REVELS FOR THE COMMON MAN
GET BACK TO WHERE YOU ONCE BELONGED
The Concerta2 Makes High End Affordable
Pro-Ject’s Beatles Turntables Spin Vinyl With Style
WALLMOUNT YOUR TV, PT. 1
• IS DLP’S 4K REALLY 4K?: A First Look At Texas Instruments’ New Chip
Where Technology Becomes Entertainment ª
RECEIVER SPECIAL! NEW MODELS REVIEWED FROM: • PIONEER • OUTLAW • ROTEL...
HOW TO BUY AN AVR
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT AMPLIFIER POWER, SURROUND-SOUND PROCESSING, CONNECTIVITY, AND MORE…
MORE THAN A SCREEN SONY’S XBR-65AE1 OLED PANEL IS ALSO THE SPEAKER!
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NOVEMBER 2017 Volume 82 No. 9
ON THE COVER Receiver Special! New models reviewed from Outlaw, Pioneer, and Rotel. Additional gear from ProJect, Revel, and Sony. Screen image courtesy of Warner Bros.
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How to Buy an AVR
Rob Sabin Track One: When It Comes to Color Gamut, Confusion Abounds.
How to Buy an AVR The Swiss Army knife of the A/V world just keeps on keepin’ on. by Rob Sabin Is DLP’s 4K Really 4K? Texas Instruments’ new chip has enthusiasts asking that question. by Kris Deering
Ken C. Pohlmann Signals: The Latest Political Hot Potato Michael Antonoff Apptitude: AR Leapfrogs VR Al Griffin Ask S&V: Format Facts John Sciacca The Connected Life: Mount a TV Like a Pro: Part 1
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TEST REPORTS TEST REPORTS
DEPARTMENTS Letters What’s up with your rude editor? And remember QSound? Perfect Focus New gear, top news, how to, and more. New Gear A look at the hottest new A/V gear and gadgets. Entertainment Kong: Skull Island, Life, and more on Ultra HD Blu-ray. Premiere Design Tannoy Legacy Series Speakers
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Rotel RAP-1580 Surround Amplified Processor Reference receiver reborn. by Mark Fleischmann
Sony XBR-65A1E OLED Ultra HDTV Going organic. by Thomas J. Norton
Outlaw RR2160 Stereo Receiver The anti-AVR. by Mark Fleischmann
Revel Concerta2 M16 Speaker System Impeccable sound. by Mark Fleischmann
Pioneer VSX-832 A/V Receiver Atmos lite. by Daniel Kumin
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TrackOne November 2017
When it comes to color gamut, confusion abounds.
BY ROB SABIN, EDITOR
If you ever wonder what the geeks at Sound & Vision do when we’re not listening to new speakers or tuning up video displays, well, we’re probably debating some arcane technical detail that most non-enthusiast mortals would neither understand nor care about. And so it was that a rather fired-up exchange of e-mails went over the wire a little while ago between myself, video technical editor Tom Norton, and our contributing technical
editor Kris Deering. What sparked the discussion was Kris’s mention in a review manuscript that a particular projector under test touts support for the P3 color gamut, but that this is not useful to our audience because there is no P3 consumer content—he pointed out that 1080p HD is mastered in Rec. 709, while UHD content is mastered in Rec. 2020. When we sent the manuscript to Tom for his technical fact-check duties, he flagged this for query, acknowledging that, technically speaking, UHD uses a Rec. 2020 “container,” but that no consumer displays can currently show full Rec. 2020 color and that UHD Blu-rays use the more limited P3 gamut within the Rec. 2020 container. No, Kris replied vehemently, P3 has nothing at all to do with consumer video, and there is no place for even the mention of it in a discussion about today’s consumer UHD content and displays. But then, why is P3 so frequently cited in the marketing and reviewing of both UHDTVs and the UHD Blu-ray format? I saw from the get-go that their dialogue was less about any disagreement on the technical details and more about semantics. And our discussion, including a couple of clarifications from Imaging Science Foundation’s Joel Silver, brought me to the admission that we’ve been guilty of regularly practicing some misleading language when we discuss color gamut. For those not fully versed, we use that term to describe the maximum range of colors that a video signal can carry or that a display can visibly produce for your eyes. This is not to be confused with a display’s color bit depth: typically 8-bit in 1080p displays, more frequently 10-bit in newer HDR-capable UHD displays, and occasionally 12-bit with some high-end displays. Bit depth affects the number of gradations of color that can be achieved within a given gamut; more bits means finer gradation and less potential for visible banding artifacts. But it does not affect how deeply red, green, or blue the display’s primaries can be pushed when called upon to do so. Those limits are defined loosely (but not fully) by the twodimensional coordinates on a CIE color chart like those shown in the diagram above (courtesy of ISF). The humpback CIE chart represents all visible colors, and the highlighted triangles represent
each of the gamuts. You’ll notice that DCI-P3, the gamut used for mastering movies distributed to digital theaters, extends much deeper into the saturated green and red areas than the Rec. 709 gamut we’ve used for years in HDTV. It’s a quite visible difference that allows red, in particular, to look much more like red and less like the orange-red we’ve seen prior to now. Rec. 2020, meanwhile, extends the boundaries even further. Today’s consumer UHD displays offering wide color gamut as a feature are often defined by the percentage of P3 they can achieve— 90 or 96 percent of P3, and so on. Similarly, we speak of UHD Blurays as being mastered to the P3 standard. But the reality is that UHD consumer displays wouldn’t look Why is P3 cited in right showing a signal mastered in the marketing and reP3, nor is any UHD content actually viewing of UHDTVs?” mastered in P3. These are all Rec. 2020 displays and Rec. 2020 content. The constant references to P3 in describing UHD Blu-rays or other UHD movie content stem from the fact that most begin with a DCP (digital cinema package) that’s genuinely mastered to P3, using a professional P3 monitor. This must be modified in some key ways and have its RGB values recoded to be placed on a Rec. 2020 UHD Blu-ray or streamed to a UHD display. What you end up with is content mastered to Rec. 2020, but which fails to fill the full Rec. 2020 container beyond where the P3 primary color points would typically lie...if it were mastered to P3. For now, this is the widest color the studios will master to because (a) it makes life easy for them given that they’re already preparing a P3 DCP for cinema distribution, and (b) our consumer displays can’t yet reproduce colors much beyond the P3 limits anyway. For their part, the TV manufacturers ought to be telling us how close their sets come to reproducing full Rec. 2020 gamut since these are Rec. 2020 displays. But in the numbers game that is TV marketing, a TV maker would much rather tout that its UHDTV can hit 96 percent of P3 than have to say it’ll only do 70 percent of Rec. 2020—especially when there’s no content out there yet that pushes out to the Rec. 2020 limits. Technically, though, only a characterization of Rec. 2020 coverage is truly accurate for a consumer television. You can read more about this in Tom’s A/V Veteran blog on our website titled “Colors in Space.” In a way, both Kris and Tom were right, and both understand the technicalities at play. Tom recognized that UHD content is mastered to Rec. 2020 but wasn’t really wrong in characterizing the gamut on a UHD Blu-ray as P3, as that reasonably describes the limits of its color implementation and loosely beckons to its origins in digital cinema. Nor was Kris wrong in insisting on precision in our description, though it may be too rigid to suggest that P3 has no place at all in discussion of our current UHD content and displays. Suffice to say that the devil, as usual, is in the details. We’ll try to be more clear going forward when discussing these concepts in our reviews.
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Editor-in-Chief: Rob Sabin Executive Editor: Claire Crowley Managing Editor: Courtney McKinnon Senior Editor, Technical Editor, Video: Thomas J. Norton Audio Editor: Mark Fleischmann Technical Editor, Audio: Mark J. Peterson Editors-at-Large: Bob Ankosko, Darryl Wilkinson Contributing Technical Editors: Kris Deering, Barb Gonzalez, Al Griffin, Steve Guttenberg, Michael P. Hamilton, Daniel Kumin, Fred Manteghian, Geoffrey Morrison, John Sciacca, Michael Trei, David Vaughn Contributors: Michael Antonoff, Anthony Chiarella, Brandon A. DuHamel, Avi Greengart, Corey Gunnestad, Fred Kaplan, Josef Krebs, Ken C. Pohlmann, Leslie Shapiro Music Editor: Mike Mettler Movies Editor: Chris Chiarella Logistics Manager: John Higgins Technical Consultant: Joel Silver, Imaging Science Foundation Art Director: Heather Dickson Copy Editor: Ken Richardson Web Monkey: Jon Iverson Contributing Photographer: Jorge Nunez General Manager: Keith Pray, 212-915-4157, email@example.com Associate General Manager: Ed DiBenedetto, 212-915-4153, firstname.lastname@example.org Advertising Sales Manager: Mark Aling, MAC Media Solutions Central & West Coast Manufacturers, National Retailers, Classifieds 289-828-6894, email@example.com Advertising Operations Manager: Monica Hernandez Advertising Coordinator: Lorraine McCraw Sales Coordinator: Rosemarie Torcivia, 212-915-4160, firstname.lastname@example.org Marketing Director: Shawn Higgins ENTERTAINMENT GROUP MANAGEMENT Production Director: Kasey Kelley VP, Finance: Matt Cunningham DIGITAL GROUP Director of Engineering: Jeff Kimmel Senior Product Manager: Marc Bartell Digital Content Strategies Manager: Kristopher Heineman TEN: THE ENTHUSIAST NETWORK, LLC SVP/GM, Performance Aftermarket: Matt Boice Chairman: Peter Englehart VP, Financial Planning: Mike Cummings Chief Executive Officer: Scott P. Dickey SVP, Business Development: Mark Poggi Chief Financial Officer: Bill Sutman SVP, Business Intelligence: Dan Bednar President, Automotive: Scott Bailey SVP, Automotive Digital: Geoff DeFrance EVP/GM, Sports & Entertainment: Norb Garrett SVP, Aftermarket Automotive Content: David Freiburger Chief Commercial Officer: Eric Schwab SVP, In-Market Automotive Content: Ed Loh General Manager, Video Programming: Bobby Akin SVP, Digital Advertising Operations: Elisabeth Murray Managing Director, Studio TEN: Jerry Solomon SVP, Marketing: Ryan Payne EVP, Operations: Kevin Mullan VP, Human Resources: David Hope SVP, Editorial & Advertising Operations: Amy Diamond CONSUMER MARKETING, ENTHUSIAST MEDIA SUBSCRIPTION COMPANY, INC. SVP, Circulation: Tom Slater VP, Retention & Operations Fulfillment: Donald T. Robinson III TEN: THE ENTHUSIAST NETWORK, LLC 831 S. DouglaS St. El SEgunDo, Ca 90245 PhonE: (310) 531-9900
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“FOR ALL THEIR VISUAL BEAUTY... THE PERSONA SYSTEM DID THAT MYSTIFYINGLY MAGICAL ACT—ONE THAT ALL GREATEST SPEAKERS ASPIRE TO—OF DISAPPEARING COMPLETELY FROM PERCEPTION AND LEAVING BEHIND ONLY THE MUSIC OR MOVIE SOUNDTRACK.” Darryl Wilkinson, Sound & Vision
Visit paradigm.com to ﬁnd a dealer near you and schedule a demonstration of the new Persona.
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Four Inertially-Balanced 10-1/4ʺ x 9-1/2ʺ Quadratic Planar Infrasonic Radiators Two on Each Side of Cabinet Hybrid Phase-Perfect Electronic/ Passive Low Frequency Crossover 1800-Watt DSP-Controlled Class D Digital Amplifier with Programmable Logic Device Based State Machine Elegantly Sleek Piano Gloss Black Lacquer Finish Cabinet Massive 3/32ʺ Thick Steel Plate Built Into the Base for Exceptional Structural Rigidity
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“ oldenEar’s New Triton Reference Redefines Ultra High-End Performance and Value! ” “Hearing my reference tracks on those über-expensive ( $85,000) speakers, I was surprised at how well the Reference compared … unbridled excellence” - Al Griffin, Sound & Vision
“ The Triton Reference presents a serious challenge to speakers in the multi $10K range” – Robert Deutsch, Stereophile
GoldenEar’s Triton One is one of the best selling high-end loudspeakers ever, consistently thrilling listeners and reviewers alike and winning an enviable and unmatched collection of the industry’s most prestigious awards, including “Loudspeaker-of-the-Year” and “Product-of-the-Year” from key publications all around the world. Clearly, we knew that the One would be a very hard act to follow. There was a spirited discussion within our product development group about an all-out assault on the ultimate, cost-no-object, state-of-the-art, to produce a six-figure loudspeaker to do battle with the most esoteric and expensive loudspeakers on the planet. However, after much soul-searching, rational minds won out, and the decision was made to create a new GoldenEar flagship, positioned above the Triton One (of course still current and available), that would joust with the best, but still stick to our trademarked slogan, “We Make High-End Affordable.” We are pleased and proud to introduce the new Triton Reference. The Reference has begun gathering its own collection of honors, winning the prestigious and coveted CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award, Digital Trends Best Home Audio Tech at CES, HD GURU Best High Fidelity Loudspeaker at CES and What HiFi Stars of CES! And Triton Reference won the grand slam from Absolute Sound at CES, where all four of their writers honored T Ref with their highly coveted accolade, “Best Sound (for the money)”!
“ Undeniably stellar … Yes, it does deliver the sort of performance previously delivered only by cost-no-object speakers.” – Dennis Burger, Home Theater Review The Triton Reference is an evolution of everything that we have achieved with the Triton One, but taken to a stunning new level of sonic performance and sophisticated visual design. All the components in the T Ref: including larger, more powerful, active subbass drivers with huge “Focused Field” magnet structures, upperbass/midrange drivers with “Focused Field” magnet structures, and High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter with 50% more rare earth neodymium magnet material, are brand new, and have been specifically developed for use in the Reference. The powerful 1800 watt subwoofer amplifier, with level control to fine tune the bass to your room, and 56-bit DSP control unit are a significant evolution of those in the Triton One and our SuperSubs. There are a myriad of other significant upgrades and refinements, including: new internal wiring with a specially developed twist, further development of our signature balanced crossover including
film capacitors bridged across the high-pass section on the upperbass/midrange drivers, a unique proprietary mix of long-fiber lamb’s wool and Dacron for more effective internal damping, intensive work with a high-resolution accelerometer to determine the most effective implementation of complex internal bracing, a 3/32ʺ-thick steel plate built into the medite base to further stiffen it for increased stability, new stainless steel floor spikes and cups, all of which results in higher resolution of subtle details … and the list goes on and on.
“ They are flat-out incredible, knock-your-damnsocks-off, jaw-droppingly realistic, enrapturing speakers.” – Caleb Dennison, Digital Trends Visually, the Reference offers a strikingly beautiful upgrade to the classic Triton styling, with a gorgeous hand-rubbed piano gloss-black lacquer finished one-piece monocoque cabinet. Sleek, statuesque and refined, the Reference is simply an elegantly gorgeous statement piece that will excite listeners with its dynamic visual presence, as well as its extraordinary sonic performance. Sonically, the Reference has been engineered to perform with a dramatic and authoritative voice, comparable to speakers that sell for ten and more times its surprisingly affordable price. T Refs completely disappear, with superb three-dimensional imaging that will open up your room, stretching from wall to wall and beyond, and depth that makes the wall behind them seem to vanish. The astonishing bass is rock-solid, with low-frequency performance that is tight, quick, highly impactful and musical with extension flat to 20Hz and below. Another GoldenEar signature is a silky smooth high end that extends to 35 kHz with a lifelike sheen but no trace of fatiguing hardness, sibilance or stridency so common with lesser tweeters. Tremendous time and energy has been put into the voicing of the speaker and the seamless blending of the drivers, for unmatched musicality with all types of music, and home theater perfection. Rarely do speakers excel at both, but with their world-class neutrality, the Reference absolutely does. A special bonus is the Reference’s extremely high 93.25 dB sensitivity, which gives them tremendous dynamic range and allows use with almost any high-quality amplifier. You must experience T Ref for yourself !
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I Won’t Be in Any Club With Sabin as a Member I read Doug Perine’s letter to the editor with a great deal of interest. (“That Stuff Can Kill You,” September). I share his same concerns. So there are at least two of us out of those 80,000 print readers. I was surprised by your scathing, condescending attack. I could likewise counter each point you thought you were making, but I don’t see what that would achieve. As you admit, “I won’t pretend the jury isn’t still out on this,” and you have already made your decision, regardless. Others of us choose to be more cautious, and we are not trying to limit or alter your choices. Steve Harris Shiloh, IL
I’m writing because I’m at a loss to understand Mr. Sabin’s response to the letter from Doug Perine in the September issue, which concerned the disabling of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on televisions. My lack of understanding comes not from the opinions stated by Mr. Sabin, but rather from the hostile tone of his reply. Why would the editor-in-chief reply to one of his publication’s readers in such a fashion? In my career as a teacher, I always told my students that it’s not so much what you say, it’s how you say it. The points that Mr. Sabin made in his reply could have been written in a much less antagonistic and more helpful fashion. I assume that Mr. Perine may have been insulted by the tone of the reply. I know I was. Jay Friedman Centerville, OH
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In the September 2017 issue, there was a reader’s letter to which I am appalled by the editor’s response. I have never seen such an arrogant, rude, sarcastic, and condescending reply written by a supposed professional. While I understand the additional work and expense S&V would be put to in order to test equipment for Wi-Fi radiation as the reader asked, there was absolutely no call for the tone of the reply. There were many, many ways to reply politely explaining why such extensive testing for an infinitesimal return would not be possible from both a staff and an economic standpoint. I don’t know if the editor thought he was being cute, but if so, he missed it by several miles and came off sounding like a complete jerk. Perhaps he was trying to emulate the replies sometimes seen at Car and Driver? Sincere apologies to the subscribers and readers from the editor, from his supervisor, from the publisher, and from the owner of Sound & Vision are mandatory for repair of the magazine’s (and publisher’s) reputation. Dennis B. Swaney Oroville, CA
I roused up a good bit of hate mail with the tone in my response to that letter, and I’ll issue an apology to Doug Perine and anyone who mistook it as an attack on him personally and not a pointed attack on his idea, or the broader cultural statement I was hoping to make. Yes, it was intentionally snarky, to make clear my disdain for today’s excessive paranoia and the political correctness that says we should politely validate every crazy, fringe idea that comes along just because someone floats it and they have a right to it. Doug has the right to do what he thinks he needs to do to protect himself and his family by researching the radio wave exposure coming off his TVs and the other devices in his house—though I obviously don’t see this as time well spent, especially when any benefit of this would likely be negated by the potential damage from putting a microwave transmitter against our brains multiple times a day—unless, of course, we’ve chosen not to use a cell phone for precisely that reason. But I think there’s another discussion to be had here about the affront I seem to have committed, less with what I said than with how I said it. Since when does the editor of a magazine and website—vehicles of opinion and discourse— have to bow down and protect the feelings of everyone who comes along fronting whatever idea I don’t agree with? If I took the same tone dressing down a manufacturer touting defeatable Wi-Fi as a TV feature that all consumers were suddenly forced to pay extra for, I’d be getting congratulations for calling them out as charlatans, or at least greedy thieves. Instead, Dennis thinks apologies from me, my supervisor, our publisher, and our owner are “mandatory” for the repair of this horrible bout of impoliteness. Really? I’m not an educator with the fate of young students in my hands, nor do I run a democracy. I do respect our readers, but guess what? I don’t
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respect everything they say all the time. And as the editor, I get to spout off whenever I want, about whatever I want, and I will sometimes choose to do it in a way that’s intended to provoke. There’s no law that says we have to show respect or even make room for an opinion when we think it flies in the face of common sense, or that we shouldn’t call it out brusquely for what it is.—RS
HDMI: The Gift That Keeps On Giving I read with disdain in a recent issue Al Griffin advising a reader to wait for the latest version of HDMI 2.1 to emerge in 2018 before making a purchase on an audio product (September Q&A, “HDMI Anxiety”). I have been without a video display and A/V processor for a while because of this type of issue. If all that can be obtained is one product cycle for these very expensive items, well then, I guess I won’t participate. HD video begat UHD, which will I’m sure morph into UUHD and UUUHD and so on. The compatibility issue must be addressed. Why can’t the manufacturer allow for the upgrading of hardware from HDMI 2.0 to 2.1 with a replacement board upgrade for a nominal cost? Why does the consumer have to almost give their item away for pennies on the dollar because a new feature has emerged and made their previously shiny toy obsolete? I cringe every time S&V uses the term futureproof in a review. There is, for now, no such thing, and readers should be aware that the piece they purchase today will only be good for one product cycle at best before they are once again looking for the next piece of gear. For me, I’ve found other, less expensive pastimes until manufacturers decide to make their expensive gear upgradeable. Greg Saydak Via e-mail
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This is a constant frustration of mine as well, and although HDMI and its rogue brother HDCP have been largely responsible for the worst of the past affronts, it’s hardly restricted to these. Along with a constantly evolving HDMI standard, we’ve had to deal in recent years with the glacial roll-out of poorly perfected critical UHD features such as HDR and wide color gamut, and soon we’ll be facing an emerging broadcast standard in ATSC 3.0, which will make the off-air tuners in existing TVs not quite obsolete, but greatly limited by their inability to capture new UHD broadcasts. I discussed some of these themes in my Track One editorial back in May (“The End of the Early Adopter,” available at soundandvision.com under the “Editor’s Eye” blog header). The subject comes up again in this issue in our annual AVR shopping feature (“How to Buy an AVR,” page 34), where I also felt obliged to issue the same warning about waiting for HDMI 2.1 to arrive in receivers, hopefully next year, if you expect to enjoy signal switching and passthrough functionality for years to come. Greg is right that there are no longer any real guarantees about how long something like an AVR or surround processor will continue to deliver the latest cutting-edge features, and although some manufacturers, such as NAD and even Emotiva,
have made upgradeability part of their designs via plug-in modules or factory-replaceable boards, it’s not an economically realistic approach for every high-volume manufacturer. If there’s any solace in waiting for HDMI 2.1, you might find it in the assurances (however real or false they might be) that this new version leaps ahead with its bandwidth capabilities and leaves some room for growth. Maybe it’ll last for a few more “product cycles.” But I won’t make any guarantees.—RS
Q up the Tunes With all the talk about MQA and the back and forth about how to get more realistic reproduction, I’m wondering why there’s no talk about QSound. There will never be a perfect reproduction of instruments or voices, so why not go for what gives the closest to a real live performance? I’ve been listening for years to QSound in its limited availability, and in my setup I get a 40foot soundstage and surround sound. I live on a fixed income and don’t have all of the latest and best equipment, but I’ve found that QSound brings me closer to a live experience without any extra money to get it. The algorithms are in the disc and can be heard on most equipment, though it’s better with a larger room to enjoy the soundstage. I feel that it wasn’t a hit back when precisely because you didn’t have to run out and buy a new processor, more speakers, additional amps, etc. If you haven’t listened to QSound or haven’t heard it in a while, then do yourself a favor and find some of the CDs that are readily available. You can find a list of CDs on Wikipedia. Jeff Woods Rotan, TX
I lived through the coming and going of QSound in the late ’80s and early ’90s but can’t say I have any recollection of the sonic experience or even remembered what QSound was until I went back and read the Wiki entry. Best I can tell, this is processing applied during commitment of a stereo recording to account for so-called head-related transfer functions that, due to the shape of the ear and how it affects arrival of sound, create the locational cues we hear. The list Jeff sites of recordings made in this format is quite limited— about 13 albums total—but there are some fairly high-profile artists in there. The original SRS 3D processors (I played with one of those in my home for a while) apparently provided a similarly expansive effect. While I’ve heard some very, very convincing demos of surround sound based on HRTR using just a single pair of speakers and prototype processing, I can’t speak to how it affects the timbre, dynamics, or transient response of music tracks and whether, in creating something more dimensional, it doesn’t introduce fatal flaws. But this letter makes me curious to try a QSound album on my current system, both in stereo and with late-generation Dolby Surround or DTS Neural:X upmixing that would expand the stereo information out to my Atmos/DTS:X height speakers. That could be mighty engaging...or a total sonic disaster. Anybody else out there still listening to QSound or any of the vintage quad formats that required both encoded recordings and special in-home processing?—RS
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“It's a sub that makes no acoustic compromises, nor does it force you to make the lifestyle compromises that a typical inroom sub would. in some ways, it's a shame that all the cool technology here is hidden from view-but, when you think about it, not seeing anything of this system is the coolest part of all. If you've got the money, and you've got a wall, this sub's for you.” – Darryl Wilkinson - Sound&Vision, July/August 2017
Perfect focus NEW GEAR, TOP NEWS, HOW TO, AND MORE... Edited by Claire Crowley
Spinning in Style Pro-Ject Special Edition Turntables I’VE BEEN A HARD-CORE BEATLES fan for…well, let’s just say a very long time. So I was more than a little intrigued when I saw Pro-Ject’s Fab Four turntables (my name, not theirs) at the May press event unveiling Giles Martin’s stereo remix of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The thought of a “new” Beatles record being played on a table that pays homage to the greatest band ever was compelling. Maybe it’s time to revisit my longdormant vinyl collection... What about you? Beatles fan or not, what will it take for you to climb into the attic to retrieve that ancient BSR turntable you always meant to upgrade but never did? To rekindle your relationship with albums you haven’t listened to in…a very long time. Or m-a-y-b-e you should just skip the contortionist routine and buy a new turntable. Now there’s an idea. Of course, with the holidays fast approaching, this is far bigger than you and me, my friend. Soon you’ll be racking your brains to come up with clever gift ideas for those special
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people on your list. You can thank me later for jump-starting your shopping, but what would be cooler than giving a Beatles fanatic a Sgt. Pepper– themed turntable? (OK, I suppose a signed copy of the album might be pretty cool...) And if not Sgt. Pepper, how about a turntable commemorating the 1964 U.S. tour forever ingrained in our collective consciousness? Not to worry, the turntable gurus at Austria’s ProJect have come up with four Beatlesthemed special-edition models to choose from.
Sgt. Pepper’s Drum – Essential III ($499)
Created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ most iconic album, signature artwork from the kick
drum graces the platter of this gussied-up Essential III turntable, offsetting its bright blue base. As to the origin of the repeating design, or its connection to the album, I’m going to need a little help from my friends. (The plain yet striking version of this turntable is $299 and comes in high-gloss red, black, or white.)
George Harrison Essential III ($499)
I confess to being partial to George Harrison, guitar player and the soul of The Beatles, who developed an utterly unique style of slide playing that wasn’t heard until he released his first magnum opus, All Things Must Pass, in 1970. Fun fact: A rendering of George’s personal recording console shows through the acrylic platter of this Essential III turntable ($299 in plain
high-gloss red, black, or white).
The Beatles 1964 – Debut Carbon Esprit SB ($650)
Read all about it: The clever newsprint design of this Debut Carbon Esprit SB turntable ($599 in plain high-gloss white, black, or red) commemorates the 1964 U.S. tour that solidified such classics as “She Loves You,” “All My Loving,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “A Hard Day’s Night.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.
2Xperience SB Sgt. Pepper Limited Edition ($1,499)
Understated yet elegant, the gorgeous walnut-veneered MDF base is rock steady and stamped with the famous Sgt. Pepper drum logo in one corner and “The Beatles” in the other. This one is fitted with Pro-Ject’s 9cc Evolution carbon-fiber tonearm and a high-performance Ortofon 2M Silver cartridge featuring silver voice coils. Maxwell would love them. If you like the idea of a distinctive turntable but prefer to skip the Beatles imagery, don’t despair. Pro-Ject is the master of cool turntables, offering three more special-edition models—the 2Xperience Primary Acryl ($999 in translucent orange, blue, or green), the Debut Carbon DC Wave ($649), and the Debut Carbon DC Frida ($649)— and seven series from which to choose, including the Vertical Turntable line. Yep, turntables that sit upright in a stand or mount on the wall. Visit pro-jectusa. com and explore.— Bob Ankosko
This Just In... By Mark Fleischmann
The Yamaha YAS-207
($299) is the first soundbar with DTS Virtual:X, which simulates a 7.1.4 configuration with height effects but without using height speakers. It sounded better than we’d expected. Look for our review in an upcoming issue...... the group, but not OK to claim greater color accuracy...
Project Hydra is the code name of the new TiVo user interface. It brings back the old-style grid guide, is already deployed in Spain, and is coming to the U.S. late this year...
Apple’s HomePod wireless speaker has “seven beam-forming tweeters that provide pure high-frequency acoustics with incredible directional control and powerful technologies built right in to preserve the richness and intent of the original recordings,” says the company. But Siri’s “conversational abilities are a distant third to those offered by Google and Amazon,” says Joe Branca of Strategy Analytics—Siri, call Alexa...
ViewSonic’s Claims about one-chip DLP projectors versus competing three-chip projectors are only partly supported, according to the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council. It’s OK to quote ANSI lumens for brightness, says
Info-Collecting Smart TVs
The Sharp TV Brand is in a tug-of-war between new corporate owner Foxconn and current brand licensee Hisense. Perhaps suffering from seller’s remorse, Foxconn says Sharp sets are being “shoddily manufactured,” while Hisense says it is making “quality televisions under the Sharp brand”...
make 69 percent of consumers somewhat or completely uncomfortable, says a Videa survey. Local news sources are preferred to national ones by 62 percent of respondents...
will launch cable TV service in the New York metro area, joining Charter, Verizon, and others. The service supports Amazon’s Alexa voice platform...
Virtual Screens Will Replace
says no less an expert than the CEO of the American Cable Association. Broadband is where the money is now...
conventional ones someday, claims an Ericsson study, if VR early adopters are a reliable indication. Thirtyseven percent of them have shifted regular video viewing from physical screens to virtual ones...
The New Xbox One X game console features Ultra HD with HDR plus supersampling to enhance sharpness on 1080p TVs. Coming in November...
Cable TV Is “Failing,”
Cord Cutting Is Accelerating, says TiVo’s first-quarter 2017 Video Trends Report. Of the 15.2 percent of respondents who don’t get pay TV, 21.8 percent have ditched it within the past year, versus just 4.4 percent a year before...
Cord Cutting Owns 8 percent of the U.S. subscription video market, and that will rise to 18 percent by 2022, according to Strategy Analytics. But at this rate, we’ll be into the late 2020s
before it surpasses cable and satellite operators...
Next-Gen Verizon FiOS TV is in beta. The more personalized, all-IP version would succeed the current hybrid QAM/IP system...
Six-Second Ads, pioneered by YouTube, have taken root in Fox’s online and on-demand channels and may eventually even reach its main channels. But though they’re short, they’re not skippable...
TV Stations May Renege on their promise to make their next-gen ATSC 3.0 broadcasts backwardcompatible with existing ATSC 1.0 tuners, the American Television Alliance has warned the FCC. Just what viewers need—another DTV transition...
Branching Story Lines are a feature of two new Netflix series, Puss in Book and Buddy Thunderstruck. The interactive feature is supported on smart TVs, streaming players, game consoles, and iOS but not on web browsers, Android,
Chromecast, or Apple TV (yet)...
Jessica Rosenworcel has unexpectedly been renominated by President Trump to the FCC seat she just vacated. Though generally well regarded, she was the Democrat who cast the deciding vote against the new digital cable ready standard, costing cable customers bushels of money in box rental fees...
Dirac Room Correction is coming to NAD home theater electronics. It’s supported by the T758v3 and T777v3 receivers via the AM230 MDC Module and will soon come to the Masters M17.2 pre/pro...
HDmusicstream is a forthcoming music streaming service from heavy-hitter download service HDtracks. MQA is the “audio origami” that enables a CD-quality channel to deliver master-quality high-res audio...
Zvox’s AccuVoice circuit is now built into a soundbar, the SB380 ($300), joining a similarly equipped soundbase. Both use hearing-aid technology to provide a smart dialogue boost...
Grace Digital Mondo+ Internet Radio
Grace Digital Mondo+ Internet Radio
Audio Performance Features Ergonomics Value
By Bob Ankosko
Nouveau Clock Radio PRICE $200 AT A GLANCE MY FIRST THOUGHT WAS “CLOCK radio” as I lifted the Mondo+ out of its box. It’s tough to gauge the heft of a product from a picture, so I guess I was expecting something a bit more substantial. Even so, the plastic-encased Mondo+ is nice and compact—about the size of a loaf of bread—and attractive with a smooth gray finish and large color display that serves as a gateway to wireless streaming options and system settings, including—you guessed it—an alarm clock. Curious to see how quickly I could get the Mondo+ up and running, I set it on my kitchen counter, loaded the supplied AAA batteries into the remote, and plugged the radio into a nearby outlet (a lithium-ion battery pack is available on Amazon for $40). In 3 or 4 minutes, I had connected to my Wi-Fi, loaded internet radio stations into five of the system’s 10 presets, and was enjoying the eclectic sounds of Radio Paradise, a listener-supported, commercial-free station out of Paradise, California. I also downloaded the Grace Digital Controller app to my phone, which put the radio’s controls at
Plus ■ Multiple streaming options via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth ■ Chromecast built-in ■ Remote control
Minus ■ Lackluster sound quality
my fingertips, even when I walked out of the room. All this without removing the owner’s manual from its plastic wrapper. Kudos to Grace Digital for making setup a breeze. That simplicity extends to operation. When you power up the Mondo+, six labeled icons appear on its home screen. Internet Radio puts thousands of stations around the world close at hand. Music Services provides one-touch access to SiriusXM (subscription required), iHeart Radio, NPR, BBC, CBS Radio, and Podcasts by Audiosearch. Media Player sets the
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stage for wireless access to music stored on a UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) PC or music server and allows hard-wire access to a thumb drive or server plugged into the rear-panel USB port. The Settings icon provides information or controls for a dozen categories, including Alarm Clock (with five independent alarms), Display, Network, Bluetooth, and the radio’s coup d’état, Chromecast built-in (more on that in a moment). The last two operating modes are Aux In for connecting an analog source via a minijack on the back panel and Equalization, which provides bass and treble sliders and five EQ presets. Like setup, navigating the Mondo+ is as intuitive as it gets: You use the large front-panel knob/ button or the cursor/OK buttons on the remote to navigate menus, select operating modes, change settings, and search for radio stations by name, genre, or location. To the left of the knob is a handy Back button and a column of buttons: Menu, which takes you back to the home screen; Now Playing, which displays detailed information on the track playing (including bit rate and codec); five Preset keys; and a
Shift key to access presets 6 through 10. A row of context-sensitive buttons below the screen provide transport controls when you’re playing music from a USB drive or streaming from a server. The only other controls are a volume knob and a Sleep Timer/Snooze bar on top. Everything is well organized and clearly labeled on the radio and the remote. In addition to the USB and minijack connections mentioned earlier, there’s a side-mounted headphone jack and a stereo set of RCA line-out jacks on the back in case you want to attach a powered speaker, which I did (I’ll get to that).
Getting Down to Business The word that best describes the Mondo+ is versatile. You have ready access to a ridiculous number of internet radio stations and the streaming services mentioned above. Select Bluetooth mode, and you can stream direct from your phone or tablet/PC; the signal remained steady even when I moved two floors up, 40-some feet away from the radio. I was also able to play WAV and FLAC files stored on a flash drive and a laptop connected to my wireless network with no problem. But the secret weapon is the built-in Chromecast, which lets you directly cast (stream via Wi-Fi) hundreds of Chromecast-enabled apps (iOS and Android) without having to worry about Bluetooth pairing and interruptions (like an incoming call) or draining your phone’s battery. Casting worked like a charm, allowing me to move effortlessly
Grace Digital • (866) 466-0961 • gracedigital.com
THE VERDICT The Mondo+ is a versatile internet radio that offers easy access to a multitude of streaming sources, but we expected better sound quality for the price.
between Pandora, Spotify, Google Play, and other favorite apps loaded on my phone. To start playback, all I had to do was tap the Cast icon in the app. Amazon Music was the only app I couldn’t cast from—it doesn’t support Chromecast—but Grace Digital says the Mondo+ will support it directly in the near future. Chromecast has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve: You can stream to multiple Chromecast-enabled speakers around the house via the Google Home app (unfortunately, the Mondo+ was the only Chromecast speaker I had on hand). And if you own a Google Home smart speaker (sorry, I don’t), you can use voice commands to control the Mondo+. I had the Mondo+ up and running for a few weeks and enjoyed being able to easily access a diverse range of music via a Wi-Fi connection that never once faltered—even when I moved the radio around the house. Unfortunately, though, sound quality was not up to what I had expected from a $200 product. While it was certainly decent, I longed for more robust sound. What I heard, though relatively clear, was thin and lacking in warmth and low-end body. Running a set of RCA cables to an external (powered) speaker I had on hand was a stark reminder of what was missing. “The Mondo+ scores well for ergonomics and ease of use, and it’s fine for casual listening in a guest bedroom, or maybe the kitchen. But readers of this magazine will expect more from its sound quality.
Drivers: 1 in tweeter (1), 3 in woofer (1) • Amplifier: 12 watts • Connec tions: Wireless via dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, 3.5mm aux input, USB, analog RCA stereo output, 3.5 mm headphone jack • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 10 x 6 x 4.25 • Weight (Pounds): 1.6
Signals ken C. pohlmann
The Latest Political Hot Potato I know, I know. You read Sound & Vision to learn about audio and video topics. It’s a welcome refuge from the political furor that has engulfed every other facet of our lives. But, of course, ultimately, nothing is immune from politics. So, let me ruin your day by telling you about the latest political hot potato: hearing aids. You heard me right. Hearing aids. Hearing aids are big business. As Baby Boomers (finally) start to age, their ears need a little help. Specifically, 40 percent of those age 60 and older have significant hearing loss, and that doubles to 80 percent for those 80 and over. The average price for a hearing aid is $4,700, with some costing $8,000 or more. And those are real out-ofpocket dollars because Medicare won’t pay for it, and most private insurance companies won’t, either. Hearing aids are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and a prescription is required to get one. Although it varies from state to state, generally consumers must consult with a licensed hearing-aid dealer. An audiologist or otolaryngologist takes the patient’s history, does a physical examination, and produces a comprehensive audiogram. When a hearing aid is prescribed, its audiometrics can be customized to optimally treat the patient’s hearing loss. Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are an alternative to hearing aids; they are sold without a prescription and can be used to treat mild hearing loss. They range from junky $20 devices to $500 models that are essentially bare-bones hearing aids but cannot be called such. PSAPs are not medical devices and are not regulated. PSAP manufacturers such as Samsung, Panasonic, and Bose are eager to get into the more lucrative hearing-aid market. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced a bill in the Senate that calls for a new class of hearing aids sold without a prescription; the same bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives. As its name implies, the Over-the-Counter
Hearing Aid Act of 2017 would allow a new class of “hearing aids” to be sold over the counter. These devices would be considered medical devices and must meet FDA guidelines for safety and effectiveness, but you wouldn’t need a doctor to get one. A consumer would test her hearing using an online program or phone app, then pick a hearing aid that best fits the criteria. Proponents of the bill, including PSAP makers, argue that current laws prevent consumers from getting the help they need. OTC hearing aids would help those with hearing loss and save them money. Much like using an optical chart on a kiosk at Walgreens to buy reading glasses, consumers could quickly and inexpensively remedy moderate hearing loss. For many people, a physical examination is not necessary, and nothing would preclude a consumer with more severe hearing loss from further seeking the assistance of an audiologist. The option of obtaining hearing aids without a
A new bill would allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter. prescription would benefit consumers. Critics of the bill, including traditional hearing-aid manufacturers and audiologists, protest that hearing loss should not be self-treated, but rather requires a skilled professional. Proper diagnosis, fitting, and adjustment can be complex, and selftreatment would frustrate consumers and would waste more money than it saves. In some cases, for example, when it is caused by wax buildup, hearing loss can be reversed; in other cases, hearing loss is a symptom of a serious underlying illness. In either case, hearing loss should be treated by a professional, not remedied by a trip to a big-box store. So, you decide: Over-the-counter hearing aids—potentially useful products for Americans that could save them lots of money, or medically ill-advised products designed to boost corporate profits? We now return you to your regularly scheduled, non-political Sound & Vision.
Pirates May Target HDR
AR Leapfrogs VR Ya got trouble, folks, right here in virtual reality. It begins with a lowercase “i,” and that rhymes with “my,” and that means iPhone! Ten years after the quintessential smartphone went on sale and lifted personal computing from desk to palm, a funny thing happened to virtual reality. While VR enthusiasts, mainly gamers, were blindfolded in head mounts, augmented reality (AR) quietly encroached on everything that mattered. The difference between AR and VR is that AR overlays the world as it exists; VR replaces it. AR superimposes itself visually as in schematics appearing over an engine or audibly as in a GPS navigator announcing “turn left.” VR, on the other hand, pulls the wool over your eyes with artificial sights and sounds that effectively isolate you from your environment. Psychologically, VR is a tough sell. With eyes and ears covered, users are required to put VR platform requirements ahead of their own senses—organs they rely on to make them feel safe and in control. The nausea that sometimes accompanies VR
AR overlays the world as it exists, while VR pulls the wool over your eyes. immersion can be the least of users’ feelings of discomfort. With AR, users are fully aware of their surroundings. Sure, a Pokémon Go figure may appear on screen while you peer at your camera phone’s live view, but it’s not as startling as an actual bully sneaking up on you while VR has hijacked your senses. There’s a revealing scene in the last season of HBO’s Silicon Valley. Excited by what he saw when he “walked up” to a young woman in a virtual bar, Pied Piper founder Richard (Thomas Middleditch) shares his enthusiasm with venture capitalist Monica (Amanda Crew). Monica isn’t as enamored of the technology. She responds, “Yeah, well, um, look, the demo is amazing—when you run it on a $10,000 rig. But the future of VR is mobile, and there’s no phone on earth
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that could handle that demo, let alone the full-bloated platform.” Once dazzled by VR hype, my eyes were opened during a recent trip to Tuscany. Lunching at a hillside vineyard, I was handed a menu printed in Italian. A dining mate pulled up Google Translate on her iPhone, pointed it at the menu, and displayed the English translation. (See photo above.) This was an app, I realized, that didn’t purport to transport you to alien lands but assisted you in the world you actually occupied. It’s no surprise that by the end of 2019, eMarketer projects AR users will top 54.4 million, accounting for 16.4 percent of the U.S. population, or nearly one in five internet users. “Meanwhile, VR has been slower to catch on in the U.S. and will not reach mass adoption in the foreseeable future,” according to the research firm. The AR umbrella is wide, but here are some other examples that may better your world: • Ink Hunter (Tattoo Designs)—enables the skittish to try on tattoos in augmented reality before committing an arm or a leg. • Augmented Car Finder (AugmentedWorks)—guides absentminded drivers back to their parked vehicles. • SkyView (Terminal Eleven)—lets stargazers harness their phones and tablets to identify celestial objects. • WallaMe (WallaMe Ltd.)—empowers graffiti artists to share their creations in the actual locations without spray paint. Ever since the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation raised our expectations to cosmic heights only to have them crash to earth with products like Sega’s VR glasses and Google Cardboard, reality has cast a monkey wrench into the potential of virtual reality time and again. Maybe it’s a sign of technology maturing, but with the shine off virtual, the preferred reality for now is augmented.
HDR improves picture quality but also makes content more tempting to steal. Writes a Fox studio executive in Multichannel News: “Fox’s experience is that the moment a high-quality pirate source becomes available, it immediately becomes much more popular than lower-quality sources such as theater camcorders or ‘ordinary’ HD sources, and is therefore a bigger threat to our legitimate business.” Six studios joined to publish a Specification for Enhanced Content Protection in 2013. The next step may be forensic watermarking, which enables pirate booty to be traced back to the weak link in a distribution system, and thus enables warnings to both pirates and consumers. This approach has brought “significant delays in piracy of high-quality sources” in South Korea.—MF
Apple Bows AirPlay 2 Apple will take the wraps off a new version of AirPlay in December as part of the forthcoming iOS 11. AirPlay 2 goes multi-room by including a multiple-speaker function that enables you to pick speakers throughout the home. You might send different songs to different rooms. Multiple users can contribute songs to a playlist. AirPlay 2 can also reach Apple TV devices, thanks to the tvOS 11 update, and it integrates with Apple HomeKit smart home devices. AirPlay 2 will be compatible with iOS devices up to seven years old. Supportive manufacturers will include B&O, Beats, Bluesound, Bose, B&W, Definitive Technology, Denon, Devialet, Dynaudio, HEOS, Libratone, Marantz, McIntosh, Naim, and Polk. The format will be open to third-party app developers.—MF
TV Size Rules Eyed
The Federal Trade Commission may reconsider its rules on how TV screen size must be specified in ads. It is now seeking comment on whether to ax the Picture Tube Rule—or in its full bureaucratic splendor, the Deceptive Advertising as to Sizes of Viewable Pictures Shown by Television Receiving Sets Rule. It dates back to 1966, the heart of the direct-view TV era, and requires screen sizes to be quoted by viewable area unless clearly and conspicuously stated otherwise. Ads that don’t follow the rules are penalized as deceptive. Why this, why now? As the name implies, the Picture Tube Rule was written when TVs had cathode ray tubes. They required a certain amount of overscan to fill the borders of the screen, losing a little around the edges. Today’s fixed-pixel displays don’t require overscan, so arguably the 1966 rule may need a rethink. But it has been re-examined as recently as 2006, and consumers still need to be protected from phony specs.—MF
Format Facts Does the metadata used to enhance video for high dynamic range TVs also work with still photographs? George Yeoh / via e-mail
No. Two very different processes are used to create HDR (high dynamic range) video and photos. With HDR video, images are captured at 10-bit or higher resolution using a professional digital cinema camera. During HDR post-production and mastering, metadata is then added to the content that triggers an HDR-capable TV to display the expanded contrast and color gamut captured in the original image. If the TV being used is not HDR capable, the metadata gets bypassed and the set displays a standard 8-bit image with a Rec. 709 (HDTV) color gamut. With HDR photography, multiple versions of an image are taken at various exposure levels and combined by a smartphone app or software package (Photomatix or Luminance HDR, for example) to create a composite image. The key difference between high dynamic range video and photos is that an HDR photo isn’t real HDR: the increased shadow and highlight detail is instead an HDR-like effect created by the merging of multiple images with different exposure levels.
Does the metadata used in high dynamic range TVs also work with still photos? That’s why if you were to display a photo created using an HDR photo app or software on an HDR-capable TV, it wouldn’t have the same dynamic visual quality as HDR video. Are there any home video releases with 7.1.4-channel sound? I find that most movies have 5.1-channel soundtracks. J. Kevin Sexton / via e-mail
No, and that’s because there’s no such thing as a 7.1.4-channel soundtrack. While regular Dolby and DTS soundtracks are channel-based (e.g., 5.1, 7.1), soundtracks produced using the new Dolby Atmos (and DTS:X) formats employ audio objects that aren’t tied to specific speaker channels. During the Atmos mixing process, for instance, up to 128 separate objects can be positioned anywhere in 3D space. Then, when the soundtrack 24 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
is played back in a cinema or home theater, an Atmos decoder is used to render the objects to the available speaker configuration. That’s why a “7.1.4” designation in the Atmos universe doesn’t indicate audio channels; it instead describes a specific speaker array used for sound reproduction—in this case, seven main speakers (left/right, center, surround left/right, and surround back left/right), one subwoofer, and four overhead height speakers. Just in case you were wondering, even though Atmos and DTS:X employ a different approach to soundtrack creation than standard Dolby and DTS formats, the codecs are backward-compatible with older gear: When you play an Atmos or DTS:X disc, an older receiver will be presented with a standard 5.1- or 7.1-channel version of the soundtrack for decoding. I own a Panasonic plasma TV and a Denon A/V receiver. When I connect my sources directly to the TV, the picture looks great. But when I run my Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player, cable TV box, and Amazon Fire TV media player through the Denon using HDMI cables, the picture quality degrades. Is there a way I can work around the picture quality problems being caused by my AVR? I want to continue using the AVR for audio switching and prefer to not have to connect sources directly to the TV. Henry Yeboah / via e-mail
The picture quality of an HDMI video source shouldn’t be degraded when passing through an AVR. Even so, some AVRs do have preset picture modes and video adjustments, and those may be responsible for the picture quality degradation you’re seeing. My first recommendation: Go into the Denon’s Video setup menu and look for a setting labeled Picture Mode. Once you’ve located that, select a Bypass option if one is available. If the picture on your Panasonic TV still looks bad, another fix I’d suggest is to use your Oppo Blu-ray player as an HDMI switch. The BDP-105’s connections include two each HDMI inputs and outputs. Simply connect your cable box and Fire TV to the player’s HDMI inputs. Next, connect one output to the TV (for video), and the second to your AVR (for audio). Once everything is hooked up, you’ll need to use the Oppo’s remote control to switch between Blu-ray, cable, and Fire TV playback, but your picture quality problems should disappear.
Hopper Goes Multi-Room Dish Music is the name of a mobile app that uses DTS Play-Fi wireless technology to endow Dish’s Hopper 2 and 3 DVRs with multi-room smarts. The app enables any audio systems connected to the DVRs to stream music from mobile devices and streaming services. You might play the same music in all zones or pick different tunes for different zones. Of course, DTS Play-Fi speakers from numerous other manufacturers can get in on the fun. The DISH Music app is available for Android, iOS, and Amazon devices.—MF
RIVA WAND SERIES MULTIROOM + RIVA INTRODUCES THE NEXT GENERATION OF MULTIROOM! WAND SERIES GIVES YOU BEST IN CLASS AUDIO WITH THE FREEDOM AND THE FLEXIBILITY TO LISTEN TO
ANYTHING YOU WANT, HOWEVER YOU WANT & WHEREVER YOU WANT
The Connected Life John SCiaCCa
Mount a TV Like a Pro: Part 1 Last month’s column listed some essential tools to outfit your toolkit for tackling various DIY custom install projects around the house. This month, we’ll put that toolkit to work mounting a flat-panel TV! I’ll cover running the wiring to your new TV, and next month we’ll tackle the physical mounting of the set.
Step 1: Determine Size and Location If you’ve already got the TV, great; but if not, give some thought to the screen size you want for your room. In my nearly 20 years of being a custom installer, I’ve never once had a customer come back and say they wish they’d gone smaller. No matter how big a screen you get, you’ll quickly get accustomed to the size. And with 4K resolution, you can sit closer to a large screen than ever before. If mounting above a mantel, I’d caution not to get a TV wider than the mantel, as that can look odd. Same when centering the set between something like windows and doorways; leave a bit of space on either side to prevent the wall from looking “crowded.” We generally mount the center of the screen around 5 feet above the floor, as it’s both a comfortable viewing height and looks good when the set is off. However, to get a sense of how the TV will look in your room and find the height that works best for you, look up your TV’s dimensions and then make a cardboard template to place on the wall, or temporarily mark out the TV’s
power cord dangling down the wall, and since most rooms won’t have power where you want the TV to go, getting power to the TV will be necessary. Since it’s against the National Electric Code to run a power cord inside the wall, you can either hire an electrician or use something like a PowerBridge (powerbridgesolution. com) and Romex electrical wire to safely—and legally—run power to the new TV. Ideally, you’ll have an existing electrical outlet directly underneath where you want the TV to go, making adding power a fairly simple process. If there are no outlets nearby, you might need to contract with an electrician to add an outlet. PowerBridge comes with the necessary wall boxes for both the TV and electronics’ location, but if you have an electrician install an outlet, you’ll want to get two open-back boxes (Google “Arlington LV1”) to route cabling inside the wall to the TV.
Step 4: Route the Wiring
Put your toolkit to work running the wire for your flat panel. footprint with some painter’s tape. This will let you experiment with sizes and heights without damaging the wall.
Before cutting any holes, it pays to make sure there are no obstacles in the wall. This is where the CreepZit flexible rods come into play. Remove the outlet cover plate from a nearby electrical outlet and slide the rod upwards into the wall just outside the edge of the electrical box. See how far you can slide the rod up the wall without hitting any resistance to make sure you’re free and clear to run your wiring.
Step 2: Prep Your Parts Determine what you’ll connect to the TV and what cabling it needs. If it’s part of a home theater system with a receiver as the main hub, a single HDMI cable might be all you’ll need. But if the TV is doing the video switching, pulling an extra HDMI cable to accommodate future expansion is a good idea. It also never hurts to have one or two Cat5/6 wires to the TV; they’re cheap and incredibly versatile. If the TV will be going straight cable—no set-top box—you’ll need some RG6 cabling. As far as length goes, remember that a few feet too long beats an inch too short every day!
Step 5: Cut and Pull
Step 3: Plan for Power
Check back in next month’s issue for Part 2 of this series.
Nothing mars a clean flat-panel install worse than a
26 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
Use your level to draw a template on the wall of where you’ll cut in the new wall boxes, then cut out the sheetrock for the wall boxes with your drywall jab saw. Now, using either the flexible rod or ball chain and Wet Noodle, run inside the wall from the top box to the bottom box. Tape your wiring onto the rod or chain, and pull it up inside the wall. After the wire is pulled through, install the wall boxes. For a clean, finished look that allows access to your wiring, Google “wire passthrough plate.”
MQA Inks Indie Pact Why is it significant that MQA has been licensed by Merlin? MQA, or Master Quality Authenticated, may be the next big thing in highresolution audio. Merlin licenses music from thousands of independent labels in 50 countries. So their recent pact will enable indies to encode their content in MQA. This follows on the heels of MQA deals with two of the three major label conglomerates, Universal and Warner. MQA allows highresolution audio to be streamed in a CD-quality channel, potentially weaning diehard audiophiles from disc to streaming. It is supported by both mass market and high-end hardware manufacturers.—MF
DragonFlys Do MQA The AudioQuest DragonFly USB DACs are among the best and least expensive ways to access highresolution audio. With a new firmware update, they’re getting hipper. Update version 1.06 includes MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) decoding, a form of “audio origami” that enables master-quality audio to be stored in smaller file sources or streamed at lower rates. The update applies only to the DragonFly Red V1.0 ($200) and DragonFly Black V1.5 ($100). Thanks to their lower power requirements, these DragonFlys are also the first to operate with smartphones and tablets, and the new update includes additional optimization for Android devices. —MF
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Reference Tracks MikeMettler
No Mere Wannabe, Steve Earle Firmly Embraces His Outlaw Country Roots Call singer/ songwriter Steve Earle a curator/ progenitor of the music movement known as outlaw country, and the man also known as the “hardcore troubadour” bristles at the thought. “You know, I’ve always been kind of uncomfortable with that term,” Earle admits. “I’ve been called that for a long time, and it’s a lot to do with where I came from [San Antonio, Texas]. What I actually think outlaw music is all about is artistic freedom. That’s what it’s really about.” Earle embraces that concept of artistic freedom wholeheartedly within the 16 songs found on the deluxe version of So You Wannabe an Outlaw (Warner Bros.), which veers from the delicate touch of “Goodbye Michelangelo” to the heavier grit of “Fixin’ to Die.” No matter which facet of Earle’s strong personality is on display on Wannabe, he’ll be the first to tell you all of it was inspired by the original country outlaws themselves, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. “I was listening to [Nelson’s] Shotgun Willie (1973) and Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes (1973),” Earle explains, “and I
ended up on the back pickup of a Telecaster for two-thirds of the record.” Earle, 62, and I got on the line to discuss how he approves final mixes in the modern recording era and the merits and pitfalls of digital versus analog recording. MM: You take great advantage of the stereo field on Wannabe. There are a number of subtle details way off in the corner in the right channel, for example, and we also get a good sense of the room you and your band recorded in together at Arlyn Studios in Austin. SE: That’s all thanks to Ray Kennedy, who recorded it and mixed it, and Richard Bennett, who produced it. Sometimes we pushed it way further than we’re used to on this record, but I wanted it to sound pretty live. I’m really less involved now than I used to be in the studio. I was always the guy who came in when we pushed the faders up and did the final mixes. But I’ve learned to trust Ray. I’ve
28 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
worked with him for so long, so I don’t send around for mixes anymore. Now I’ve got a really good pair of headphones and a good set of converters, and they’ll send me fully modulated files. I listen at whatever the true resolution is and hear the mixes that way. But I will, in a pinch, approve stuff by MP3. I am interested in what the MP3 is going to sound like, because that’s how most people are going to consume it anyway. MM: You’ve wrestled with the differences between digital and analog recording techniques over your career. SE: Right. I’ve now officially given up on tape myself, because it’s just not worth the expense and the trouble to me anymore. It’s about the songs more than anything else. Guitar Town (1986), Exit 0 (1987), and Copperhead Road (1988)—those are all digital records. That’s all Mitsubishi digital multitracks to Mitsubishi 2-tracks to CDs. That was the
rule. I didn’t have any choice, because [noted country record producer and longstanding MCA Records executive] Jimmy Bowen owned the machines, and you had to record on his machines if you recorded for MCA Nashville. So that’s why I recorded on them, period. After I got out of jail [in the mid-’90s], I was a committed analog guy for a long time. It took a while for Pro Tools to catch up, and now, Pro Tools sounds really bleeping good. We still use a lot of old gear on the front end, though. We recorded this album in Austin on a true hybrid desk—a Neve console and an API console, married together. It’s perfect. Washington Square Serenade (2007) was the first time I really did Pro Tools. And, of course, John King [a.k.a. King Gizmo, one-half of the production team known as the Dust Brothers], who I chose as producer on that album, would not work on tape at all. He just didn’t know anything about it and didn’t want anything to do with it. He knew Pro Tools, and that’s what he wanted to do. So that’s what we did, and I think that record sounds great! And then Townes (2009) was made on my Pro Tools rig in my apartment in New York. But when you’re recording bands live in the studio, you want the highest resolution available. It’ll sound pretty much like tape, and without the hiss. And I trust it now. I didn’t like the way it sounded for years—but now, I do. An extended version of the Mettler-Earle Q&A, including a discussion of the man’s vinylproduction TLC, appears in the S&V Interview blog on soundandvision.com.
CD & DVD LABEL: Warner Bros. AUDIO FORMATS: 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM Stereo (CD), 96-kHz/24-bit PCM Stereo (download and DVD) NUMBER OF TRACKS: 34 (16 on CD, 18 on DVD) LENGTH: 1:26:16 (49:35 on CD, 36:41 on DVD) PRODUCER: Richard Bennett ENGINEERS: Ray Kennedy (engineering and mixing); Jacob Sciba (assistant)
NewGear THIS MONTH’S HOT STUFF...
J Samsung HW-MS750 Sound+ Soundbar Samsung means business with its new soundbar. It won’t win any beauty contests, but the five-channel Sound+ deserves credit for squeezing three wide-dispersion tweeters, six woofers, and two up-firing tweeters into an enclosure 45 inches wide, 3 inches tall, and 5 inches deep. Each driver has its own dedicated amplifier, and patented audio processing is said to cancel bass distortion before it even happens. How Sweet It Is: The payoff, with a special nod to those wide-dispersion tweeters, is a “sweet spot anywhere you sit.” In addition to 4K/Ultra HD passthrough and video upscaling, the soundbar uses 32-bit processing to enhance incoming audio and supports music streaming via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Samsung offers the SWA-W700 wireless subwoofer ($500) for those who demand a more visceral experience—the sub is rated down to 27 hertz. Price: $700 Samsung • (800) 726-7864 • samsung.com
J HiFiMan Susvara Planar-Magnetic Headphones Given their over-the-top price tag, you have every right to expect a little magic from HiFiMan’s new flagship headphones, the Susvara. The company, which has spent the better part of 10 years refining planar-magnetic technology for headphones, used its expertise in nanotechnology to develop a driver so thin that it’s invisible to the naked eye when viewed from the side. The super-lowmass diaphragm is said to produce “lifelike openness with virtually no distortion.” Going Stealth: As if a 0.00004-inch-thick diaphragm isn’t enough to wrap your brain around, the “acoustically transparent stealth magnets” that enable the diaphragm to produce sound are shaped differently than standard magnets to reduce a form of distortion known as “diffraction turbulence.” HiFiMan has also optimized its signature open-back “window shade grille” design to avoid resonant frequencies. Price: $6,000 HiFiMan • (201) 443-4626 • hifiman.com
30 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
A Marantz SR6012 A/V Receiver
Marantz starts the SR6012 party with a generous 9 x 110 watts of power, DTS:X and Dolby Atmos processing for 7.1.2-channel setups (7.1.4 with an external amp), 32-bit digital-to-analog conversion on all channels, and the ability to decode the sweet sound of hi-res DSD and 192-kilohertz/24-bit audio files. From there, it adds wireless streaming via Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Bluetooth, and Denon’s HEOS multiroom platform with direct access to internet radio, Pandora, SiriusXM, Amazon Music, Tidal, and other streaming apps. Future-Ready: Its advanced video section supports 4K/60-Hz video with passthrough of all three high dynamic range (HDR) formats—HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma)—HDCP 2.2 copy protection, wide color gamut (BT. 2020), and 4:4:4 color subsampling on all eight of its HDMI inputs. And we’re just scratching the surface. Price: $1,499 Marantz • (800) 654-6633 • marantz.com
J Monitor Audio SoundFrame Speakers
It’s a classic dilemma. You demand good sound quality for your music and movies, but your significant other has imposed a moratorium on freestanding speakers. What to do? Go in- (or on-) wall, of course. But instead of concealing the speaker behind a standard grille, why not transform it into wall art or maybe a photo? Decisions, Decisions: With Monitor Audio’s SoundFrame series, the process is simple: Select a speaker model—the portrait-shaped three-way SoundFrame 1 ($799 each), the elongated three-way SF2 ($799), or the 11 x 11-inch SF3 ($399)—and visit the SoundFrame library where you’ll find a variety of grilles, ranging from abstract prints and modern art to solid colors and artsy photos (or your own prints). Frames are offered in gloss black or white— or you can choose to go frameless. Monitor Audio • (905) 428-2800 • monitoraudiousa. com
J Klipsch R-26FA Dolby Atmos-Enabled Speaker
In a perfect world, you would install speakers in your ceiling to ensure a hyper-real Dolby Atmos experience with sound all around— even overhead. In the real world, many of us can’t go there for a variety of reasons. Klipsch addresses this reality in the latest addition to its Reference Premiere series—the 39-inch-tall R-26FA tower speaker. What’s Up: An elevation module built into the top of its enclosure directs sound upward so it reflects off the ceiling to facilitate the height dimension in Atmos soundtracks. Klipsch credits its Tractrix horn technology with enabling the module’s tweeter to meet Dolby’s specs for directivity and sensitivity. The tweeter is joined by a 5.25-inch woofer, both of which supplement the speaker’s primary drivers—another horn-loaded tweeter and two 6.5inch woofers. Finish is black brushed polymer. Price: $599 each Klipsch • (888) 250-8561 • klipsch.com soundandvision.com 31
NewGear THIS MONTH’S HOT STUFF...
J Yamaha YAS-207 DTS Virtual:X Soundbar DTS has an answer to Dolby Atmos– enabled soundbars: It’s called DTS Virtual:X, and it recently debuted in Yamaha’s YAS-207 soundbar. The “post-processing virtualization technology” simulates an immersive surround sound experience with effects that move around and above the listener without the need for additional speakers. DTS says it works with any stereo or multichannel content (up to 7.1.4/11.1 channels). The Upside: Unlike Dolby Atmos–enabled soundbars that have upward-firing drivers, the YAS-207 has a conventional layout with six forwardfacing drivers—four small woofers and two tweeters— in a low-profile enclosure only 2.4 inches tall. The soundbar supports Bluetooth streaming, 4K/high dynamic range (HDR) passthrough at up to 60 frames per second, and is equipped with analog and optical digital inputs as well as an HDMI input/output with audio return. A wireless subwoofer is included. Price: $300 Yamaha • (714) 522-9105 • usa. yamaha.com
G Pioneer Elite VSX-LX302 A/V Receiver
We tend to think of the Elite nameplate as reserved for the very best AVRs Pioneer has to offer. While that’s true, the line also includes the moderately priced VSX-LX302, which provides everything you need for a respectable home entertainment rig: 7 x 100 watts of power, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround processing (for 5.2.2 setups), support for 4K/60p video with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, high dynamic range passthrough for HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and hi-res audio capability (192-kHz/24-bit and DSD 2.8-megahertz/5.6-MHz). Feature Parade: The list continues with 4K upscaling, Pioneer’s MCACC auto calibration system, and a “reflex optimizer” that improves localization in setups using Dolby Atmos–enabled speakers. Networking and streaming are supported through Chromecast built in, AirPlay, DTS Play-Fi (via a firmware update) with onboard apps for Spotify, Tidal, TuneIn internet radio, and Deezer. Price: $799 Pioneer • (844) 679-5350 • pioneerelectronics.com
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A Bryston BP-17³ Preamp The pursuit of audio perfection makes new strides in the BP-17³ stereo preamp from Canada’s Bryston Ltd. At its core is a patented low-noise input buffer developed with noted amp designer, the late Dr. Ioan Alexandru Salomie. In addition to reduced noise and distortion, the preamp boasts improved noise filtering to prevent unwanted power-line anomalies from interfering with the audio signal. Flexible Flyer: Stereo connectivity options include two balanced inputs, five RCA inputs, two RCA outputs, and two XLR outputs, one of which can be set for a variable or fixed output. Available in black or silver with a 17- or (rack-mountable) 19-inch faceplate, the BP-17³ is covered by Bryston’s famous 20-year warranty. Price: $3,995; options include a remote control ($375), a built-in high-resolution DAC ($750), and moving-magnet photo stage ($750) Bryston • (800) 632-8217 • bryston.com
J Da-Lite Parallax UST 0.45 Projection Screen Wall-hugging, short-throw projectors that beam images onto a screen only inches away are all the rage. Ready-made for such up-close applications, Da-Lite’s Parallax UST 0.45 screen has lens-like micro-layers that block and absorb light to ensure high contrast, wide viewing angles, and glare-/ speckle-free images, even in brightly lit rooms with lots of windows and/or lights. Faux TV: With its light-absorbing black frame, the UST 0.45 looks like a TV but without the annoying glare from those bright lights and windows (even when no image is present). The flexible screen ships in a roll with an easy-to-assemble 2.5-inch-thick fabric frame. Sizes from 77 to 120 inches (diagonal) are available at prices ranging from $2,699 to $4,149. Da-Lite / Milestone AV Technologies • (866) 977-3901 • milestone. com
D Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT Wireless Headphones Fifty-seven years after the introduction of its first phono cartridge, Audio-Technica continues its tradition of innovation with wireless headphones that keep the audio signal in the digital domain from source to driver. Instead of a traditional D/A converter, a special chipset processes audio received via Bluetooth and sends digital pulses to the drivers’ voice coils. This “pure digital drive” system supports Qualcomm’s 48-kHz/24-bit aptX HD codec to overcome the sonic limitations of conventional Bluetooth. Made to Order: A custom 1.8-inch driver with a four-wire voice coil is designed to improve signal accuracy by ensuring precise control of displacement. Features include a rechargeable battery rated for up to 15 hours of continuous use, a built-in mic for answering calls, and hi-res audio support via the supplied USB cable. Price: $549 Audio-Technica • (330) 686-2600 • audio-technica.com soundandvision.com 33
How to Buy an
The Swiss Army knife of the A/V world just keeps on keepin’ on. by Rob Sabin
eah, we keep hearing how the awesomely versatile, stu-
pendously well-performing, and tremendously high-value audio/ video receiver is going away, soon to be replaced by all manner of soundbars and soundbases, selfpowered tabletop wireless speakers, or perhaps just your old Aunt Matilda playing her kazoo from atop a stool in your living room. News flash: AVRs are still around, and when mated with good loudspeakers, they still deliver the most audio bang for your buck and, by far, the best listening experience. Granted, with all those soundbars around, only the knowledgeable enthusiast or an A/V installer buying for a client is likely to take on the installation and operational challenges associated with an AVR. But when it comes to great TV sonics, you need the multichannel surround sound associated with widely spaced speakers—ideally featuring the immersive audio that comes with a Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, or Auro-3D installation. You also need serious dynamic capabilities (i.e., volume) and truly deep bass. The best of the soundbars might impress the average listener and deliver improvement over a flat-panel TV’s built-in speakers, but they remain pretenders to these higher aspirations. If you want the real deal, you still have to get down and dirty with an A/V receiver.
Back to Basics Older audiophiles may recall that audio receivers were developed to combine what were once only available as three separate components: a preamplifier, a power amplifier, and a radio tuner. Back at the dawn of hi-fi, each of these was on its own chassis and driven by its own power supply, and each took up its own space in your rack. It wasn’t long before integrated amplifiers combined the preamp and power amp; then the radio tuner was added—hence the name “receiver.” When things migrated from mono to stereo to multichannel home theater, the preamp section gained surround sound processing to decode soundtracks, and the power amp got more and more channels—first five, then seven, then nine, then 11 in today’s most advanced units. And here we are. Each section, of course, has its own function. The preamp/surround processor acts as the commander of your system, accepting connections from all the source components and switching audio and video signals simultaneously. A source component (cable box, Blu-ray player, smart TV, Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, etc.) delivers a low-level audio signal (probably digital) to the preamp section, where it can be manipulated for volume or tone (equalization) adjustments and surround 34 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
from 60 miles per hour. For a telling sign, look of wide placement of the at the five- and seven-channels-driven measurefront speakers and the inclusion of discrete ments that we include in the Test Bench section surround speakers for of our AVR reviews. Although these torture directional and spatial cues tests are far more demanding than any realis what makes even the world situation an AVR is likely to encounter, most basic 5.1 speaker power output that meets or approaches the system obviously superior published two-channel spec with five or seven to any soundbar at creatchannels working all out simultaneously usually ing a sense of perspective indicates a more robust power supply and the and precisely positioning ability to drive your system to louder levels with Denon’s AVR-X3400H ($999) is a 2017 model delivering 7.2 channels and offering compatibility with the HEOS wireless individual sonic elements less strain. AVRs that do so are increasingly multiroom system. of the performance. rare, though, so don’t necessarily penalize one Blu-rays and streamed for not delivering the same power with all movies with discrete high-resolution 7.1channels driven. decoding before being sent to the AVR’s power channel soundtracks are now common, which Also, bear in mind that the old “lift test” that amp section. equated an amplifier’s weight with its output is The surround processor, meanwhile, decodes helps justify adding back-wall surrounds to the basic 5.1 layout. But these days, you’ll no longer quite so valid. A giant (often toroidal) the multichannel digital audio bitstream get more from those two extra amps in a transformer attendant to the power supply and signals from discs, broadcasts, or internet 7.1-channel receiver by using them for a the large, heavy heatsinks of a robust Class A or video streams—say, a Dolby Digital or DTS Class A/B amplifier are still a requirement for soundtrack—and directs the appropriate sound pair of Dolby Atmos/DTS:X height channels (see below). Other options are to use those circuit topologies, but Class D switching to each speaker. Matrix-surround signals the extra amps to drive a pair of speakers in amps deliver power more efficiently and result encoded onto stereo analog tracks will also another room or to biamp a suitable pair of in a smaller, lighter chassis. Until recently, Class be decoded here. Alternately, the surround front speakers; many AVRs have these D’s inherent distortions restricted these amps to processor can take a two-channel stereo track capabilities. use in powered subwoofers, cheap soundbars, and derive surround sound from that, using all and self-powered speakers, but audiophile Class the additional speakers in the system. AtmosD designs are now a reality. Notably, Pioneer and DTS:X-capable AVRs allow for both stereo Amp It Up and conventional 5.1-channel and 7.1-channel Amplifier power output is a critical spec for has been using Class D for their best AVRs for soundtracks to be mapped out to include their any AVR, but don’t be fooled by the numbers. several years now, and Denon recently released height speakers. (Many theaterphiles, myself Most receivers today are spec’d at or near 100 the Class D HEOS AVR (reviewed in our included, have positive reports to share about watts per channel, each with something close October issue and also available at soundthe performance of these algorithms, which to the common measurement of 0.1 percent andvision.com). Sound quality among Class create mostly natural effects that enhance the total harmonic distortion (at least with only D amps can still vary widely, though, so read listening bubble without calling overt attention one channel running at a time). Typically, this the reviews. to the speakers; more on that later.) Once all is into an 8-ohm speaker load, though some Another benchmark to watch for is THX AVRs are spec’d now for a nominal 6-ohm certification. When mated with THX-certified of this is done, the multichannel power amp speakers, a THX receiver guarantees the abilsection provides the juice to drive your speakers load—a ploy to inflate the claimed power output number against that of competitive to sufficient volume. ity to achieve cinema-reference volume at the models. Stating power at a higher distortion The final section of the receiver is surely the listening position in a room whose cubic space figure will also boost the stated wattage. most critical: the AM/FM radio tuner. OK, I is specified by the level of certification. But (We consider 1 percent to be the maximum jest. Maybe not so critical after all in this day other measures are taken into account in distortion you should accept in most appliof networked receivers that can easily tune in a the certification process that assure a cercations where fidelity is critical, and we signal from your favorite local station via web tain baseline of performance even with nonmeasure amplifier output at 1 percent and 0.1 stream—a signal that’s likely quieter than what certified speakers. you can capture off the air, at least short of using percent distortion into 8-ohm and 4-ohm loads for AVRs we review.) a roof antenna instead of that little AM hoop Surround Yourself or the FM stringy thing that the AVR manuAssuming all things being fair and equal Every modern receiver offers the same (meaning, the same power rating for similarly standard surround modes to directly decode facturer includes in the box. However, as our measured amps driving similar loads with the soundtracks embedded in movie discs, diehard tuner fans have often reminded me, similar amounts of distortion and with the streams, and broadcasts. The basic suite, even the fidelity of a good FM signal can be excelin the most inexpensive models, includes same type of input signal), what’s the difference lent, perhaps exceeding that of a stream with a the “lossless” formats Dolby TrueHD and low-to-moderate bitrate. And, admittedly, when between one amp and another? The answer lies DTS-HD Master Audio and their “lossy” the Martians finally attack and the internet goes in what we call headroom, which more or less counterparts, Dolby Digital/Dolby Digital Plus describes the ability to handle loud, complex down, the ability to tune in those Emergency and DTS/DTS-HD. (Lossless compression passages in multiple channels simultaneously Alert System broadcasts could make all the delivers a bit-for-bit replica of the original difference between a sweet life hiding out in the without introducing audible distortion. Many signal to the receiver; lossy compression similarly rated AVRs may sound coarse under mountains or being enslaved and forced to sacrifices some signal information to reduce these conditions, or they may run out of steam watch an endless loop of YouTube cat videos. file size or data rate requirements for disc and clamp down on power output to all the channels (or even shut down tempoHow Many Channels? rarily) to avoid overheating. For a long while, we’ve considered the basic An amp’s headroom is largely 5.1-channel speaker configuration to be the dictated by the ability of its power minimum for an engaging home theater supply to deliver serious energy for experience. This includes front left-, center-, and right-channel speakers; a pair of surround instantaneous peaks, even while playing at a high average volume. speakers placed ideally along the side walls This is loosely analogous to a car (and slightly behind and above the prime With an eye toward aesthetics, Marantz offers a series engine that can still kick your head seats); and a dedicated powered subwoofer of low-profile AVRs, including the new NR1608 ($749), a full-featured 7.2-channel model. back when you floor the accelerator (the .1). That’s still true, and the combination
HOW TO BUY AN AVR
Logic IIx and DTS Neo:6 remain the standards for this—though Pro Logic IIx has been supplanted at least in Atmos-enabled AVRs by Dolby Surround, which incorporates upmixing of stereo or non-Atmos discrete multichannel soundtracks to fill out the full surround speaker layout whether Atmos speakers are present or not. The DTS version of this is called Neural:X. Both are effective in picking up spatial cues in stereo and conventional 5.1 and 7.1 soundtracks to create a larger ambient bubble or place effects overhead, though they may sometimes sound unnatural with music. Models that offer THX certification, Onkyo’s new 7.2-channel TX-NR777 ($649) among them, have passed a variety of benchmark tests that assure a base level of amplifier performance.
storage or web streaming.) Virtually all stepup receivers with seven or more channels also include processing for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-based surround soundtracks. You’ll likely be listening to core Dolby Digital and DTS surround tracks on DVDs and web video streams, or their higher-bitrate DD Plus and DTS-HD counterparts. Cable and off-air broadcasts mostly remain core Dolby Digital. For the moment, the much better-sounding Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio remain restricted to Blu-rays and the new Ultra HD Blu-rays. Object-based surround sound, sometimes called “immersive audio,” has been promoted for home theater since late 2014 when the first Atmos products came to market. The jury remained out for a while on how important or effective it would be, but many enthusiasts would now argue that it has proven itself a must-have feature for anyone serious about home theater audio, as it adds obvious spatial benefits when playing well-mixed soundtracks. The Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats add ceiling-mounted speakers, which, when provided in sufficient quantity and positioned appropriately, can precisely place audio objects (voices, Foley effects, etc.) overhead or anywhere inside a dome-shaped soundfield according to the mixing engineer’s wishes. Atmos systems also provide the option of using upward-aimed, ear-level, “Atmos-enabled” speakers that bounce the sound for the height effects off the ceiling, eliminating the need to wire and mount built-in ceiling speakers. However, it’s generally accepted that the best results are had with ceiling-mounted speakers. DTS:X soundtracks can effectively utilize either Atmos speaker layout. A few AVRs and surround processors— primarily those from Marantz, Denon, and some high-end boutique brands—also offer Auro-3D processing, which similarly uses height speakers for an enhanced surround effect. (Note: Auro-3D is a paid upgrade for Marantz and Denon AVRs, while the high-end processors typically include it.) This Europeanbased technology requires a different and more elaborate speaker setup than Atmos or DTS:X, however, and Auro-3D-encoded movie and music software for the U.S. is still difficult to find. The latest surround processors that are equipped to handle it do provide listening modes to optimize Atmos and DTS:X 36 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
soundtracks for an Auro-3D speaker setup, and there are those listeners who advocate Auro-3D in its 9- or 11-speaker layout as the best of the immersive formats. Nonetheless—for now, at least—Auro-3D remains something of an esoteric oddity. If there’s a downside to Atmos and DTS:X, it’s the obvious requirement for more speakers and the attendant complexity of installation. The recommended configuration involves a 5.1-channel system with four additional ceilingmounted or Atmos-enabled height speakers, designated as a 5.1.4 system. In lieu of this, a 5.1.2 system can be created with a single pair of more centrally positioned height channels, offering a still effective (though noticeably more truncated) surround field. Fortunately, most late-generation 7.1-channel receivers now include Atmos and DTS:X decoding and provide all the required power for a 5.1.2 setup; you just need to add a single pair of ceiling speakers or a relatively inexpensive pair of ceiling-bounce elevation modules above or near your main left/right speakers. This setup isn’t as desirable as a 5.1.4 system with four height channels, but the added fill and height to the front soundstage from a single pair of Atmos height speakers makes this a worthwhile endeavor, and it will reap benefits even when you play non-Atmos surround tracks and up-mix stereo content. Driving a 5.1.4 system requires a 9.1-channel AVR, or one of the few 7.1-channel receivers with nine-channel surround processing, to which you can add an outboard stereo amplifier to build out the 5.1.4 system. And the flagship 7.1.4 configuration requires a top-end AVR with 11 channels of amplification, or a 9.1-channel AVR with 11.1-channel Atmos/DTS:X processing (to allow the addition of a stereo amp). A newer development is the inclusion of Atmos in some lower-end 5.1-channel receivers that can be configured for a 3.1.2 system, with height channels used in place of the traditional rear surround channels. (See our review of the Pioneer VSX-832 receiver on page 64 to get our take on this.) The last suite of essential listening modes found in AVRs is for decoding matrixsurround-encoded two-channel sources (found on some legacy programming) and converting two-channel stereo recordings or TV shows into quasi surround sound. The popular Dolby Pro
Compression and Volume Modes When you need to turn down the volume to avoid disturbing the family (or the neighbors), dynamic compression and volume normalization can help you hear quiet dialogue without being blasted by the special effects, and they can spare you from aggressively riding the volume control during TV shows and movies. Some AVRs still come with a Night mode for this, but they don’t typically achieve the performance of third-party offerings by Dolby, Audyssey, and THX. Audyssey Dynamic EQ and THX Loudness Plus (offered on THXcertified receivers) seek to maintain proper frequency balance and dialogue clarity when the volume gets lower, as does Dolby Volume. That Dolby mode, as well as Audyssey Dynamic Volume, can also help minimize swings in loudness as you transition between TV programs and commercials, or between source components with different output levels that you can’t adjust in the setup of the source or receiver.
Wired Up AVRs now come fairly well loaded with HDMI connections and, increasingly, little else for legacy sources or TVs that use component video or (gasp!) composite video. You’ll want the latest HDMI version, which currently is HDMI 2.0a, mated with the latest copyright management, HDCP 2.2. Having up-to-date HDMI means that your AVR will successfully pass copyrighted video of up to 4K/60-hertz resolution, including HDR-encoded signals, from modern sources like Ultra HD Blu-ray players and 4K streaming boxes to a modern 4K display. Keeping up with HDMI versions, however, is like keeping up with the Joneses: It’s a neverending battle. The upcoming HDMI 2.1, discussed in Sound & Vision and elsewhere, greatly increases maximum signal bandwidth from 18 gigabits per second to 48 Gbps and will ultimately allow passage of 4K/120-Hz and 8K/60-Hz video signals. Meanwhile, it will also enable other features, such as the ability to receive immersive audio signals like Dolby Atmos bitstreams via an AVR’s Audio Return Channel (ARC) HDMI connection. These are forward-looking capabilities that are expected to give this new version of HDMI greater longevity, though it could take many years for source components and displays to fully grow into the new connection. Nonetheless, if you want an A/V receiver that will
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HOW TO BUY AN AVR CD-quality or better streams). There’s also usually a service, such as TuneIn, to facilitate streaming of internet radio from local and distant broadcast stations. Keep in mind, though, that any services not found resident in the AVR can easily be streamed to it from your phone, which allows navigation through that serAVRs that offer 9.2 channels, such as Pioneer’s SC-LX801 vice’s smartphone app. DLNA ($2,000) are ready out of the box to drive a full 5.1.4 compliance, another common Atmos/DTS:X system—the preferred configuration. feature, lets you call up audio and image files from your networkattached computer or hard drive to play continue to pass signals and perform its video through your AVR and connected display. switching function as sources and TVs evolve well into the future, you’ll need to wait until HDMI 2.1 begins appearing in new AVRs, Hi-Res Audio probably in 2018. Most AVRs integrate a digital-to-analog Beyond HDMI considerations, you’ll also converter (DAC) that accommodates hi-res find digital and analog audio inputs for a music files (whose quality is better than the 44.1 kilohertz/16 bits of CDs), either streamed CD player or other legacy components—and from your home network or delivered by analog phono inputs have become more hi-res disc or USB drive. Most DACs handle common again, thanks to the resurgence of PCM audio files of at least 96/24 resolution, vinyl LPs in recent years. Multichannel 5.1- or and many now decode up to 192/24 or 7.1-channel analog inputs, once a mainstay on even 384/32. Many AVRs—notably Sony’s, better AVRs for the connection of high-end of course—will also play back the Sonydisc players that use their own multichannel developed DSD format found on some hi-res digital-to-analog converters (DACs), have downloads and Super Audio CDs (SACDs). become hard to find now. Digital USB inputs, on the other hand, are standard, and they allow Be advised, though, that you may ultimately get better sonics with hi-res files fed through connection of a USB drive for access to music, a standalone DAC that goes between your video, and photo files. Most AVRs also offer computer and an analog input on your Made for iPod USB connections and someAVR, primarily because these usually offer times MHL inputs to feed audio or video from asynchronous operation that improves sound compatible Android phones. quality by taking control of the data stream and not relying on the originating computer’s Wireless and Multiroom Audio internal clock. Built-in Apple AirPlay, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth wireless connections are now common in AVRs, allowing you to easily push music Video Processing from a smartphone or tablet. Wi-Fi-based Along with the switching and passing through formats (including AirPlay) provide superior of the most up-to-date, copy-protected video sound quality to Bluetooth and in most cases signals via HDMI, some AVRs provide scaling allow passage of hi-res audio files (see below). of standard-definition or HD video signals to Additionally, most AVRs now come with 4K. Similarly, they may provide some degree Wi-Fi wireless multiroom audio capabilities of picture adjustment to allow you to tweak that can be controlled via a smartphone the image for individual sources. That said, app. Examples include Yamaha’s Musicmost TVs today do a fine job of scaling signals Cast, Denon’s HEOS, DTS’s Play-Fi (used by to their native screen resolution, so scaling is Anthem, Onkyo, Integra, Pioneer, and others), becoming rarer in AVRs, and its absence Google’s Chromecast (which was added this shouldn’t be considered a strong negative. year to Onkyo, Integra, and Pioneer AVRs), and FireConnect (found in Onkyo, Integra, Auto Setup and Room and Pioneer models). Sources connected to Correction the AVR can typically be sent to compatible, Setting up a receiver involves standalone speakers or player/amp modules making menu selections to tell in distant rooms, and the smartphone app the AVR allows housewide control. how
many and what type of speakers you have, what their locations are relative to the primary listening position, what their bass capabilities are, and what volume level each should be set at relative to the others so you hear a coherent soundfield. You can do all this manually—or just run the microphone-enabled auto-setup routine that’s included with most AVRs. In addition, many receivers will take it a step further and apply equalization across a range of frequencies to smooth out the in-room response, a particularly helpful benefit when it’s applied to low bass frequencies, where most rooms have their worst problems. The licensed Audyssey and Dirac auto-setup/ EQ technologies are perhaps the most widely known, along with the proprietary Anthem Room Correction (ARC) found in Anthem AVRs. Other AVR makers have proprietary systems that range in quality. Read reviews to see how these systems fare.
Remote Control Apps Pretty much all the major AVR brands now offer apps that turn your smartphone or tablet into a touchscreen remote for your receiver, and these apps have been getting better year after year. They can greatly ease the operation of an AVR. You’ll need a network connection to the AVR and a Wi-Fi connection on that network for the app to talk to the receiver. If you’ve got an Apple iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, or an Android phone or tablet, download the free app for the receiver you’re considering and check it out in demo mode.
Take the Journey An A/V receiver requires some research before purchase. And if you’re not technically inclined, it also requires an intrepid spirit to install it and learn how to use it. Fortunately, there are plenty of pros around who can assist with installation and program a universal remote for you if you’re not up to the task. But whether you do it yourself or seek help, an AVR-based system will reward you with performance that is unparalleled by any soundbar, offering a sense of spatial realism and sound quality that transports you straight into your movie or sports event. You won’t be sorry you made the effort.
Network and Internet Services Nearly all AVRs beyond entry-level models will connect to your home network via wired Ethernet or a built-in Wi-Fi transceiver. More often than not, they feature the ability to stream music directly via services that might include Pandora, Spotify (typically the premium paid service), and Tidal (which offers 38 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
Yamaha’s mid-line RX-V series hits the sweet spot between performance and value. The new 7.2-channel RX-V683 ($600) offers many of the usual higher-end features (including Atmos/DTS:X capabilities, hi-res audio playback, and the company’s MusicCast wireless mulitroom system) at an affordable cost.
Introducing the new 700 Series
See the full range at www.bowers-wilkins.com/700series
Texas Instruments’ new chip has enthusiasts asking that question. by Kris Deering
exas Instruments has upped the DLP game with the recent rollout of their newest digital micromirror device
(DMD), claiming full Ultra HD performance. The 0.66-inch chip has nearly the same physical dimensions as
the DLP chip found today in many 1080p home theater and business application projectors. It features a native resolution of 2716 x 1528 pixels, which combined with an optical actuator used for pixel shifting, allows for an onscreen image of 8.3 million pixels—roughly the same as a native 3840 x 2160 UHD imaging chip. The chip’s compact size is said to allow for more cost-effective manufacturing—and has resulted in a new $2,000 low price point for at least one Optoma 4K projector.
How’s It Work? Both TI and manufacturers implementing the chip call the result a true 4K image despite the lower native resolution on the DMD and its inability to deliver all the pixels of an Ultra HD frame at one time. The pixel-shifting approach employed here is similar to the solutions used over the years by JVC and more recently by Epson, both of which involve native 1920 x 1080 (1080p) imaging chips that are then doubled onscreen via an optical actuator to deliver “4K-like” images without the expense of true 4K native imaging chips. Old-timers may recall that the first 1080p DLP devices— notably those used in rear-projection TVs from the likes of Hewlett-Packard and Samsung around 2007—also achieved their claimed resolution with the assistance of pixel shifting. Conceptually, the very rapid, consecutive delivery of two half-frames of video, with the second set of pixels shifted vertically and horizontally so they overlap, is seen by the eye as a single frame. In the case of this new DLP chip, the optical actuator is a glass pane that’s mounted somewhere in the light path after the DMD and before the lens. To bring about the pixel shifting, the glass is set into oscillation by what’s described as a voice coil, which moves the second half-frame of video by one-half pixel up 40 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
and one-half pixel over to the right. TI says that because each of the 8 million-plus pixels is individually addressable, the system meets the Consumer Technology Association’s definition of a 4K display. One thing we can say about the new chip and its supporting processing, dubbed XPR, is that it comes with at least one inherent limitation that doesn’t necessarily affect other 4K displays. The system always requires playback at a 60-hertz frame rate, with the DLP chip operating at 120 Hz to enable the pixel-shifting, so there is no native 24p playback. If the input signal is a multiple of 60 Hz, it gets converted with 2:2 pulldown; otherwise, 3:2 pulldown is used. By comparison, for example, JVC’s e-Shift system runs at 96 Hz for 24p content, so no pulldown is required. On another technical note, the system accepts signals with up to 12-bit color depth but converts this to 10-bit, which is what is output to the screen. That’s not unusual in today’s market, as displays that retain 12-bit processing from input to screen remain rare. Presentations of the new chip at CES earlier this year reportedly showed convincing results, but unfortunately I wasn’t on hand to see the proceedings or take note of which test patterns were used. Recently, though, in my home studio, I had the opportunity to view two projectors that use the new DLP technology and get a first-hand look at their performance. I tested both the BenQ HT9050 ($8,999) and Optoma UHD65 ($2,500) with a variety of 4K material, both on disc and from pattern generators. I also compared them directly with two native 4K display devices: my reference JVC DLA-RS4500 projector
($35,000) and the LG OLED65C7P Ultra HDTV (about $3,200 as of mid-summer 2017). The intent of this comparison wasn’t to evaluate their performance as display devices against each other; rather, it was to see how the XPR system looked with both test patterns and standard video content when compared with true native 4K displays.
How’s It Look?
I began my assessment with test patterns. I have a variety of native 4K patterns at my disposal, including those from DVDO and Lumagen test generators, as well as a full set of UHD/HDR10 patterns from Diversified Video Solutions (diversifiedvideosolutions. com). I used the latter set of patterns the most, as they include a large variety of resolution and sharpness patterns that can immediately show any inconsistencies with resolution. Comparing the DLP XPR solution with the native 4K displays showed obvious artifacts using both the Sharpness and Overscan patterns and the Single Black Pixels set. When I used the simple horizontal and vertical single-line patterns, I noticed obvious softening or artifacts that prevented clean delineation of the pattern, which was present with both native displays.
BenQ HT9050 4K Projector
Optoma UHD65 4K Projector
DLP’s XPR technology is a step forward from the pixel-shifting designs we’ve seen from JVC and Epson, and it puts the viewing experience closer to what you’d achieve from a native 4K device. But I’ve previously compared those companies’ 1080p pixel-shifters directly against native 4K displays, and I found that, with typical viewing, the differences are already pretty minuscule to begin with until you reach very large screen sizes (greater than 130 inches diagonal). And, as previously noted, image attributes other than resolution (contrast, image stability, modulation transfer function, and lens quality) typically dominate the viewing experience. All of these solutions have their pros and cons, and all of them do provide stunning performance with high-quality 4K content. But there’s no doubt that the XPR design narrows the already tiny gap between “shifted” 1080p performance and true native 4K.
Texas Instruments’ digital micromirror device measures 0.66 inches.
The Single Black Pixels pattern was the most obvious of the group, with pronounced artifacts visible when compared with the native displays. Other parts of the patterns fared better, such as text. But it was clear—at least with these two projectors—that the XPR technology wasn’t delivering the same level of performance as the native chips, which didn’t require any tricks to achieve their resolution. It’s important to note that, while test patterns are a great way to make objective observations, it’s not always easy with modern projectors to account for why results may vary from the ideal. Each manufacturer will implement designs in different ways, and some post-processing isn’t defeatable. While the XPR results were consistent across the two projectors I saw, there’s always the chance that models from other manufacturers will produce different results. Keep in mind, as well, that the comparison was done against a $35,000 state-of-the-art native 4K projector and a self-emanating emissive flat-panel TV—though I found the BenQ’s optics to be quite good. Also, none of us really watches test patterns at home. In the past, I’ve seen some of our Top Pick projectors do poorly with resolution test patterns, and the results of those tests weren’t clear indicators of the performance seen with regular video content. Extreme tests with test patterns may separate one technology from another, but they don’t tell the whole story. While there are some spectacular titles available
in the new Ultra HD Blu-ray format, none will be as demanding as single-pixel resolution patterns. So, I moved on to subjective testing of regular video content, using a variety of material on UHD Blu-ray. Here, the differences in picture detail between the displays rarely manifested. Resolution as a whole looked comparable, though the lack of native contrast with either of the DLP projectors gave the image a flat, washed-out appearance that was hard to ignore Editor’s Note: We currently have full with most of the content. The XPR designs also reviews in progress of both the BenQ had an ever so slight inherent softness that HT9050 and Optoma UHD65 projectors reminded me of the native 4K designs I’ve tested Kris auditioned for this article. While our from Sony. Both the recent Sony projectors evaluation of the Optoma was still in early stage at press time, our examination of I’ve tried and these XPR designs required some fine-tuning of their image-enhancement features the HT9050 was essentially complete and revealed both a surprising lack of critical to deliver the sharpness one would expect from features for a projector at its $8,999 price a native 4K design—an issue I never had with (including no support for HDR or the my reference projector. With some careful tunRec. 2020-encoded wide color gamut found ing, image fidelity looked better, with improved on UHD Blu-rays) and unusually poor image delineation, though minor ringing was contrast/black-level performance (attributevident if I looked hard enough. able at least in part to the lack of any sort Overall, however, I think that most consumers—seated at a normal viewing distance of dynamic iris or functional contrastenhancing circuitry). BenQ informed us from nearly any size screen—would have a hard during our fact-check phase that pending time seeing a difference between an XPR 4K firmware updates should address these image and a native 4K display when it comes to resolution alone. Other factors such as lens qual- issues, meaning that our results would not reflect the product in the market by the ity (which was better with the BenQ compared with the Optoma), image-enhancement settings, time you read our review. We’re holding this test report temporarily while we await new and contrast performance will more dramatisoftware and assess the veracity of our samcally affect the viewing experience, along with ple, but barring any future report of substanthe quality of the source displayed. In particular, tial improvement in our results, we are native contrast performance (without assistance obligated to suggest that readers avoid this from any iris or dynamic contrast processing) model and look at other options in that was something that concerned me with the price range. We’ll publish the full review at XPR designs, since both performed badly in soundandvision.com or in print as soon as this area. Their sequential full-on/full-off we’re able.—Rob Sabin contrast measurements hovered near 1,000:1, which is very poor by today’s standards for any display technology. This disappointing contrast will directly affect the viewing experience for image depth, dimension, and subjective sharpness, and if it’s inherent in the new technology rather than something to do with the execution in my two product samples, it will most likely be XPR’s biggest drawback to DLP’s pixel-shifting uses an optical actuator that shifts the image quality. We’ll have to location of a second set of pixels up and to the right, resulting audition more XPR-based in all the information in a UHD signal being delivered to the screen in an overlaid grid. models to find that out.
TEST REPORT Rotel RAP-1580 Surround Ampliﬁed Processor
Reference Receiver Reborn
Audio Performance Features Ergonomics Value
By Mark Fleischmann
Rotel RAP-1580 Surround Amplified Processor PRICE $3,800
IS THE ROTEL RAP-1580 THE surround receiver that dares not speak its name? In keeping with the two-channel distinction between stereo receivers and integrated amplifiers, Rotel calls it a surround amplified processor because it doesn’t include an AM/FM tuner. But to my mind, the defining trait of a surround receiver is that it combines a surround preamp/processor and a multichannel amp in one box. So I prefer to call this an audiophile receiver. You say tomato... [Editor’s Note: I’d call it a surround amplifier, and I don’t think it’s the last of this type we’ll be seeing...but, whatever.—RS] Life isn’t easy for audiophile surround products, whatever you call them. They are reviled from one side for not having enough features— and reviled from the other side for being, well, an oxymoron, as if surround sound shouldn’t even aspire to audiophilia. But there’s a determined cadre of home theater buffs who are thrilled by the dynamics and subtleties of a great movie soundtrack. Some of them even collect music in high-resolution surround and stereo formats. I count myself among them. And I love audiophile receivers. I gave up on surround separates years ago, as soon as the first true audiophile receivers became available. Some of the most convincing ones came from Rotel, one of the pioneers of relatively affordable audiophilia. Rotel poured so much love, know-how, and aspiration into the RSX-1065 and
-1067 receivers—with their distinctive front-panel heat fins and golden, dynamic sound—that the existence of audiophile receivers could no longer be disputed. Such receivers were like quarks, antibiotics, and Post-it notes: Once discovered, they couldn’t be undiscovered.
Back to Analog Rotel’s only other current surround receiver, one that proudly wears the name, is the RSX-1562. That fiveyear-old model uses ICEpower Class D amplification. However, it predates
The RAP-1580's front panel measures 7.55 inches tall by 17 wide.
42 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and can’t be upgraded to add them. The company also offers surround pre/ pros and multichannel amps. Available in silver or black, the RAP-1580 returns to Class A/B amplification, scene of earlier Rotel triumphs. The brawny 50-pounder is rated at 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms with all seven channels driven, a spec that most manufacturers prefer to dodge, rating into only stereo loads instead. See our Test Bench measurements for an independent look. I’m guessing it will be close to the rating. Demanding 4-ohm speakers are gleefully
AT A GLANCE
Plus ■ Muscular Class A/B amp ■ PC-USB and phono inputs ■ Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 7.1.4 decoding
Minus ■ No auto setup ■ Limited access to sevenchannel amp for Atmos/ DTS:X challenged to an arm-wrestling contest. The RAP-1580 owes much of its weight to the massive Rotel-made
THE VERDICT Rotel returns to analog amplification for their latest top-of-the-line home theater machine—and the results are golden.
toroidal power transformer, a key ingredient in the secret sauce. My lights flickered when I turned it on. I worried that the 1.4-inch window of daylight allowed by my rack’s guest-receiver berth wasn’t enough for its ventilation needs and therefore added a small fan to blow air through the gap. Putting the product in an unventilated gear closet or stacking other components on it would be inadvisable. Memo to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X enthusiasts: In what amounts to an oddity, if not an outright design flaw, the seven available onboard amp channels are limited in their ability to be configured for Atmos. Although the surround processor section supports up to 7.1.4 channels, without adding external amplification you can only assign the onboard amps for a 5.1.2-channel setup, with a single pair of Atmos/DTS:X height channels, or a traditional 7.1-channel system with a pair of back surrounds. Given the onboard processing, logic would suggest that stepping up to 5.1.4, with four height channels, should
then require only the addition of a single stereo amplifier, but you’ll actually need four external amp channels with this setup— the sixth and seventh internal channels simply go unused in a 5.1.4 configuration. Stepping up to a 7.1.4 system allows you to call those internal amps back into play for the back surround channels, but you’ll still require four outboard amp channels to drive the height speakers. Rotel says this problem will be addressed in a future software update, though the company cited no immediate time frame. (Another odd quirk was that the master volume control on the remote did not affect test-tone levels, which would have required me to balance channels well
ROTEL RAP-1580 SURROUND AMPLIFIED PROCESSOR PRICE: $3,800 Rotel of America • (978) 664-3820 • rotel.com
below reference level. However, the volume knob on the front panel did affect the test tones, so I just ran to and fro between front panel and sweet spot, making hairline adjustments with the knob and checking the meter. Fortunately, this problem was subsequently addressed in software update V1.71, so you shouldn't suffer that inconvenience.) Dominating the front panel is an unusually large display, 6 inches wide by 3.5 tall. It is mostly monochrome, aside from a touch of yellow for the X of the DTS:X logo. Seeing so much information at a glance is helpful (if a little geeky). The two numerals representing master volume get the biggest play. The TV-screen interface is also monochrome. At left are menu navigation buttons and a blue-ringed power button, whose intensity can be reduced with included stick-on ring covers. At right, below the volume knob, are minimal controls for surround mode, mute, and display (front panel and TV displays on, one off, or both off). The remote control is plain but decently organized. It reserves its top row of buttons for on-the-fly adjustments of subwoofer, center, and surround levels. An app for mobile devices is in development; Rotel's existing app for other products didn’t apply at press time. Eight HDMI inputs include seven in back and one in front. There are two HDMI outputs. Three inputs and one output are Ultra HD capable, but none support scaling, only passthrough. There are no component or composite video jacks. However,
multichannel analog connections are supported, 7.1-channel in and 11.1channel out, with connections for an extra center and subwoofer or biamp applications. Coaxial digital, optical digital, and stereo analog inputs are present in triplicate. Also provided are moving-magnet phono, stereo XLR line, and iOS-friendly front-panel USB inputs. Rotel can’t be praised highly enough for providing a second, PC-friendly USB input supporting 192/24 hi-res audio— something that remains a rarity in any receiver, but shouldn’t be. Note, however, that the network connection for the unit is wired Ethernet only (no Wi-Fi option). As mentioned, AM and FM reception is not supported, but neither are music streaming services, and there’s no headphone jack. The only wireless option is an aptX capable Bluetooth connection to send signal from a smartphone/ tablet or laptop. Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers, four Klipsch RP-140SA Atmos-enabled elevation speakers, and a Paradigm Seismic 110 subwoofer, along with an Oppo BDP83SE universal disc player, Lenovo Windows 10 laptop, Samsung Galaxy J3 Android phone, Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable, and Shure M97xE cartridge. To facilitate 5.1.4-channel surround, I augmented the system with a pair of stereo amps: the Parasound Zamp (front height) and Sonic Impact Super T (rear height). It was an awkward kluge, and in retrospect, I don’t recommend it. Note again that only one external stereo amp would have been
A big front-panel window displays an unusually large amount of information.
TEST REPORT ON THE WEB
See soundandvision.com/TestBench for full lab results and technical definitions.
The Rotel's power button is ringed with blue light. Not a fan? Use the included stick-on ring covers.
Test Bench Rotel RAP-1580 Surround Amplified Processor
THIS graph shows the RAP-1580’s left channel, from CD input to speaker output with two channels driving 8-ohm loads. Measurements for THD+noise, crosstalk, signal-to-noise ratio, and analog/digital frequency response were all within expected performance parameters. Full details available at soundandvision.com.—MJP
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 4-Ohm Loads
Five Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Seven Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
VIDEO The Rotel passed our video clipping test.—MF
Power Output: 7 x 100 watts (8 ohms, all channels driven), 7 x 150 watts (8 ohms, 2 channels driven) • Auto Setup: None • EQ: Manual 10-band parametric • Video Processing: 4K passthrough, HDR10, deep color 24-, 30-, 36-bit • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 17 x 7.55 x 18.5 • Weight (Pounds): 50.3 • Video Inputs: HDMI 2.0a (3, UHD; 4, 1080p) • Audio Inputs: Coaxial digital (3), optical digital (3), stereo analog RCA (3), stereo analog XLR (1), phono (1), 7.1-channel analog (1) • Additional: Ethernet (1), USB-PC (1), USB-power (1) • Video Outputs: HDMI 2.0a (2; 1 UHD) • Audio Outputs: Stereo analog (2), 11.1-channel preamp (1, plus extra center and sub) • Additional: RS-232 (1), 12-volt trigger (2), remote in (1), IR (in/out), Rotel Link (1)
required if the RAP-1580 had allowed its back-surround channels to be reconfigured for height in 5.1.4. All movie demos were on Blu-ray.
I’ve been intimately familiar with Rotel’s Class A/B amps for a long
time, but reacquaintance can still be disorienting. That’s because their complete dynamic confidence is so un-receiver-like, it confuses receiver-oriented expectations. The RAP-1580, like its forebears, established an iron grip on the speakers’ drivers, with the kind of
solid bass you’d expect from a good outboard amp and a bracing transient snap. All amplifiers clip, but you’d have to deafen yourself to catch this one at it in my room. If your ears wilt, it’s from the quantity of sound, not the quality. As I listened, images arose out of inky blackness, not sketchily outlined but fully fleshed out, colorful, and true to life. The top end was squeaky-clean and addictively easy to listen to but not numbed or polite. The Rotel told the truth, and lots of it, and made me love it. xXx: Return of Xander Cage is the kind of Dolby Atmos soundtrack I love—the kind that announces its Atmosity from the outset by punctuating the opening-title music with synthesized whooshes zipping around the top of the
Handy adjustment buttons for center, sub, and surround levels are located at the top of the remote.
44 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
sonic bubble. Their height frontto-back and diagonal trajectories were a 5.1.4 perq that I wouldn’t have heard the same way in 5.1.2. This Vin Diesel vehicle pressed my surround-height buttons a few more times with effects in jungle-skiing, car-crash, and exploding-inferno scenes, along with a few more I probably missed. The Rotel handled the multichannel onslaught selfassuredly, at least with five of its amp channels called into full-on action. Hacksaw Ridge used Atmos more sparingly but stepped up the dynamic challenge (even compared with a Vin Diesel vehicle). Height effects and dynamic peaks both occurred in the copious battlefield scenes, as the movie told the story of an Army medic who rushes into a smoking
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Back-panel connections include a moving-magnet phono input and a PC-friendly USB port.
hellscape and carries 75 soldiers to safety. Although the Rotel always handled dialogue beautifully, here it surmounted an even greater challenge, as voices were layered in amongst loud explosive and ballistic effects. I was constantly surprised by how little I needed to adjust the volume (though a low-volume mode still would have been welcome). Doctor Strange went to theaters in Atmos, and the disc was labeled Dolby Digital, but the primary Blu-ray soundtrack was actually identified by the Oppo player as DTS-HD Master Audio. It quickly won my heart by preceding a car crash with Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” but the chief effects in this sorcerer’s tale accompanied onscreen spells (or “programs,” as Benedict Cumberbatch’s title character prefers to call them). This barrage of bass-heavy synthesized roars showcased the Rotel’s ability to handle dynamically demanding output just above the sub crossover.
Translucency and Sparkle I cued up Brahms: Five Trios (Vols. I and II) by the Golub-Kaplan-Carr Trio, ripped from CD to ALAC and Bluetoothed from smartphone to receiver. While I don’t go out of my way to collect early digitalia, I fell in love with the dark-toned sound and ensemble virtuosity of this Arabesque recording immediately on hearing it reviewed on public radio back in 1989—when it still would have been considered cutting-edge. How to describe the strings? If the recording didn’t allow for perfect transparency, the Rotel did nudge it toward translucency, to stretch the metaphor. There was an indefinable gleam, a little something extra. And I was delighted with the transient crispness and sparkle of the piano. When David Shifrin’s clarinet entered in the Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano, the reed instrument’s resonance was a palpably imaged thrill. Nothing meaningful got lost in the Bluetooth aptX translation. Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti (FLAC 96/24 via PC-USB) needs to be loud and epic, and once again, the Rotel delivered. Even the cheesy bits—like the druggy phase shifter that disfigures the acoustic
guitar in “Bron-Yr-Aur” and the drums in “Kashmir”—sounded musically correct, if not subtle. Recorded over a long stretch at numerous homes and studios, this album has more varied guitar and drum sounds than most Led Zeppelin albums, and the Rotel excelled at revealing differences in them, large and small. The monster riffs and beefy drums lost none of their pile-driving power. They were pretty convincing even when I shut down the sub and the Paradigm speakers ran full range. Although any phono stage would be flattered by Rotel’s amp, the internal one didn’t seem to impose any gross flaws. In Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, the drum sound was full but snappy (the right feel in a drummer-led band). Abbey Lincoln’s impassioned and sometimes harrowing vocals, with or without lyrics, were lifelike and convincing. The phono stage was also discerning enough to allow a hairsplitting contemplation of two versions of the Beatles’ Revolver in mono, one from the vinyl box set of The Beatles in Mono (or, as I call it, my precious) versus an early 1970s U.K. pressing. Generally, this meant smooth, sweet, and slightly soft versus harder, louder, and more unpredictable. The reissue had the advantage in lead-vocal prominence and overall organization. The original had zingier cymbals and sitar/tamboura, with the occasional
surprise—such as a noticeably hazier “I’m Only Sleeping,” which was probably more appropriate, if not intrinsically better. The Rotel RAP-1580 delivers sterling sound with especially satisfying dynamics and rich timbre. Is it worth $3,800? On the basis of sound quality, unquestionably—it could easily go head to head with a good pre/pro and any one-chassis multichannel amp. If you want to power demanding speakers with a one-box solution, this is your best shot. However, despite the boon of the PC-USB input, great sound comes at the cost of a trimmed-down feature set. Even when the dodgy software receives its promised corrections, this seven-channel model will never deliver more than 5.1.2-channel surround without a band-aid, and that limits you to just one pair of conventional (passive) height speakers in Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Still, accounting for its limitations, those who want both the power and the subtlety of separates will find this the ultimate music and movie machine. Audio Editor Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems, now available in both print and Kindle editions.
The Rotel RAP-1580 delivers sterling sound with especially satisfying dynamics. 46 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
It’s not what you’d expect from a speaker company. The design brief was simple: build the most powerful, versatile, easy-to-use integrated ampliﬁer imaginable; do it without compromising sound, reliability and a great user experience; and price it so fairly that it becomes a hands-down choice, even when compared against units at many times the price. Once you experience what it can do—especially with our Debut or Uni-Fi loudspeakers—your world of sound just might be altered forever. Learn more at elac.com
The Verdict “ELAC’s EA101EQ-G amp/DAC nails the sweet spot of price, performance, and worthwhile features with surprisingly audiophile sound and the added value of auto-EQ and app-enabled subwoofer crossover/blending.” —Sound & Vision, April 2017
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Sony XBR-65A1E OLED Ultra HDTV Performance Features Ergonomics Value
By Thomas J. Norton
Sony XBR-65A1E OLED Ultra HDTV PRICE $5,500 SONY’S NEW OLEDS (THE 65-incher reviewed here has a 55-inch sibling, and a 77-incher will be available by press time) haven’t yet taken pride of place at the top of Sony’s TV lineup. That honor belongs to the Z9D (Sound & Vision, January 2017 and soundandvision.com), now spruced up with the imminent addition (as I write) of Dolby Vision for 2017. But you might think of the OLEDs as stepping stones to Sony’s future in self-emissive displays—the spectacular, commercially oriented, and wall-sized CLEDIS LED display Sony demonstrated at the 2017 CES comes to mind. But that’s the future. Sony’s OLEDs are now. As of today, Sony’s OLED implementation uses a panel supplied by LG (but with Sony’s own secret processing sauce). At its press-time street price of about $4,000 in the 65-inch version, it was roughly comparable, if not a touch less expensive, than LG’s own like-sized C7P model.
directly on the table or other surface. No stand is visible from the front. A large angled support in the rear (which also includes most of the set’s electronics and all of its connections) secures the set with a slightly backward, easel-like tilt. The display is stabilized by a 14-pound ballast on the rear support. The set can also be wall-mounted if desired, with the heavy rear ballast piece removed and the back support, with its inputs and other circuitry, folded flat. But while the screen itself is relatively thin, with that rear support folded (and it cannot be removed) the
Design and Features
In a typical tabletop install, the XBR65A1E sits
In a tabletop mount, the set’s stand is invisible. The set leans back slightly against the stand like an easel.
48 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
set will protrude at least 3.5 inches out from the wall, plus the depth of your wall bracket. A “wallpaper” TV, this is not. The A1E’s four HDMI inputs are all HDCP 2.2 compliant and will play back Ultra HD HDR signals. But only HDMI 2 and HDMI 3 can support the full bandwidth (18 Gbps) required to pass Ultra HD at 60 frames per second, while the other two are limited to 30 fps. That shouldn’t be an issue given the dearth of 60-fps Ultra HD content, and in any event, you’ll be covered with a couple of widebandwidth inputs for a UHD BD player and maybe a future cable box or game console (though not both).
AT A GLANCE
Plus ■ Excellent contrast ■ Superb color and resolution ■ Looks good from every angle ■ Unique panel-based sound system
Minus ■ No color management system ■ Some white clipping
The set also has three USB ports (one of them 3.0, the other two 2.0), plus two audio outputs: Toslink digital
THE VERDICT While it might appear that OLED UHDTVs are popping up everywhere, the most visible supplier to date has been LG. But Sony, by acquiring OLED panels from LG and adding its own electronics, processing, styling, and unique features, has jumped into the fray, landing firmly on both feet with a solid performer.
optical and analog on a mini-jack. The latter, usable for a subwoofer or headphones, is a welcome feature (most HDTVs don’t have it). The Sony outputs core 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams from its optical output to effectively feed a multichannel soundbar, provided you
first go into the Speakers menu and set the Audio System for “external.” The set’s capabilities center around Sony’s latest 4K HDR Processor X1 Extreme. It does its tasks silently for the most part, but its most obvious is the superb upconversion of lower-resolution material to
SONY XBR-65A1E OLED ULTRA HDTV PRICE: $5,500 Sony • (877) 865-SONY • sonystyle.com
4K. No upconversion can produce true 4K from lesser material, but the A1E comes as close to the look of 4K as I’ve yet seen—particularly with a good, native HD source. The picture controls are similar to those in most of Sony’s recent upscale sets. Sony recently got religion and now uses the more technically correct label “Black level” for what most set makers call Brightness. Unfortunately, Sony now uses the term Brightness for the backlight level in their LCD/LED local-dimming models, which will certainly confound the masses. For Sony’s OLEDs, the Brightness control moves the overall luminance of the picture up or down. (LG, in its own OLED sets, calls this control “OLED Light,” which is a bit less opaque.) The Advanced Contrast Enhancer and X-tended Dynamic Range are two of Sony’s controls that sound like the sort of features best avoided by the video purist. But I found that the default settings for these controls (Adv. contrast enhancer Off, X-tended Dynamic Range Low for SDR and Adv. contrast enhancer Medium, X-tended Dynamic Range High for HDR) worked well. I did fiddle a bit with the Gamma and Black level controls, which sometimes worked better in different
settings for different sources—much as their counterparts often do for HD/SDR. Both 2-point and 10-point Adv. color temperature (grayscale) controls are included. I achieved good results using only the 2-point settings. As with all Sony TVs, no CMS (color management system) is supplied to adjust color points, though as usual, the default settings were well within an acceptable range. Motionflow, Sony’s motion compensation feature, offers settings of varying effectiveness, but I still dislike what such motion features do (that soap opera thingy) and left it off. OLEDs are no better at motion blur than LCDs, but it never bothered me. The A1E will support HDR10, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid LogGamma (HLG), the three versions of high dynamic range (HDR) expected to see wide use. A firmware update has already added HLG support to the existing support for HDR10, the version of HDR found on all UHD Blu-ray Discs. Dolby Vision support may be available by the time you read this. (Dolby Vision sources employ an HDR10 base layer and will play on UHD players and sets that can’t do Dolby Vision or haven’t yet received a planned upgrade; they just play in HDR10.) The A1E’s X-tended Dynamic Range control produces a pseudo HDR effect; I wasn’t aware of this until the A1E calibration was completed. The default setting of this control is Low in the Cinema pro mode that was used throughout the SDR tests and viewing. However, as long as the gamma control is simultaneously set to –2 or –3, the Low setting of this control produced a superb calibration and an excellent SDR image, without artificial-looking HDR enhancement. The multi-function remote lacks backlighting and is easy to misplace in the dark. Its voice recognition appears useful only to access information on the web through the set’s Google Android features. Unlike
The Sony’s large stand includes a 14-pound ballast to provide stability.
The stand houses all of the Sony’s connections and most of its electronics.
Sony XBR-65A1WE OLED Ultra HDTV BEFORE Calibration
FOR the picture settings used in this review, go to soundandvision.com. Measurements were made using SpectraCal’s CalMAN software, Photo Research PR-650 and Klein K-10A color meters, and AVFoundry (VideoForge, for 2K) and Murideo/AVPro (Fresco Six-G, for 4K/HDR) pattern generators. 1080P/SDR FULL-ON/FULL-OFF Contrast Ratio: 143,000:1 IN the Cinema Pro Picture Mode, with the Black level control on 50, the Brightness (backlight) on Max, the Contrast on 95, the Gamma at –2, and an 18% full white window, the measured peak white level was 42 foot-lamberts or 143 nits (all peak white level values here and below rounded off to the nearest nit/ft-L). A full black screen with a white pause bug displayed in the corner of the screen, measured 0.001 nits. Given the possible tolerances of our Klein color meter, this might well have been 0.000 nits, but we’ll call it 0.001 to be conservative! IN the Expert 1 Color temperature and the above settings, modified only by reducing the Contrast control from its default setting of Max for a reasonable peak white level of 42 ft-L, the pre-calibration grayscale Delta E from 20% to 100% varied from a minimum of 1.68 at 20% to 4.91 at 100%. Post-calibration, using only the 2-point grayscale controls, the Delta Es varied from a minimum of 0.16 at 20% to 0.9 at 70%. Though the A1E offers no color management system, the postcalibration color Delta Es varied from a minimum of 0.7 (blue) to a maximum of 1.72 (red). (DELTA E is a figure of merit indicating how close the color comes to the D65 HD standard at each point in the brightness range. Values below 3—some experts allow for 4—are generally considered visually indistinguishable from ideal. Above 4 but less than 10, the colors will be visibly changed but generally in ways
unobjectionable to the average viewer.) WITH the Gamma control set to –2, the Sony’s 1080p/SDR gamma ranged from a high of 2.46 at 90% to a low of 2.37 from 30% to 40%. UHD/HDR FULL-ON/FULL-OFF Contrast Ratio: 632,000:1 IN the Cinema Home Picture Mode, with the Black level control on 50, the Brightness and Contrast on Max, the Gamma at +2, and the other settings left in the defaults for that mode, a 100% brightness signal covering 10% of the screen measured 632 nits. A full black screen with a white pause bug displayed in the corner of the screen measured 0.001 nits, at worst, for the full-on/full-off contrast ratio shown above. AS with all OLEDs, the peak white output, particularly in HDR, varies considerably with how much of the screen is producing that peak white. With a 100% white source covering 2% of the screen (a 2% window), the screen brightness measured 633 nits; with a 10% window, as above, 632 nits; with a 25% window, 298 nits; and with a 100% (full screen) window, 144 nits. IN the default Cinema Home settings, the pre-calibration grayscale Delta E from 20% to 100% varied from a minimum of 0.7 at 20% to 6.5 at 70%. Post-calibration, using only the 2-point grayscale controls and advancing the Gamma control to +2 (the effect of the Gamma control on the gamma or, in this case, the PQ curve, is discussed in the text), the Delta Es varied from a minimum of 1.3 at 20% to 5.1 at 70%. Though there’s no color management system here, the post-calibration color Delta Es varied from a minimum of 2.0 (cyan) to a maximum of 3.5 (red). Note that the Delta E values for HDR include not only the position of the measured point within the color gamut, but its luminance as well.—TJN
the Samsung Q9’s remote, it can’t be used to access and adjust the set’s controls. For example, when I said “brightness control,” it directed me to YouTube videos on brightness controls, but not to the Brightness control on the set. Much of the time, however, it didn’t understand what I was asking for, or if it did, it was less than useful. When I said “Rome,” instead of a string of internet features on Rome, now and past, all it called up was information on the HBO TV series Rome. Fine, but inadequate. Sony has adopted Google’s Android TV as its smart TV platform for input integration, internet content, and other features. I streamed a variety of material from Netflix and YouTube with good results, though this will vary with your download speed and the quality of your router and its distance from the set. The A1E can also play music, videos, and photos from your home network and can mirror the material on your tablet, mobile phone, or computer screen. One thing the Sony OLEDs do not offer, and it’s an omission that appears to be nearly universal now among major TV makers, is 3D playback. Enough said.
Sony makes much ado about the audio in the A1E. It’s a unique design they call Acoustic Surface. Dual transducers attached to the back of the OLED screen for the left and right channels literally
vibrate the screen to produce sound. This might appear bizarre, but it works, and the vibrations don’t affect the picture in any visible way. This can only be done on a thin-screened OLED; an LCD/ LED set’s screen has too many layers. There’s also a separate subwoofer in the rear support leg to help fill in the response that the tiny screen drivers can’t reach, though calling a small driver in a tiny enclosure a subwoofer is a bit grandiose. I didn’t go head over heels over what I heard, but even as a cardcarrying audiophile, I did find the sound to be clean at relatively high levels, with good voice reproduction and a reasonably full-bodied sound. I wasn’t surprised that deep bass passages I’m familiar with on a big audio system were totally missing, but their absence would be obvious only to those familiar with them on a big system. Soundtrack music was decent, and it wasn’t seriously compromised. There wasn’t much stereo separation, and off center the sound was down a bit in the highs, but not enough to bother the average viewer hearing it from off to the side. You, as overlord of the A/V castle, will obviously be seated dead center. As Sony has demonstrated at its press and trade show events, having the sound come directly from the screen surface rather than a nearby speaker does create a modestly more realistic positioning of dialogue from a close
Either before or after calibration, the A1E looks remarkable.
• distance—too bad there’s no way to isolate this speaker to drive it with the dedicated center-channel information in a full-tilt surround sound setup. If you’re using the internal audio, the A1E’s audio combines any 5.1 source into 2.1, though it offers a surprisingly effective surround mode. From the center seat, I often heard things happening behind me that I wouldn’t expect from normal two-channel playback. The effect disappeared when I deselected surround in the menu. The surround details were vague, and certainly far from what you’ll hear from a discrete surround system, but they did add to the experience. I’ll take my full 5.1 surround system any day, but most consumers familiar only with the sound from most flat-screen HDTVs should be impressed.
Full HD The Sony passed all of our standard video tests except for 2:2 SD. Its failure there was barely visible and unlikely to affect normal viewing, but it was surpassed by the 2:2 HD upconversion of the Oppo UBD-203 Ultra HD player. Before a color calibration, I used a slightly modified version of the default settings in the Cinema pro mode (Contrast on 95, Gamma at 0, X-tended Dynamic Range in Low). A subsequent color calibration (see Test Bench) made little visible change. The A1E performed exceptionally well with all the standard HD material I threw at it. As I alluded to earlier, its upconversion to the 4K panel resolution was as good as any I’ve yet seen, offering crisp but not over-sharpened details.
The unusual stand provides for a clean-looking install when the set is placed on a table.
As an example, the acne scars on Brad Pitt’s face in Seven Years in Tibet were clearly visible on the Sony. But there was more to this film than just superb detail. The colors of scenery shot in Tibet and Austria just sparkled. The same was true of Life of Pi, from the vivid colors of the India scenes to the often stunning shots of Pi’s survival challenges at sea. The night scene where he stirs the phosphorescent water looked amazing, with top-drawer black resolution. The only reservations I had about the Sony’s black level and shadow detail were on the most difficult scenes. At the beginning of chapter 2 of Prometheus, which begins in total darkness as Dr. Shaw chips away behind a wall, the darkness before she breaks through wasn’t quite total. But it was very close and could be distinguished from full black only in a totally darkened room.
Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range All of my 4K viewing for this report was from UHD/HDR Blu-rays played on an Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray player. I first settled on the Cinema Pro mode for both SDR and HDR viewing. Most of the user default settings (apart from Gamma and X-tended Dynamic Range) were the same with either type of source, and the set switches between them automatically depending on the information (metadata) it receives at its input. HDR10 sources briefly display an HDR10 bug in the upper left-hand corner of the picture (and will, presumably, display a Dolby Vision indication when the A1E firmware for that
format becomes available). In these default settings, the performance was excellent on both SDR and HDR, with HDR displaying its expected benefits, including vivid highlights and good shadow detail. I learned later that by calibrating Cinema pro for SDR, I had essentially calibrated it for HDR as well: When the Sony sees the metadata for an HDR signal, it uses its SDR calibration as the basis for then applying the optimal known offsets for HDR. These changes aren’t visible in the settings menus, but when you see the HDR bug indicating the set is receiving HDR, the altered settings have been magically applied. Nonetheless, despite the success of this automatic tuning, I quickly found that there was no onboard memory for the user to separately tweak all the critical parameters for SDR and HDR images within the same Picture mode. Of course, some viewers and calibrators will want to do their own optimized, detailed setups for each. To get around this and ensure I could evaluate HDR images with their optimal settings, I ultimately used different Picture Modes for HDR (Cinema home) and SDR (Cinema pro). I then had to manually change picture modes when I switched between SDR and HDR sources. That admittedly became a little tedious, and is obviously not something a typical end user will do, but it allowed me to feel confident I had eked out the absolute best HDR image the set was capable of. Still, either before or after calibration, the A1E looked remarkable, in nearly every way meeting my expectations for a premium OLED display. While resolution is said to be the least significant advantage to UHD, you couldn’t prove it by what I saw from the Sony. The cleanest, most detailed UHD Blu-rays I watched, including
The Great Wall, Allied, and Hacksaw Ridge, looked truly compelling regardless of the quality of the movie itself. The Great Wall is no cinema classic, but its production values and picture quality made it highly watchable. In particular, it showed off the rich color quality UHD is capable of. The multi-colored uniforms were only a start. The brilliant colors in the capital’s throne room, particularly the emperor’s golden garb, were eye-popping. And near the end of the film, when the action moves to a tower filled with stained-glass windows, the colors of the windows themselves, together with the streaks of multicolored light filtering through them, made for a brilliant conclusion. That goes for the rich colors in Trolls as well. Its colors, together with the vivid sense of near-threedimensionality the Sony’s HDR produces, goes a long way toward making this animated film more fun to watch than it’s given credit for. Even though OLEDs can’t match the peak HDR light output of an LCD/ LED set like Sony’s Z9D, the dynamic range and highlights the A1E brings to the party don’t disappoint. The shadows, bright scenes, and bright highlights were convincingly demonstrated in Allied, perhaps one of the best UHD discs I’ve experienced so far for showing off the strengths and weaknesses of UHD displays. Nothing spectacular here, just superb photography combined with scenes that vary from bright sunlight to dark shadows. In almost every scene, the Sony excelled. The blacks and shadow detail on the Sony were what you’d expect from a modern OLED—exceptional. On a few films, however, the blacks on fade-outs between scenes, and the blacks behind white titles at the beginning and end of those films,
The non-backlit remote includes dedicated buttons for Google Play and Netflix. soundandvision.com 51
The A1E offers the clean look of a wall mount without the installation hassle.
were a shade lighter on the Sony than on LG’s 65OLEDE7P, which I also had on hand during evaluation. While this might have been associated with settings on the two sets in a side-by-side comparison (see below), altering the settings on one or both sets didn’t materially change the result. Still, it was a minor detail in an overall exceptional performance, and in all but one or two UHD films that were clearly dicey transfers. The Sony’s black bars, when present, were totally black.
Comparison: LG OLED65E7P vs. Sony XBR-65A1E
In this corner, weighing in at a svelte 51 pounds, we have LG OLED65E7P, veteran of the OLED Wars and the descendant of several generations of 4K fighters. In the opposite corner, we have a worthy opponent, Sony XBR-65A1E, the half-sibling of the E7P but in important ways every inch his own man. (Note that the more price-competitive LG C7P model mentioned earlier offers the same image quality as the E7P used in my comparision.) I began with the two sets side by side, driven by an Oppo UDP-203 UHD Blu-ray player. My only concern here was image quality, both in SDR and HDR10. But I must say that the Sony’s unique audio configuration gave it significantly better sound. This might be an important consideration for those who’ll do a lot of viewing without firing up an outboard sound system. First, 1080p HD. I viewed both sets in their calibrated settings, which gave them a peak brightness difference of no more than 2 to 3 foot-lamberts at an average level in the low 40-ft-L
range. The differences in their color were subtle, despite the LG offering more color control in the form of its color management system. But while both of them offered plenty of detail, the Sony was subtly but visibly crisper looking, which may well have been due to the quality of its upconversion of plain-vanilla HD sources to the higher pixel density of a 4K display. Still, the LG pulled ahead in black level. My favorite black level and shadow detail test, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, did require some rejiggering of the Gamma controls on both sets (their defaults crushed the blacks on this disc). But after balancing this out, I first watched the scene in which Neville leads Harry and friends through a dark tunnel. As the shot widens to show the characters surrounded by the dark of the cave (31:31 into the film), the gloom surrounding them remained full black on the LG but turned dark gray on the Sony. On the plus side, both sets handled most other dark scenes on this Blu-ray equally well. When I moved on to UHD/HDR, things became more complicated. The gamma curve for HDR is now called the Perceptual Quantization (PQ) curve. While the peak output here has significance when it comes to the handling of spectral highlights, most of the images in most films fall into the bottom to upper-middle part of the curve. To get the best subjective results from the LG E7, I used the Medium position of the Dynamic Contrast control, with the other settings as shown in the online posting of the LG review. This setting produced a somewhat excessive luminance in the mid to upper portion of the brightness range on the PQ
Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 57.3 x 32.9 x 3.5 (without weight and with stand retracted); 57.3 x 32.9 x 13.4 (with full stand) • Weight (Pounds): 65.7 (without stand); 79.8 (with stand) • Video Inputs: HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 (4), ARC on HDMI 3, composite (1, + L/R audio, with adapter), cable/antenna RF • Audio Outputs: Optical digital (Toslink), audio analog (on mini-jack, headphones) • Other: USB (3: 2/USB 2.0, 1/USB 3.0), LAN, remote (RSC-232C on mini-jack for wired control)
curve—not a bad thing subjectively, though short of PQ purity. But it was very good from low to mid luminance. To subjectively match the Sony to it, I used the settings that will be published for the Sony when that review appears online, with the Sony’s gamma setting on +2. A setting of 0 or +1 produced better measured results but a dimmer picture, putting it at an unfair disadvantage to the brighter LG. That done, in most ways the two sets ran neck and neck. There was little to choose from in color, at least after I turned the Sony’s Color control down from 50 to 48 (helping to compensate for the fact that the LG offers a color management system while the Sony does not). After this, it was easy to spot color differences between the two sets on full-field color patterns, but with real-world material I never had a color preference for one set over the other. Much of the time it was also hard to spot any differences between the two sets in terms of their black level and shadow detail. Both displayed rich backs, excellent contrast, and (with widescreen films) invisible black bars even in the darkest room. But sometimes, when the LG faded to black between scenes, the Sony only dropped to dark gray. On Lucy, which in general looked stunning on both sets, the background to the end credits was black on the LG but a dark shade of gray on the Sony. Was the LG pulling these areas down to black when the scene in question was transferred at dark gray? Or was the Sony failing to respond to metadata in the source telling it to go black, and instead showed dark gray? Since this was a rare issue, it’s not possible to say which set was correct. On Allied, however, a dark rooftop scene at 12:39 showed the LG’s better shadow detail. Not only were the dim
rooftops better defined on the LG, but I could easily spot a distinction between dark-gray clouds and the darker night sky next to them. On the Sony, it merely looked like the sky itself was dark gray rather than black. Later, in a nighttime London air raid scene, dark details had more pop on the LG but looked slightly flat and grayish on the Sony. But you’d likely never notice either issue apart from a direct comparison. Both OLEDs displayed dark vertical streaks on full-field, dark-gray test patterns—clearly a panel issue (recall that Sony uses an OLED panel from LG Display). The Sony also clipped bright whites on the most difficult material I have on hand (particularly on sunlit clouds and frothy surf) from a Samsung test disc (not commercially available). The LG did not. But neither of these was an issue on real-world program material.
OLED is now big time. There were doubts about its viability early on, but it’s now hard to deny the benefits it brings to the UHD party. In recognizing those strengths, Sony has come up with a powerful message. LCD/LEDs might still lead the show in peak brightness, price, and the sheer selection of models available to buyers. But OLEDs make for more than worthy competition, and for those who like what they see from them, Sony has now made your buying choices harder with the superb A1E.
In nearly every way, the A1E meets my expectations for a premium OLED display. 52 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
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The Anti-AVR By Mark Fleischmann
Outlaw RR2160 Stereo Receiver PRICE $799 ONE MIGHT ARGUE THAT NO single product category has brought vastly improved sound to so many, so fast, as the now-retro stereo receiver. Models poured in during the (mostly) Japanese mass-market audio explosion of the 1970s, when Classic Rock was just rock. My first receiver was a 15-watt-per-channel Pioneer SX-434, but it just as easily could have been a Marantz, Sansui, Kenwood, Luxman, or any of several other storied brands. Today, top-line stereo receivers from the ’70s—their shiny silver faceplates bristling with knobs, buttons, and toggles—command eyebrow-raising prices on eBay and are lovingly restored by vintage hi-fi buffs. Outlaw Audio speaks with an American accent and belongs more to our own era, selling direct to the consumer over the internet—thus potentially offering better build quality and value by eliminating the brickand-mortar markup. But while history may not repeat itself, sometimes it rhymes, and the impecunious music lover seeking a good stereo amplifier has a lot in common with his counterpart back in the heart of the original vinyl era. The main difference is that today’s music lover may also want to plug in a laptop or groove to internet radio. The Outlaw RR2160 makes that possible, too.
AT A GLANCE
Plus ■ 110 watts x 2 ■ PC-USB and phono inputs ■ Bass, treble, balance controls
Minus ■ No HDMI or other video switching ■ Ethernet but no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth
(one of them THX certified) and numerous small products and accessories. The RR2160’s predecessor was the very successful RR2150, the senior member of
The RR2160 is Outlaw’s secondgeneration stereo receiver. Other Outlaw products include sevenchannel, five-channel, and monoblock amps. The company’s surround pre/pro is five years old, but the Outlaw retail site carries a more up-to-date Marantz for one-stop separates shopping. Also under the Outlaw umbrella are two subwoofers
WIth the RR2160, Outlaw doesn't shy away from front-panel controls.
54 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
Outlaw’s line at the time of its retirement. But the new receiver differs from it in several ways, large and small. The aluminum front panel is thicker. Front-panel controls have been updated from analog potentiometers (which oxidize and grow noisy over time) to digital rotary encoders (much like the volume knob on an AVR). Most features are now remote accessible. Digital coaxial and optical audio inputs have been added, along with a second monophonic subwoofer output, USB charging, and 12-volt triggers. An Ethernet jack allows DLNA and internet radio access; digital over-the-air HD Radio has been added to the AM/FM tuner. We needn’t dwell on the fact that, because this isn’t an A/V receiver, it
doesn’t have a standard AVR feature set. It has two channels of amplification, with no video switching, surround processing, auto setup, room correction, etc. It’s rated at 110 watts x 2 into 8 ohms (that’s up from 100 in the previous model) and 165 watts into 4 ohms. This should be sufficient to run speakers that are slightly less sensitive than average, with power to spare in many rooms. The receiver comes safely packed in a dual carton with seemingly indestructible foam. Evoking the silver-faceplate aesthetic of the ’70s—with an unorthodox dash of Art Deco—it wears its knobs and buttons proudly. Front-panel occupants include defeatable treble, bass, and balance controls, a three-setting bass boost called Speaker EQ, a variable headphone output, and a few others. The treble control operates at 10 kilohertz ±10 decibels, the bass control at 50 hertz ±10 dB, and the Speaker EQ provides a 6-dB boost at
THE VERDICT Outlaw RR2160 Stereo Receiver Audio Performance Features Ergonomics Value
55, 65, or 80 Hz. The front panel’s right-hand partition, marked by a stylishly curved diagonal slash, contains the volume knob and buttons for mute, source select, and recording source, as well as those to operate the modest setup menu utilizing only the front-panel display. The menu is nothing like an AVR’s vast compendium of options; you might
Although not an AVR, Outlaw’s second-generation stereo receiver has an intelligently chosen feature set, bodacious industrial design, and lots of clean power for music lovers on a budget.
never need to enter it at all. This product will be literally plug and play for many users. On the back are enough binding posts to allow connection of two pair of speakers, switchable via front panel or remote. There is no HDMI interface; you may connect the audio portions of A/V products via coaxial, optical, or analog inputs, but video switching
OUTLAW RR2160 STEREO RECEIVER PRICE: $799 Outlaw Audio • (866) 688-5292 • outlawaudio.com
must go through the TV. There are, however, two subwoofer outputs if you’re in the mood for home theater 2.1, plus a sub crossover switch that provides analog bass management and toggles among 60/80/100 Hz and bypass options. The aforementioned phono input accommodates either moving-magnet or moving-coil cartridges. Stereo preout and main-in RCA jacks allow connection of an external amp (not likely to be needed), crossover, or equalizer; supplied
bridges are pre-installed between them for the default direct connection. There’s also a set of classic external loop jacks to accommodate a tape deck. Want me to explain the difference between Dolby B and Dolby C noise reduction in a cassette deck? I could, y’know. Just asking. Radio options span the generations: AM, FM, HD Radio, internet radio. Meanwhile, Ethernet, IR remote, trigger, and USB accessory power are also provided for. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are not (although Outlaw does offer various wireless accessories). You can access music from any networked PC or other device via Ethernetsupported DLNA, or you can plug a storage device into the front-panel USB jack. And I’ll say it again: You can plug a laptop into the receiver, via the back-panel PC-USB input, and that’s cause for celebration. (That this isn’t a standard feature in top-line AVRs is a perpetual disappointment.) The remote control is backlit and has a nice heft, thanks to its all-metal construction. However, it’s dominated by seemingly uninterrupted rows and columns of nearly identical buttons and doesn’t work hard enough to organize controls by size, shape, or layout. The volume keys in particular are undersized and too well camouflaged. The first time I used the remote, it took me 10 seconds to find them (and this hadn’t been a problem with the RR2150’s remote). The diagram in the manual shows some groups of controls set off by background shading, but the shading, mysteriously, doesn’t appear on the remote itself. As beautiful and easy to use as the receiver is, I had to dock it an ergonomics point for the remote. Associated equipment included two, just two, Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers with a Paradigm Seismic 110 sub (a nifty little 10-inch bruiser for which I continue to give thanks). Signal sources included an Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player, connected to the system via both its Special Edition analog and digital coaxial outputs. The player was set to stereo downmix, which Outlaw’s bass management obligingly
The 1970s-era silver faceplate with decorative details gives the RR2160 a retro flair.
TEST REPORT ON THE WEB
Outlaw's remote is hefty and backlit but features many rows of identically sized and shaped buttons.
See soundandvision.com/ TestBench for full lab results and technical definitions.
Test Bench Outlaw RR2160 Stereo Receiver
THIS graph shows the RR2160’s left amplifier channel, with two channels driving 8-ohm loads. Measurements for THD+noise, crosstalk, signalto-noise ratio, and analog/digital frequency response were all within expected performance parameters. Full details available at soundandvision.com.—MJP 0.1% THD
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 4-Ohm Loads
Power Output: 2 x 110 watts (8 ohms, both channels driven), 2 x 165 watts (4 ohms, both channels driven) • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 17.1 x 5.75 x 15 • Weight (Pounds): 28.3 • Audio Inputs: Coaxial digital (2), optical digital (2), stereo analog RCA (4), stereo analog minijack (1), MM/MC phono (1), main in (1), external processor in (1) • Additional: Ethernet (1), USB-PC (1), USB-storage (1), USB-power (2), USB-upgrade (1), AM (1), FM (1) • Audio Outputs: Pre out (1), external processor out (1), rec out (1), sub out (2, monophonic), ¼-inch headphone (1) • Additional: 12-volt trigger (2), IR (in/out)
delivered in 2.1. The player’s coax-out was set to PCM, since this nonsurround receiver doesn’t decode Dolby or DTS bitstreams. SACD priority was set to stereo (avoiding multichannel). I also used a Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable (the larger of two, nicknamed Micro Senior) and a Shure M97xE (moving magnet) cartridge.
File Under Chameleon
The RR2160 doesn’t impose an overwhelming personality on content. Neutral voicing is a good thing: Not evasive but truthful, it
opens a window into music and reliably gauges the quality of source components. This beefy stereo receiver took control of my speakers of average sensitivity with dynamic confidence, giving rhythm sections a reliable firmness. I had the option of playing loud or louder without fretting about any tradeoff between volume and comfort; the top end retained its refinement at any volume I could withstand in my room. I spent enough time with movies to remind myself how crucial surround sound is to the home theater
experience. In the often unbearably brutal thriller Nocturnal Animals, a car crash fell flat from the obvious lack of envelopment inherent with surround channels that was missing here with the Outlaw’s stereo delivery. But we can’t fairly fault it for being stereo, and with the same scene as a test of dynamics, the receiver passed handily. It also stood up to the extended dynamic challenge of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, layering the pumping brass and crusading strings of the orchestral score with explosions and other star-warry effects. In Manchester by the Sea, long stretches without musical accompaniment made the soundtrack’s sudden eruptions deeply moving, especially in the tragic scene featuring the Albinoni/Giazotto Adagio in G minor for strings and organ. This raised expectations for the receiver’s handling of music. Contemplating rock and vinyl at the same time, I found that the Outlaw had plenty of bass weight above the sub crossover, as well as a timbrally reliable phono stage that reminded me of what I love about my turntable and poor man’s audiophile cartridge. In Sticky Fingers, arguably the bestrecorded Rolling Stones album, Charlie Watts kicked hard amid the guitars in the smoke-filled rooms— and if I wanted to push up the volume, images scaled up to epic proportions
with no pain. I had a similar reaction to Gentle Giant’s Octopus, the first album with drummer John Weathers, who added much-needed stomp to the band’s cerebral prog-rock polyphony. But this receiver was good for more than bluster. An overtly slick production like Randy Newman’s Little Criminals emerged with its L.A. session aces, tidy beats, orchestral embellishments, and no-frills piano tone in excellent, fine-tuned balance. I moved on to shiny discs and into folkier territory—the kind of music with spaces between the notes. In Bill Morrissey’s North (CD), the Outlaw displayed an exquisite tenderness to his light-textured acoustic guitar and delicately quavering voice, exposing the brittle richness in his lower registers without tipping over into chestiness. Likewise, the mating of contralto and sparse instrumentation in June Tabor’s Aqaba (CD) left no doubt that the Outlaw could nail a distinctive vocal timbre perfectly. It could also float a fragile but beautiful voice over intensely complex instrumentation in Nick Drake: A Treasury (SACD), resolving everything, exaggerating nothing, and establishing an unstoppable flow that was both musical and emotional.
Color and Black-andWhite
A good amp has to excel with the complexities and dynamic challenges of orchestral music. My
The RR2160 doesn't impose an overwhelming personality on content. 56 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
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new-ish reference set of Beethoven symphonies in a hi-res medium is by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra, a five-SACD box set on the Swedish label Bis. Like the Outlaw, these recordings avoid imposing any personality on the music, instead giving each section of the orchestra its own room to breathe. The result was solidly imaged and timbrally realistic, with a firm bottom end. I then switched to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé on a Pentatone SACD with Gustavo Gimeno leading the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. This was, if anything, even more sumptuous and colorful, thanks to its choral dimension, to which the Outlaw gave a lovely shimmer. Yet the receiver could also depict austerity, as in the music from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (CD), re-recorded by composer Bernard Herrmann in 1975 with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. The strings-only soundtrack is a faithful sonic equivalent of the movie’s stark black-and-white aesthetic. The Outlaw could draw it (correctly) as bright and intense, as in the last few seconds of the “Prelude”—or in the shrieks that accompany the famous shower slaying. But in numerous other sections that emphasize cellos and basses at low levels, the Outlaw could also deliver a dark, foreboding kind of string chiaroscuro, with restrained tone color but generously abundant shades of gray. The Biddulph CD of Brahms cello sonatas was recorded by Karine Georgian (a student of Mstislav Rostropovich) and pianist Pavel Gililov
The star of the back panel is a PC-USB input that lets you connect your computer.
in the pleasing acoustics of Snape Maltings. The Outlaw celebrated the complex interaction between the famed British festival venue—a brewery turned concert hall—and the distant-miked instruments. But acoustically plainer fare, such as the Golub-Kaplan-Carr Trio’s Arabesque CD of Mendelssohn piano trios, also benefitted from the receiver’s blend of laser focus and subtle escalation of scale. Downright challenging material like the Juilliard String Quartet’s LP box set of Bartók’s six string quartets finally goosed me into using the tone controls. The uncomfortably close-miked strings were palatable only at low volumes, and these visceral works have greater impact at higher ones, so I treated myself to a –5-dB treble cut. The net effect was a welcome darkening and a finer balance between cello and violins. The five-CD set of Sviatoslav Richter in Concert: Historic Russian Archives (Brilliant Classics) contains an astonishing performance of Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 21, in B-flat Major (D. 960), which stretches out the first movement—conventionally played in less than 15 minutes—to more than 24 minutes by precisely following the dying composer’s usually ignored repeats and tempo markings. Basically, time stops. As always, the Outlaw didn’t euphonize—yet it uncovered a rich Technicolor lushness that was always buried in the 1960 analog recording but rarely surfaces with most gear. Robert
The Outlaw RR2160 is a stupendously greatsounding stereo receiver. 58 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
bass’s lower strings firmed up, and I liked the clean and extended feel. The Outlaw RR2160 is a stupendously great-sounding stereo receiver. Its only serious omission is wireless connectivity; many listeners may want to have Bluetooth, at least, fully integrated into the receiver, though accessory receivers abound, including one from Outlaw. In any event, that may not be a deal breaker if your hi-res audio library lives on a laptop, which can feed the receiver either over the network or via the USB-PC input without going through an external DAC. And the Outlaw supports a lot of little contingencies, including HD Radio and options for both moving-magnet and movingcoil phono cartridges. I’m even glad to see old-school tone controls come into fashion: They can be handy to roll off a bright mix or tailor a full-range speaker’s bass response to the room. This receiver is a music listener’s best friend.
Silverman’s Stereophile CD of Intermezzo: Works for Piano by Brahms is more of an audiophile recording, with more defined imaging, yet it achieved a similarly rich effect. The Unique Thelonious Monk (JVC CD), recorded excellently in mono by Rudy Van Gelder, is an album of standards that Monk virtually recomposed in his usual brilliant fashion, with an extra kick from drummer Art Blakey. The Outlaw made sure it swung hard. The Monk CD—especially Oscar Pettiford’s acoustic bass—offered a good test of the Speaker EQ. The stated purpose of this bass boost control is to help with the low end when using the receiver with small bookshelf speakers and without a subwoofer; until this point, I had been using the Paradigm sub. The Studio 20 v.4 monitors reach their –3-dB point at 80 Hz, so that’s where I typically set the crossover. However, the receiver got enough bass support from my room’s standing wave to sketch in a little of the bass below that point, so the 80- and 65-Hz Speaker EQ settings didn’t really do much that was positive for me. They plumped up the bass but also added congestion. At the 55-Hz setting, though, the
Audio Editor Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems, now available in both print and Kindle editions.
The Outlaw weighs 28.3 pounds and measures just over 17 inches wide.
Impeccable Sound By Mark Fleischmann
Revel Concerta2 M16 Speaker System PRICE $4,050 as reviewed AUDIOPHILES (MYSELF included) often point out that high-end audio is stigmatized compared with other product categories. High-end cars, high-end wine, high-end watches: All attract aficionados who don’t mind paying a stiff premium to get the best of the best. And if an average onlooker ventures an opinion at all, it’s “nice watch!” But when a bleeding-edge speaker or amp takes the stage, the applause of the cognoscenti mixes with heckling from the peanut gallery. High-end audio has long been subject to that extra measure of skepticism. To survive and prosper in this distrustful environment, a high-end audio manufacturer must not only make high-achieving products, but do it consistently. That is what has made Revel, Harman International’s top speaker brand, a long-term success. From day one, it has drawn on the parent company’s deep
engineering expertise and worldclass facilities (including an anechoic chamber to measure and refine its designs). Revel products tend to be carefully thought out and well made, and they’ve stayed that way for two decades.
Performa3 line. They include 1-inch aluminum dome tweeters with integral phase rings and acoustic lens waveguides, Micro-ceramic Composite (MCC) cone woofers that are said to provide less mechanical breakup and lower mass, and computer-optimized driver positioning and crossover networks. Enclosures are constructed from three-quarter-inch fiberboard with curved sides to reduce internal standing waves and windowpane bracing to reduce cabinet resonances and the resulting sonic coloration. Woofer sizes are 6.5 inches for the M16 monitor and S16 on-wall and 5.25 inches for the pair in the C25 center. The B10 sub has a single front-firing fiber-composite-cone 10-inch woofer in a die-cast frame, with a beefy 800-watt Class D amplifier. Monitor and sub enclosures are ported, while center and surround are sealed. There are no visible fasteners on any of the speaker baffles. Grilles attach magnetically except on the sub. Although the C25 center doesn’t claim dual status as a left/right speaker, the S16 is for both surround and LCR applications; theoretically, you might use five or more in an
New Concerta2 Revel’s three top speaker lines are the Ultima2, Performa3, and the new Concerta2. Each of them accommodates home theater by offering at least one center speaker; the Performa3 series also features a dedicated surround. Then there are Revel’s other lines: on-wall Concerta, in-wall and in-ceiling Architectural, and outdoor Extreme Climate. A recent overhaul of the Concerta2 brings two towers, the F36 ($2,000/ pair) and F35 ($1,600/pair), along with the M16 monitor ($900/pair), C25 center ($750), S16 on-wall ($900/pair), and B10 subwoofer ($1,500). This review brings together all but the towers and uses a pair of the on-walls as surround speakers. Tom Norton has reviewed the F36 tower for soundandvision.com. Several design features of the Concerta2 hail from the
• 60 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
AT A GLANCE
Plus ■ High transparency ■ Equalized subwoofer ■ Wall-hanging surrounds
Minus ■ Manual sub EQ requires expertise
entirely on-wall system. The S16 has an enclosure that narrows from back to baffle, so its 5-inch depth looks minimal. All of these speakers have a nominal impedance of 6 ohms. Rated sensitivity is 86 decibels for the monitor, 89 for the center, and 90 for the surround. This suggests that a midpriced-and-up receiver might work, though separates might work better—not only for oomph, but for reduced distortion, as these are fearlessly high-resolution speakers. My review setup tread the middle path with a top-line receiver. Normally, I’d use an 80-hertz crossover for speakers of this size. For the monitor—which reaches its –3-dB point at 55 Hz, according to manufacturer ratings (you may double-check our Test Bench measurements)—that’s a safe
The trapezoid-shaped S16 is an on-wall speaker that can handle surround or LCR duties.
THE VERDICT Revel Concerta2 M16 Speaker System
Revel draws on Harman’s world-class engineering depth to produce immaculate high-end sound—this time, at an extremely reasonable price.
Performance Build Quality Value
choice. However, the center reaches its –3-dB point at 80 Hz, which would leave a small bass underlap with my usual crossover. The surround reaches –3 dB at 70 Hz. My receiver allows separate crossover settings for each speaker or pair, so I used 80 Hz for the monitors, 100 for the center, and 90 for the surrounds (probably an excess of caution). That brings us to a related subject. The B10 subwoofer is an equalized sub and therefore can be tailored for the room in ways impossible with a conventional sub. Even audiophiles who look askance at full-system equalization favor it for a sub. There’s no downside to sub EQ; you can always toggle it off if you don’t want to use it. Maybe your room enables perfect bass response, requiring nothing more than careful positioning of the sub. Most spaces, however, have room for improvement, so you’ll want to work on those EQ settings.
Revel’s manual recommends that you have a dealer set the EQ. I have no problem with the company’s philosophy. It’s probably the best way to achieve optimum performance. But DIY tweakers should be advised that there are three controls on the rear panel: frequency, level, and bandwidth. They’re respectively adjusted to the frequency of the dominant bass bulge to be tackled by the EQ, the level by which that problematic frequency range is corrected, and the width of the swath of frequencies affected by the correction. I set up the sub using an old kit from Infinity, another Harman brand. The R.A.B.O.S. (Room Adaptive Bass Optimization System) kit includes a sound-pressure-level meter optimized for bass, a test-tone CD, and a protractor for the bandwidth setting.
REVEL CONCERTA2 M16 SPEAKER SYSTEM PRICE: $4,050 (M16, $900 pr; C25, $750; S16, $900 pr; B10, $1,500) Revel • (888) 691-4171 • revelspeakers.com
Having previously used R.A.B.O.S. with two different subs, I knew that my room has not one but two bass peaks. This pattern held true with the Revel B10, so the resulting EQ settings were just approximate, with frequency and level settings aimed at the larger peak, and with bandwidth embracing both peaks. Still, the improvement was easy to hear. While the R.A.B.O.S. kit is no longer available, you could analyze your room’s bass character with a test disc, reliable mic, and softwarebased spectrum analyzer. Associated equipment included a Denon AVR-X7200W A/V receiver, Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player, Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable, Shure M97xE cartridge, and Denon PRA-S10 serving as phono preamp. All movie demos were on Blu-ray.
and un-speaker-bound, with content bursting out of the speakers as if it had a mind of its own. The equalized sub sounded more powerful than a garden-variety model of equivalent size. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Dolby Atmos) offers the cornucopia of aggressive bass effects you’d Believable Based on Revel’s reputation and my expect in a Tom Cruise movie, and I dimly remembered past experience, used the first half-hour to fine-tune the sub. The bass billowed more I expected a tidy, well-rounded than I’d expected, largely because I sound free of gross flaws. What I had initially dialed in a lower EQ wasn’t prepared for was the huge soundfield, dynamic fluidity, timbral level setting than R.A.B.O.S. credibility, and effortless suspension recommended. Increasing EQ level of disbelief. Except for a brief brash- and backing off the overall sub volume by just a hair shaped the ness during break-in, the top end bass into ideal proportions. It was was utterly revealing, with a not only better than I’d get from an chameleon midrange that didn’t impose any particular coloration. In untreated sub, but better than I’d get from an A/V receiver with average either surround or stereo, the full-band room correction. soundfield was notably deep It goes without saying that a system of this quality aced the essentials of vocal reproduction—with natural timbres and no booming of male voices out of the sub, either before or after sub tweaking. Comfort level in numerous action scenes was high, even during a clattery kitchen fight, thanks more to the system’s excellent dynamic capabilities than to any euphonic attenuation of the top end. The Accountant (DTS-HD Master Audio) is rich in ballistics, something I abhor in daily life but enjoy in fictional film when it’s reproduced so well. Ben Affleck’s action-man accountant is a marksman, among
• The M16 features curved sides to reduce standing waves.
Two woofers flank a central tweeter across the C25’s 19.45-inch-wide baffle.
TEST REPORT ON THE WEB
Revel Concerta2 B10 Subwoofer
See soundandvision.com/ TestBench for full lab results and technical definitions.
Performance Features Build Quality Value
Revel Concerta2 M16 Speaker System
M16 (purple) +0.73/–2.33 dB, 200 Hz to 10 kHz; – 3dB @ 57 Hz,–6 dB @ 50 Hz; impedance minimum 5.05 ohms @ 160 Hz, phase angle –41.51º @ 96 Hz; sensitivity 85.5 dB, 500 Hz to 2 kHz. C25 (green) +0.73/–3.93 dB, 200 Hz to 10 kHz; –3 dB @ 86 Hz, –6 dB @ 67 Hz; impedance minimum 4.79 ohms @ 200 Hz, phase angle –47.18º @ 98 Hz; sensitivity 90.5 dB, 500 Hz to 2 kHz. S16 (red) +0.85/–3.91 dB, 200 Hz to 10 kHz; –3 dB @ 71 Hz, –6 dB @ 59 Hz; impedance minimum 4.91 ohms @ 179 Hz, phase angle –45.91º @ 98 Hz; sensitivity 89.5 dB, 500 Hz to 2 kHz. B10 (blue) Close-miked response, normalized to level @ 80 Hz: lower –3 dB @ 31 Hz , –6 dB @ 29 Hz, upper –3 dB @ 145 Hz with Low Pass Crossover control set to maximum.—MJP
M16: 6.5 in Micro-ceramic Composite cone woofer, 1 in aluminum dome tweeter; 8.6 x 14.75 x 10.23 in (WxHxD), 16 lb • C25: 5.25 in Micro-ceramic Composite cone woofer (2), 1 in aluminum dome tweeter; 19.51 x 7.24 x 9.5 in (WxHxD), 20 lb • S16: 6.5 in Micro-ceramic Composite cone woofer, 1 in aluminum dome tweeter; 13.3 x 14.74 x 5.0 in (WxHxD), 14 lb • B10: 10 in coated fibercomposite cone woofer; 600 watts RMS; stereo line-level RCA in; 14.83 x 15.7 x 14.7 in (WxHxD), 53 lb
other talents, and early outdoor target-shooting scenes resounded impressively, showing off the system’s ability to produce a large and realistic soundfield with strong dynamics and complex decays. In a later scene, when he launches an assault on the occupants of a house from outside, the perspective of those under
attack—with a combination of distant shots and close-up smasheroos— seemed both dramatic and authentic. Although not as bombastic, Moonlight (DTS-HD Master Audio) offers quiet moments that showed off the system’s low-level resolution, including two pivotal scenes set at the beach against the soft murmur of
the ocean. At the other end of the dynamic scale, a sudden eruption of hip-hop showcased the system’s bass response and its ability to handle a monster beat.
Even Better Loud I’ve always listened to Jorma Kaukonen’s River of Time (CD) at low to moderate volumes, thinking they were best suited to the gentle congress of acoustic instruments and Jorma’s thoughtful, reflective vocals. But something made me turn it up several times. I wanted to hear more of the evenly
The Concerta2 system made an overwhelmingly positive impression. 62 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
Revel’s B10 subwoofer features a front-firing 10-inch woofer and a rear port.
proportioned string bass (thanks, Revel and R.A.B.O.S.), more of the natural texture of other stringed instruments, more of the soft exhalation of distantly miked cymbals, and especially more of that deep, un-speakerbound soundstage. Usually, there’s a tradeoff between volume and listening comfort, and any speaker can be forced into an uncomfortable sense of straining and even gross distortion at high volumes—but I never got to that point with the Concerta2 in my listening room. Good output capabilities and high resolution are an attractive combination. Which Mahavishnu Orchestra LP should I play? The Revels flattered both the warmth and the punchiness of The Inner Mounting Flame. Producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick’s adroit integration of band and (real) orchestra in Apocalypse never sounded better. But the most compelling one was the live album Between Nothingness & Eternity, with shimmering, half-submerged crowd noise from the Central Park audience and scorching—yet luminously listenable—exchanges between
The 1-inch dome tweeter is surrounded by an acoustic lens waveguide.
The Concerta2 line is available in high-gloss black or high-gloss white (below) finishes.
John McLaughlin’s guitar and Jan Hammer’s Moog. Some say many London Phase 4 Stereo LPs are close-miked and bright, so I was curious to hear what the M16’s expressive top end would do for Pictures at an Exhibition, with Leopold Stokowski leading the New Philharmonia in his own orchestration of Mussorgsky’s piano suite. It was close-miked, yes, but as reproduced by the M16s it was close-miked and vibrant. I
liked the upfront presentation of the strings because it brought out the distinctiveness of Stokowski’s free-bowing technique, which encouraged the players to achieve a fuller sound by avoiding lockstep movements. The stereo SACD of Bernard Herrmann: The Film Scores, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, provided an almost shocking contrast, with vastly greater spatial information that once again showcased the monitor’s tremendously deep soundstage. And with that equalized sub in the system, I had to play my favorite pipe-organ classics: E. Power Biggs performing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor. The 10-inch sub didn’t rattle the windows, but it did reach down to hit all the
bass-pedal notes pretty evenly. The Revel Concerta2 is a reasonably priced speaker line that consistently delivers impeccable highend sound, as Revel has done as a brand throughout its history. The B10 sub isn’t cheap, but nor would I call it overpriced, considering what it offers. I’m especially impressed that the M16 monitor provides so much transparency, refinement, and neutrality for well under $1,000 per pair. In fact, I came to trust and enjoy the monitor so much, I might have adopted it as my new reference speaker— replacing the Paradigm Studio 20 v.4,
which is now a decade old and lacks top-firing drivers to support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Unfortunately, the otherwise sterling M16 doesn’t have Atmosenabled drivers either, so the (still quite wonderful) Paradigms get to live another day. But the Concerta2 made an unforgettable and overwhelmingly positive impression as a speaker system that does it all, and does it well nigh perfectly. Audio Editor Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems, now available in both print and Kindle editions.
Atmos Lite By Daniel Kumin
Pioneer VSX-832 A/V Receiver PRICE $479 EVERYBODY KNOWS WHAT TO expect from a flagship or cruiserclass A/V receiver: top-bracket power of 120 watts per channel or more, with nine, 11, or even 13 channels ready for latest-generation surround technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, as well as hightech auto-setup routines and DSP on board. And then there are the deluxe extras, such as extensive multiroom capabilities, 4K/HDR passthrough and 4K scaling, and plenty of internet- and computeraudio streaming options. But what can you expect from the other end of a brand’s AVR fleet? Not so much, right? Well, actually…Pioneer’s newest value entry, the VSX-832, features all of the above (less a fistful of watts, and a couple of channels or four) plus a good deal more. One of the prime ways it manages the trick is this: It’s a “3.1.2-channel” Dolby Atmos receiver, able to amplify only five channels simultaneously, which obviously saves a bit of coin over the full-bore Atmos/DTS:X designs that are higher up the ranges of Pioneer and other manufacturers. How’s that work? Initially, Dolby required a minimum of seven channels to implement the object-based surround presentation of Atmos, a classic five-channel seat-level layout plus a pair of height channels. (As I’ve said before: Object-based or not, in the real world, the “B-chain” still comes down to x or y number of loudspeakers and amp channels.) Now, however, Dolby has un-supersized Atmos to allow for a couple of new configurations (originally conceived for soundbar and compact systems) that exploit DSP audio virtualization to conjure height and depth dimensions from fewer than seven physical loudspeakers. One of
these configurations is—you guessed it—3.1.2, wherein physical front height speakers are retained, as are the conventional LCR front trio and the subwoofer (the “.1”), but surround speakers are abandoned in favor of virtualization. I haven’t spent a lot of time recently in the soundbar- and compact-system aisles of my local big-box stores, so this news didn’t reach me until the VSX-832 heaved up over the horizon. It’s among the first AVRs to offer this new option, so I was curious to give it a spin. Otherwise, the VSX-832 looked surprisingly capable, given its rather attractive price point—$479 list, discounted out of the gate to $379 and occasionally promoted for less at the popular online retailers. Power, stated at 80 watts x 2 (fullbandwidth), should prove plenty for a large majority of real-world, family-sized setups. (Pioneer also
The brushed-aluminum texture gives the VSX-832's black front panel style. 64 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
lists 165 watts on the spec sheet, which turns out to be for one channel driven at 1 kilohertz and 10 percent THD—yes, 10 percent. So, welcome back to the ’70s, folks.) As alluded to above, the receiver offers 4K/HDR passthrough (specified as open to both HDR10 and Dolby Vision) and even 1080p-to-4K scaling. Also on board is a handful of streaming apps, as well as a perfectly usable client for streaming your computer-audio library via local Wi-Fi or wired networks. All the usual wireless suspects are here, too: Apple AirPlay, Google Chromecast built-in, DTS Play-Fi, Tidal-casting readiness, and of course Bluetooth. You also get HTC Connect and the as-yet mostly ephemeral FireConnect wirelessmultiroom-on-IP protocol, for future potential. One thing missing, not surprising at this price, are facilities for classic Zone 2 analog playback, even from a set of line-level outputs.
AT A GLANCE
Plus ■ Satisfying power for both two-channel and multichannel modes ■ 3.1.2-channel Dolby Atmos/ DTS:X setup option with phantom surrounds ■ Surprisingly responsive home-network streaming ■ Basic auto-setup/EQ on board
Minus ■ Five-channel power requires choice between height or rear channels ■ No analog multiroom capability ■ No audio outputs other than HDMI
And you’ll notice some corners cut in other areas of connectivity, most notably a restriction to just four HDMI inputs (though all provide 4K
THE VERDICT Pioneer VSX-832 A/V Receiver Audio Performance Features Ergonomics Value
passthrough), and just a couple each of analog RCA and digital inputs (optical and coax for the latter). A USB input is provided on the front panel, though.
Setup Installing the VSX-832 took just a few minutes, requiring only the plugging-in of my banana-equipped speaker cables, a quartet of HDMI cables, and my subwoofer and wired-Ethernet network connections. However, since the receiver furnishes only five channels of power and only the same number of physical speaker outputs, you have to make a decision: front height or rear surround? You can’t have both. I initially went with the former, using a pair of top-quality ceiling-bounce elevation modules perched atop my stand-mounted front left/right speakers. Pioneer’s proprietary MCACC auto-setup/EQ routine is a basic, single-mic-location system that in previous applications has worked competently, returning accurate levels and modest, reasonably selected EQs—and the VSX-832 appeared to cleave to that path. (MCACC, for Multi-Channel Acoustic
Good five-channel power, 4K/HDR readiness, excellent streaming responsiveness, and phantom-rear-channel Atmos give this affordable AVR its distinct attractions. Calibration system, doesn’t suss out your speaker layout automatically, at least in its implementation here; you must manually select from a list of possible configurations before running the program.) Speaker levels and distances were pretty much spot on. The VSX-832 set my left/right speakers to Large, which is fair enough since they extend down solidly to 45 hertz or so. But it did the same for my center speaker, which gives up nearly a full octave to the others. The receiver selected Small for only the front height modules. (I reset the center to Small manually.) The implementation of MCACC here doesn’t allow for display of the automatically derived EQ corrections. (You can graph settings you dial in yourself and store to one of three memory locations using Manual MCACC, essentially a nine-band graphic equalizer.) But my ear heard rather less change than what I’ve encountered from other Pioneer AVRs or from other EQ systems, such as
PIONEER VSX-832 A/V RECEIVER PRICE: $479 Pioneer • pioneerelectronics.com
Audyssey MultEQ. This amounted to a barely perceptible sharpening of midrange textures and an equally slight softening of the top couple octaves or so. Subsequent checks with my RTA iPhone app (shout-out to Studio Six Digital!) confirmed these impressions, showing a very modest, couple-of-decibels rearrangement in the lower mids and a roughly 2-dB/octave rolloff above about 6 kHz. The former is consistent with other MCACC runs and other systems; the latter is not. Perhaps Pioneer’s target curve for the VSX-832 is slightly different. In any case, before I get too bogged down in auto-EQ minutiae, I’ll reiterate that these systems are highly variable to speakers and rooms, so drawing general conclusions is unwise. As always in these situations, I did all of my evaluative listening with MCACC defeated.
Listening, Viewing I had no quarrel whatsoever with the Pioneer’s fundamental sound. This may be a comparatively entry-level receiver, but I doubt you would be able to divine that from blind listening. Full-range, two-channel power proved to be more than adequate in my room for my moderately low-sensitivity Energy Veritas monitors. This was demonstrated by near-live-level playback, in two-channel full-range mode, of pristinely recorded material such as Mark Knopfler’s “Lights of Taormina” (from Tracker). The opening’s deep, loose bass drum and percussion and its generously recorded bass carried real weight and authority, even at quite substantial volume, while guitar attacks and cymbals
retained excellent transient detail and airiness. I pushed the Pioneer more on dynamic, full-range material like Keith Richards’ excellently produced and largely sweetener-free Main Offender. Here, I sensed the receiver beginning to sound a little hard on top and a bit loose on the bottom (as is typical of most middling-power models), but this didn’t become evident until I had reached levels substantially higher than I would choose voluntarily. And with typical loudspeakers a couple of decibels more sensitive than mine, and in a typical room a bit smaller than my 3,100-cubic-foot studio, I don’t imagine many listeners would encounter so much as even this. With the receiver’s Atmos update still pending at this point in my audition, I cued up a few movie scenes and listened to the Pioneer’s “virtualsurround” presentation, which is what you get from the 3.1.2 configuration with no discrete Atmos (or DTS:X) decoding available. This ghostsurround-speaker array did fairly well—about like what I hear from the best sort of surround soundbar but with better front-stage width (and dynamics and tonality, of course) and slightly better “rear-ness,” though still not enough to deceive even a moderately experienced ear into perceiving a full surround environment. The surround effect worked over a respectably wide area, enough for two- or even very friendly threeacross seating, but it could be heard to vary in strength and “surround-ness” as I moved my head left or right a foot or so, as is usual from such faux-surround processing. In its favor, the Pioneer contributed much less of the phase-y, comb-filter coloration on surround-
The Pioneer includes a handy front-panel USB port.
TEST REPORT ON THE WEB
See soundandvision.com/ TestBench for full lab results and technical definitions.
Classic, utilitarian adjustment knobs grace the front panel.
Test Bench Pioneer VSX-832 A/V Receiver
AUDIO This graph shows the VSX-832’s left channel, from DVD input to speaker output with two channels driving 8-ohm loads. Measurements for THD+noise, signal-to-noise ratio, and analog/digital frequency response were all within expected performance parameters. Full details available at soundandvision.com.—MJP Two Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Two Channels Continuously Driven, 4-Ohm Loads
Five Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
Seven Channels Continuously Driven, 8-Ohm Loads
VIDEO The Pioneer passed our video clipping test.—DK
Power Output: 80 watts (8 ohms, 2 channels driven) • Auto Setup/Room EQ: Proprietary MCACC • Video Processing: 4K passthrough supporting HDCP 2.2, HDR (HDR10 and Dolby Vision) via HDMI • Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 17.1 x 6.8 x 12.6 • Weight (Pounds): 19 • Video Inputs: HDMI 2.0a (4), composite video (2) • Audio Inputs: Coaxial (1), optical digital (1), USB (2, 1 front panel), analog linelevel stereo (3, 1/8-inch stereo on front panel) • Additional: RJ-45 Ethernet • Video Outputs: HDMI 2.0a (1)
intensive scenes than I’ve heard from many other virtual-surround solutions. In truth, very little indeed. But, as you’ll
read below, the real test would come later, when Pioneer finally pushed out the 3.1.2 Atmos upgrade.
In the meantime, though, I reconnected my usual side surround speakers and rebalanced the receiver for conventional 5.1-channel playback. I began with the Ultra HD remaster of demo classic The Fifth Element, inserted it into my new-to-me Ultra HD Blu-ray player, and hit the “go” button. The Atmos soundtrack, dutifully stripped to its 5.1 TrueHD base, sounded pristine in all regards. (The disc looked pretty snappy, too. The receiver throughput the film’s 4K/24 without a single glitch or hesitation. I can’t comment on its handling of HDR formats, however, as I’m not yet equipped for them. Note to Santa: 4K projector, please?) The movie’s opera scene sounded bell-clear and beguiling as usual, and the five-channel Pioneer had dynamic reserves to spare for the final two chapters’ comic mayhem, allowing it to fill my fair-sized studio to near-cinema levels.
Surround/Enhancer modes), but I was mostly interested in the 3.1.2channel Atmos performance. So for expediency’s sake, I first cued up Dolby’s own Atmos demonstration disc, which has a broad palette of sharply produced samples. Clips like the “Leaf” and “Conductor” trailers carry a number of clear, up-over-andacross cues that display Atmos’s more obvious virtues dramatically. And these were now perfectly evident via the Pioneer: the top-down spiraling of a leaf; the overhead, lateral twittering of birds. But they were neither as high, nor by a fairly long chalk, as front-to-rear deep as I’ve heard from my full, 5.1.4-channel Atmos setup (with physical surround speakers and both front and rear height pairs). That said, the 3.1.2 setup demonstrated a distinct gain in spaciousness and overhead-ness, but nothing wrapped around further than about 70 or perhaps 80 degrees lateral to the screen: pretty good, and cinematically very useful, but nothing like the full 360-degree panorama my full setup engenders. Pulling my listening chair forward a good 2 or 3 feet—almost within 6 feet of the screen, closer than my left-right pair are spaced apart—improved this to fully 90 degrees or perhaps even a bit more, but nothing I could characterize as full surround. Still, auditioning selected scenes from Atmos films including Inferno and Deepwater Horizon, I rated this a distinct improvement to what I had heard prior to the Atmos update, and not just in overhead effects. Ambience was bigger and clearly more enveloping, and delicate effects like birdsong or rustling leaves seemed simultaneously more defined and more ethereal. Honestly, after five minutes of watching, I forgot about what was missing: The sound was plenty dimensional and involving enough to draw me into the story. If you can’t afford the cost of, or are unable to obtain the necessary
Once Pioneer delivered their longpromised Atmos 3.1.2 firmware (and in the nick of time, from the editor’s perspective, I might add), I doubled back to the 3.1.2 setup to give it a whirl, once again losing the side surround speakers for a pair of Atmos elevation modules up front. After downloading the update files and transferring these to a USB thumb drive, the receiver updated without issue. The new firmware reorganized a few of the Pioneer’s surround modes (PLII departs in favor of Dolby
• 66 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
The VSX-832 includes legacy connections in addition to HDMI.
The remote's AV Adjust key brings up adjustment tools for tone, equalization, and channel levels.
interior decorating permissions for the nine-speaker real thing, I judge the VSX-832’s “Atmos-Lite” (my phrase, not Dolby’s!) a qualified success.
Extras and Ergos
The VSX-832 is one of the less costly stream-ready receivers I’ve tried. Yet surprisingly (and pleasantly so), it demonstrated just about the quickest and most responsive DLNA (home-network streaming) client I’ve encountered. This was straightforward and fairly basic in features, but its speed in moving across directories and folders—if not in actually commencing playback—was quite rewarding. And the Pioneer streamed everything I sent its way without a hiccup: Uncompressed,
Apple Lossless, FLAC, and DSD files played without a hitch, as did (of course) MP3s and MP4s. Pioneer endows this AVR with the company’s Sound Retriever audio-processing extra, a DSP enhancement said to “improve the quality of the compressed audio”— though how exactly this is to be achieved (without recourse to the original, uncompressed bitstream) is never specified. I’ve frankly never heard much improvement from these features, whether Pioneer’s or those of most competing brands. In any case, engaging the mode here induces a slight overall volume boost, which makes meaningful comparisons difficult. On the other hand, the receiver does include two features I heartily
endorse. One, invoked by an “AV Adjust” remote key, pops up a context-sensitive menu of on-the-fly items, including tone controls, MCACC/equalization selection, and (most usefully, in my book) channel levels for center and subwoofer (but not, alas, for height or surround). The other feature, in response to the remote’s “i” key, pops up a similarly instant Information display (otherwise known as the Reviewer’s Friend), showing the currently selected input and output path, signal formats, listening modes selected, and sampling frequency, both audio and video. When it comes to hands-on operation, the VSX-832 is perfectly livable. The remote is small, basic, and not illuminated, but its sensible layout and ample spacing make it easy to learn and use. Pioneer even builds in a web server, so you can set all the receiver’s parameters from a desktop or handheld browser by simply typing its assigned IP
address in its address bar. (I don’t know how many other inexpensive receivers allow for the same, but I’m betting it’s not all of them.) Pioneer says the VSX-832 is also controllable by the Pioneer Remote App for iOS and Android, though I didn't see this mentioned in the manual or on their website. I like Atmos—and I like it best in at least its 5.1.4-channel guise—but I can also recognize the imperative for something more attractive, and more practicable, to a wider spectrum of buyers. In this light, I understand Pioneer’s (and Dolby’s) choices—which reduces the number of speakers required to enjoy some semblance of height effects, and—critically for some environments—eliminates the need to run speaker cables to the back of the room. More important, though, I applaud this receiver’s affordability, its wide and up-to-date video- and audio-mode compatibility, and its very solid sonics and audio power.
The Pros Know Bass When sound professionals are mixing the soundtrack for the latest Hollywood blockbuster, they turn to M&K for the best bass. After all, M&K invented the powered subwoofer in 1977 – and have been perfecting it ever since. M&K X series subwoofers feature push/ pull technology and THX Ultra performance
You can bring the precision, realism and excitement of the M&K‘s award-winning freestanding, on-wall and in-wall speakers as well as powered subwoofers into your home theater. With M&K you’ll enjoy all the heart pounding sonic thrills the director intended you to hear. See the Complete Line of M&K Speakers & Subwoofers at: mksoundus.com
Available at Distributed by Audio Gear Group. audiogeargroup.com Design Centers
Monkey Business It’s 1973, and a U.S. survey and mapping expedition, supported by an Army helicopter unit recently released from the wind-down of the Vietnam War, heads toward the previously unexplored
soundandvision.com 68 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
BLU-RAY STUDIO: Warner Bros., 2017 ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos / TrueHD 7.1 core; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (UHD and Blu-ray) LENGTH: 118 mins. MPAA RATING: PG-13 DIRECTOR: Jordon Vogt-Roberts STARRING: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson
Corps pilot stranded on the island since his plane crashed there in World War II. Together they fight their way to the rescue point, their journey slowed not only by an increasingly angry Kong (and even scarier beasties) but also by a now-Ahab-like Colonel Packard, obsessed with revenge for the deaths of his men. If you’re waiting for our heroes to capture Kong and transport him back to New York for a public showing, they never do. Only Yankee Stadium would have been big enough for such an event. And there are only the slightest swipes toward a beauty-and-the-beast subplot. The film is beautifully shot, and the UHD Blu-ray gets it all. While most of the film takes place
in daylight, several dark scenes critical to the story, particularly Packard’s final confrontation with Kong, are clearly rendered. Bright HDR highlights pop consistently, and the island’s jungle and mountain locations (much of the film was shot in Vietnam) are consistently striking. The widescreen format is also used intelligently throughout, both in quieter scenes and in the film’s jaw-dropping action set pieces. (A Blu-ray 3D edition is sold separately, converted from 2D but quite enjoyable.) I listened in 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio. (The Dolby Atmos track only plays if manually selected.) The sound was consistently excellent, with powerful bass and active surrounds, not only in the action scenes but in quieter moments as well, adding to the tension and constant threat of instant death from something nasty hiding in the bush—or part of the bush. Occasional bits of harshness did intrude, particularly where loud action effects compete with a music track that mixes conventional underscoring and pop music, but it was rare. The extras are solid and deserve high marks not only for the modest but interesting making-of featurettes but also for the director’s commentary track, an endangered species in recent years. And while most of the extras here are included only on the Blu-ray version, the commentary is available on both the UHD and Blu-ray Discs. Kong: Skull Island is a wild ride, though it doesn’t displace my favorite Kong movie, Peter Jackson’s version from 2005. Do check out that one, and also the 1933 original. It’s viewed today as a classic, though modern viewers accustomed to photorealistic special effects can’t appreciate it in the same way that 1933 audiences did— as a terrifying, exciting adventure film. l Thomas J. Norton
Let me list all the ways you’re gonna die.”
PICTURE 3D-NESS SOUND EXTRAS
Kong: Skull Island
Skull Island. If they’d brushed up on their old movies, they wouldn’t have been gobsmacked, and soon simply smacked, when they spot and engage with a really big ape. Big enough to squish all previous versions of the character under his big toe. Big enough to easily challenge the helicopters and crews. I mean really, really big. In a flash, choppers are scattered in pieces across the island, along with most of their occupants. A few important characters manage to survive, led by Lt. Colonel Preston Packard, the head of the military contingent, and Bill Randa, the civilian in charge of the expedition. On their way to join their scattered forces back together, they encounter natives, together with a slightly loony Army Air
Entertainment Reviews in High Definition
THE FIFTH ELEMENT A 20-YEAR-OLD CLASSIC FOR VIDEOPHILES
Korben Dallas, a retired space fighter pilot, has been relegated to driving a cab in New York City, and since leaving the military, his life has been on a downward spiral. His luck begins to change when a beautiful girl named Leeloo drops into the back of his cab, and before he knows it, he’s stuck in the middle of an intergalactic feud that happens every 5,000 years. It turns out the lovely young lady is the Fifth Element, who when combined with earth, wind, fire, and water becomes the perfect weapon to save the human race from destruction. I remember the first time I saw the movie that I was blown away by the video quality but found the story to be a bit over-the-top. As time has gone on, I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. The editing is fantastic, and director Luc Besson does a great job at crafting the narrative and getting the most out of his actors, especially Chris Tucker, whose portrayal of Ruby Rhod helped land him a leading role in the Rush Hour franchise. My last viewing of the film was a couple of years ago, on the “Mastered in 4K” Cinema Series Blu-ray release. This looks to be the same 4K master used for that release, but the UHD Blu-ray has the addition of Wide Color Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR). The film looked fantastic on Blu-ray, and I wasn’t sure what the added resolution would do for the picture. Details are a bit finer, and there’s more texture in clothing and facial shots, but the 4K treatment also highlights more of the film grain. The WCG and HDR aren’t earth shattering, but there are a few scenes where it does come into play, particularly the space scenes. The Dolby Atmos track is just as impressive as the one found on the 2015 Blu-ray release. There are a few demo-worthy moments that highlight the overhead speakers, especially during the “unveiling” in the first act and during many of the action scenes. The bullets fly throughout the room, and you can hear their impact on the walls and ceilings, giving you that “being there” feeling and experience. The supplements include 20 featurettes (all on the Blu-ray Disc) and a 10-minute retrospective titled “The Director’s Notes: Luc Besson Looks Back” along with the BLU-RAY Digital Copy. STUDIO: Sony, 1997 There’s no middle ground with this ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 classic—you either love it or hate it. I AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos / started in the latter category on my first True HD 7.1 core LENGTH: 126 mins. viewing but have changed my opinion. MPAA RATING: PG-13 Highly recommended. l David Vaughn DIRECTOR: Luc Besson STARRING: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm
F8: FATE OF THE FURIOUS A FULL TANK OF GAS AND A LOT OF HOT AIR
I never understood why MI-6 always gave James Bond the most expensive and exotic sports cars on the planet to take with him on his missions. Q Branch must know by now there’s no way in hell that thing is coming back in one piece. That same basic logic applies to the Fast & the Furious films: Why would you ever give a Lamborghini to someone who’s going to a demolition derby? But let’s face it: The Fast & the Furious franchise has never really striven to imbue their films with much reality. Every subsequent film in the series tries to top the previous one with even more ludicrously implausible action sequences and ridiculous plot devices. And F8: Fate of the Furious is a doozy. At the outset, Vin Diesel’s character, Dominic Toretto, says something flippant like, “It doesn’t matter what’s under the hood. The only thing that matters is who’s behind the wheel.” Then we see him prove his point by jacking up some rusty jalopy with enough nitro to put the car into lunar orbit. But hey, this is a popcorn movie… with a gallon of extra butter. It’s almost as if the filmmakers wear it like a badge of honor. Both the 4K and standard HD discs exhibit exemplary image quality. Colors and textures are vibrant and pop right off the screen, but the 4K sports a more natural and lifelike picture with darker tones throughout. Shadow detail is much richer, and low-light interiors are more realistically rendered. HD interiors frequently appear overlit and have an artificial look about them. Both have their own intermittent motion blur and strobing issues here and there, though the 4K has fewer of them. The DTS:X surround sound is reference worthy, with a cornucopia of chaos and carnage to showcase your speakers with, and boy oh boy, does the carnage pile up. The dialogue is atrocious, but it never gets overwhelmed by the surround-channel speakers even when the pandemonium is at full tilt. The 4K disc comes with a feature-length audio commentary with director F. Gary Gray. All other bonus content is on the HD Blu-ray and consists of numerous self-indulgent featurettes that cover the film’s locations, the intricate stunt work, the actors and their characters, and most BLU-RAY importantly, those wickedly cool cars STUDIO: Universal, 2017 they use. ASPECT RATIO: 2:40:1 There are also two extended sequences AUDIO FORMAT: DTS:X and the same audio commentary from the LENGTH: 136 mins. MPAA RATING: PG-13 UHD disc. An unrated extended cut of DIRECTOR: F. Gary Gray the film is included but only through the STARRING: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Digital Copy. l Corey Gunnestad Johnson, Charlize Theron
LIFE TEMPTING DARWIN’S LAW IN SPACE
Discovering life on Mars would be the crowning achievement in any scientist’s career, so when a team on the International Space Station receives a care package of samples from the red planet, they can’t wait to begin their experiments. To their surprise, they discover there was once life on Mars after all, and they unleash a creature that evolves at an accelerated pace that has its eyes on the planet below them. Having never heard of this movie until it showed up on my doorstep, I had no knowledge of what I was sitting down to watch other than that it had some decent star power and was set in space. The first act does a good job of building the tension and offers some decent character development in a genre that usually jumps straight into the gore and never thinks twice about who’s getting snuffed out by the monster. What frustrated me most is that, in the real world, our best and brightest become astronauts, but this crew seemed to leave their common sense back on Earth given their continual bone-headed decisions that leave them fighting for their lives. When UHD Blu-ray launched, I wasn’t sure if it would catch on, but if the studios keep releasing films that look like this, the future is bright for the format. It was shot with a mix of Arri Alexa cameras and was finished at 3.2K. The result is a video encode that’s razor-sharp and teems with detail. Colors don’t jump off the screen given the cooler color grading done in post-production, but shots of the Earth from space are mesmerizing, and some of the HDR effects are to die for, especially exterior shots of the Space Station. Not to be outshined is a fabulous Dolby Atmos track that sports effective use of the overhead speakers. The steering through the soundstage is precise and extremely engaging and lifelike. When an airlock is opened, air whooshes through the room, and you get the illusion of being sucked out toward space—definitely a demo-worthy moment! The supplements are housed on the Blu-ray Disc and contain some deleted scenes, three making-of featurettes inclusive of cast interviews, a look at the creature’s biology with the possibility of there being life on Mars or even other planets, and how all of the different elements of the story BLU-RAY come together. Finishing things off are STUDIO: Sony, 2017 some “Astronaut Diaries,” trailers from ASPECT RATIO: 2.39:1 other Sony titles, and a UV Digital Copy AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos / of the film. l David Vaughn True HD 7.1 core LENGTH: 104 mins. MPAA RATING: R DIRECTOR: Daniel Espinosa STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds
soundandvision.com 70 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
POWER RANGERS IT’S MORPHIN TIME!
The long-running Japanese franchise Power Rangers is rebooted in this 2017 film from director Dean Israelite and writer John Gatins. The somewhat camp story follows a group of teen misfits who uncover a collection of ancient artifacts and a buried alien ship; endowed with superpowers, the teens must muster their new powers and learn to work together to save the world. Power Rangers is hardly high art, and it never has been. The American version of the series was culled from stock Japanese footage edited together with new English-speaking scenes. It’s silly, but it does have at its core the idea of teamwork. This reboot is a mishmash of Godzilla, Transformers, and a little of The Breakfast Club thrown in. It’s popcorn fun with amazing visual effects—no need to think too hard about it. Power Rangers was shot on the Red Epic Dragon at 6K, 5K, and 4K resolutions, and a 4K DI was utilized in post-production. The film was also done in the Dolby Vision high dynamic range format, so what we get in this Ultra HD release mastered in 2160p “4K” HEVC with Dolby Vision is about as pure as it gets. This is a fantastic-looking presentation that—while I would hardly call it natural given the heavy color coding and shadowing—really pops. This disc makes a case not only for Dolby Vision (and HDR), but wide color gamut. The presentation sparkles, showing the primary colors of the Rangers’ costumes, which don’t look quite as vivid on the Blu-ray. Highlights really stand out against the deep shadows thanks to the wider contrast. The Dolby Vision presentation gives this film a more balanced presentation than what is often the more gimmicky, albeit still stunning, look of HDR10. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is instantly a reference track from the opening flashback sequence. It continues on with various sound effects placed around the room and overhead as well as contemporary rock tracks that spread through the soundfield. The climax comes during the film’s Transformers-esque battle sequence where everything comes at you. The low end is staggering. Dialogue remains clear and concise throughout. Lionsgate offers a small yet strong selection of extras, including the nine-part documentary “The Power of the Present” (HD, 140 mins.) that charts the evolution of BLU-RAY the Power Rangers from the original series STUDIO: Lionsgate, 2017 to the present film, an audio commentary ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 with the writer and director, and 18 deleted AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby Atmos scenes (HD). Digital HD UltraViolet and LENGTH: 134 mins. MPAA RATING: PG-13 iTunes Digital HD copies plus a Blu-ray are DIRECTOR: Dean Israelite included. l Brandon A. DuHamel STARRING: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE PLUCKED FROM OBSCURITY
If you’re going to steal, the saying goes, steal from the best. Like many a filmmaker, Dario Argento was strongly influenced by the works of a certain British director, so much so that he earned the nickname “The Italian Hitchcock.” His debut film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, embraces many a cliché of the thriller genre while also forging its own path. Shot and scored with genuine inspiration, the film boasts a clever plot, with twists that are not easy to predict, as well as a distinctive sense of humor. Sam (Tony Musante), an American writer living abroad, is about to return home when he witnesses a violent attack, in the midst of a wave of recent murders. Short on clues, the police revoke his passport to compel him to aid in the investigation, even though his life is promptly put in real danger. Brave, resourceful, and remarkably level-headed through it all, Sam shows a real flair for detective work despite his lack of experience, but the killer has no intention of surrendering quietly. Lensed by the great Vittorio Storaro using the cost-saving Techniscope 35mm process—essentially requiring half the film stock but therefore delivering a blow to image quality—Bird has a noticeably grainy appearance that might be considered noisy. A high bitrate, however, assures excellent detail in the shadows, in out-of-focus backgrounds, and even in a drastically misty morning. The color palette is lovely and natural, a boon to the skintones in frequent close-ups. The movie has been newly restored at 4K, but vertical scratches and other minor issue remain. The soundtrack defaults to the original English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0, but an Italian track is available as well, in the same format. Sadly, the audio experience is in no way distinguished: With an American lead and a mostly Italian supporting cast, neither language sounds quite right, often coming off as cut-rate dubbing. Volume also needed to be bumped significantly above my usual listening levels. While not given an ideal sonic showcase, Ennio Morricone’s musical accompaniment is nonetheless delightfully creepy. The substantial new bonus content is highlighted by a half-hour interview segment with Argento, plus an expert commentary and more. This fancy limited BLU-RAY edition also contains a DVD of the movie STUDIO: Arrow Video, 1970 with all the extras, a two-sided movie ASPECT RATIO: 2.35:1 poster, a well-researched mini-book, DTS-HD MASTER AUDIO 1.0 and a collection of mini lobby cards that AUDIO FORMAT: 97 mins. MPAA RATING: NR somehow manage to mislead the audience DIRECTOR: Dario Argento while also spoiling key scenes! l Chris Chiarella
STARRING: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno
STRAW DOGS BITE ME
From the get-go in this hugely provocative and highly challenging essay on violence, there’s a disconcerting, menacing montage of images that tilts you off balance. The setting is a small, insular, isolated, Wicker Man– ish Cornish community where Deliverance-like locals sit and wait. It’s a wild-west horror-film village seething with aggression and coiled sexual tensions where touches, embraces, and fights erupt unbidden. Imminent violence hangs as a fog over streets of brooding, bored young men leering lustily while girls tease and flirt. There’s too much time, too few dreams. Enter bespectacled, civilized, ineffectual American intellectual Dustin Hoffman, passive yet competitively macho mathematician seeking isolation to work with his gorgeous, bored, attentionseeking wife. Clannishness and hostility breed as the confines of the village close in, causing ugly moods to emerge. After a slow-burning build, sex, doubt, jealousy, and rape fantasies resolve in Sam Peckinpah’s startling, almost surreal slow-mo, violent images clashing together in a torrent of testosterone-drenched cathartic catastrophe. In this restored in 4K digital transfer from the 35mm camera negative, all damages of age are repaired. Images are often gloomy, foggy, moodily lit, and focus is shallow, but there’s still plenty of detail. Contrast is good, blacks are deep and whites bright, and desaturated colors are not always distinct. Sufficient grain is left to give a brooding, film-like quality. There’s texture in woolen weaves, leather chairs, and stonework, while sweat drops and individual hairs in beards and Susan George’s golden locks are all visible. The soundtrack is a masterpiece of domination that reflects the tribalistic intimidation of the characters. It builds with escalating savagery, alarming church bells, foghorns, and telephone rings all unnervingly harsh and grating. Voices can be sibilant, but Jerry Fielding’s creepy and blaring classical bagpipe score sounds grand, clear, and resounding, with no hiss or breakup—yet it still puts you on edge. Over six hours of insanely fulfilling extras are substantial and educational. A 53-minute making-of documentary revisits locations, while an analytical critic’s commentary skillfully breaks down the language of the film. There’s intelligent, BLU-RAY engaging actor, filmmaker, and scholar STUDIO: The Criterion Collection, interviews discussing cinema sexuality and 1971 a feature-length biography of the director ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 with many craggy actors musing on his AUDIO: Linear PCM Mono LENGTH: 118 mins. magnificent films and his old-world MPAA RATING: R western dreams and sense of loss. A joy. DIRECTOR: Sam Peckinpah STARRING: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan
l Josef Krebs
SONGS FROM THE WOOD: 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION JETHRO TULL
Ian Anderson Archive
These days, when it comes to surround sound mixing, most in-theknow producers and musicians’ respective collective first thought inevitably turns to the maxim, What would Steven Wilson do? Indeed, the man also known as the once and future king of hi-res and 5.1 production has long staked his claim as the No. 1 go-to guy for any artist interested in obtaining a top-shelf mix that takes full advantage of the vaunted six-channel, 96-kilohertz/24-bit (and sometimes higher!) audio spectrum offered via DVD and/or Blu-ray. (And yes, a hi-res download option is on the master main menu as well.) Wilson initially made his bones mixing four studio albums by his own post-prog collective Porcupine Tree to new heights in 5.1 in the 2000s, and has also forged a system-challenging surround template for five solo albums to date, including the just-released To the Bone. What Wilson understands more than most is how to best utilize hi-res and surround sound to create less congested and less compressed mixes that ultimately allow the music itself to breathe. This philosophy has held Wilson in good stead with artists ranging from XTC to Yes to King Crimson to Tears for Fears, and perhaps most notably with Jethro Tull, for whom Wilson has helmed eight catalog surround and stereo remixes to date. It’s difficult to pick an overall favorite, but I am most partial to the wonders of what the man did in 5.1 with the expansive journeyman title track to 1975’s Minstrel in the Gallery. Wilson’s latest magic touch with the Tull canon is on full display on the five-disc Songs From the Wood: 40th Anniversary Edition, the core 1977 album of which absolutely shines in surround in its 96-kHz/ 24-bit form, alongside a smorgasbord of bonus tracks (a.k.a. “associated recordings”) that have also gotten the proper 5.1 treatment (with four of them appearing in quad as well). That said, it should be noted that
soundandvision.com 72 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
Jakko Jakszyk, guitarist/vocalist in the current incarnation of King Crimson, is the knobsman who quite ably handled both stereo and 5.1 mixing duties on the Live in Concert 1977 material on both CD and DVD, culled from an electrifying performance at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland on November 21, 1977. Tull frontman Ian Anderson is literally on fire from the outset of the Landover gig in a red felt bowler and matching vest, playing his role as the ever-animated and athletic flautist/vocalist/guitarist to the hilt. His trademark wit is also well on display all throughout the show. At one point, he teases the audience with an intro riff he describes as being from a “very famous Led Zeppelin song.” It’s not, of course—but the mashup song title he dubs it as is nothing short of classic Anderson panache in action. Incidentally, Jakszyk also helmed the 5.1 for Anderson’s 2014 solo effort Homo Erraticus, and he appears to be Anderson’s favored frontrunner to continue with Tull catalog 5.1 mixes once Wilson gets to his personal threshold. To that end, Wilson recently told me the last album he’d feel comfortable tackling in 5.1 in the Tull universe would be 1982’s The Broadsword and the Beast. Hence, it’s most likely Wilson will have a go at 1978’s Heavy Horses next, possibly followed by the option to do 1980’s galvanizing A if so inclined and then Broadsword before ceding the surround controls to Jakszyk for 1984’s electro-synth experiment, Under Wraps, and what follows it. Me, I can’t wait to hear what Jakko can do with 1987’s more guitarcentric Crest of a Knave—but I digress. And now, back to the full Wood! Wilson sets a fine 5.1 table with the opening title track, with crisp handclaps and clear tambourine accents in the rear channels buttressing Anderson’s front-and-center lead vocal. “Jack-in-the-Green” lays down a different tone, thanks to Wilson pushing Anderson’s vocal line slightly back in the mix and countering it with an ever-so-slightly delayed counter vocal in the rears, with the bandleader’s patented flute wafting in and out of the right (and left) channels at just the right times. Pivotal CD & DVD track “The Whistler” kicks off with some LABEL: Chrysalis/Parlophone serious low-end thump before its jaunty AUDIO FORMATS: 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM Stereo (CD), 96-kHz/24-bit melody takes over, eventually suppleLPCM Stereo (DVD1 & download), mented with a few tasteful guitar stabs 48-kHz/16-bit LPCM Stereo from Martin Barre in the rear right. Of (DVD2), 96-kHz/24-bit DTS 5.1 the included bonus material, I’m most & 4.0 and Dolby Digital AC3 5.1 & 4.0 (DVD1), DTS 5.1 & Dolby drawn to the staging of “Strip Cartoon,” Digital AC3 5.1 (DVD2) with Anderson’s measured vocal being (to NUMBER OF TRACKS: 97 on 5 borrow a word from the song) “texturized” discs (39 on 3 CDs, 58 on 2 DVDs) to a degree that supports rather than overLENGTH: 7:49:14 (3:08:59 on 3 CDs, 4:40:15 on 2 DVDs) whelms the track’s underlying intent. PRODUCERS: Ian Anderson Once again, Steven Wilson’s seasoned (original album and box set), ear and steady hand have resulted in a surSteven Wilson (Songs From the round mix that only serves to add to the Wood surround sound mix & stereo remix), Jakko Jakszyk (Live substantive sonic legacy of Jethro Tull. at Landover stereo & surround Wood has never sounded so sweet from tip sound mixes) to toe or so worthy of whistling along to on ENGINEERS: Robin Black, Thing Moss, Trevor White (original studio the seventh day. l Mike Mettler album); Ray Shulman (box set mastering and authoring)
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Back to the ’70s
Tannoy Legacy Series Speakers
Tannoy • (519) 745-2364 • tannoycom
Do you feel like you’re back in the ’70s, when vinyl ruled and fashion was…well, let’s just say, questionable? There’s a good reason for that: Tannoy’s new Legacy Series is based on the popular High Powered Dual (HPD) Series released in 1974, the year after Pink Floyd mixed The Dark Side of the Moon at London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios on a pair of newly installed Tannoy Lancaster monitors. Although substantially updated with the latest materials and driver technologies, all three of the Legacy models—Eaton ($5,500/pair), Cheviot ($6,400/pair), and Arden ($8,000/pair)—share something special with their predecessors: They’re built around an updated version of the Dual Concentric driver Tannoy invented way back in 1947, two decades after Guy R. Fountain founded the company in London. The latest generation of that famous driver—the only driver in each model—is a paper/pulp cone woofer with a Dual Concentric tweeter mounted in its “throat.” Tannoy says the arrangement ensures that low and high frequencies are dispersed in a 360-degree pattern that follows the contour of the “tulip” waveguide surrounding the tweeter; the waveguide also acts as a phase plug and aids time alignment. Compared with the Dual Concentric drivers used in the original HPD models, the new versions have been substantially upgraded, resulting in lower distortion, higher sensitivity, and improved clarity. Updates include the use of an aluminum/magnesium alloy for the dome of the tweeter, said to extend response out to 30 kilohertz, an improved
motor structure with a ferrite magnet and edge-would coils, and a sophisticated two-channel crossover network. Honoring the heritage of the original HPD series—which was introduced to bring the sound of the recording studio to home hi-fi—the new Legacy models are handcrafted and quality-checked and tested at Tannoy’s factory in Scotland. All are highly efficient—with sensitivity ratings of 89, 91, and 93 decibels—and boast a vintage-looking gold panel on the front baffle with controls for Treble Energy and Treble Roll Off, adjustable in 1.5- and 2-dB increments, respectively. The primary difference between the models is size: The Eaton is a 21-inch-tall bookshelf model with a 10-inch driver and two ports; the Cheviot is a slender floorstander that stands 34 inches tall with a 12-inch driver and two ports; and the Arden is a 3-foottall floorstanding model with a 15-inch driver and three ports, a design said to ease room placement. If you’re a fan of Tannoy, the new Legacy Series deserves closer inspection.—Bob Ankosko
Sound & Vision (ISSN 1537-5838) (USPS 504-850) November 2017, Vol. 82, No. 9. COPYRIGHT 2017 BY TEN: The Enthusiast Network Magazines, LLC. All rights reserved. Published 10 times a year (January, February/ March, April, May, June, July/August, September, October, November, December) by TEN: The Enthusiast Network, LLC., 261 Madison Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10016-2303. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY and additional mailing offices. Single copy price is $5.99. Subscriptions: U.S., APO, FPO, and U.S. Possessions $23.94 for 10 issues. Canadian orders add $10.00 per year and international orders add $20.00 per year (for surface mail postage). Payment in advance, U.S. funds only. POSTMASTER: Send all UAA to CFS. (See DMM 707.4.12.5); NON-POSTAL AND MILITARY FACILITIES: send address corrections to Sound & Vision, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. Mailing Lists: Occasionally, our subscriber list is made available to reputable firms offering goods and services we believe would be of interest to our readers. If you prefer to be excluded, please send your current address label and a note requesting to be excluded from these promotions to TEN: The Enthusiast Network, LLC., 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245, Attn: Privacy Coordinator. Subscription Service: Should you wish to change your address or order new subscriptions, you can e-mail email@example.com, call (800) 264-9872 (international calls: 386-447-6383), or write to: Sound & Vision, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235.
74 NOVEMBER 2017 soundandvision.com
The New Polk HTS Subwoofers—available in 10” and 12” long-throw driver sizes—roar to life with that high-power ampliﬁcation you crave. And with our patented Power Port technology, you get a visceral big bass experience that’s always clean and clear. No chuff… only the good stuff. Polk—expect great sound. Learn more at www.polkaudio.com
Polk Audio is a Sound United, Inc. Company. Polk is a registered trademark of Polk Audio, Inc.