HAMA SURROUND FASCINATION CD, £24.98
The white noise test tone facility fitted to all Dolby Pro
Logic processors is part of the specification; it comes in quite handy for
balancing channel levels, but it’s often necessary to tweak the settings afterwards.
Fixed amplitude tones cannot hope to replicate what happens on a blockbuster
movie soundtrack, what’s needed is a series of dynamic test sounds that will
give a system a really thorough workout.
Hama’s Surround Fascination CD certainly goes some of the way to achieving
There are 26 tracks in all, lasting a total of 73 minutes.
They start off tamely enough with a sequenced 1kHz tone burst, fed to each
channel in turn, that’s repeated three times. It’s followed by a white noise
sequence, three times for each channel again. Then they get serious, with a
full 20Hz to 20kHz sweep tone. This is a really good way of showing up processing
errors and highlighting any weaknesses in the amplifier or speakers.
The next section includes 18 specially recorded sound
effects. Plenty of cars and trains whizzing around all over the place, sounds
of nature plus some brilliantly funny tracks. Duel in Dalton City is a classic,
there’s gunshots coming from all sides, with ‘urrgs’ and ‘arrggs’ as baddies
plop to the ground or stagger across the soundfield before they bite the dust.
However, the best one is track 18, ‘Earthquake, Richter Scale 9’, use it with
care, if you value your speakers! If you’ve ever wanted to find out what a
sub-woofer can do -- and test the tolerance of your neighbours -- this is the way to find out! The third
section comprises five-specially written music tracks, very heavily engineered
for Dolby Surround. They’re a bit naff, from bad lift music to pseudo techno,
but the effects are quite impressive, best appreciated after half a dozen pints
The first few tracks can provide some useful insights into
how well a surround-sound system is functioning, the rest of the CD is simply
an excuse to let rip with the sound effects, and very good some of them are
too, though £25 seems a bit steep!
Features: 26 tracks, total playing time 73 minutes, 27
seconds, 120 mm diameter, 1 x hole in the middle
Value for money 70%
Hama, telephone (01256) 708110
VIVID 3D SOUND PROCESSOR, £49.95
Stereo, it seems, is no longer good enough. Nowadays almost
every new piece of audio and video equipment -- from transistor radios, to top
of the line TVs -- must have some sort
of 3D or surround-sound audio system. But what about all those unfortunates,
stuck with boring old two-dimensional stereo? Help is at hand in the shape of
Nureality’s Vivid 3D Plus SRS processor. ‘3D surround sound from only two
speakers’ it says on the box...
The SRS (sound recovery system) processor uses a variety of
psycoacoustical tricks to separate out particular sounds and frequencies, and
increase the apparent size of the stereo soundfield. The Vivid 3D Plus connects
between a source component and a stereo amplifier, a set of minijack-to-phono
and phono-to-phono leads are supplied. It works with any device that has a mono
or stereo line output, from PC sound cards and video game consoles, to CD
players and VCRs. The small black box has a three-way switch for selecting the
SRS effect, bypass or 3D sound (from a mono source) plus adjustments for volume,
centre level and spatial effect.
The success, or otherwise, of 3D sound systems operating with
mono or stereo source material, depends on the processor’s luck in localising the
sounds that benefit from this kind of meddling; it’s definitely not a
substitute for genuine surround-sound though. The bottom line is that it does
interesting things to some sounds, some of the time. Music and movies with a
lot of out of phase information -- particularly recent recordings and films
with Dolby Surround soundtracks -- can often
sound quite strange and muddled. On the other hand Glen Miller compilations and
a lot of sixties to eighties oldies sounded quite fresh; video games proved to
be a bit variable, some worked -- shoot-em-ups are quite effective -- others
have you reaching for the bypass switch.
Pseudo surround sound processing is a quick and simple way
of adding a little interest to otherwise dull mono and stereo material. Vivid
3D not a serious alternative to multi-channel surround but if you’re looking
for a way to cheer up games on a PC and console, or liven up some old albums
and CDs it could be worth a try.
3D sound processor, variable volume, centre-level and spatial effect controls,
external mains adaptor, leads supplied
in (phono), 3D line audio out (minijack), DC input
There’s nothing even remotely similar at this price....
Value for money 83%
Bull & Bear, telephone 0171-937 7733
SR950+ Satellite Receiver, £149.99
It’s been eight years since Amstrad acquired the ailing
Fidelity brand and during that time the name has popped up a few times beneath
the parent company’s logo. The SR950+ is one of the few times it’s been allowed
out alone. Amstrad have decided not to get involved with the ‘£99’ satellite
system market; this is as close as they’ve
come, a no-strings, no-frills Astra receiver and 60cm dish for £150.
The feature list is hardly inspiring. The 200-channel tuner
with 30-favourite channel memory are some of the few bright spots. It has a few
creature comforts, there’s an on-screen display system and a 4-event/365-day VCR
timer but the AV socketry is sadly lacking. A single SCART socket, and no
stereo line-outputs, is simply not enough, even for a rudimentary home cinema
set-up. The instructions talk about a parental lock, but this basically involves
hiding the remote handset from the kids. It doesn’t look too bad though, the
front panel is clean and unfussy with a flap hiding a single smart-card slot.
The on-screen display is very basic, there’s no channel idents, so it’s as well
to have a pen and paper handy when changing the favourite memory selection.
A single SCART sockets means it’s nigh-on impossible to get
stereo sound on a TV and record satellite channels in stereo, without a lot of
lead swapping or investing in a switch box. Picture quality is very similar to Amstrad’s
own-brand mid-market receiver. Noise levels are satisfactory with a good signal
but there’s not a lot in reserve to cope with weaker stations or adverse
weather conditions, when the sparkly count increases noticeably. Hiss on the soundtrack
is lightly suppressed, though in view of the difficulty in extracting stereo sound
from this receiver we suspect many users won’t notice as they’ll be using aerial
leads to connect it to a TV and VCR.
The best you say about the 950+ is that it provides an element
of choice between the £99 specials and half-decent mid-range systems, which
start at around £180. However, even the cheapies have at least two SCARTs so it’s
really only of interest to those with mono or TV VCRs, and no plans to upgrade.
Fidelity SR950+, £150
(with 60cm dish)
Features: 200 channel tuner, 30 favourite channels, parental
lock, 4-event/365-day timer, on-screen displays, 8 audio modes, LNB tone
switching, frequency scan
Sockets: 1 x SCART AV, 1 x dish input (F-connector), RF
Amstrad SRD700 £190 70% HE32
Grundig GRD200 £150 not tested
Pace MSS100 £180 85% HE30
Value for money 65%
Amstrad plc, telephone (01277) 228888
Philips STU 3601, £250 (inc. 60cm dish)
Philips have maintained a fairly low-key presence in the UK
satellite market for the past few years. Now they’re back with a range of three
fixed-dish Astra receivers, four if you count a £99 budget model wearing a Pye
badge. Rather than go to all the trouble and expense of developing their own
receivers they’ve gone to their old mates at Grundig -- who they also happen to
own -- and asked them to do the honours. Although they’re basically clones of
Grundig receivers they have tweaked the operating software and changed the
The STU3601 is the new top-end model, it’s based on the
Grundig GRD300 and comes with the same £300 price-tag, for a system with a 60cm
dish. The key features, that differentiate it from the others in the range, are
the large and informative fluorescent display, and a 300-channel tuner with 30
TV and 10 radio favourite channel selection. It has twin LNB inputs, three
SCART sockets, an 8-event/28 day VCR timer, a PIN-operated parental lock plus a
menu-driven on-screen display. Grundig’s remote control handsets have come in
for a lot of stick, so we’re pleased to see they’ve been listening and changed
the design; it’s now a whole lot easier to use.
The changes to the operating software are not of any real
consequence and it would be difficult to tell this receiver apart from its
Grundig counterpart. There’s nothing wrong with that however. The on-screen
performance is really quite good; noise levels are a little lower than average
and it handles variations in signal strength without any difficulty. Grundig’s
own stereo noise reduction system isn’t quite as effective as Wegner Panda 1,
though there’s really not a lot in it and it certainly wouldn’t disgrace itself
as a home cinema source component.
Apart from the front panel display and a slightly larger
station/favourite channel capacity there’s very little to choose between this
receiver and its cheaper stablemate, the STU3501 and Grundig equivalent
(GRD-280), they both work just as well.
Unless you’re absolutely sold on the display do yourself a favour and save
tuner, 30 favourite channel memory, 8-event/30-day VCR timer, 10 favourite
radio channels, auto screen blanking, index channel location, LNB tone
Sockets 3 x
SCART AV, 2 x LNB input (F-connector), stereo line audio out (phono), RF in/out
Grundig GRD-280 £200 85% HE32
Nokia SAT 1800 Plus £300 85% HE30
Pace MSS290 £230 85% HE35
Value for money 80%
Philips, telephone 0181-689 4444
R. Maybury 1996 0205