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DOLBY PRO-LOGIC HI-FI SYSTEMS

 

 

INTRODUCTION

The long and often uneasy marriage between video and audio has taken an ridiculously long time to consummate, but it looks as though it has finally happened. The fruit of this union is new breed of hi-fi system, providing the easiest route so far into AV integration and home cinema. So whatís new? The difference this time is theyíre designed from the ground up as multi-media entertainment centres, with Dolby Pro Logic surround-sound processors built-in, not tacked on as an afterthought. A few even include specially designed AV speakers and theyíre all at least on nodding terms with TVs and VCRs, one or two are almost video-friendly...

 

The systems weíve been looking at represent a broad cross-section of what is available in terms of performance, facilities and price, though regard this and any other survey of Pro Logic hi-fi systems as a snapshot of a rapidly developing market. The rate of change is almost unprecedented with new systems being launched almost every month. At least two packages weíd earmarked for this feature were unavailable to us as they were in the process of being updated. Changes were even being made on the hoof, and a couple of the systems weíve looked at were early production samples, and still liable to alteration.

 

Nevertheless, their arrival in such numbers rubber-stamps the major shift in attitude that has been taking place in many sections of the hi-fi industry, and marks a belated recognition that the future of audio and video technologies are now inextricably linked to each other.

 

AIWA NSX-D939

At the time of writing this was the most recent arrival, in fact the sample we reviewed was the first one in the country and still awaiting the arrival of its matching rear speakers. The system is a two-piece affair with a three-disc CD auto-changer and twin cassette deck in one box, and the amp/tuner and graphic equaliser/Dolby/Digital Signal Processor gubbins in the other. It comes with a set of four speakers, two magnetically shielded front channel enclosures for the main stereo channels and a pair of rear surround units. Thereís a powered output for a centre-channel speaker, and line-output, for an amplified sub-woofer. It all looks very neat and tidy, especially round the back as thereís only one ribbon cable to link the two units together. The front panels have an unusually low button count, thatís because most of the secondary controls have been hidden away on a little motorised drawer that slides out from the amp section.

 

Needless to say CD to tape and tape to tape copying is well supported with advanced editing facilities, to help organise recordings more efficiently. The DSP and graphic equaliser offer a variety of sound contorting options, from the usual array of spatial simulations (hall, church, disco, arena, like  and movie) and tonal presets (rock, pop, jazz, classic, headphone and car), to a set of manually stored settings. The Dolby Surround processor has  Pro Logic, and 3-channel logic modes, with wide, normal or phantom centre-front channel settings.

 

PERFORMANCE

A bit of a mixed bag this one, at its happiest as a home cinema system first, serious hi-fi second. The CD is fairly average but against that you have to weigh the undoubted convenience of the auto-changer and maybe the karoke facility, itís a great party machine but music buffs might find it a trifle laid back. The same applies to the tape section, a bright, lively sound but thin on substance. The fancy digital signal processor options are there if you need them; to be honest the effects are interesting rather than useful and do little to improve most types of recorded music or soundtrack, but thereís hours of endless fun for gadget freaks.  However, Pro Logic is what this package is all about -- with a full set of speakers -- and Aiwa have come up with just the right combination of power and  flexibility,  that is at its best with dynamic blockbuster movie soundtracks. However, the decoder is equally capable of resolving the small, almost subliminal sounds, as well as the gut-rumbling explosions.

 

VERDICT AIWA NSX-D939                       £750

 

Plus: The price is well below average for Dolby Pro-Logic equipped hi-fis, and considering the range of facilities, and the fact that it comes with a CD auto-changer, plus speakers, it looks and sounds like rather good value for money. Pro Logic performance is excellent, gadget fans and small children will find plenty to keep them amused.

 

Minus: despite the chunky looking speakers the main stereo channels are rather thin and lack impact, even with all the bass-enhancement systems at full blast. The cassette deck is a bit of a clunker and the antics of the main display panel can become tiresome after a while. The remote control handset has been designed by some sort of button-fetishist with sadistic tendencies!

 

Value for money 90%

 

Sound quality              ***

Build quality                           ***

Features & facilities              ****

Ease of use                             ***

 

SPEC BOX

Features: digital sound processor (hall, church, disco, arena, live, movie), 6-mode sound presets (rock, pop, jazz, classic, car, headphone), three CD auto-changer, 30-track memory; twin tape deck, music search, Dolby B & C NR; AM/FM tuner with 36-channel presets; event/sleep/wake-up timer, vocal fader (karoke) 

Power handling: 2 x 35 & 2 x 15 watts

Dimensions (mm): 520 x 400 x 660

 

Captions:

 

Full width CD drawer, itís big because thereís space for three CDs inside, on a revolving platter

 

Cunningly concealed controls. Theyíre hidden away on a motorised tray that slides out from the bottom of the stack

 

It looks like a regular 4-box stack but thereís only two sections

 

Remote nightmare! Fifty six identical buttons -- count íem -- on a shiny background with barely legible labelling

 

The graphic equaliser display panel is almost as entertaining as some TV programmes, thankfully it can be muted

 

AIWA UK Ltd, Unit 5, Heathrow Summit Centre, Skyport Drive, West Drayton,

Middlesex UB7 OLY.

Telephone 081-897 7000

 

 

 

JVC XT-MXG9

The centrepiece of JVCís G9 Adagio system is a pair of speakers with motorised drivers that move around under control from a digital audio processor. The moving speakers face forward for normal sound, and inwards, when carrying centre-channel (dialogue) information in the Dolby Pro Logic mode. Selecting any of the various DAP effects (club, live, dome, hall & church) shifts the speakers outwards by up to 20 degrees, creating a wider sound-field. Additional preset programs tailor the shape of the sound, (Ďsoothingí, Ďrelaxingí & Ďexcitingí) and thereís a set of effects, including squeeze, vocal masking (karaoke mode...), key control (weird tone contortions), flanger and scratch; the latter superimposes a plausible  turntable Ďscratchingí sound on the output.

 

The system comprises four mini-sized components, including a well-specified twin tape deck with soft-touch controls, CD player with 32 track memory, tuner-amp and graphic equaliser module. The curvy cosmetics are quite appealing though the control layout is rather haphazard and a tad fussy; the very busy displays can be distracting. Itís relatively easy to set up, with captive ribbon cables linking the components together, the big problem though is the speakers. Thereís two cables going to each enclosure, one with six strands, carrying high, mid and low range audio, the other, a 7-way flat ribbon carries power and control signals for the speaker motors. In short speaker placement is severely limited by the length of these cables which are only about 2-metres long. There are amplified outputs for rear surround and centre-front speakers, though these are not supplied.

 

PERFORMANCE

The panoramic speakers are surprisingly effective, provided of course you can live with the shortish leads. With all of the effects options switched out it provides a gutsy full-bodied sound, always with plenty of power in reserve. The various digital processors can be amusing to play around with, thereís plenty of exotic avenues to explore, and you may even stumble across one or two permutations that actually enhance some types of music, though in general they add or subtract rather too much from the original to be taken too seriously. The CD and tape decks are both reasonably efficient with minimal noise and clean, evenly balanced outputs. Dolby 3-channel Logic, using just the supplied speakers provides breaths a little life in movie soundtracks but itís no substitute for the real thing and we suspect most owners will choose to add rear and centre-front speakers to get the full Pro Logic effect. The decoder works well, with good localisation of sounds and effects though set-up takes a little longer than normal as a result of having to locate the rear speakers more carefully to fit in with the main channel speakers.

 

VERDICT  JVC XT-MXG9 ĎADAGIOí £999.99

Plus: integrated speaker systems will appeal to those troubled by the thought of lots of little boxes around the living room and considering the limitations such an arrangement imposes, are surprisingly effective. Lotís of unusual facilities and fun to play with, up to a point. An appealing, well-specified system, uncontroversial sound for the price and built to JVCs usual high standards.

 

Minus: its strengths are also its weakness, and the speaker cabling imposes considerable limitations on placement. The basic configuration, without centre-channel and rear effects speakers produces a fairly bland sound-field and it can lack drama. A bit too much naff gadgetry, and over-complicated controls which distort the ease of use argument for AV system integration.

 

Value for money 85%

 

Sound quality              ****

Build quality                           ****

Features & facilities              ****

Ease of use                             ***

 

SPEC BOX

Features: Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3-channel,  digital acoustic processor (club, live, dome, hall, church); digital special effects processor (squeeze, vocal mask (karaoke), key control, scratch, flanger); special sound adjustment (exciting, relaxing, individual); tape music scan, continuous play, high-speed dubbing; CD auto edit, 32-track memory; tuner 10 station memory; recording/sleep/wake-up timers

Power handling: 2 x 18 watts, 2 x 13.5 watts

Dimensions (mm): 425 x 265 x 275

 

Captions:

Clean, uncluttered styling though with more than its fair share of winking lights

 

The display on the system control unit is very busy and greets you with good morning, afternoon or evening when itís switched on

 

The amp/tuner features a versatile clock timer, to wake you up, or send you to sleep, it can also be programmed to make timed recordings

 

No, the buttons one the handset arenít skew-whiff, itís meant to look like that

 

Reasonably uncluttered back panel, interconnections are handled by captive ribbon cables

 

 

JVC UK LTD, JVC House, 6-8 Priestley Way, Eldonwall Trading Estate,

Staples Corner, London NW2 7AS.

Telephone 081-450 3282

 

 

PIONEER JV600LD

This is AV integration from the old school, a system for vinyl die-hards as itís the only one in this roundup to feature a turntable -- remember them?  Pioneer are showing their true colours by including a laser disc player in the stack but itís quite a good one, with NTSC playback and a clever split loading draw where only the centre-section opens, for audio CDs. Thereís five boxes in all, with the turntable on top of the pile, below that thereís the CD/LD player, a well-appointed twin cassette deck, graphic equaliser and sound-field processor, and the amplifier/tuner at the bottom. 

 

Pioneer have been fairly restrained and the sound-field processor is quite basic by comparison with some of the others weíve looked at. The graphic equaliser is a nifty-looking design with adjustments made using a rotary dial. Unfortunately this can only be done from the front panel which means an unwelcome game of musical chairs every time you want to change the settings. Theyíve been quite economical with the rest of the buttons too, and mode selection is sequential, which can be a pain when you want it to do something fast, like switch from normal sound to Pro Logic. Function selection is the same, and you can find yourself stepping through up to eight options to get to the one you want.

 

Most operations can be controlled form the remote handset, though itís as well to keep the instruction manual close at hand as some functions are quite well hidden, or awkward to access, unless you can remember the correct switch and button combinations.

 

PERFORMANCE

No fancy speakers this time, the system is supplied with a pair of fairly unexciting boxes containing three drivers. Thereís powered outputs for centre-front and rear effects channels, but itís not quite as well equipped as the competition though it does leave the user free to make their own speaker arrangements. The turntable is a fairly basic item but it works well enough. The cassette deck works fine as well, itís not especially exciting but you would have to listen quite hard to pick fault with it. The Dolby processor has Pro-Logic and 3-channel operating modes and all channels are independently adjustable, for balancing the system. Thereís a Jack-of-all-trades feel to the CD/LD player with the predictable consequence that it plays all kind of discs adequately well but isnít going to break any performance records for either format, if anything video does slightly better out of the deal.

 

Surround sound performance is commendable with effects accurately positioned within the sound-field, it also scored well with some of the more subtle Dolby tricks, including ones where a particular sound is heard though all channels. The amp needs to be pushed quite hard to make it give its best, the bass synth function helps flesh it out otherwise it sounds a little bland and unexciting.

 

VERDICT 800 PIONEER JV600LD, £1200

 

Plus: classic stack system brought up to date to head off the competition from the newcomers. Pioneer have led the way in AV integration and this is a competent ensemble, designed to appeal to the widest audience, including laser disc fans and those still clinging to their vinyl collections.

 

Minus: Itís a fair sized lump, so if space is at a premium you might find it a bit of a squeeze. Minor style differences make the CD/LD player and turntable look and feel like late additions and the CD players controls are not fully integrated into the system. Slightly woolly sound from the big speakers which need to be driven quite hard to make their presence felt

 

Value for money 82%

 

Sound quality              ***

Build quality                           ***

Features & facilities              ***

Ease of use                             ***

 

SPEC BOX

Features: combined laser disc/CD player with NTSC playback, 24 track memory, sound-field processor (disco, hall, stadium), twin-tape deck, 

Power handling: 2 x 65, 2 x 22 watts

Dimensions (mm): 530 x 340 x 355mm

 

Captions:

 

For those unfamiliar with the object on the top of the stack itís a turntable, used to play old-fashioned records

 

AV integration, but only so far, you still have to switch the CL/LP player on and off manually

 

The full-width loading draw is divided into two and only the small centre section pops out when replaying CDs

 

Not so many buttons, but control and switching can be cumbersome as the various selections have to be accessed sequentially

 

Setting the equaliser manually, via the sound jog dial, is a bit long-winded and it canít be done remotely

 

PIONEER HI-FI GB LTD, Pioneer Huse Hollybush Hill, Stoke Poges,

Slough, Berks SL2 4QP

Telephone (0753) 789789

 

 

SANYO SYS 994

Another very recent arrival, so recent in fact that our sample was an early pre-production unit and Sanyo cautioned us that sound performance was subject to some improvement. When all said and done it didnít sound too bad, shame they couldnít do anything about the cosmetics and one or two other items which weíll come to in a moment. This is a one-box affair but Sanyo have gone to a lot of trouble to try and convince would-be purchasers otherwise, to the extent of moulding dummy feet between the three sections, who do they think theyíre kidding?

 

The top third is taken up by the amp section, Dolby decoder, and graphic equaliser, and a manual one at that. This is one very odd mixture of technologies, no fancy digital processors here, just the usual Dolby Surround options (normal, 3-channel logic, and phantom). In the middle thereís the twin cassette deck with another reminder of times past -- mechanical transport keys. The lower third is taken up by a 24-disc CD auto-changer with a 48-track memory and disc management system which categorises and stores the name of each disc.

 

The auto-changer mechanism is on its side, so to speak, and discs have to be loaded through a vertical slot in the front panel, making sure theyíre the right way around; itís most disconcerting, as unseen fingers whip the discs away to do heaven knows what with them; letís just hope itís reliable... The system comes with two 3-way speakers for the main stereo channels, two small speakers for the rear surround channel, and a matching, magnetically shielded centre-front speaker.

 

PERFORMANCE

In spite of Sanyoís warnings the system sounded reasonable, maybe a little thin on top and the CD on our sample didnít seem to be firing on all cylinders but given the status of the unit we canít read too much into that at this stage. Although the tape deck is a bit past its sell by date it also works well enough, though it seems a little incongruous besides the CD auto-changer, and without logic controls it misses out by having only rudimentary copying and editing facilities. The Dolby processor worked well, and it was a great relief to have five separate speakers that could be placed where they could be most effective. In the Pro Logic mode the decoder fared well with our noisiest test recordings, definitely one for action blockbuster fans; it did less well with the ambience and atmospheric effects, which need careful extraction if theyíre not to be lost in the background.

 

However, the biggest problem with this system is Sanyoís unaccountable decision to skimp on the sockets Thereís provision for only one external AV input. Thatís crazy, at the very least most users will have a VCR and satellite receiver, providing Dolby encoded source material, otherwise why would anyone want to buy a Dolby hi-fi system?

 

VERDICT SANYO SYSTEM 994    £800

Plus: Another system that should prove popular with partygoers, and the terminally lazy, who simply canít be bothered to keep getting up to change discs. The full set of speakers are a bonus and itís ready to go out of the box. Weíll have to reserve judgement on sound quality until we hear a full production unit, though on current evidence it should okay.

 

Minus: The solitary AV input is a big problem and that alone would be enough to put us off buying one, unless we were utterly convinced that we would never want to add an STV receiver or laser disc player to the system. The cosmetics are decidedly iffy, you can get away with phoney box fronts on nasty £99.99 mini systems but itís definitely out of place on one costing £800.

 

Value for money 75%

 

Sound quality  ***     

Build quality               **

Features & facilities  ***

Ease of use                 ****

 

SPEC BOX

Features: 24 disc CD auto-changer,  48-track memory, twin cassette deck, auto tape selection, high-speed dubbing, Dolby B NR;  36-channel tuner, sleep timer, dynamic bass

Power handling: 2 x 50, 2 x 15

Dimensions (mm): 405 x 425 x 369

 

Captions:

 

No, itís just one box, take a closer look, those feet are fakes

 

The CD auto-changer is at the bottom, discs are loaded vertically through the slot in the middle

 

A hark back to the olden days --  a manual graphic equaliser with no winking lights?

 

More reminders of times past, mechanical tape transport controls, mind you, at least you know theyíre working...

 

Simple, straightforward three-way speakers for the main stereo channels, and adequate, if uninspiring little black boxes for the centre-front and surround channels

 

SANYO UK LTD., Sanyo House, Otterspool Way,  Watford, Herts WD2 8JX.

Telephone (0923) 246363

 

 

 

SONY MHC-5900

One of the commonest objections to home cinema is the need for up to five separate speakers. Sonyís somewhat radical solution is called Tri-Surround and involves putting them all together into just two boxes, with the rear channel drivers radiating sideways, and the centre-front speakers facing in. The rest of the system is more down to earth, though it too reveals some unusual thinking. Thereís four boxes in all, a twin cassette deck, amp, processor cum equaliser and a combined tuner/CD deck. They havenít gone over the top with the gimmicks, just a fairly restrained 5-mode digital processor with the familiar spatial effects (hall, stadium, studio), plus a couple of modes for contouring the sound for headphone listening or making tapes for in-car use. Thereís also a voice-cancelling facility, so the system can be used as a karoke with an optional microphone.

 

Installation and set-up is relatively straightforward with one ribbon cable connecting all the components together. Theyíve been fairly generous with the two sets of speaker cables and there shouldnít been any need to lengthen them, in any case this would put them too far away from the screen and the surround effect would loose coherence.

 

PERFORMANCE

Itís a neat idea but thereís no way youíre going to get an authentic surround effect with all of the speakers in front of the listening position. Worse still, placing a speaker too close to a wall produces all kinds of odd  reflections which distorts the sound-field and upsets any attempt by the Dolby decoder to localise individual sounds. The actual sound output is very clean, treble output is a little lightweight but all of the components give a good account of themselves, with a couple of extra brownie points going to the CD and tape decks which have a very crisp sound. The centre-front speaker arrangement works very well, a separate centre channel speakers yields little improvement. Dolby Pro Logic comes alive when a pair of extra rear speakers are added, but in its most basic configuration it gives only a tantalising taste of the real thing.

 

VERDICT SONY MHC-5900, £1000

Plus: a stylish looking system with a useful, rather than extravagant assortment of features and Sonyís usual attention to detail. The all in one surround/centre/rear effects speakers are a tidy arrangement for those who do not want the bother of a load of wires and boxes. Controlled sound, perky CD performance and very convenient for those with Sony TVs and VCRs.

 

Minus: whilst the combined speakers do their best the surround effect is confined and many of the most dramatic movie soundtrack effects can be lost or muted in the confusion. 

 

Value for money 88%

 

Sound quality  ****   

Build quality               ***

Features & facilities  ****

Ease of use                 ****

 

SPEC BOX

Features: digital sound field processor (hall, stadium, studio, headphone, car),  acoustic processor (rock, pops, classic, night, background), karoke; CD 24-track memory; 20 AM/FM station presets; twin tape, track editing, auto tape selection, auto music search, Dolby B/C/HX Pro NR

Power handling: 2 x 70 & 2 x 25 watts

Dimensions (mm): 395 x 260 x 225

 

Captions:

 

Simple, unfussy cosmetics and reasonably easy to use controls

 

Uncluttered back panel, though the connections for the rear and centre speaker channels are a little confused

 

Depending on your point of view the speakers are as ugly as sin, or an elegant piece of contemporary design, not much use as plant stands...

 

Good news if youíve got a Sony telly or VCR, the remote handset can control them all

 

The controls on the unusual combined tuner/CD takes some getting used to

 

SONY UK LTD Sony House, South Street, Staines, Middlesex TW15 4AT. 

Telephone (0784) 467000

 

 

 

SONY MHC-7900AV

This is the 5900AVís big brother, in all respects, including facilities, performance and at £1500, price as well. Much of this is due to the pair of rather imposing speaker enclosures, topped by futuristic-looking electrostatic tweeters. All of the mini-sized components, (with the exception of the twin cassette deck), have been upgraded from the 5900, and the tuner shifted out of the CD deck into a box of its own. The amplifier module contains a very sophisticated digital signal processor with something like 20 pre-set effects (though itís difficult to be precise...), a graphic equaliser and one hyper-active display panel that shows the manufacturers name every time itís switched on, cute! It does a dozen other things besides, including showing little icons that are meant to represent the various DSP options, itís even got a screen-saver, to prevent the display elements Ďburning iní if it stays static for too long, fat chance!

 

The speakers are mains powered, so in addition to a shielded coaxial cable thereís a separate mains lead going to each enclosure, itís a shame Sony didnít see fit to make them equal lengths... Otherwise installation is very simple, it comes with centre channel and rear effects speakers and one ribbon cable (and a couple of phono leads) connects all the units together. Most operations are fairly straightforward, until you get to the DSP and itís multitude of options. Theyíre accessed and adjusted using a combination of buttons and a four-way cursor control; suffice it to say all this fancy technology means the simplest operation takes ages, but if thereís nothing on telly you could always pass an interesting hour or two working your way through all the effects options...

 

PERFORMANCE

Providing you donít stray too far from the pre-set norms the system is generally very easy to live with, and like its stablemate, the 5900, it comes with a versatile remote handset featuring basic function controls for Sony TVs and VCRs. So what about sound quality?  Itís outstanding! The speakers produce a crisp, natural sound that leaves most of the other systems standing. The power is there, you can feel it, but itís always held in check and only comes through when it is needed. The CD and tape decks are heard to their best advantage; old, familiar recordings come alive with new, unheard sounds and nuances that you never realised were there. The Dolby surround processor benefits too, and dynamic sound effects come into sharp focus, this is the sort of home cinema system that has you ducking for cover as a Tomcat fighter aircraft screams overhead!

 

VERDICT SONY MHC-7900AV £1500A

Plus: excellent sound, with no apparent compromises that favour either audio-only or AV material. Much of the credit for the sound must go to the electrostatic speakers but they have to work with the rest of the system which has been built to a very high standard. If you can afford it, the most proficient all-rounder, for those who want the best of all worlds.

 

Minus: the price -- £1500 is a helluva lot to pay for a mini system, even one as good as this. In the end youíre paying a premium for those electrostatic speakers and some fancy digital processing. Maybe a little over-qualified, if used solely for home cinema applications.

 

Value for money 85%

 

Sound quality              *****

Build quality                           ****

Features & facilities              ****

Ease of use                             ***

 

SPEC BOX

Features: 20-mode digital sound processor, twin cassette deck Dolby B/C/HX Pro, AM/FM tuner with 40 channel presets, electro-static speakers, karaoke

Power handling: 2 x 65, 2 x 10 watts

Dimensions (mm): 225 x 430 x 950

 

Captions:

 

The electrostatic speakers sit behind the grilles on the top of the enclosure, theyíre part of the reason this system costs £1500

 

A similar-looking CD to the 5900 system, though this time the tuner is a separate item

 

Simple, uncluttered controls and unfussy cosmetics make this system easy on the eye, as well as the ear

 

Unusual cursor control for setting sound field parameters

 

Speakers are magnetically shielded, to prevent colour staining if theyíre placed too close to the TV screen

 

SONY UK LTD Sony House, South Street, Staines, Middlesex TW15 4AT. 

Telephone (0784) 467000

 

 

CONCLUSION

A brave try Sanyo but the SYS 994 is a couple of  sockets short of a system and will be struggling with any home cinema set up more ambitious than a TV and VCR. In spite of a facelift the Pioneer JV600 is getting on a bit and some of the components are looking and sounding a little tired, though the laser disc player definitely has its attractions. Sadly the Sony 5900 could do better, a lot better if it wasnít for those combined speakers which sound muddled. JVCís G9 Adagio suffers to a less extent with speaker overcrowding but itís a brilliant design that should be on any shortlist. The Aiwa NSX D939 was a real surprise, a little rough around the edges but very competent and great value too. However, the outright winner was not difficult to spot, or rather hear, the Sony 7900 is the one to listen to first.

 

BOX 1 -- HOW TO BUY A PRO-LOGIC SYSTEM

1. Whilst systems with combined surround and/or centre channel speakers are very convenient the full impact of Dolby Surround can really only be heard through a set of speakers arranged around the listening/viewing position. Itís important to have this option, and preferably provision for driving a separate sub-woofer as well.

 

2. If the system has a centre-channel speaker make sure itís magnetically shielded otherwise it could cause colour staining if sited too close to the screen. If staining does occur donít worry, move the speaker further from the screen, the TV will automatically de-magnetise the tube when it is switched on and it should disappear fairly quickly.

 

3. If possible check the system with as many components switched on and running as possible, to check for any Ďbleed-overí from other audio sources. If this happens there could be an isolation problem, which might indicate careless design in the switching arrangements or cabling. If the system handles video signals as well check to see if there is any patterning or interference, caused by AV signal interaction. If itís going to be sited close to the TV listen carefully to the tuner output for whistles.

 

4. How easy is it to get in and out of Dolby Surround mode? It can be a real nuisance having to press lots of buttons to re-configure the system back to normal hi-fi operation, and itís important for the main amp or processor to clearly show what mode it is in, ideally from across the living room.

 

5. How many AV inputs does the system have? Remember the number of possible sources are growing all the time and it should, at the very least, be able to cope with a VCR, laser disc player and satellite tuner. In the future you may also want to use it with a video game and camcorder, will there be enough spare sockets, or will you have to mess around the back, plugging and unplugging components?

 

BOX 2 -- SPECIFICATIONS

                                                Price    Score   Power                          System

AIWA NSX-D939                  £750    13        2 x 35, 2 x 15              2C, CDA, T

JVC XT-MXG9                     £1000  15        2 x 18, 2x 13.5            2C, CD, T

PIONEER JV600LD             £1200  12        2 x 65, 2 x 22              2C, LD, T,TT

SANYO SYSTEM 994           £800    12        2 x 50, 2x 15               2C, CDA, T   

SONY MHC-5900                 £1000  15        2 x 70, 2 x 15              2C, T, CD

SONY MHC-7900AV            £1500  16        2 x 65, 2 x 10              2C, T, CD

 

Key: 2C = twin cassette, CD = compact disc, CDA = CD auto-changer, T = tuner, TT = turntable, LD = laser disc/CD player

 

 

BOX 3 -- THE BEST ROUTE TO AV?

Home cinema and AV integration has come a long way in the past five years but there is still no ideal one-stop solution. Dolby Surround decoders are popping up all over the place and theyíre fitted inside TVs, VCRs even satellite tuners, as well as stand-alone components, AV amplifiers and complete systems like the ones weíve been looking at here. So how do the alternatives stack up?

 

Dolby-equipped TV are generally the simplest option but they tend to be the least effective and can be inflexible, using the supplied speaker packages. Moreover, they tend to have limited opportunity for expansion and do not, in any case, function as hi-fi systems. However, for those looking for a simple one-box home cinema package, primarily for watching movies on tape, disc or from satellite, theyíre well worth considering.

 

VCRs with on-board Dolby decoders were a passing fad and now that Akai are pulling out of the market the choice of equipment is very restricted. Satellite receivers with surround sound facilities are very thin on the ground too and donít forget that these devices do not normally come with amplifiers or speakers for the main stereo channels, which makes them less cost effective than they might at first appear.

 

Stand-alone decoders can deliver the best performance and are usually the quickest way of integrating surround sound into an existing hi-fi system. Against that you have to weigh the disadvantages of dedicating the hi-fi system to AV use, which may not always be convenient when it comes to speaker placement, or indeed having both systems in the same room together.

 

Building a system from scratch, using separate components is arguably the only course for those seeking the ultimate performance, with the money to match their aspirations, but the lack of system integration is likely to be a headache, to frustrate even the most enthusiastic button-pusher.

 

Given the choice, AV amplifiers with built-in Dolby decoder and acoustic processors are the most practical and efficient alternative to an off the shelf  AV package, especially  for those wanting to assemble their own systems, on a limited budget, it also allows the user to choose the most appropriate speakers. They reduce the box-count considerably and the better ones provide a wide range of switching functions for various other components, up to and including a complete hi-fi system.

 

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