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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 that.

 

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 of Guinness...

 

VERDICT

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.

 

VERDICT

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.

 

Features            SRS 3D sound processor, variable volume, centre-level and spatial effect controls, external mains adaptor, leads supplied

Sockets            line-audio in (phono), 3D line audio out (minijack), DC input

 

Competitors

There’s nothing even remotely similar at this price....

Value for money             83%

Bull & Bear, telephone 0171-937 7733

 

Fidelity 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.

 

VERDICT

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 bypass (coaxial)

 

Competitors

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 remote control.

 

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.

 

VERDICT

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 fifty quid.

 

Features            300-channel tuner, 30 favourite channel memory, 8-event/30-day VCR timer, 10 favourite radio channels, auto screen blanking, index channel location, LNB tone switching

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

 

Competitors

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

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1996 0205

 

 

 

 

 

 

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