Review by Dwayne Carter
Unless you've been living under a stone (or you live in Alabama or where editor Steven R. Rochlin lives), you have probably heard of two new audio technologies. DVD-Audio and SACD. While SACD is a new, Super CD by Sony, it is said to push the limits of the older CD format. DVD-Audio, on the other hand, takes advantage of the enormous amount of storage on the newer DVD format (4.7GB). That's about 400 minutes of audio and video depending on resolutions and number of channels used. Many DVD-Audio discs contain music videos as well. For example, Tigerlily has the video "Carnival" included. I have spent the past three months auditioning, playing and finally owning the new Technics DVD-A10, DVD-Audio player.
To start with, the Technics DVD-A10 is a visually stunning piece of equipment for the price (MSRP $1,199). My review unit came in the new, warm champagne color (right down to the lighted remote). While most of my A/V gear comes in the obligatory black, I welcomed this silvery /gold color change. Heaving the DVD-A10 from its confines, weighing in at a solid 19 pounds, it was placed it front and center of the new Listening Room / Home Office. This room is fitted for 5.1 Surround Sound so the full capabilities of this new media could be explored.
The DVD-A10 needs to be connected to a receiver that is capable of accepting all six analog outputs (Front Left, Right, Center, Rear Right, Left and Sub), if you want to experience the full six channel mode. You could use that old AC-3-Ready receiver you still may have hanging around, but do yourself a favor and spring for one of the new multi-channel receivers. The DVD-A10 can decode Dolby Digital as well as DTS so you probably want a receiver that can handle that, as most do. If you do not have a DTS capable receiver that is ok because the DVD-A10 will decode those formats for ya'!
To defeat software pirates, the digital outputs only stream data at 48 kHz/16-bit (CD quality) and down-mixes multiple channels to two channel PCM signals. In short, you are not gonna' make a six channel recording of your favorite DVD-Audio folks. You can make on clean CD quality mix though…but why would you want to?
My choice for receiver duties was the visually matching Technics SA-DA-10 (MSRP $799). This is Technics DVD-Audio ready home theater multi-channel receiver. Was asked not to review this receiver as yet, but will say that it is an affordable sonically and a visually matching unit to the DVD-A10 (it even has the matching cool pale blue display!). It has many features designed especially for your DVD-Audio enjoyment, and only falters when used for other sources... but let's get back to the DVD-A10.
The DVD-A10 connects to a multi-channel receiver via six analog inputs. I connected six matching audio interconnects and dialed in the system. This is how the majority of listening in full six-channel mode (where applicable) was done, but also did quite a bit of two channel listening as well. I purchased two DVD-Audio discs. Natalie Merchants Tigerlily [Wea/Elektra Entertainment - ASIN: B0000507R2], and The Corrs In Blue [Wea/Atlantic/Lava - ASIN: B0000560XJ]. DVD-Audio discs are in the $20 range at this point so they will not break the bank. The DVD-Audio player also comes with a demo disc featuring several songs recorded in various rates and bits (two channel/six channel, 192 kHz to 48 kHz and from 16-bits to 24-bits). The two channel stereo selections were recorded at 192 kHz/24-bit (which is much higher resolution than the 44.1kHz/16-bit CD quality rate we are all used to). The six channel selections were recorded at 96 kHz/20-bits. Tigerlily and In Blue were recorded at 96 kHz/24-bits into six-channels.
After scrolling through the menu, I turned off the monitor, only powering it back on to change selections. There was no need to be visually distracted by all of the menu choices available on a DVD-Audio disc. Some DVD-Audio discs can contain graphics such as still images, video clips, lyrics, liner notes, artist bios and website URL's plus a music video or two! My favorite selection from the sampler was the six-channel (96 kHz/20-bit) version of "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Copland. The performance was, in a word, stunning!
I was completely caught up in the piece. It was well recorded and on this particular selection never felt that I was being attacked by the Timpani or bombarded by the horn section. Unfortunately, on some recordings, you do get the feeling that you are being attacked. But this will pass. The "Fanfare for the Common Man" selection was a balanced and well-mixed demonstration of six-channel DVD-Audio technology. Because this format is fairly new there is much more room for the artists as well as the mixing engineer to reproduce the exact feel they were trying to achieve (be it a club sound or a stadium). There is also more room for sonic abuse... but such the cost of progress.
Listening to a musical selection in six-channel surround is truly a different experience and takes a bit of getting used to. For audio purist, comfortable with only listening to music in two channels, this may be quite unsettling. I auditioned many selections in both two and six channels and over time started favoring the six channels format.
Well, in six channels there was a feeling of involvement with the music. Being part of the program instead of an outsider just listening in. The added sonic resolution also introduced many new riffs and sounds to many of the songs auditioned. On Tigerlily, I was often surprised to hear a totally new guitar riff that I did not know existed before. Cool!
My overall impression of DVD-Audio (on the Technics DVD-A10) was one of clarity, envelopment and space. There was a clear definition to the notes. A beginning and an end. The music had a quality about it that relates to watching an HDTV program vs. an NTSC broadcast program. The HDTV image has much more definition and clarity. If you have ever had the privilege to enjoy a few of your favorite shows, broadcast in HDTV, I assure you will be begging for more. The same can be said for DVD-Audio.
What if you do not have a surround sound setup in your audio only listening room? Well, at the very worst, DVD-Audio (in two channel mode) sounds like the best CD recording you've ever heard (when the material on the software is done well). In six-channel mode DVD-Audio is a totally new musical experience.
If you're looking for techno-babble to convince you to buy the Technics DVD-A10, here's a little. The DVD-A10 comes with: THCB (Technics Hybrid Construction Base) that helps isolate the music signal from vibrations, separate power supplies for analog and digital circuitry, audio-only function, built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoder, 10-bit video D/A converter for high quality picture, two-channel sound with 192 kHz sampling/24-bit quantization, multi-channel sound capabilities using linear PCM with up to 96 kHz sampling rate, a dynamic range of 144 dB, digital re-master processing function (should you want to play CDs on it), "audiophile quality" TA-KE II capacitors and A.V.B.O. (Advanced Virtual Battery Operation) that is claimed to help eliminate power supply noise. As far as outputs? Component video out, two S-Video outs, two RCA video outs, six channel analog outs, coaxial and TOSlink digital outs and two sets of RCA analog outs.
Oh.... I forgot! It also has a really cool pale blue light that glows (ever so softly) on each side of the display. Hey, it has gotta look cool too, right?
Of all the techno-goodies the DVD-A10 comes with, I was really impressed by the AVBO (no hum or noise. It is q-u-i-e-t quiet!) and the THCB (the construction base) makes this one of the sturdiest DVD players I have ever felt. This unit is heavy, solid, looks and sounds great and is clearly the statement piece for Technics foray into the world of DVD-Audio. The manual leaves a little to be desired in the way of descriptions. Never did figure out what the RE-MASTER function does. The manual describes this function as "Re-Master: You can turn the Re-Master function on or off ". Gee thanks, that helps. The factory setting is ON, so I left it on. There are so many other cool features, this review would be ten pages long, so suffice to say, it's loaded for bear.
But is it right for you? Good question. I almost never buy any gear in the first generation release. And to be honest, this is a second-generation product. But that aside, DVD-Audio is in its infancy. At the time of writing this review there was only about fifty titles to choose from, and most of the selection I had never heard of. So yes, software is lacking. It is the old chicken or the egg situation. Then there is the potential format war (SACD vs. DVD-Audio), but I and most experts think DVD-Audio will easily win. Most people are now familiar and comfortable with DVD discs and the DVD-Audio players will play your favorite DVD movies (quite well I might add). In the end DVD-Audio is the winner here.
Well, the DVD-A10 is not cheap at $1,199 MSRP though the street price seems to be under $500 (and under $400 if you look carefully). Six channel sound? Yes, you can enjoy excellent sound quality on your two-channel system but you should really try six channels to really experience DVD-Audio. Ok, so that means purchasing three more speakers and a subwoofer. My listening room was already equipped with surround speakers (in-walls) so only needed to add a center channel. For the optimum system it is paramount to have five timbre matched loudspeakers, which in my case would require a sizable investment. So yes the costs start adding up. Then again if you already own a home theater system, just add the DVD-Audio player to your rack! The only reason I suggest otherwise is if you have a dedicated listening room (or home office) and not many of us have that (but I am twisted and enjoy being in debt... so I do).
Overall I am going to give the Technics DVD-A10 DVD-Audio player high praise. The format is new and exciting. It will only get better. If you have the opportunity to listen to a DVD-Audio demo
in a controlled and quiet environment please do. You will not be disappointed. If the demo is the DVD-A10, all the better.
Took the big leap and purchased the DVD-A10 and the matching SA-DA-10 receiver for my home
office/listening room. I enjoy them both daily. The DVD-A10 can play all formats (DVD Video Discs, Video CDs and Compact Discs) so I have a second system for the price of one!
DVD-Audio releases are rolling out on a regular basis, so there are many new audio experiences to look forward to.
Take a DVD-Audio demo out for a spin. If it feels right, buy it. You won't regret it.
THCB (Technics Hybrid Construction Base) helps isolate the music signal from vibrations
Retail Price: $1,199 (street price around $500)
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