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GROUP TEST

 

BUDGET AV RECEIVERS

 

FOR WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO RECEIVE...

 

STANDFIRST

Home cinema receivers are the smart way to surround yourself with sound, and integrate the other AV components in your system. Rick Maybury looks at six budget models, costing £300 or less

 

COPY

They’re everywhere! Dolby Pro-Logic decoders have been turning up all over the place lately. They’re inside TVs, video recorders, mini hi-fi systems, satellite receivers, even home computers and in-car stereo systems for goodness sake... However, the AV receiver was one of the first, and is still one of the most logical locations for the business end of a surround-sound system. Unfortunately they’re not what you’d call an exciting or glamorous piece of kit, probably one reason why they’re so often overlooked in favour of other solutions. Nevertheless, if you’re thinking about setting up a home cinema system, and you’re not about to replace the TV, hi-fi or any other major component in your system, then an AV receiver is a very good place to start.

 

Even if you have thought about getting one in the past, and not bothered, it’s well worth taking a look at what’s available now. They used to be the poor relation of the AV amplifier/processor but manufacturers have started to put a lot more effort into their designs. Power outputs have improved enormously, some models have extra acoustic effects, displays are more informative and easier to read, and additional facilities, like RDS (radio data system) have made them a lot more interesting. They’re also cost-effective and flexible; having the AM/FM tuner built-in cuts down on the cabling, saves space, simplifies the controls and combines two of the most frequently-used functions in an AV system in one box.

 

There’s a few things to look out for when you’re working your way through the spec sheets and features lists. Amplifier power outputs are important, not necessarily the actual power levels, but it’s worth shortlisting models with balanced outputs across all four channels. A full set of source inputs for all the components you have now -- and  likely to get in the near future -- plus simple source switching are all essential. Finally, if you’re buying speakers at the same time make sure they’re a good match, preferably by trying them on the AV amp of your choice, before you buy.

 

HOW WE DO IT

The best way to test any surround sound system is to push it hard, with a range of sounds and effects, that probe the limits of a Dolby Pro Logic decoder’s performance envelope. We aim for consistency, using wherever possible the same reference speakers and library of source material. These include scenes from a range of movies on tape and disc, and specially recorded test signals on CD.

 

The ED209 enforcement droid running amok in the boardroom in Robocop 1, is particularly demanding, with loud gunfire mixed in with localised background dialogue and effects. Batman 1 has some good sequences to check rear channel resolution and separation. Police car sirens should be clearly audible on the back channel when the Batmobile is being chased through the streets of Gotham by car-loads of Joker henchmen.

 

Disney movies such as Lion King and Toy Story contain loads of great effects and music, that on lesser systems can end up sounding confused or muddled. We listen for sharp dialogue and smooth front-rear transitions -- classic shots, like the opening lake scene in Always, and flying scenes in Top Gun with planes passing overhead the audience -- should be seamless.  

 

THE TESTS

 

DENON AVR-600RD, £300

Denon have been marketing AV components in the UK since 1992 and have built up a fine reputation for performance and value for money. The AVR-600RD first appeared late last year and integrates tried and tested elements from the successful AVC-1800 and AVC-2800 DPL AV amplifiers, with an RDS tuner. In common with a lot of other manufacturers they favour the system approach, with the AV receiver designed to partner other products in the range, though it will happily function with other makes of separate components, with little or no loss of functionality

 

Surround sound level and delay time settings for each input channel are automatically memorised, and recalled when sources are switched. A last function memory switches the receiver back on to the last selected operating mode. Denon claim the rather grand-sounding Dynamic Discrete Surround Circuitry (DDSC-A) maintains a high degree of analogue signal separation for the right, left and centre channels; they say this results in a level of subtlety, accuracy and blending that makes effects seem very real, hmm... The rear channel is handled by two discrete 15 watt RMS amplifiers. It comes with a rather small remote handset, the buttons are colour-coded, to help identify the various functions.

 

In spite of all the technical guff the AVR-600 did reasonably well, with a special commendation for a lively and authoritative rear channel. Front-rear movements were effective too, you can almost feel the jet-wash from Tom Cruise’s Tomcat as he roars over the back of the sofa.  Big set-piece effects were not so convincing however. There’s a tendency for clipping at higher volume levels and it’s not helped by rather average bass. The Pro Logic decoder works hard and it is very good at picking out low-level effects; dialogue is accurately located across the front soundstage. In straightforward stereo mode the amplifier sounds assured with plenty of impact at treble and mid-range frequencies, it comes across as a capable all-rounder, equally at home with music and movie soundtracks. The tuner works well; sensitivity is above average, without any apparent sacrifice to selectivity, easily separating the jumble of mid-band stations in South London.

 

It may not be the star DPL performer though it’s not far behind, but for the thinnish bass it would have been ranked higher. More importantly the AVR-600 moves almost effortlessly between home cinema and hi-fi, marking it out as one of the more versatile AV amplifiers in this roundup

 

Sound Quality            3

Features                     3

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              4

Value for Money            3

 

Features            3 x 50 watts RMS (right, left & centre), 2 x 15 watts RMS (rear), Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 stereo, 'hall' & ‘live’ surround mode with personal preference memory, AM/FM tuner with 40 channel presets and RDS, colour-coded remote control, A/B speaker switching

Sockets            AV in/out (phono), stereo speakers (screw terminal), centre/rear speakers and AM antenna (spring terminals), FM antenna (coax),

Hayden Laboratories Ltd, telephone (01753) 888447

 

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* Plenty of knobs and buttons to play with, a tad cluttered but you can learn to live with it


* The display is quite discrete, it can even be turned off altogether, leaving just a single red LED power indicator

 

* The two-way power switch disconnects the mains, or it can be put into remotely-controllable standby mode

 

* Snazzy colour-coded remote keys make function identification easier, though it’s still rather small and the buttons are quite cramped

 

* Screw terminal for the main speakers get a positive grip on the cables

 

PHILIPS FR-752, £300

Last year Philips began their assault on the Dolby Pro Logic component market with the FR-751. It was a logical move for the company who had already built up a good reputation for their home cinema VCRs and TVs.  For a first attempt it wasn’t half bad, Philips recognised the need for a straightforward, no-frills specification and sensible price. The 752 builds on that experience, retaining key features like the balanced channel output, and adding an RDS decoder to the tuner section. On paper power output appears to have increased, though it turns out the 751 was incorrectly rated. Price and cosmetics are unchanged.

 

Philips have kept to a simple, fuss-free design. It has three surround modes (Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 Stereo and hall effect), which makes it very easy to use. There are 30 station presets on the AM/FM tuner and the remote handset is programmed to control the main functions of most recent Philips TVs. Installation and set-up follow the usual conventions, with spring terminals for all of the speaker outputs, additionally there are line-level outputs for the centre, rear channel and an active sub-woofer. All operating modes and functions are shown on the main front panel display.

 

It’s worth taking a little extra care with the placement of the right and left  speakers, and during the initial set-up, as front channel co-ordination can be very good indeed. Effects move smoothly across the soundstage, without any sudden changes in volume or location. The Pro-Logic decoder is reasonably discriminating, centre channel dialogue in particular is cleanly resolved, but quieter rear channel effects can sometimes appear muddy. It’s fine with louder, more dynamic sounds, though it can be difficult to achieve a consistent front-rear channel balance. It coped well with some difficult rear-channel dialogue effects in Dragon Heart. However, with the same settings the stomach-rumbling animal stampede in the opening minutes of Lion King, which should have you diving for cover, lack impact. Much of this can be put down to a strong treble and mid-range, but only modest bass response.  

 

There’s a lot to be said for a simple, down to earth design, and they’ve gone to a lot of trouble to simplify the set up. It has everything needed for a flexible and integrated home entertainment system, without any unnecessary frills. The amplifier is powerful and reasonably well co-ordinated.

 

Sound Quality            3

Features                     3

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              4

Value for Money            3

 

Features                     4 x 100 watts RMS (right, left, centre and rear), 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, A/B speaker switching

Sockets                       AV in/out and RC5 remote bus (phono), speakers and AM antenna (spring terminals), FM antenna (coax)

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* A slightly austere front panel, though the controls are large and clearly identified

 

* The large rotary volume knob is motorised, though without an indicator it’s hard to tell the position

 

* Front AV inputs simplify temporary hook-ups  for a video game, or camcorder

 

* Large, clear and easy to read display shows all routine functions and tuning information

 

* Good news if you’ve got a Philips TV, the remote handset can control most vital  functions

 

 

PIONEER VSX-5050RDS, £300

Pioneer have been in the home cinema business longer than almost anyone else, and it shows. Their extensive product range covers virtually all aspects of home cinema, from highly rated optical disc source components, (CD laserdisc and now DVD), to top-end AC3 processors, amplifiers and THX-rated surround-sound systems. The VSX-5050RDS is the latest in a long line of keenly-priced, and unusually flexible AV separates, building on their expertise in amplifier and processor design, this time with the added convenience of a well-appointed RDS AM/FM tuner.

 

Intelligent System Control revolves around the smart-looking remote handset. Inside there’s a massive library of IR commands covering a range of source components, including CD and tape decks, VCRs and TVs, from more than 100 different manufacturers. It could have been a nightmare but the source/component selector buttons light up, so there’s no doubt what you’re controlling. Another feature is one-touch operation, with one button controlling the on/standby functions of all system components. All four channels are rated at 50 watts RMS, which makes setting up a lot easier and should be particularly welcome news for those who enjoy a good rumble from behind.

 

On a lot of DPL systems the rear channel level seems to end up at or close to the limit stops. On this one there’s room to spare, in fact the amplifier give the impression of always being unstressed. There’s plenty of power in reserve, benefiting sequences like the battle scenes in Independence Day when you want to feel as well as hear those laser cannons blasting around you. The decoder copes equally well with energetic effects and subtle atmospherics, accurately steering sounds to the correct channel. Dialogue separation is very clean and smoothly follows the action. Overall the response is generally flat, bass output is the best of the bunch, the floor shudders during the animal stampede in the opening minutes of Lion King and that’s without any additional help from a sub-woofer. Tuner sensitivity is good with very little background noise.

 

A finely tuned piece of kit with no significant drawbacks, unless you hanker after lots of toys and winking lights. The remote control system has been very well designed, though it’s worth keeping the instruction manual to hand, until you’ve got used to the fairly involved set-up routines.

 

Sound Quality            5

Features                     4

Ease of use                 3

Build Quality              4

Value for Money            4

 

Features            4 x 50 watts RMS (right, left, centre & rear), AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets and RDS, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 Stereo, studio and simulated modes, multi-brand remote control with illuminated keys, A/B speaker switching

Sockets            AV in/out (phono), stereo speakers (screw terminal), centre/rear speakers and AM antenna (spring terminals), FM antenna (coax), control bus (minijack)

Pioneer High Fidelity, telephone (01753) 789789

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* Simple yet classy-looking front panel with discrete but clearly labelled controls

 

* A rather compact display but the characters are large enough to be read across the room

 

* Optimism or forward thinking? One of the two video inputs is labelled DVD...

 

* Star Trek phaser or remote control? It’s smarter than the average handset, the source select buttons light up and it programmed to control a wide range of TVs, VCRs, CD and tape decks

 

* Good to see a set of screw terminal posts for the front stereo speakers

 

 

SHERWOOD ‘NEWCASTLE’ R-125RDS, £150

This is the only British made AV receiver in this selection, built, as the name suggests, in  Sherwood’s Newcastle factory. It’s also the cheapest, by quite a significant margin, and the only one you won’t be seeing in your local hi-fi dealer’s showroom, unless that happens to be Richer Sounds, who have it exclusively. The R-125RDS is actually the first model in the Sherwood Newcastle range, which will eventually include a broad span of affordably-priced hi-fi and home cinema separates and systems, up to and including AC3 and DTS products.

 

At first glance there’s no obvious clue to how Sherwood have managed to keep the price so low. As far as the main features are concerned it lacks for nothing,  however delve a little deeper and you’ll notice that the rear channel is rated at 35 watts, as opposed to the 3 x 50 watts assigned to the front three speakers. Functionally it’s slightly different to most of its rivals; the volume control isn’t motorised, the knob is basically a switch stepping the volume up and down. An indicator on the rather lively display panel shows it as a relative numerical value.

 

If you’re expecting the low price to be reflected in the performance you won’t be disappointed, but in the end, the sacrifices that have been made are not enough to rule it out entirely as a worthwhile home cinema component. Its biggest weaknesses are the lack of any serious bass and the rear channel, which is both underpowered and not very well defined. Effects that should be only heard on the back speakers bleed through on to the front channels, front-rear transitions seem to grind to a halt, and that’s after endlessly tinkering with the levels. Sudden changes in volume and explosive effects rarely seem to get going. It’s not all bad news though. Centre channel dialogue is cleanly resolved and the front soundstage is well presented, with plenty of movement. The decoder is reasonably discriminating, managing to pin-point quieter effects against a noisy soundstage. The tuner works well too, with no more than average amounts of background hiss.

 

This is the one to go for if you’re on a tight budget. DPL performance isn’t exactly going to bring the house down -- look at it this way, it’s never going to make your ears bleed --  but it may suit those with smaller rooms, thin walls and  and sensitive neighbours.

 

Sound Quality            2

Features                     4

Ease of use                 3

Build Quality              3

Value for Money            5

 

Features            4 x 35 watts RMS (right, left, centre & rear), AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets and RDS, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 Stereo, simulated, theatre and hall surround effects, AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets and RDS, sleep timer, display dimmer, A/B speaker switching

Sockets            AV in/out, sub-woofer, control bus (phono), speakers & AM antenna (spring terminals), FM antenna (coax), switched AC outlet (2-pin)

 

Richer Sounds, telephone 0171 407 5525

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* Cheap, but it doesn’t look it


* No motorised knobs here, the volume control is stepped, and shown on the display

* A fair sized display but some legends can be difficult to read across a room

 
* A big remote, with lots of buttons, with controls for other Sherwood components


* Front AV sockets, handy for video games and camcorders

 

SONY STR-DE405, £280

Now here’s something you don’t see every day, a French-built AV receiver. As a matter of interest the French home cinema market is booming right now, though that’s probably just a coincidence, and there’s nothing obviously Gallic about the STR-DE405. This model has been around since last year, Sony appear to be happy with it, and it has been generally well received  -- if it ‘aint broke, why fix it? Currently it’s the only AV receiver in their range, Sony must be rather busy with other areas of home cinema technology at the moment... 

 

It’s a conventional design, for Sony at least, with 50 watts RMS going to each of the four channels. The only significant extras are two DSP modes for simulated hall and theatre effects. DPL functions and the RDS tuner are fairly easy to set-up and use, the auto tuning system can be configured to store RDS stations in alphabetical order. All the information you’re likely to need is clearly shown on the main display panel. The remote control has a full set of commands for other Sony AV components, which rightly suggests that it will be at its happiest as part of an integrated, one-make system. 

 

Sony have played it fairly safe, general amplifier performance is very middle of the road, with no particular quirks or foibles. Frequency response is largely flat and uncoloured, but there’s bass a-plenty, providing a good solid thump when, called upon to do so. Centre-channel dialogue is well defined and the Dolby Pro Logic decoder accurately steers effects to the correct channel, though some back-channel leakage was apparent on louder effects. Gunfire and explosions had a slight tendency to clip when the wick was turned up high but even at mid-volume levels it still has more than enough power to do justice to fast-moving action movies.  Tuner sensitivity is fine and with a good aerial background hiss is well below average. The stick-insect of a remote handset can be awkward to use, loads of small buttons, some of them with two or more functions.

 

This is a refined, confident performer that holds few surprises but rarely fails to please, an ideal partner for other Sony AV components. Highlights include the well thought out controls, gutsy bass and deft Dolby Pro Logic decoder which manages to separate out even the most complicated and fast moving effects.

 

Sound Quality            4

Features                     4

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              4

Value for Money            4

 

Features            4 x 50 watts RMS (right, left, centre, rear), AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets and RDS, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 Stereo, simulated, theatre & hall, bass boost, A/B speaker switching

Sockets            AV in/out (phono), speakers & AM antenna (spring terminals), FM antenna (coax)

 

Sony UK Ltd, telephone  0181-784 1144

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* Plain cosmetics, but there are those who count that as a bonus!

 

* Control labelling could be better, light grey on black can be difficult to read

 

* The display panel is plain and easy to read, no graphics or blinking lights here

 

* The Kate Moss of remote handsets, lots of tiny buttons but a full set of commands for Sony TVs and VCRs

 

* A full set of controls on the front panel, so you can still get by if the remote goes walkabout

 

 

TECHNICS SA-EX510, £300

Technics have been leading players in the home cinema market for several years, producing a succession of well-equipped components and systems. The SA-EX510 is the replacement for the SA-EX500. There are three principle differences between the two models. The first is A/B speaker switching, bringing it into line with most other AV receivers. The second is an increase in cabinet height, giving it a chunkier appearance, but the most significant change is a reduction in the price, down from £350 to just under £300. Otherwise the general specification, main features and facilities are more or less the same as its predecessor.

 

The 4 x 60 watts RMS output is designed to create a large, dramatic-sounding surround effect, with particular emphasis on the rear channel. Technics are particularly proud of their Class H+ amplifier circuitry. It has been developed specifically for home theatre equipment, to handle brief signal excursions, that can occur during loud explosions etc. Additional circuitry -- essentially a second  amplifier -- delivers the extra power needed, to prevent clipping and thermal overload. The help facility is another unusual feature, it’s a sort of on-line trouble-shooter, that suggests possible remedies for speaker, switching and wiring problems.

 

Class H+ does seem to make a difference, it dealt with the demanding Robobcop sequences with ease. Bass response is pretty good too, plenty of low down grunt for the big bangs, and the background throb from the Enterprise’s engines really came across, it’s almost as if you’re there... Midrange is flat and uncoloured, treble is very crisp and this shows up on the centre dialogue channel with pin-sharp positioning of voices. The DPL decoder is fast and accurate, localising moving sounds without any difficulty; front to rear transitions are almost seamless and there’s plenty of spare power on the back channel, to grab your attention. The tuner is reasonably easy to set up, FM is very clean and noise levels are low. The only real grumble is the titchy remote handset, which is doomed to get lost down the back of the settee, or swallowed by the dog.

 

The only blots on an otherwise spotless copybook are the unnecessarily animated winky lights on the front panel display and the horribly small remote handset. Otherwise it’s a peach, and a loud one at that, with the power to bring action blockbusters alive.

 

Sound Quality            4

Features                     4

Ease of use                 4

Build Quality              4

Value for Money            4

 

Features            4 x 50 watts RMS (right, left, centre & rear), AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets and RDS, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 Stereo, help function, sleep timer, remote TV/VCR control (Panasonic/Technics models only), A/B speaker switching

Sockets            AV in/out, sub-woofer (phono), speakers (spring terminals), FM antenna (coax)

Technics, telephone (0990) 357357

 

CRITICAL CAPTIONS

 

* When things go wrong the help facility can usually come up with a helpful suggestion

 

* The front panel display is rather busy, lots of winking symbols

 

* The bigger case makes it look quite imposing, though it’s actually not as deep as most of the others in this roundup

 

* 4 x 60 watts ensure an evenly distributed soundstage and a punchy back channels

 

* Titchy remote, with titchy buttons, a real back of the sofa job...

 

CONCLUSION

We normally begin by pointing an accusing finger at the one or two models in a group-test, that clearly represent a bad deal, or poor value for money. That’s a bit difficult here, with near-identical specifications and only £20 separating five of the six AV receivers. The odd man out is the Sherwood Newcastle, priced at just under £150 or to put it another way, half as much as the others. But it is half as good? Not a bit of it; true, the Dolby Pro Logic execution is not as slick as the others but it’s on a par with a lot of DPL TVs and budget one-box home cinema solutions, but with the added benefit of AV source switching and an efficient RDS tuner. 

 

That was the easy bit, ranking the rest of them proved to be much harder. However, if we make DPL performance the absolute top priority, ahead of features and facilities then it goes something like this. The Denon AVR-600 RDS and the Philips FR-752 worked well, but in both cases their modest bass outputs resulted in some dilution of the blockbuster effects in our test repertoire. The addition of a sub-woofer would almost certainly restore them both to full-song, moreover they credited themselves as tuners and general-purpose stereo hi-fi amps, so don’t dismiss them out of hand.

 

There’s almost nothing to choose between the Sony STR-DE405 and Technics SA-EX510. It really was almost too close to call but in the end the extra muscle on the Technics amps, and the way it rides out the peaks, won it those vital extra points. Nevertheless, if you’ve already got some Sony kit, maybe a TV or VCR, or both, then the DE405 should stay on your shortlist. 

 

That puts the Pioneer VSX-5050RDS on top of the pile, though we have to say only by a relatively small margin. What impressed us most was its versatility and the apparent ease with which it dealt with a wide range of surround effects. Normally we expect to find one or two weaknesses, but not in this case. Pin-sharp DPL performance was enough to clinch pole position for Pioneer but final victory was assured by the excellent multi-brand remote control handset and several small but worthwhile touches, like proper speaker terminals, restrained cosmetics and a front panel display, that doesn’t look as though it has been borrowed from a fruit machine. 

 

THE BEST OF THE REST

 

Aiwa AV-X100, £400, HE48

A bit flashy, and the back channel is described as being a bit thin, but the DPL processor is very responsive, bass levels are fair, and the front channels sound very clean. The remote control has a learning facility, that can store up to 30 commands, to operate other system components

 

Kenwood KR-V990D, £1300, HE38

Okay, so it costs around a thousand pounds more than the six home cinema receivers in this group test, but you do get AC-3 compatibility, and the kind of performance that will blow your socks off!

 

NAD AV-716, £600, HE38

Not the prettiest of sights, dour and grey is about the best you can say about it, not many gadgets or toys either, but beauty is only skin deep. It certainly impressed us in just about every other respect, with a well-rounded performance, that we described as powerful and atmospheric.

 

Onkyo TSXSV-434, £400, HE47

A recent favourite, praised for being sharp and articulate in both stereo and Pro Logic modes. Nothing special in terms of features and facilities but it has RDS and clever power management system, that will switch it on and off when presented with a video input.

 

WHAT THE MANUFACTURERS SAY...

Denon: copy to come

 

The AVR-600 has been designed to meed the growing need for an all-singing, all-dancing AV receiver at an afforable price. It has is a good powerful amplifier that’s great for music and movies, with the added bonus of an advanced RDS tuner, that’s easy to use’

 

Philips: The FR752 is part of Philips growing range of home cinema audio solutions. It unites key Philips design philosophies of performance and ease of use with well-defined, powerful and balanced sound output plus easy installation’

 

Pioneer: copy to come

 

Sherwood: ‘The R125RDS is the first model in Sherwood’s Newcastle range, it combines great performance with unsurpassed value for money’

 

Sony: ‘We have used discrete circuitry, rather than microchips, for the main amplifiers, to ensure the best sound quality. That, plus a well implemented RDS EON tuner, make the STR-DE405 a top-performing, value for money home cinema component’.

 

Technics: ‘People are looking for value for money and future proof technology, the SA-EX510 delivers just that, with more improved facilities, at an affordable price’.

 

EXTRA INTRO

 

THE FUTURE, AND BEYOND....

You may have read or heard about various other developments, including THX, AC-3 and 5.1 sound, the question is should they influence your buying decisions?  THX is in fact supercharged Dolby Pro Logic, it needs an extra processor or controller moreover the amplifiers and speakers have to conform to very rigid specifications, so they’re expensive. You can reckon on spending at least £4000 for a starter system, and don’t even think about it unless you have a large room to put it all in, with space for at least a 37-inch screen. If you’re interested you should be consulting with your bank manager, specialist home cinema dealers and estate agents, and not hanging around here!

 

AC-3, aka Dolby Digital and 5.1 sound is an entirely new ballgame. Forthcoming attractions, like DVD and digital television have the capacity to carry multi-channel digital soundtracks. AC-3 and rival digital systems like MPEG Audio (which will be used on PAL standard DVD discs)  have five full bandwidth audio channels, and one low-frequency effects channel unlike Dolby Surround, where four channels are encoded into one stereo soundtrack. The point is, these systems require six channels of amplification, which is two more than you get with the majority of Dolby Pro Logic AV amps and receivers. If you want to hedge your bets there’s a growing number of AC-3 compatible six-channel amps on the market right now, but our guess is that when DVD and digital TV are up and running there will be plenty more to choose from, and prices should come down quite quickly.

 

JARGON BUSTER

 

A/B Speaker Switching

Two sets of outputs for the main  stereo channels, for two pairs of speakers, one for AV use positioned either side of the TV screen, and the other for hi-fi, in a more suitable location, possibly in another room

 

Dialogue Channel

Centre-front audio channel in a home cinema system, carrying mostly dialogue, to focus the audience’s attention on the screen

 

Dolby 3 Stereo

Simplified 3-channel home cinema sound system with right and left stereo, and centre-front dialogue; effects are heard through the main stereo channel

 

DPL

Dolby Pro Logic, 4-channel active matrix sound processing system for extracting two additional audio channels -- carrying sound effects and dialogue -- from a stereo movie or TV programme soundtrack

 

DOLBY STEREO

4-channel sound system used on theatrically-released movies, encoded into normal stereo soundtrack

 

DOLBY SURROUND

Name given to Dolby Stereo material, when released on video tape, video disc, or transmitted on TV  

 

DSP

Digital Signal Processing -- electronic circuits used to generate artificial soundfields, that mimic the acoustic properties of large or small venues, by adding controlled amounts of reverberation and selective filtering

 

DVD

Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc: new generation optical disc system, using single and multiple layer CD-sizes discs,  capable of storing several times as much video, audio and computer data as existing optical discs. DVDs will have multiple CD quality soundtracks, using Musicam (MPEG audio) and possibly AC-3, 5.1 channel systems as well

 

Sub Woofer

Large loudspeaker dedicated to carrying low frequency bass audio; in home cinema context used mostly for sound effects

 

THX (Home)

High-performance home cinema system based on Dolby Pro Logic technology, but with additional signal processing, to overcome the effects of listening to material originally engineered for cinema auditoria in a domestic environment. THX processors, amplifiers and loudspeakers must conform to very tight specifications

 

 

 

 

COMPARISON TABLE

 

MAKE/MODEL                   ££s    DSP  RDS   Pwf   Pwc   Pwr   Vin   Ain   Slo 

 

DENON AVR-600RD            300      2     *         2x50     50       30     2 3        2

PHILIPS FR-751                  300            1     *         2x100  100    100      2       4       2 PIONEER VSX-5050RDS   300      1     *          2x50    50      50      2       4        2 SHERWOOD R-125RDS            150      3     *          2x35     35     35      1        3       2

SONY STR-DE405             280            3     *           2x50    50     50      2        3       2

TECHNICS SA-EX510            300            -      *           2x60    60     60      1        4       2

 

MAKE/MODEL                   SQ            F            COMMENT

DENON AVR-600RD            3          3          well featured, very fair performance in both stereo and DPL modes 

PHILIPS FR-751                  3            3            good basic facilities, with average to good surround sound

PIONEER VSX-5050RDS            5            4            solid all-rounder, first-rate DPL performance and a good tuner

SHERWOOD R-125RDS            2            4            outstanding value for money, worth considering for smaller rooms

SONY STR-DE405             4            4            uncomplicated, businesslike design, well suited to those wanting to keep it simple

TECHNICS SA-EX510            4            4            compact with stylish good looks, punchy amplifier, good DPL resolution

           

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Ó R. Maybury 1997 2506

 

 

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