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Akai TX-700 Dolby Pro-Logic Mini System

Akai and Dolby Surround go way back, back to 1988 in fact, when they launched the VS-A77, the first ever NICAM VCR with a built-in surround-sound decoder. As it turned out they were about five years too early and following a couple more attempts, Akai eventually gave up with surround sound VCRs. Now theyíre back in the home cinema business, though this time theyíre going with the flow, with a neat-looking Dolby Pro-Logic mini hi-fi.


The TX-700 is a relatively conventional design, the system is housed in two boxes: a 30-station AM/FM tuner with RDS and a 3-CD autochanger in one; the amplifier, graphic equaliser, DPL processor and twin motorised auto-reverse tape decks in the other. Theyíre connected together by a single ribbon cable carrying power, control signals and audio. The package includes a set of five speakers, two bookshelf-sized enclosures for the front channels, two small rear-channel speakers, and a magnetically-shielded centre-channel speaker.


Akai must have been tempted to try and compete with other budget and mid-priced systems, with armfuls of DSP effects and lots of winking lights, instead theyíve kept the Ďadded-valueí features to a minimum and concentrated on genuinely useful facilities, and performance. The CD and tape decks have a clean, uncluttered sound, the latter benefiting from Dolby B and C noise reduction. The tuner is works well too, itís sensitive with very little background noise. RDS is about as close as this system gets to a gadget but even that has its uses, if you want traffic reports in the morning. DPL performance is very good, the processor is one of the sharpest weíve come across on a budget system, effects are accurately resolved and very precisely located within the soundfield. The back channel -- frequently under-powered on DPL package systems  -- is really punchy. The only real shortcoming is a lack of bass muscle. The speakers somehow never manage to get behind the big noisy effects; you can feel the beginnings of a good rumble but it never quite develops.


VERDICT Akai TX-700, £500

At last, a serious DPL mini system, at a sensible price. It could do with a bit more bass but the hi-fi components all work well and it doesnít look like Blackpool illuminations


Features            Dolby Pro-Logic, Dolby 3, 3-CD autochanger with 30-track memory, , random and repeat play, intro scan, twin motorised auto-reverse cassette decks, Dolby B & C NR, intro scan, track search, auto and continuous play, high-speed dubbing, AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets & RDS, extended bass,  graphic equaliser with 5 presets & manual control, event, sleep and wake-up timers

Sockets            2 AV input , 1 x aux audio input, 1 x AV output, 1 video output, centre-channel out (phono) speaker outputs, AM aerial  (spring terminal), FM antenna (coax), CD/tuner (multi-way ribbon connector), digital out (optical jack)

Dimensions            270 x 321 x 330mm

Akai UK Ltd, telephone 0181-897 6388



Aiwa NSX-V90, £500 HE28 85%

Kenwood UD951, £500 not tested

Sony MHC-901AV £500, HE25 85%


Sound quality            *****

Ease of use                 ****

Build quality               ****

Value for money 90%



Grundig GRD280

With the arrival of the GRD280, Grundig now have a presence in all of the key sectors of the UK satellite TV market. It fits between their £99 budget Minerva systems and the top-end GRD300, on which it is based.  In fact the differences are quite small and largely concerned with the operating software; this receiver has 280 channels instead of the 300 available on the GRD300 and the VCR timer is slightly less sophisticated with 4-events over 4-week period (compared with 8 events on the 300). The only significant physical difference, and the apparent justification for the substantial price difference, is the simpler, 3-digit channel readout on the 280,  instead of the large centrally-mounted fluorescent display on its stablemate. 


Apart from that the two receivers are virtually identical. They share the same case, though the fascias are slightly different on account of the display. Both have a single covered card slot, below which there are four control buttons for power on/standby, channel up/down and pay-to-view authorise. The back panels have two LNB inputs, three SCART AV sockets, a pair of audio line-out sockets and coaxial connectors for the RF aerial loop-through.


Thirty of the GRD280ís 280 channels are set aside for a favourite channel selection, there are also 10 radio memories. All of the set-up, VCR timer and secondary functions are accessed from a simple menu-driven on-screen display. Itís a little too simple, the white display characters can sometimes be difficult to read against a bright background. Itís not made any easier by the remote handset. This is the same as the ones supplied with the Minerva and GRD300. It really is quite horrible  -- lots of tiny buttons with purple on grey labelling --  especially when compared with the excellent  remotes supplied with their previous range of receivers. 


Performance is little changed from the GRD300; sensitivity is about average for a mid-range receiver, thereís not much gain to spare though and sparklies quickly multiply in poor signal conditions. It sounds quite good though, and although it doesnít have a Panda noise reduction, their own system is quite efficient, with only modest amounts of background hiss.


VERDICT Grundig GRD280: £200 (inc. 60cm dish)

Little changed from the GRD300 as far as performance is concerned, if you can live without the fancy display the cheaper price makes it quite a good deal


Features            280-channel tuner, 30 favourite channel memory, 4-event/30-day VCR timer, 10 favourite radio channels, PIN operated parental lock, 13 audio modes, LNB tone switching

Sockets            3 x SCART AV, 2 x LNB input (F-connector), stereo line audio out (phono), RF in/out (coax)

Grundig Satellite Communications, telephone (01443) 220220



Amstrad SRD550, £200, HE15 75%

British Telecom SVS 300 £200, HEXX 83%

Pace MSS 100 £180, HEXX 85%


Picture quality            ***

Sound quality            ****

Ease of use                 ***

Build quality               ***

Value for money 85%



Philips VR-757 NICAM VCR

Philips are up to their old tricks again. During the past two or three years theyíve lulled us into a false sense of security by making relatively normal VCRs, then along comes the VR-757... This midi-sized NICAM machine is most peculiar. Thereís a set of  AV input sockets mounted on the left side, instead of the front panel, and the main transport controls are on the top, access to both will be compromised if the machine is housed in a narrow enclosure, alongside or beneath other AV components.


Thereís more. The stop button doubles up as tape pause, but not still frame, thatís handled by the Ďjog-oní button. Itís about the only machine weíve seen in the past five years without a power-on-and-play facility, and it switches itself off after five minutes if left in the stop mode. You canít switch it on using the standby button, that only switches it off, any other button -- except eject -- turns it on. The jog/shuttle dials on the front panel and remote handset have to be manually engaged otherwise it treats any movement of the shuttle ring as a fast-forward or rewind command. It doesnít have an on-screen display, and it doesnít help that the front-panel display is single colour. The remote control has a set of TV functions, but they only work with Philips TVs, and a few unspecified models from Blaupunkt, Grundig and Siemens.


It has semi-automatic tuning, that downloads the contents of Philips TVs fitted with their Easy Link system (only a couple of widescreen sets have it at the moment); otherwise it tunes itself in and the user has to manually match the VCR tuner settings with the TV channels in order to use the direct record facility. This is actually a rather good idea; it switches the VCR on to record whatever channel is showing on the TV, just by pressing one button.


The syncro edit socket on the front works with a range of camcorders, including Philips clones made by Panasonic and Sony, plus a handful of JVC and Hitachi models. It only works on one scene at a time, but it is a useful adjunct to the audio dub and insert edit facilities on this machine, which might be of interest video movie-makers. Picture quality is fine with resolution hovering around 250-lines. Thereís some picture noise, though itís by no means excessive. The audio tracks have a small amount of background hiss but they sound reasonably flat and uncoloured.



VERDICT Philips VR-757 £450

Some useful features for camcorder owners, performance is okay but itís not especially good value, and overall a bit too weird for our taste.


Features         semi-auto tuning, NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, multi-speed replay, quasi S-VHS replay, NTSC replay, jog/shuttle dial, index search, audio dub, insert edit, syncro edit control, side-mounted AV terminal, direct record

Sockets            2 x SCART AV, stereo audio in/out (4 x phono), front AV in (3 x phono), syncro edit (minijack)

Dimensions            380 x 343 x 98 mm

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444



Ferguson FV97 £450, HE27 75%

Hitachi VT-F460 £430, HE30 93%

Toshiba V-825 £450, HE30 88%


Picture quality            ****

Sound quality            ***

Build quality               ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ***

Value for money 75%



Toshiba V-705B

Toshiba have never gone in for a lot of gadgetry on their VCRs, but the V-705 is very basic, even for them. Itís a grey midi-sized NICAM machine, the lightly sculptured case is unusual, and the four discrete control buttons on the front panel give it an unthreatening appearance. For once looks are not deceptive, the 705 has very few convenience features over and above standard issue items like Video Plus+, it doesnít even have PDC. There is an on-screen display but it doesnít have much to do after the initial set-up, other than when programming the timer. Surprisingly for a VCR that strives to be so uncomplicated it has a manual tuner, and not a very good one at that. Itís slow, and the DIY fine-tuning is a real throw-back in these days of auto-seeking sweep tuners.


The closest the 705 gets to luxury features are front-mounted AV input sockets and NTSC replay. Thereís something called a satellite monitor, and the instructions mention using Video Plus+ to record satellite broadcasts but donít get your hopes up, it doesnít have a satellite control system. Satellite monitor turns out to be a button that lets you see whatís on the satellite AV channel (provided itís connected to the VCR by a SCART cable), whilst the machine is recording or playing back, and to make Video Plus+ recordings of satellite channels the receiver has to be left switched on and set to the right station.


Resolution is right on the money for a low-end NICAM VCR, our sample managed around 240-lines, noise levels are respectably low, colours are well defined  and the picture looks quite clean. Treble frequencies tail off a little early on the hi-fi tracks but noise levels are low and it has a open, detailed sound.



VERDICT Toshiba V-705B, £400

A very basic, no-frills NICAM machine, but it works well enough and itís not going to scare your granny


Features         NICAM, stereo hi-fi sound, Video Plus+, multi-speed replay, NTSC replay, on-screen display, index search, front-mounted AV terminal

Sockets            2 x SCART AV, stereo audio out (2 x phono), front AV in (3 x phono)

Dimensions            370 x 306 x 89 mm

Toshiba UK Ltd, telephone (01276) 62222



Aiwa HV-FX1500, £350, HE26, 90%

Panasonic NV-HD600, HE28, 80%

Sharp VC-H92 £400, HE21, 70%


Picture quality            ****

Sound quality            ***

Build quality               ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Value for money 80%



Mitsubishi CT-28AV1BDS

Mitsubishiís decision to wait until the Dolby Pro Logic TV and the home cinema market got off the ground might have been a risky gambit, but it could pay off; their first surround sound TVs should provide some stiff competition for the established brands. The flagship model is the 66cm CT-28AV1BDS, itís selling now for £900. The S on the end of the model number denotes that this set has a built-in Astra satellite receiver and Videocrypt decoder. The same model without the tuner costs £50 less.


The styling is plain and uncomplicated, in other words, another bland grey plastic box. Front panel controls are confined to the main on/off switch, thereís a set of secondary controls behind a hinged flap, next to that is another hatch, for the satellite smart-card. It comes with a purpose-designed console that houses the centre speaker, a pair of compact rear-channel speakers are also included, along with a set of pathetically short leads. Rear speaker stands are available as an optional extra, they look quite interesting but theyíre a bit spindly and only just manage to defy gravity. The set relies on itís own built-in speakers for the front stereo channels, and weíre pleased to see it also has a set of terminals, for connecting outboard speakers.  In addition to Dolby Pro Logic there are six additional spatial effects (disco, theatre, concert hall, cathedral, stadium and pseudo stereo). The extensive feature list contains a couple of interesting items, like auto teletext subtitling, which can be set to kick in whenever the mute button is pressed, and an AV memory, which stores four user-defined picture and sound settings.



The initial set-up is plain sailing, auto-tune system sorts out the local TV stations whilst the satellite receiver is pre-tuned with the BSKYB channels at the head of the list. Both terrestrial and satellite channels can be easily re-assigned, using the comprehensive colour-coded on-screen display system, so they follow one another, if required. The DPL decoder has a sequenced white noise generator, to assist with level setting.


The invar mask tube contributes to a good solid black level and wide contrast range, with unusually vibrant white highlights. Colour accuracy and registration are good, and thereís a useful range of adjustments with variable colour temperature (red/blue bias), to make the picture look warmer or cooler. Picture geometry on our sample was spot-on, and generally picture performance was fine, though we noticed some bleed-through from off-air signals whilst the set was in AV mode, this happened when the set was being used in a strong signal area. Channel change is surprisingly slow, it takes a good second or so, which may not sound long but it can be quite frustrating.


Stereo sound is satisfactory, the on-board speakers are unremarkable and produce a slightly compacted sound, that needs a fair amount of fiddling with the tone controls and bass enhancement options before it starts to sound right. The stereo image is quite narrow. DPL performance is quite respectable --  it would be even better with outboard speakers -- the soundstage is confined and big set-piece effects suffer from the usual lack of bass. The rear channel is surprisingly busy, and manages to keep up with the centre and front channels. DPL resolution is fairly average, it manages to accurately localise big effects, more subtle sounds can are not so tightly focused. The DSP effects help liven up otherwise dull stereo soundtracks, though some of them can become a little wearing, and itís quite a relief to turn them off.



Mitsubishi CT-28AV1BDS, £900


Mitsubishi have clearly got Ferguson, Hitachi, JVC and Toshiba firmly in their sights and this package packs a hefty punch with its built-in satellite receiver and impressive assortment of secondary features. Picture and sound performance are both good, though unremarkable.



The remote control misses a trick or two by not having multi-brand VCR capabilities and some menu operations are a bit long winded. The back speaker leads are far too short and channel change is ever so slow.


Features         66cm FST screen, NICAM, 100-channel tuner, auto tuning, built-in 150-channel satellite receiver & Videocrypt decoder, PIN-controlled parental lock, LNB tone switching, PAL/SECAM/NTSC display, Fastext, 3 AV memories, auto subtitling, off timer/ auto power off, multi-lingual on-screen display, channel naming

Sockets            2 x SCART AV sockets, external speaker terminals, headphone jack, front AV inputs (composite and S-Video)

Dimensions            670 x 550 x 490 mm (ex stand)

Mitsubishi Electric UK Ltd., telephone (017072) 76100 (TV/VCR)



Ferguson T28DPL, £800 HE28 85%

JVC AV29SK1EK, £900 HE27 85%

Nokia SFN7186S, £900 HE22 80%


Picture quality            ****

Sound quality            ****

Build quality               ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ***

Value for money 90%



” R. Maybury 1995 3011




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