HOME ENTERTAINMENT 98

 BootLog.co.uk

HomeSoftwareArchiveTop TipsGlossaryOther Stuff

GROUP TEST

 

DOLBY PRO LOGIC SYSTEMS

 

STANDFIRST

A Dolby Pro Logic AV hi-fi system is the only way to go if you’re looking for fuss-free home cinema kit. Rick Maybury casts a critical ear to six packages costing between £380 and £1000

 

MODELS TESTED

AIWA NSX-AV75               £400

JVC Adagio D851               £500

KENWOOD SE-A750            £1000

SAMSUNG MAX-632            £380

TEAC Reference 500      £900

YAMAHA AV-1               £650

 

INTRO COPY 500

Dolby Pro Logic hi-fi systems are all about convenience and flexibility. They’re the ideal ‘one-box’ solution to your home cinema and hi-fi needs. Everything is neatly packaged, matched and integrated, including the speakers, with all of the controls neatly combined on one remote handset. At least, that’s the theory...

 

Inevitably a lot of budget and mid-market DPL hi-fi systems are going to involve a compromise of one kind or another. They are trying to be jacks-of-all-trades, attempting to do two very different and demanding jobs.

 

Most systems fall into one of two basic categories. Far and away the most popular is the purpose-designed mini hi-fi AV system, with home cinema operation as the core feature. The alternative is a separates system, where a package is based around a multi-channel AV amplifier/processor and hi-fi components from a manufacturer’s range.

 

Broadly speaking if home cinema is your main priority and you want to keep the cost and complexity under control, then a dedicated home cinema hi-fi system is what you are looking for. If on the other hand you put performance and flexibility above convenience, consider what the separates package market has to offer.

 

Fortunately these days you don’t have to make too many sacrifices and you can expect a well-designed mid-range home cinema system to give reasonably good account of itself as a home hi-fi. Nevertheless there is a clear relationship between price and performance, moreover systems at the lower end of the price scale are bound not to deliver the same kind of power, control and clarity of sound as more comprehensively-equipped packages. Don’t let that put you off, though. In the end your choice of system will depend, as much on your aspirations and budget as the environment it will be used in. In other words there’s little or no point spending a small fortune on a big powerful roof-rattling system if it’s going to be installed in a cramped bedsit, likewise a budget mini is going to sound lost in a large room.

 

All of the systems we’re looking at have some basic features in common. In addition to a multi-channel amplifier and Dolby Pro-Logic decoder they all have extra digital signal processing (DSP) modes, for generating a range of surround –sound effects from non-Dolby material, plus a CD player and AM/FM tuner. All but one system comes with a full set of speakers. One package is DVD ready with a 6-channel power amplifier

 

The six systems we’ve gathered together represent the broad span of equipment on offer at the moment. Prices range from just under £400 to over £1000; of course you can find Dolby Pro Logic systems selling for a lot less, but take it as read that cheapo equipment is unlikely to be able to do anything like full justice to a dynamic movie soundtrack. If you have significantly more than £1000 to spend then you really should be thinking about THX-rated systems. Otherwise delay any big buying decisions until manufacturers get to grips with DVD and digital television, which should open up a whole new world of possibilities for home theatre.   

 

BOX COPY 1

HOW THE TESTS WERE DONE

There really is only one way to test a DPL system and that’s arm yourself with action sequences from half a dozen blockbuster movies on tape and disc plus a gallon bucket of popcorn, sit back and see what they can do. It’s their home cinema abilities and we’re most interested in, and how close they get to making you feel you’re in the best seat in the house. We’re listening for accurate location of sounds, clarity of dialogue, movement and that all-important gut-rumbling bass that makes you sit up, pay attention and mutter shee-yit, under your breath…

 

For the record out test selection includes juicy snippets from surround-sound faithfuls like Batman, Robocop and Goldeneye, plus some relative newcomers such as Independence Day and Men in Black.

 

Clearly all the systems in this roundup are designed for regular hi-fi duties as well, but that has to be secondary consideration, otherwise why would you want a system with a Dolby Pro Logic decoder and five or more speakers scattered around your living room? Nevertheless, we’re still keen to find out what they make of CDs and tapes -- rock through to classical -- and not forgetting the tuner.

 

BOX COPY – SPEAKER PLACEMENT

One of the biggest problems with combining home cinema and Hi-Fi operation is speaker placement. To get the best results from movie soundtracks the main right and left stereo speakers should be placed fairly close to the sides of the TV screen. If they’re too far apart the tightly packed soundfield collapses and sounds can become disjointed from the action. Hi-Fi speakers on the other hand, works best when they have room to breathe, to better recreate the spacious soundstage of an original performance. There are solutions; a lot of DPL systems have digital sound processing facilities, that spread the sound from the front speakers, generating a wider stereo image from close-set speakers. Some power amplifiers have provision for two sets of speakers, though it has to be said this feature is becoming less common nowadays. However, it’s usually possible to find a happy medium, by experimenting with speaker positions and effects settings.

 

Where you put the rear channel speakers will depend on the design, layout and furnishings in your room, and the type of the speakers used. Again there are no hard and fast rules so be prepared to experiment, before you get out the screwdriver and drill.

 

WHAT THE MAKERS SAY -- The manufacturer’s views on their systems

 

AIWA NSX-AV75

‘Great sound, great price, it’s that’s simple. As market leader in Hi-Fi and Home cinema systems, we manufacture in huge quantities, enabling us to sell quality products at very competitive prices. There are many Pro Logic systems on the market, but the NS-AV75 stands out by delivering both a great sound on music and excellent entry-level home cinema’.

 

JVC Adagio D851

‘The Dolby Pro Logic D851TR, is JVC’s top of the range Adagio. Complete with all the necessary amps and speakers. This model is designed for the customer who wants instant Home Cinema without the fuss. In addition to RDS and a triple disc changer, this model incorporates S.A. Bass and JVC’s Labyrinth Port design in the speaker system allowing the listener to enjoy clean and powerful bass’.

 

KENWOOD SE-A750

‘When originally designing the Kenwood Series 21 range we used four words to describe it. Simplicity – easy to set-up and use front panel design. Entertainment – Dolby Pro Logic TRAITR amplifier technology, DRIVE and CD Text. Surprise – voice activation and moving front panel; and Next Generation  -- six channel input and bi-directional remote control. We believe that with the Series 21 system you do not just get a Hi-Fi system, but a little piece of the future’. 

 

SAMSUNG MAX-632 – to come

 

TEAC Reference 500

‘The Teac 500 Reference mini system was a genuine UK inspired design, executed in close collaboration with the head office in Tokyo. The object was to produce a superb-looking matching system, with maximum user options, which sounded as good as it looked. Awards and accolades followed the launch of this now famous combination so it is clear that the Teac objective had been realised’.

 

YAMAHA AV-1 – to come

Hi Gary

Here’s the last but one What the Man says for the DPL piece, I’m still chasing Samsung, they promised it today, lying bastards

 

‘The AV1 offers a compact, convenient way to enjoy spectacular audio performance with dynamic cinema sound. A number of exclusive Yamaha benefits, such as Cinema DSP and Hi-Fi DSP can put you in different listening environments. Yamaha’s Active Servo technology allows for a crisp, powerful bass response. With Cinema Station you will totally forget you are at home, you will think you are right there. Now that’s entertainment’.

 

---end---

 

THE REVIEWS

AIWA NSX-AV75, £400 ****

Until fairly recently Aiwa has been largely responsible for setting the price benchmarks of budget AV systems; it no longer makes the cheapest DPL mini on the market but its range remains very competitive and the AV75 is easily the best equipped package in its class.

 

Sitting on top of the one-box stack there’s a 3-CD autochanger; at the bottom of the pile there is a twin auto-reverse cassette decks with a number of CD to tape copying facilities. In between there is an AM/FM tuner, DPL decoder, multi-mode digital signal processor plus an impressive array of karaoke functions. The latter gives a clue to this system’s underlying character. It’s a bit of a party animal, designed we suspect for a younger audience, who like their hi-fi systems to look as loud and lively as they sound. If there’s nothing on TV just watch the front panel in demo mode…

 

The two smart-looking wood finished front stereo speakers add a touch of class; the centre and rear channels come from a set of rather less elegant plastic podules. Despite all the glitz and winky lights it is very well put together. Front panel controls are logically laid out and the well thought out control system makes it very easy to use, the buttons on the remote could do with being a bit bigger, but we’re getting a bit picky now. 

 

Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby 3 Stereo are accompanied by a set of three pseudo surround modes (disco, live and hall), and three graphic equaliser options (rock, pop and classic). There’s also a 3-stage bass boost, called Super T Bass, and BBE, which works by lifting the treble frequencies. The instruction manual says it makes voices sound ‘clear and pleasant’ in the karaoke mode! Around the back there’s two switched line inputs and surprisingly, an optical digital output for the CD player. Aiwa are also to be congratulated for fitting a line-level output for a sub-woofer.

 

Home cinema operation is generally very good; dialogue on the centre channel is well separated though it sounds a bit thin. Even with the Super T on full bass levels from the right and left stereo channels are quite modest. Deep menacing effects never really get going so an active sub certainly wouldn’t go amiss. Nevertheless it is quite good at localising sounds though front-rear transitions – over flying aircraft in Top Gun and the tank chase in Goldeneye -- sometimes become a little muddy in the middle, as the rear channel struggles to take over.  The CD and tape decks sound bright and energetic, though again it could do with a bit more grunt in the bass department.

 

All things considered the AV75 is remarkable value for money; home cinema performance is commendable and it is more than capable of filling a typical living room. However, it’s the extras that set this system apart. Aiwa clearly understand what the market wants and expects from a keenly-priced pre-packaged AV system; even if you add on the cost of an active sub it’s still a very good deal. 

 

UP CLOSE

Features                     2 x 60 watts RMS (front stereo), 20 watts RMS (centre-front) 2 x 10 watts RMS (rear), 3-mode Dolby Pro Logic 3-mode DSP, 3-CD auto changer with 30-track memory, twin auto-reverse cassette decks with Dolby B NR, 3-band AM/FM tuner with 30-preset, extended bass, AI and program edit, high-speed dubbing, clock, sleep and event timer, karaoke mike mixer with echo and voice cancelling functions 

 

Sockets                       line audio in/out, subwoofer and surround speakers (phono), front speakers and AM antenna (spring terminals), CD digital out (optical jack), microphones and headphone (minijack), FM antenna (coaxial)

 

Sound Quality            ****   

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Contact                       Aiwa UK Ltd, telephone 0181-897 7000

 

Captions

 

·        It’s a real eye-full with that big multi-coloured front panel display. The controls are easy to find and use, even the source switching buttons light up. The group of controls below the main volume knob select DSP mode and graphic equaliser settings. Karaoke fans will definitely approve of the voice cancelling and echo functions

 

·        The elegant front stereo speakers are a bit of a contrast to the centre and rear units. The rear speakers are supplied with a captive cable and connector.  It should just about be long enough for most living rooms, though if the wires have to be routed under carpets and around furniture it may be necessary to increase their length

 

·        The rear panel sockets and connectors are all clearly labelled and installation is reasonably straightforward. There’s provision for two external line-level stereo inputs, one for a VCR; the other is labelled MiniDisc. There’s also a line-level output, and a feed for an external sub-woofer, that’s well worth considering if you’re going to be watching a lot of noisy action blockbusters

 

JVC Adagio D851, £500 ***

You know, even before it’s out of the box, that this top of the line JVC Adagio system is going to be a slickly presented, middle of the road product. JVC rarely put a foot wrong in this sector of the home entertainment market. They know what their customers want, and deliver the goods. The D851 is everything you expect from a AV mini system, with a 3-CD draw autochanger, multi-mode Dolby Pro Logic and digital sound processor, AM/FM tuner with RDS EON in the middle and twin auto-reverse cassette decks down below. It comes with a set of five speakers, cables and no surprises – good bad or otherwise.

 

The centrepiece of the one-box main component is the huge display panel and multi-function control stick, called ‘compu joy’. It does all kinds of things, from selecting DSP modes to pre-setting the tuner memory, not that you need to get that close to it.  The remote handset covers all day to day functions and the display panel is clearly visible from space… But seriously, it has been designed with the usual JVC attention to detail, the styling may be a tad aggressive for Val Doonican fans but it is bound to appeal to the twenty to thirty something’s it is aimed at. 

 

Other than the stubby joystick there are few if any really unique features but there’s plenty to commend it.  The sub-woofer socket on the back panel is most welcome; it has a some useful recording and copying facilities as well.  Installation and set-up take no more than a few minutes. In fact the only real quibble is the sorry lack of input socketry. There’s just one line input/output connection, for a VCR; if you’ve already got a satellite receiver and/or laserdisc player it’s going to mean a lot of messing around with cables and plugs. In fact we’ll go so far to suggest that you should give it a miss, it really would be too much trouble. One other minor gripe.  The tray-loading CD makes a lot of clicking and whirring noises and seems to take forever to load and unload discs.

 

The 3-way main speakers deliver a crisp, well-rounded sound, but they run out of puff when it comes to the big boomy blockbuster effects. Bass response is by no means lacking and you could just about get away with the standard offering if your listening room isn’t too big and you want to keep the neighbours happy.  The Pro Logic processor does a pretty good job of keeping up with fast moving effects but the dialogue channel is just a touch muddy. The surround channel could do with a bit more poke as well, even with the wick turned full up it only just manages to make itself heard. Wind up the front channel volume and it can get pushed far into the background. The tape CD and tuner compare well with other mid-market hi-fi systems, they sound clean and detailed, fine for most types of music and unlikely to offend.

 

Unless you’re looking for excitement and surprises you won’t be disappointed. The Adagio D851 is safe, predictable and reassuring; it does the job it is designed to do and does it well, though the lack of extra input sockets could be a disadvantage for some.

 

UP CLOSE

Features            2 x 40 watts RMS (front), 30 watts (centre), Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 Stereo,  3-mode DSP (club, hall & stadium), 3-mode equaliser (rock, pop & classic), 2-stage bass boost, 3-CD autochanger, twin auto-reverse cassette deck, clock, sleep & event timers, AM/FM tuner with 40 station presets and RDS EON  

 

Sockets            line audio in/out, subwoofer and surround speakers (phono), front speakers and AM antenna (spring terminals), headphone (minijack), FM antenna (coaxial)

 

Sound Quality            ***

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Contact                       JVC UK Ltd, telephone 0181-450 3282

 

Captions 3

 

·        The front panel is a bit energetic, possibly with more information than you really need but no one could accuse it of being boring. The versatile Compu Joy multi-function remote control joystick can just been seen above the master volume control. The large buttons to its right are for selecting the DSP mode, graphics equaliser and clock/timer functions

 

·        The 3-way speakers look quite imposing, especially with the grilles removed. They produce a solid, well rounded sound, a little light on the bass perhaps but there’s always the option to add an active sub-woofer, should you want to give the floorboards a good shaking. The rear channel speakers are on the small side and with only 15 watts each, have to be pushed hard to make an impact

 

·        A definite shortage of input sockets. There’s no problem if you’ve only got a VCR and no plans to expand your system but the solitary input socket is not going to be much use if you also have a satellite receiver or laserdisc player, and it’s hopelessly under-equipped for future developments

 

 

KENWOOD SE-A750, £1000 ****

Depending on your point of view the Kenwood SE-A750 is either one of the most innovative AV systems on the market, or technology gone mad! It’s difficult to know where to begin but here goes. Just say ‘Kenwood’ (or a word of your own choosing) and it switches itself on. The bi-directional remote handset looks more like a pocket television; it communicates with the rest of the system, showing operating modes and CD tracks and it can control a range of other devices. The cassette tray and front panel are motorised, the latter opens to reveal a bank of buttons. It is DVD/digital TV ready with six discrete channels of amplification, rated at 100 watts RMS apiece, and that’s just for starters.

 

Kenwood have gone to considerable lengths to simplify set-up with numbered sockets, stick on cable tags and tidy-tubes but don’t expect an easy ride. There are four main midi-sized system components in the AV-750, drafted in from the Series 21 range. They are the M-A300 power amp, C-V350 pre-amp/control centre, X-S300 cassette deck, D-R350 five-CD carousel autochanger plus six speakers (S-F500 front stereo, S-CRS500 centre/surround package, SW-F500 sub-woofer). An optional LaserDisc player, turntable and graphic equaliser are already available, DVD is expected in August.

 

In addition to a multi-way ribbon connector linking the amp and pre-amp, a microphone, there’s several stereo phono to phono leads, a forest of speaker wires, remote control cables and each component has it’s own mains lead. The remote handset has to be set to recognise the system components, and programmed to control the TV, VCR and any other attached devices. The styling is quite bold with bits of gold trim all over the place but the display panels are quite discrete; we suspect users will come to rely on the remote handset for status information. The only small drawback to the 2-way remote control is that it has to be carefully aimed at the system in order to send, as well as receive signals.

 

It’s well worth all the effort and for a final touch you can teach it to switch on with a spoken command word. It has to be switched off manually though, Kenwood rightly reasoned this would be difficult with the system on full song. And that’s something to behold, with 100 watts going to each of the six channels, including the hunky sub-woofer.  The power is superbly well controlled and delivered by the speakers, the rear channels in particular deserve special praise. They’re 2-way dipoles that produce a fat, well-dispersed soundfield that blends in smoothly with the front channels. The DPL processor is fast and accurate with a tightly focused centre channel. Beefy bass effects step in as and when required, but they never dominate or overwhelm the other channels. You feel rather than hear explosions as the alien ships in Independence Day obliterate the White House and Empire State Building. CD and tape decks are top-notch designs and naturally benefit from the outstanding amplifier and speakers.  

 

It’s a beauty, in every sense of the word and comes as close as anything we’ve seen in the package system market to meeting the needs of choosy home cinema and hi-fi enthusiasts, now and for some time to come. 

 

UP CLOSE

Features            6 x 100 watts RMS (right, left, centre, rear, sub-woofer), Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby 3 Stereo, 3 DSP modes (arena, jazz club, stadium), FM/AM tuner with 40 station presets and RDS EON, voice activation, bi-directional remote with multi-brand TV/VCR/satellite/cable control, 5-disc CD changer, cassette deck with Dolby B/C and HX Pro, clock, sleep and event timers

 

Sockets            7 x audio & 3 x AV input (phono), subwoofer and surround speakers (phono), front speakers and AM antenna (spring terminals), CD digital out (optical jack), FM antenna (coaxial)

 

Sound Quality            *****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Contact                       Kenwood Electronics, telephone (01923) 816444

 

Captions

 

·        A large imposing stack of separate components, just say the word and it switches itself on. The styling is a shade repetitive and may not be to everyone’s taste but everything about it says quality. Gadget fans will just love the motorised front panel, that swings down and out to reveal a set of buttons for the secondary control functions

 

·        The remote handset has a large backlit LCD screen. A small joystick controls most functions. It’s a bi-directional design, which means it receives data back from the system unit, confirming control settings and showing things like the CD track number and times. It’s not as forgiving as most normal infrared remotes, though. It has to be pointed at the system in order to operate properly, which can be a bit of a nuisance sometimes

 

·        It’s not quite as bad as it looks. Kenwood have gone to a lot of trouble to simplify the interconnections. All of the sockets are numbered and the cables can be tagged, to help identify them. There’s something else you don’t see every day, a microphone socket, for the voice activated control system

 

 

SAMSUNG MAX-632, £380 **

At the moment MAX-632 is the just about the cheapest full-spec Dolby Pro Logic mini hi-fi system on the market, though don’t expect that to last for long. So how Samsung have managed to get the price down so low? It’s not as obvious as you might think; the headline features wouldn’t look out of place on systems costing a good deal more. The CD player has a 3-CD carousel autochanger and program track replay. On the base of the stack there’s a pair of logic-controlled auto-reverse cassette decks. It has Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby 3 Stereo, 3 DSP modes (hall, live & cinema) 3 equaliser settings  (rock pop & classic and a 3-band AM/FM tuner with 30 station pesets. The oddly shaped remote control handset isn’t something you expect to find with a budget system and it’s actually quite comfortable to use. About the only obvious omission is an RDS function on the tuner.

 

Look a little closer and there are one or two signs of cost cutting. Amplifier power levels are not very evenly distributed; it’s distinctly top-heavy with 50 watts going to each of the front stereo channels, 20 watts to the centre but only 10 watts to each of the rear speakers. Talking of which, the compact 3-way speakers are a bit lightweight in design and construction and sadly Samsung have skimped on the input sockets. In fact there’s only one sad-looking set of line-level phonos that will do you no good whatsoever if in addition to a VCR, you also have a satellite receiver or laserdisc player, or any aspirations to upgrade.

 

On the plus side it is very easy to connect up and use. The rear channel speaker cables are a good length and should be more than enough to circumnavigate most living rooms. Another welcome spin-off from the economical design is a lack of cosmetic excesses, unfortunately the same cannot be said of the front panel display, that winks and blinks with the best of them.

 

Fired up and ready to go it’s fairly obvious that bass response is one of the first casualties of the speaker design. There is a bass-boost option but for some reason this is disabled when the system is in the Dolby Pro Logic mode, at the very time it could do most good. Loud, fast-moving movie soundtracks tend to lack any real impact, bangs and explosions that should have you jumping out of your seat barely register. To be fair it’s okay with routine effects; the centre dialogue channel is cleanly resolved but movement across the front soundstage is a bit uneven. For a lot of the time the rear channels might as well not be there, unless the speakers are very close to the listening position, with the level turned full up. None of this matters too much with tape and CD replay, it could still do with more bass, but it’s liveable.

 

It’s important to keep it in perspective though. MAX-632 is a decent enough little mini hi-fi system, if you look upon the Dolby Pro Logic decoder as a bonus feature, your living room isn’t the size of a football pitch and you’re on a very tight budget, then it starts to make sense.

 

UP CLOSE

Features            3-mode Dolby Pro Logic, 2 x 50 watts RMS (right and left), 20 watts RMS (centre), 2 x 10 watts RMS (rear), 3-mode DSP, 3-mode equaliser, extended bass, 3-CD autochanger with 24-track memory, twin auto-reverse cassette decks with Dolby B NR, 3-band AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets, high-speed dubbing, 5 -speakers, clock, sleep and event timer 

 

Sockets            line audio in, centre and surround speakers (phono), front speakers and AM antenna (spring terminals), headphone (jack), FM antenna (coaxial)

 

Sound Quality            ***

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Contact                       Samsung UK Ltd, telephone 0181-391 0168

 

 

Captions

 

·        The styling is bang up to date; it looks like is could cost a good deal more than the £380 being asked. Build quality is generally good and the control layout is reasonably easy to follow. The display is a bit flashy, not as bad as some but it can be distracting

 

·        The speakers are the system’s Achilles heel; they’re lightweight designs that cannot really deliver the goods when it comes to low frequency response. Deep gutsy bass is a key element in home cinema, whilst it may not matter too much for CD and tape, but blockbuster movies fall flat without it

 

·        There’s really not a lot to see around the back. The big problem is the paucity of stereo line inputs, in fact there’s only one, which is fine if you’ve only got a VCR, but it could be a bit of a problem if you want to upgrade

 

 

TEAC Reference 500, £900 (excluding speakers) *****

Aggressive styling, lots of buttons, huge displays and winking lights make some mid-market mini hi-fi systems look and feel a bit like big boys toys. And why not? Home entertainment is supposed to be enjoyable for heaven’s sake… On the other hand the Teac Reference 500 AV package is definitely trying to give the impression that it’s for grown-ups. The mini-sized components with their  calibrated knobs, rotary controls and plain understated fascias have scientific instrument written all over them. And why not? Home entertainment can be a serious business too.

 

Fortunately there’s room for all tastes and aspirations, we’d be a lot poorer if all AV equipment looked and sounded the same, but is the Reference 500 mere window dressing? It would seem not. These are hi-fi quality components, from the solid heavy-duty casework to the acclaimed A-H500 amplifier on which the AV-H500 5-channel AV amplifier in this package is based. The other three components are the PD-H500 single CD player, R-H500 cassette deck and T-H500 tuner. The price doesn’t include speakers, that’s left up to the user, which is another sure sign that Teac are aiming the system at discerning enthusiasts.

 

Everything centres on the AV-H500 Pro Logic amplifier. It has an evenly balanced output across its five channels, with 50 watts going to the right, left and centre speakers, and 2 x 25 watts driving the rear channel. The DPL decoder has five additional DSP modes (hall, theatre, live, disc and stadium), there’s no graphic equaliser, just good old manual bass and treble controls. The only additional adjustment is variable delay time, to compensate for different room sizes and speaker placement. Don’t go looking for any gadgets, timers, or bells and whistles because there aren’t any. Not that it’s in any way under-featured; it’s just that everything it has is geared towards the single purpose of sound reproduction.

 

Installation and set-up is marginally more complicated and time-consuming than a typical one-box system, moreover all of the components are stand-alone devices, each with their own mains supply. System integration extends only to a unified remote control, with each unit connected to the main amp/processor by a daisy-chained phono connection, which only adds to the rats-nest of cables on the back panel.

 

A lot depends on the user’s choice of speakers but there’s every indication it will work well with a wide range of makes and styles. We tried our system with a pair of modestly priced JBLs for the front channels and a set of centre and rear speakers borrowed from the Kenwood package. The results were excellent; it produced a powerful and punchy sound with plenty of deep, controlled bass, more than enough to satisfy action movie devotees. The centre channel is full of detail, that’s simply lost on a lot of other system; the big roomy rear channel really suits the Kenwood dipoles creating a powerful, room-filling ambience. There’s not a hint of lumpiness as sounds move across and from the front to the rear, in fact it’s hard to tell where the sound from speaker ends and the other takes over; very smooth! It sounds just as good, possibly even better with CD and tape sources. Both decks produce a clean, open sound, marking it out as one of a small handful of systems that proves it is possible for outstanding hi-fi and home cinema to come out of the same boxes.

 

UP CLOSE

Features            3 x 50 watts RMS (right, left and centre), 2 x 25 watts RMS (rear), Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 stereo, 5 DSP modes (hall, theatre, live, disc and stadium), single 1-bit DAC CD player, single cassette deck with Dolby B, C and HX Pro, AM/FM tuner with 30 station presets and RDS EON

 

Sockets            AV in/out, remote link (phono), main speakers (screw terminals), surround speakers (spring terminals)

 

Sound Quality            *****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 *****

Contact                       Teac UK Ltd., telephone (01923) 819699

 

Captions

·        The AV-H500 looks as though it would be more at home in a laboratory than living room, yet the styling does no more than reflect the precision and power of these splendid little components. It’s a joy to use, no annoying displays, simple, straightforward controls and superb flexibility

 

·        Motorised drawers on the tape and CD decks slide out smoothly from the front panel. They’re the closest it gets to gadgetry though its clear even they have been engineered to a high standard, compared with the clunky mechanisms used on a lot of system 

 

·        The buttons on the remote control handset are on the small side and quite closely packed but the labelling is clear and they’re logically laid out, so it is very easy to use

 

YAMAHA AV-1, £650 ****

There’s no way the AV-1 is ever going to be mistaken for a regular mini DPL system and those tiny cube-shaped speakers look more like something from Barbie’s disco outfit than serious hi-fi kit. Don’t be fooled, this is the real thing. It looks as though  Yamaha have taken their design cue from Bose’s smart-looking Lifestyle system. The AV-1 is split into two parts: the chunky active sub-woofer houses the 6-channel power amp and power supply, whilst the DPL processor, CD player and tuner live in a sleek brushed ally box, along with all of the input and output socketry. The two boxes are connected together by a pair of cables, around three metres long, so the sub can be placed where it will do most good, or tucked away, out of sight.

 

There’s no tape deck – you can always add your own – and the CD player doesn’t have any program play facilities (single/all tracks or repeat play only). Apart from that it stacks up well against the other systems in his review, as far as the main features are concerned. It has standard and enhanced Dolby Pro Logic modes (DPL with extra digital signal processing), plus half a dozen stand-alone DSP modes. The RDS tuner has 30 station presets and it’s one of only a handful of AV systems on the market with an on-screen display capability.

 

Installation, connection and alignment are all very straightforward. The outfit includes a set of mounting brackets, and there’s plenty of useful advice about speaker placement in the instruction manual. The speakers come with a generous supply of cable, though you may want to swap the thin, wispy bell-wire for something a little more substantial, if only to stop it being sucked up by passing vacuum cleaners.

 

The variable brightness front panel display is clear and easy to read, and thankfully devoid of prancing graphics. All mode and status information is repeated by a built-in character generator and on-screen display. This requires some extra cabling – routing the VCR or disc player’s video output through the AV-1 to the TV -- and it only works when there’s a video signal present. Incidentally, there’s a separate set of AV connections on the front of the control box, behind a small hinged flap, this should come in handy for temporary camcorder or video game hook-ups.

 

Despite their size the tiny speakers deliver a surprisingly full sound across the treble and mid-range, without every sounding tinny or about to break into distortion. The centre channel is amazingly sharp and well defined, managing to pick out Tom Cruise’s voice against the roar of the F15 in the dogfight sequences in Top Gun. Effects are fast and there is lots of movement as sounds move smoothly from the front to the rear channel. No problems with the back channel, the AV-1 has plenty of power on tap, with some left in reserve for those who really want to get their money’s worth. Eight out of ten for the subwoofer, it’s not the meatiest we’ve heard but it still manages to deliver a satisfying thump when the occasion arises.  DSP effects we can normally take or leave but the AV-1 does a really good job of it. Disco mode generates a fast in-your-face sound. Close your eyes and the rock concert setting has you in the Wembley Arena with the distant reverberating bass, great stuff! It’s true, good things do come in small boxes.

 

UP CLOSE

Features            5 x 30 watts RMS (R, L, front and centre), 50 watts RMS sub-woofer, Dolby Pro Logic, enhanced DPL, 5 DSP modes (stadium, disco, concert hall, rock concert, mono movie, concert video) CD player, AM/FM RDS tuner with 30 station presets, on-screen display, record/sleep timer

 

Sockets            system control/power (8-pin mini DIN), AV in/out phono, speaker connections & AM aerial (spring terminal), FM aerial (coax), headphones (minijack)

 

Sound Quality            ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

Contact                       Yamaha Electronics UK Ltd., telephone (01923) 233166

 

Captions

 

·        No, they haven’t pinched the front panel from a 1980’s music centre, kitsch, retro, call it what you will, but it does look different. The silvery control unit houses the CD player, tuner pre-amp and switcher. The panel beneath the CD draw has backup controls for the CD player and a set of AV inputs, for temporary camcorder and video game hook-ups

 

·        The power amps and sub-woofer are all together in this big black box. There’s not a lot to see from the front but all the speaker connection and mains lead are on the back. Two cables connect the sub to the control unit, one carries power and control signals, the other is a line-level stereo feed

 

·        Yes they’re tiny but don’t be deceived, they make a big noise, and they’re surprisingly directional, managing to accurately pinpoint subtle sounds. The centre channel is also very clean though this time the localisation is a little too precise and it might sound a little lost on a big screen in a large space

 

THE VERDICT

The simple lesson that can be drawn from this group test is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on home cinema equipment, but it certainly helps… The Teac Reference 500 and Kenwood SE-A750 both gave Oscar-winning performances with Dolby Pro Logic material but what really stood was their versatility. They’re equally proficient with CDs and tapes, and not just hard-hitting rock and pop tracks with the same kind of dynamics as movie soundtracks. We’re talking class acts here, proper hi-fi, bordering on the serious stuff. In fact on a good day, with the right speakers and the wind in the right direction, we suspect the Teac pile might even get a small nod of approval from picky audiophiles. The outrageously gimmicky Kenwood A750 would be top of our list if future proofing and the imminent arrival of DVD and digital television were uppermost in our minds.

 

Yamaha’s AV-1 is a great little system that dispels the myth that decent home cinema means lots of big boxes. It’s a lifestyle statement product, pretty well focused on a single application; true it plays CDs and there’s a radio as well, but it’s not as fully rounded as most of the other systems which aim to provide a complete home entertainment solution. If you can live with that, and the cheesy cosmetics, it’s well worth considering.

 

Aiwa and JVC are selling shed-loads of NSX-AV75s and D851s for two very good reasons; they’re brilliantly well designed and marketed. Both systems meet all the basic requirements for a compact, well-featured home cinema hi-fi system, at an affordable price. Of the two the Aiwa system is the more successful and it’s cheaper too but there’s the all-important fun element, that’s missing from the slightly more staid D851. However, it also lost several brownie points for having only one input socket, life’s complicated enough...

   

The Samsung MAX-632 undercuts the Aiwa NSX-AV75 by only £20 and from the features list you might expect comparable performance but it is let down by the speakers which have neither the depth or range for home cinema. As an experiment we tried it with speakers from a couple of other systems and there was an immediate improvement, so it seems they’re on the right track. As it stands though we’d say it was better for someone looking for a budget midi hi-fi first, with home cinema as a secondary function. 

 

BEST IN TEST

 

AIWA NSX-AV75 – BEST BUY

It’s a bit flash and it could do with a bit more bass but just look at the price, they’re almost giving it away!  If your ceiling is £400 or thereabouts you need look no further. The AV75 is a great introduction to home cinema and the life and soul of any party.

 

KENWOOD SE-A750 – EDITOR’S CHOICE

The A750 is an unusually satisfying blend of top-quality components, genuinely innovative technologies and handy knick-knacks. It could easily have ended up a horrible mish-mash, instead it gels perfectly, and what’s more, it’s not going to be found wanting when it comes to future component or system upgrades.

 

TEAC Reference 500 – EDITOR’S CHOICE

Looking more like a stack of lab instrument than a hi-fi system the Reference 500 produces a pleasing and enjoyable sound, full of rich detail. It has the power and presence to get behind an action movie and bring it to life, and the subtlety to handle light and delicate pieces on tape and CD.

 

YAMAHA AV-1 -- BEST BUY

It’s hard to imagine how those weeny little boxes can do any good but appearances can be deceptive. They might be small but they’re plenty loud and the big sub woofer takes good care of all the big bass effects. The CD player and tuner help broaden its repertoire though it’s at its best with movie soundtracks.

 

RIVAL BUYS

JBL ESC550, £1250

High style and top-end performance; JBL have managed to pull off an unusual fusion of technology and design, that also sounds good. It has been designed from the ground up, to be easy to install and use.  Pricey but it’s as easy on the eye as it is on the ears.

 

PHILIPS FW-672P, £600

This pace-setting AV system is an ideal starting point for technophobes, with one of the simplest set-ups on the market. Not much to look at but it’s a solid mid-ranger performer with few foibles. Dolby Pro Logic operation gets a high priority, favouring action blockbusters and loud, fast-moving soundtracks.

 

SONY LBT-XB8AV, £700

A big system in all senses of the word, and that’s a turntable on the top! Sony has adopted a scattergun approach with this system, from home cinema to karaoke and 33rpm vinyl LP.  Some of the bullets hit home, DPL performance is good, CD and tape work well too, and the industrial-sized speakers are difficult to ignore. A useful all-rounder.

 

 

TABLE

                                    AIW            JVC            KEN            SAM            TEC            YAM

No. speakers              5            5            6            5            -            5

Sub-woofer                 -            -            1            -            -            1A      

Power front                 2x60            2x40            2x100            2x50            2x50            2x30

Power rear                  2x10            2x15            2x100            2x10            2x25            2x30

Power centre              20            30            100            20            50            30

Power sub                   -            -            100       -           -            -

Sound                          4            3            5            3            5            4

Features                     4            3            4            3            3            4

Ease of use                 3            4            4            3            5            4

Verdict                        4            3            5            2            5            4

 

Table Comments

AIWA NSX-AV75: great value, fun at parties, plenty of useful facilities and a good all-round performer

 

JVC Adagio D851: predictable middle of the road design and performance, expansion possibilities limited

 

KENWOOD SE-A750: powerful, smooth and refined; a real earful for demanding home cinema, hi-fi and gadget fans

 

SAMSUNG MAX-632: cheap and really quite cheerful, fine for small rooms and general use

 

TEAC Reference 500: precision, power, design, it’s got the lot, and you get to choose the speakers

 

YAMAHA AV-1: compact space-saving design with an impressively large sound 

 

INSTANT EXPERT/JARGON BUSTER

 

DOLBY PRO LOGIC

Cunning way of squeezing four audio channel into one stereo soundtrack. In addition to the right and left stereo channels you also get a separate dialogue channel, and a rear effects channel, that together literally surround you with sound

 

DOLBY 3 STEREO

Simple and now almost defunct processing scheme that delivers right and left stereo, plus centre dialogue, from two or three speakers

 

DIGITAL SIGNAL PROCESSING (DSP)

By adding controlled amounts of reverberation and delay to the original signal, and feeding it to the front and rear speakers it’s possible to artificially recreate the acoustics of large and small spaces

 

MAGNETIC SHIELDING

Front channel speakers used in home cinema systems must be magnetically shielded, to prevent colour ‘staining’ on TV screens

 

RDS EON

Radio data system, tuners with RDS can pick up station idents and text messages – program and traffic info etc. -- sent by broadcasters. RDS tuners with EON (enhanced other networks) have additional station tuning and programming facilities

 

SUBWOOFER

A big loudspeaker dedicated to handling the low (bass) frequencies, used extensively in action and sci-fi movies for deep, rumbling effects. Active subs have their own built-in amplifier; passive subwoofers are driven by the main amplifier

 

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1998 2402

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Home][Software][Archive][Top Tips][Glossary][Other Stuff]


Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.

admin@rickmaybury.com