wants to buy new speakers for his JVC RX-418 Pro Logic amplifier. Is it a
good idea to combine speakers from different manufacturers (B&W and Boston,
specifically), or should he buy all his speakers from the same manufacturer?
to say whether unspecified Boston and B&W speakers will work well together.
There are no hard and fast rules about mixing and matching speakers, sometimes
it sounds great, and sometimes it doesn't. Of course there is a good argument
for sticking with a single make or brand when the speakers concerned are
specialist AV or surround types, that are part of a system or designed from the
ground up to work with one another. The benefits of matched speaker system
packages shows up most clearly on surround soundtracks with a lot of movement,
especially across the front soundstage. Matched front and centre speakers, with
complimentary acoustic characteristics and radiation patterns should give a
smooth transition when a sound moves across the picture. If the speakers are
mismatched or the channel outputs are unbalanced the sound will appear
unfocused or the soundstage will seem to have holes or gaps in it and the sound
will 'jump' from one speaker to the next. The same sort of effect can occur
when a sound moves to or from the front speakers to the rears. Classic
sequences in movies like Top Gun, where fighter aircraft scream overhead,
demonstrate the effect superbly well.
NAME Jason Payne
Jason has been advised by Sky that, at the end of June 2001, all subscribed
channels will be removed from the old satellite system and closed down. He is
annoyed by this, but asks if he now has to replace his large dish with the new
small digital dish, or can he just plug the new Digibox into my existing socket
and pick up digital signals?
dish can stay but it will definitely have to be realigned so that it points at
the digital satellites. For the record the analogue broadcasts come from a
group of four Astra satellites, 'parked' in geostationary orbit at 19.2 degrees
East of due south. The digital channels come from two Astra satellites a little
way over at 28.2 degrees East of South. However, there are other considerations.
If Jason's system is getting on a bit the LNB (low noise block converter) ---
the widget stuck out in front of the dish – may not be capable of picking up
the digital channels, which are broadcast on a slightly different band of
frequencies to the analogue channels. If the dish is more than four or five
years old it should be replaced in any case as it's probably starting to rust.
Most digibox packages, especially the one's being offered to existing Sky
subscribers include the cost of dish installation, or it's a relatively nominal
sum (the going rate is usually £20 to £40), so Jason might as well have the new
smaller dish, unless he has some sentimental attachment to the old one, or
wants to go on using it to view other channels, though he might find local
planning regulations prohibit having two dishes.
NAME Nick Peat
Nick is thinking of buying a DVD player but doesn't know which to get.He has a
budget of around £200-£350 and asks if all DVD players have special codes
allows the viewing of region one DVDs. If we do recommend a R1 capable deck,
can we also tell him the codes, or where he can get it chipped?
puts him slap bang in the middle of the market and at a rough guess he has a
choice of between thirty and forty players. There's no way we can recommend a
specific model but we can give Nick some general advice on the subject of
regional coding. Most players made by the big names 'A' brand companies
(Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba et al) are 'hard coded' and the only way to get them
to play discs from a different region is to have them 'chipped' which usually
means opening them up and adding or replacing microchips. Needless to say this
voids the makers guarantee and it can be a risky business as you have little or
no comeback if it goes belly-up. The safer alternative is players with
'hackable' firmware, where the region coding lock can be switched off, or set
to another region. These machines are mostly made in China and mostly marketed
by the 'B' brands. Some players are set for all-region playback but this can
run foul of a growing number of US (Region 1) discs with Regional Code
Enhancement (RCE) coding. Thus far the only machines that can play these are
hackable or chipped players that can be switched to play a specific region.
Hack codes are widely publicised on the Internet, all Nick has to do is enter
the make and model number, followed by the word 'hack' into his favourite
Steve is after a large (preferably widescreen) screen TV, greater than 36inches.
He knows that this rules out Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) sets, but he is also
limited by the fact that he has a full AV rack, so doesn't have space for a
base unit? He just requires the TV to sit on top, and he sees that most rear
projection units have to use their stand. His
budget does not stretch to a plasma screen. Any ideas?
Since Steve has
ruled out CRT, plasma and rear projection that only leave front projection and
one or two exotic flat panel technologies that he almost certainly couldn't
afford. Video projectors used to be big, ugly noisy brutes but with the
development of LCD and more recently DLP (digital light processing) systems,
there are lots of compact and lightweight models to choose from many of them suitable
for discrete ceiling mounting. A lot of models now have light outputs of 800
lumens or more, which translates as being sufficient to throw up a big bright
image in a moderately well lit room. DLP types also produce a much smoother
image (compared with most LCD models) and suffer far less from 'pixellation'
and image lag or smear, though not all DLP models are equal in that respect.
The only downside is that DLP models can still be quite pricey and the ballpark
for models that are suitable for home cinema applications is still around £2500
to £4500, which puts the dearest models in spitting distance of the cheapest
plasma screens. LCD projectors of similar performance tend to be around 40 to
50% cheaper; in both cases Steve should check on the cost of replacement bulbs,
they can be horrifically expensive!
NAME Raoul Patel
KIT Pioneer VSX-709RDS
Raoul asks if the Pioneer VSX-709RDS has outputs for all channels (including
subwoofer) and outputs for speaker connections. He also asks if we know of any
places where he can get hold of one for under £300?
VCX-709, which we reviewed in HE 84/December 2000 issue (not a regular reader
eh Raoul?) is a fairly conventional design with just five amplified channels,
each rated at 80 watts RMS per channel. The sub-woofer output is not amplified,
which is not at all unusual on budget and mid-range AV amps; instead it is at
line level and output on a single phono socket, which means it is designed to
work in conjunction with an amplified or 'active' sub. Raoul also asks about
the speaker connections, according to our records the front speakers use screw
terminals/binding posts whilst the centre and rears use those nasty (but
perfectly adequate) spring clip jobbies.
It shouldn't be
a problem to find one, it took us about five minutes. First stop was the
Pioneer web site (http://www.pioneer.co.uk), the dealer list has yet to be put
on the site but there was a number for the Pioneer dealer hotline on 01753 789500. The helpline person gave us the phone
numbers for three dealers within a couple of miles of our location (Raoul
didn't say where he lived). Only one had it in stock, the other two reckoned
they could get hold of one in 24 hours. The cheapest price we were quoted was
£280, by Sevenoaks Hi Fi, the other two were asking the £300 'list' price
NAME Ant Draper
KIT Sony connections
Ant has a Sony DAV-S300 DVD package, and a Sony KV28FX20 Wide screen telly and
a NICAM video arriving soon. He would like to connect his Play Station to the
system as well, but doesn't seem to have enough SCART sockets for the job. What
can he do?
have a problem connecting his equipment to his TV though being a slightly older
model it hasn't got all of the sockets combinations we prefer. This set has two
SCART sockets on the back, which takes care of the NICAM VCR and the Sony
DAV-S300, though he will need a phono to SCART lead for the composite video
connection. Ideally Ant would use an S-Video connection between the DVD player
and the TV but unfortunately it doesn't have one on the back panel, there is
one on the front that he can use but it looks a bit ungainly to have it plugged
in all of the time. If Ant later decides to add a digi box to his system this
can be daisy-chained with the VCR using a second SCART to SCART cable. That
just leaves the Playstation, and for that Sony has thoughtfully provided a set
of front mounted AV sockets (they're also handy for camcorder hook-ups). Ant
will need to buy a suitable lead (Playstation to phono AV adaptor)) but they
are widely available from games shops, usually for less than a fiver. The only
small disadvantage to this set up is that he'll probably want to remove the
Playstation lead when he's finished playing, unless he can find a way to tuck them
out of sight.
NAME Chris Rice
KIT Bush DVD102
Chris has had problems with playback on his Bush DVD 102. On Final Destination,
the player crashes every time he tries to access the menus. He can only get the
film to play by skipping the chapter. This also happens with the Rambo Trilogy
box set and reckons that it's as if the DVD 102 software cannot handle the
technology on these DVD's as they
work fine on my PS2. Do we have any ideas, or can we give him a contact address
isn't going to like this, but after an extensive trawl through the usual web
sites and newsgroups the Bush DVD-102 gets a reasonably clean bill of health.
Likewise, our sister magazine What DVD and our Internet sources hasn't yet
reported any similar problems with Final Destination and as far as we know
Rambo is okay too. The only unknown in this equation is the Region code of
Chris's discs, though even if they are R1 copies it is rare for that to cause
playback problems. That leaves us with two other possibilities, there could be
a problem with these two discs, Chris should check them carefully for scratches
– most likely – or they are faulty pressings – unusual but still possible. The
only other thing we can think of is that this is one of those very rare cases
where the disc and player are at the limits of their respective tolerances and
for some reason they just don't get on with each other. The only thing that he
can do is to take the disc and or player back and try to convince the dealer
there's something wring with it, or learn to live with it.
Neil is looking to build an extension to his house, part of which he wants to
use as a cinema room. He asks for some advice about the best room size and
ratio. He has a blank sheet of paper at the moment, but is looking at something
approximately 5m by 4m. He asks if this is enough, and whether both LCD and
plasma would be good in this space?
extremely fortunate being able to start from scratch, so it's worth him taking
a bit of trouble over his project. As far as we know there are no set formulas
for designing a home theatre. Obviously some factors are connected, such as the
relationship between screen size and seating position but that's as far as our
expertise goes and on such matters it is wise to consult the experts. There are
plenty of companies working in this field, who are only too willing to
undertake as much (or as little) of the building work and installation as
Neil's budget allows. Several firms advertise in HE and he should have a word
with his local hi-fi/video dealer who will almost certainly have some useful
contacts. If Neil intends to go down the DIY route then the best advice we can
give him is to have a look at what others have done, and learn from their
successes, and mistakes. He should get in contact with some of them for an
exchange of ideas.
keywords building and home cinemas we came up with a good selection of web
sites created by people who have built their own home theatres, here's a small
selection, and several of them contain useful links to other home builders and
KIT KEF speakers
Glenn wants to upgrade his system with an AV receiver and speaker system. He is
considering the Denon AVR-3801 and has been recommended the KEF Q55.2 front
speakers, Q95c.2 centre, Q85s rears, and 30B active subwoofer. However, he has
seen that the KEFs only received four stars in our reviews and worries that the
area in which they fell down was action movies. As he loves action movies, should
he still be considering these speakers? He has a budget of approximately £2500
and asks if we have any other suggestions?
Four stars is actually a very good score, especially when you take into account
the price of this particular package. If Glenn reads our review in HE 87 again
he will see that the criticisms about the package's performance with action
movies were relatively minor in nature and the fact that it did so well in
almost all other areas earned it a coveted 'Editor's Choice' tag. He should
still keep it on his shortlist; however, since Glen has a very generous budget
to play with there are several other highly rated speaker packages that deserve
his very serious attention. The one that springs immediately to mind was also
featured in the HE87 speaker package system Mega Test. It's the very impressive
Mordaunt Short 500 THX, which was awarded a full five stars and earned much
praise for its home cinema performance, including a special mention for its
handling of action sequences. 'A real
thoroughbred' was how we described it, and with a street price of £1600 or so
Glen still has enough left over to indulge himself in the amplifier department,
not that there's anything wrong with the Denon model he mentioned, which is
also a former HE five star Best Buy.
Ó R. Maybury 2001, 2004