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SAMSUNG SV-160i, £360 ****

 

Why’s it here? Samsung appear to be making a concerted effort to shrug off the cheap‘n cheerful image their VCRs have acquired over the years. From the outside the smoothly styled SV-160i could easily pass for any one of half a dozen top-end machines from the better known European and Japanese companies. However, all is not as it seems, the 160i costs just £360, putting it firmly in the budget category.

 

Any unique features? The classy-looking drop-down front panel and jog/shuttle dials are both rare on machines in this price bracket. So too is the comprehensive multi-speed replay facilities, that extend from 9x fast play to 1/10th normal speed slow-motion (in both directions). Not so welcome are the fine-tune buttons on the remote, right next to the channel change keys, making it all too easy to knock the picture off-bonk. Front-mounted AV sockets and audio dub are useful video movie-making features. Even though it has PDC there’s no auto-install or clock-check features, though manual set-up is reasonably straightforward.

 

How does it perform? Picture quality is generally good. Resolution on SP recordings is just over 240-lines, though picture noise levels are only average. Colours are crisp and well defined and it compares well with most other mid-range VCRs. Slow motion and fast-play are both very steady; the deck is unexpectedly smooth, able to change speed and direction quickly, without the customary clunks and grinding noises of previous Samsung machines. Some actions are still quite slow though, and it takes a full five seconds for a picture to appear after the play button is pressed, (from stop, fast wind or recording modes). The stereo soundtracks are reasonably clean, there’s some background hiss, but it’s not serious.

 

Our Verdict. A very pleasant surprise; any fears the 160i is simply a budget VCR inside a fancy cabinet are quickly dispelled by the picture and sound quality. It has few convenience features, and no gadgets to speak of, but that could well be seen as an advantage by a lot of users, looking for a sensibly price NICAM VCR with average to good AV performance. 

 

SAMSUNG SV-1601, £360

Features                     NICAM stereo, hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, multi-speed replay, index search, parental lock, audio dub

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV in/out, AV out (phono), front AV in (phono) RF bypass (coaxial)

Dimensions                 430 x 97 x 358 mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Aiwa HV-FX3500            £350

Philips VR-6557    £370

Sanyo VHR-776      £350   

 

Samsung UK, telephone 0181-391 0168

 

HEAD

AKAI VS-G855, £370 ****

Why’s it here? Barely four months after the launch of their first sub-£300 NICAM VCR, Akai have brought out a second low-cost stereo machine, this time selling for £370. This is known as a step-up model in the trade; it has the same basic facilities as the earlier VS-G745, but with a number of ‘added-value’ features. This strategy helps dealers ‘sell-up’ to better-equipped models, without having to steer prospective purchasers towards a competitors range.

 

Any unique features? The general specification is identical to the G745, with NICAM, Video Plus+ and PDC, full auto-install, Super I-HQ tape optimisation and NTSC replay (with stereo sound). The extras appear to be mostly for the benefit of video movie-makers. They include a jog/shuttle control on the remote handset, audio dub and insert edit. It’s one of only a handful of stereo VCRs with a manual recording level control these days, and there’s front-panel sockets for a microphone and headphones. The S-IHQ system has enhanced chrominance processing circuitry, designed to give improved colour fidelity on second generation recordings and there’s an extra set of AV input sockets on the back panel.

 

How does it perform? Not surprisingly there’s very little difference between this, and the 745. Resolution hovers around and above the 240-line mark, and like its stablemate, S-IHQ processing makes a real difference on LP recordings. They look almost as good as (in some cases even better), than SP recordings made on some budget machines, with very low noise levels, and only a slight drop in resolution. The other S-IHQ enhancements work well, and colours look reasonably crisp on copies made using this machine. Trick play performance is very smooth, though the deck is quite noisy when switching modes. NTSC replay is very clean, so too is the stereo hi-fi sound. Noise levels on PAL soundtracks are a little below average, so all things considered it stacks up reasonably well as an AV source component.

 

Our Verdict. The price is a little higher than we would have expected; it’s likely that’s partly to do with the unusually low price of the G745. Nevertheless it’s still good value. The extra features are definitely worth having, especially if you’re a camcorder fan, or want to get the most from the hi-fi recording system, otherwise, stick with the 745.

 

Akai VS-G855, £370

Features                     NICAM stereo, hi-fi sound, Video Plus+ with PDC, auto tuning and clock set, multi-speed replay, index search/intro scan, 16:9 recording, NTSC replay, manual recording level control, insert editing, record search, audio dub

Sockets                       2 x SCART AV in/out, audio our and AV in (phono), front AV input (phono), headphone and microphone (minijack)

Dimensions                 380 x 90 x 317 mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Hitachi VT-F450    £400

Mitsubishi HS-551            £380

Toshiba V-726B   £400

 

Akai UK, telephone  0181-897 6388

 

HEAD

GRUNDIG R14 DPL RECEIVER, £280 ***

 

Why’s it here? Grundig’s distinctive ‘Fine Arts’ range of audio separates is upgraded to home cinema status by the arrival of the R14 DPL. It replaces the R2 AV amp/receiver, though from the outside they look pretty much the same. The new features are the Dolby Pro Logic processor and three extra channels of amplification, for the rear and centre-front speakers. This is a highly practical combination of technologies, helping to keep down the box count in a home cinema system, but without sacrificing flexibility.

 

Any unique features? Grundig have shown considerable restraint, and the R14 has to be one of the few AV amps on the market not to be decked out with multiple digital audio processing modes and a garish front panel display. The RDS tuner takes care of station naming; idents can be stored manually for non RDS stations. Surround sound features are confined to DPL and Dolby 3-Stereo modes. It’s a rather sober design, dominated by the giant motorised volume knob. All of the secondary controls are hidden behind a hinged flap. Nil points for the remote handset, a case of form taking precedent over function. It looks smart, but just try finding the right button in a dimly-lit living room...

 

How does it perform? With 40 watts going to the right, left and centre channels the front soundstage is evenly balanced, with plenty of power in reserve. Centre channel resolution is very good, with hardly any leakage. The rear channels have to be wound up quite high, but they do manage to keep up and never quite run out of steam. It delivers a good solid sound, bass is well controlled and can develop quite an impressive rumble when necessary. The rear channel is cleanly separated, it’s particularly good with loud dynamic sounds, there’s a tendency for subtle effects to be swamped though, when the front channels are on full song. The tuner is a very capable design, with an efficient antenna FM reception is very crisp, sensitivity is good and there’s very little background noise.

 

Our Verdict. It’s fairly obvious the R14 has been configured to give its best when used with other Grundig Fine Arts speakers and components, which share a common control system. Even so, it’s still worth considering as a stand-alone component, or as part of a mix-and-match system. There’s refreshingly few gadgets and gimmicks, it sounds good and the price is very reasonable.

 

Grundig R14 DPL, £280

Features                     3 x 40 watts RMS (left, right and centre), 2 x 20 watts RMS (rear), 1 phono & 4 line-level inputs, Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby 3-Stereo, 59 station memory, RDS with user definable idents, multi-function remote control, integrated remote system (with other Grundig components)

Sockets                       audio inputs (phono), front stereo speakers (binding posts), rear and centre channel speakers (spring terminal)

Dimensions                 435 x 125 x 300mm

 

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

JVC RX-416                           £270

Kenwood KA-V3700             £300

Yamaha RX-V390RDS            £300

 

Grundig International, telephone (0345) 125598

 

HEAD

PHILIPS MC170 Micro System, £350 ****

 

Why’s it here? Micro hi-fi systems are the flavour of the month and manufacturers are churning them out in an attempt to grab a slice of this lucrative market. The first ones were all a bit cheap and cheerful but they’re slowly gaining respectability as more thought is being given to speaker design. Some recent mid-range models actually sound quite respectable. The MC170 is in that category, it’s ideal for small rooms, bedsides and kitchens, anywhere in fact where you want a big sound from a small box.

 

Any unique features? The amplifier is rated at 75 watts RMS per channel, which is well above the average for this type of product. ‘Incredible Sound’ is supposed to create a wide spatial effect, when the speakers are set close to the system box. A three mode digital sound processor optimises tone settings for jazz, classic, rock and pop music sources, plus, there’s a bass boost function, to pump up the low-frequencies. It has a single auto-reverse cassette deck, with continuous play and syncro-start modes, for simplified CD recording. The AM/FM tuner has an RDS facility, that displays station idents and text messages, and there’s a clock with a simple timer, that can be used as a wake-up alarm.  

 

How does it perform? Even with the bass-boost facility switched on, it never really gets going with the lower frequencies. Incredible sound broadens the soundstage, but it gives a slight treble lift, accentuating hiss on tape and tuner sources. The DSP modes tiddles around with equalisation but the assignments -- particularly those for jazz and pop -- seem somewhat inappropriate, with too much emphasis on treble. The amplifier is quite beefy, though, and the compact speakers give a refreshingly clean, open sound, even at higher volume levels. It’s capable of filling a medium sized room without any difficulty. The only weak point is the tape deck, which appears to have little in the way of noise reduction; home recordings on regular ferric tapes can sound quite hissy.

 

Our Verdict. The overall sound is quite pleasing, in spite of the thin bass and noisy tape deck. Incredible Sound works better with some sources than others but it’s worth a try. Other plus points include the generous power output and lively, detailed speakers. Good sounds, good value.

 

Philips MC170

Features            2 x 75 watts RMS, 4-mode DSP (jazz, classic, rock, pop), single auto-reverse cassette deck, CD with 20-track memory, AM/FM tuner  with RDS station ident

Sockets            stereo line in (phono), headphones (minijack), speakers (spring terminals), antenna (2-pin & coax), mains (Telefunken)

Dimensions            510 x 225 x 320 mm

 

Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ***

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Aiwa LCX-800      £350

JVC UX-D66              £380

Sony PMC-301      £300

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

HEAD

GRUNDIG PA1-MAX, £330 ***

 

Why’s it here? Good question, substance abuse and disturbed minds are two possibilities, either way it’s not something you’d want to stumble across in a darkened room. This has to be one of Grundig’s wackiest products yet -- and they’ve had quite a few --  looking more like a prop from a sci-fi movie than a portable audio system. But we’re in danger of taking this too seriously; it fun, it’s different, it’s well... you make up your own mind.

 

Any unique features? You mean apart from the shape? It does have a three-channel amplifier, driving a total of five speakers. Grundig call it Space Fidelity; the idea is the ‘live’ sound follows you around the room, ‘like Mona Lisa’s eyes’, according to the instruction book. It can be powered by mains or batteries, it has it’s own built-in battery pack  (8 D-cells), or from a car battery, using the supplied adaptor lead. The tape deck at the bottom is a fairly basic design, with mechanical controls; the CD deck on has a 20-track memory. In the middle there’s an AM/FM tuner, with 15 station presets. On top there’s a fold-away carry handle, and a telescopic antenna, for FM reception. 

 

How does it perform? The manual optimistically describes it as the most exciting sound you’ve ever heard; well, that’s possible if all you’ve ever listened to are cheapie audio systems. Space Fidelity is a bit of an acquired taste, the stereo image is quite diffuse, a bit muddled really, but it’s not unpleasant. Bass response is a tad muted but it has reasonable mid-range and treble coverage. The cassette deck is quite noisy but we’ve heard worse. Incidentally, the tape holder is incredibly slow to open, and the tuner takes an age to step through the band; very laid back. The amplifier outputs look quite impressive on paper but it’s not terribly loud and even at full whack it’s probably not going to upset the neighbours.

 

Our Verdict. We suppose Grundig should be congratulated for daring to be different but we can’t say, hand on heart, that it breaks any new ground, sonically at least. As we said earlier, it’s a fun product, designed for the young at heart and fat of wallet. If you’re looking for an eye-catching, go-anywhere, moderately capable music system, give it the once-over, but bear in mind what else you can buy for £330. You never know, it might become a collectors item.

 

Grundig PA1-MAX, £330

Features            2 x 15 watts RMS plus 1 x 30 watts RMS, 3-band equaliser, bass boost, CD player with 20-track memory, AM/FM tuner with 15 station memories, mains/battery operation (battery holder and car cord supplied)

Sockets            mains (Telefunken), external power (2-pin plug)   

Dimensions            It’s unmeasurable...

 

Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ***

 

Competitors

You’re kidding!

 

Grundig International, telephone (0345) 125598

 

 

HEAD

PHILIPS FR-751 DPL AV RECEIVER, £300 ****

 

Why’s it here? A few months ago Philips declared their intention ‘To take ownership of home cinema in the UK’, they got off to a very good start with the FW672 DPL mini system. Now they’re having a go at the separates market, with the FR-751 Dolby Pro-Logic AV receiver, we’re looking at here, and the slightly less powerful FR-731. They’re playing safe to begin with, it’s a relatively conventional design, realistically priced and conservatively styled.

 

Any unique features? Philips have done their homework and rightly concluded that the trouble with a lot of DPL systems is an underpowered centre channel. In surround sound mode the FR-751 delivers 50 watts into the right, left and centre-front speakers, and 25 watts split between the two rear speakers, which should even things up nicely. Apart from that there’s nothing unusual about the design -- the front panel display is unusually understated -- though the remote handset looks a bit complicated. That’s because it can control a wide range of Philips AV products, including TVs, VCRs, CD and Video/Photo CD, CDi players and DCC decks.

 

How does it perform? Matching the centre-front output with the right and left stereo channels was a good move; it makes balancing the system a whole lot easier, and gives added impact to dialogue. It’s worth playing around with the level settings as the normal technique, of setting all channels so they sound the same, left the centre channel sound a little quiet on our sample. At higher volume settings the rear channel can get swamped but most of the time it sounds fine, and there’s remarkably little bleed through from the other channels. Bass output is satisfactory, a little more wouldn’t have gone amiss, but with a good set of speakers, (and possibly a sub-woofer as well), it shouldn’t disappoint. Pro-Logic resolution is very good, picking out quieter effects just as cleanly as the louder ones. The tuner section is unremarkable, and it needs quite a good aerial to keep the background noise levels in check, otherwise selectivity and channel separation are fine.  

 

Our Verdict. It’s a competent no-nonsense design and a good starting point for Philips onslaught on the market. The tuner is a little tame in comparison with some of the others on the market -- there’s no RDS for example -- but the poky amps and efficient DPL decoder definitely count in its favour.

 

Philips FR-751, £300

Features                     3 x 50 watts, 1 x 25 watts RMS, AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 stereo, ‘hall’ surround mode, multi-function remote control, RC5 bus system control, sleep timer

Sockets                       stereo line-level in/out and RC5 remote bus (phono), speakers and AM antenna (spring terminals), FM antenna (coax),  Switched AC mains (continental 2-pin)

Dimensions                 435 x 125 x 350 mm

 

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

JVC RX-416                           £270

Kenwood KA-V3700             £300

Yamaha RX-V390RDS            £300

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1996 2208

 

 

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