Sharp SD-HX500 Digital AV Receiver and Universal Player Page 2
The first disc I played was the multichannel SACD of Bryan Ferry's Frantic (UK Virgin 812138 2). While the sound was more than satisfactory in terms of spaciousness and dynamics, I've heard greater clarity and transparency from this recording, as well as sharper transients and, overall, more punch and musical vibrancy.
That observation was repeated with every surround-music disc I tried—SACD, DVD-A, and DTS. The SD-HX500's sonic performance didn't match that of the $15,000 SM-SX100. Big surprise. In fact, you can get better sound and more adjustment options (such as tone controls) from any number of less expensive AV receivers, but, as with the flat-panel video displays this series is designed to accompany, the SD-HX500 is as much about appearance as performance. You don't really think a flat-panel plasma's picture betters a good CRT's, do you?
So for music, the SD-HX500 came up a bit short—but so do most on-wall and in-wall speakers likely to be used with it next to a flat-panel plasma or LCD set. In that context, I'd say the SD-HX500's sonic performance was more than adequate, and generally downright pleasant. While a supercharged disc such as Frank Sinatra at The Sands, Reprise R9 7377) didn't match what I hear in my big system, I didn't expect it to. The Sharp's overall sonic performance was more than respectable, falling short more in terms of what was missing than because of additive faults such as etch, brightness, hardness, or grain.
The SD-HX500's overall sound was on the warm, laid-back side, but it had enough punch and power to successfully drive most speakers of small to medium size. Its 2% THD rating will raise some eyebrows, but far more expensive tube amps that are noted for their great sound don't offer better THD specs.
Switching to movies, the SD-HX500 effectively handled the basic decoding chores required by the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks of my reference DVDs, with no spatial glitches or surprises. Sharp's 1-Bit amplifiers delivered plenty of dynamic punch, effectively driving a pair of B&W Signature 805 speakers used for the front channels to high SPLs without strain or compression.
When I substituted the Mission M-Time Cyrus amplifiers for the Sharp system (the M-Time, now discontinued, is a more conventional, larger but still relatively compact system), the sound became more nuanced, liquid, 3-dimensional, delicate, and relaxed. Instruments and voices were more tangible, with added weight and solidity.
I put on Digital Video Essentials, then the Silicon-Optix HQV Benchmark test disc, to check out the Sharp DVD player's processing and deinterlacing capabilities. The needle pulse test is more for a display than a DVD player, so I was beyond puzzled by what I saw as I scrolled past it: the black line that should normally run perfectly straight through the white field had a potbelly—a severe U-shaped protrusion just below the black/white transition. That couldn't have been right, so I called Sharp. Turns out that the problem—a software glitch—had been seen in some early units but had already been fixed; a replacement processor-control module was far better behaved. Overall, I found the SD-HX500's picture quality and deinterlacing capabilities adequate, though not as good as those of the Camelot Technologies Round Table DVD player. Again, given that the Camelot is a DVD player only at roughly five-times the Sharp's price, this is not surprising.
More important, watching movies on JVC's 51-inch HD-52Z585 D-ILA monitor, which I reviewed in the December 2004 UAV, revealed no glaring faults, though the Sharp player's lack of a DVI or HDMI output is a strike against it, given that it's designed for use with wall-mounted plasma displays.
We've reached a point where even inexpensive DVD players can deliver more than acceptable video processing, low noise, and a rich color palette. But when I ran the Sharp's video signal into my 65-inch Hitachi 65XW20B CRT RPTV, the picture was on the soft side, and lacked the vibrancy and detail I'd become accustomed to. No great surprise. On smaller displays and in less than the most demanding circumstances, the SD-HX500's video performance will be more than satisfactory for most viewers.
You can get equal or better sonic and visual performance from separate components for about the same price as Sharp's SD-HX500. Denon's new AVR-2805 7.1-channel receiver costs around $800; to it you could add Onkyo's new DV-SP502 universal player ($300). I haven't seen or heard either component, but based on my past experience of products from these companies, I'm confident the combo would be at least as good as, if not better than, the SD-HX500, with many more features and flexibility options.
However, the Denon-Onkyo form factor wouldn't come close to matching what Sharp has created here. In a world where people fall all over one another to buy overpriced, underperforming plasma TVs solely because of how they look in the room, I wouldn't sell form factor short. On that basis alone, Sharp's SD-HX500 is a winner. The two-box, hang-it-on-the-wall design is compact, powerful, and looks great, and its sound and picture are more than credible.
Were Bang & Olufsen capable of building such a sexy-looking 1-bit product (I don't think they are), they'd charge three or four times the $1199 Sharp is asking—and B&O's wealthy, design-oriented clientele would happily pay up. For a stylish wall already bearing a plasma TV and on- or in-wall L/C/R speakers, Sharp's SD-HX500 is a high-tech, high-design-concept bargain.
Highs and Lows
• Direct digital link from player to amplifier for SACD and DVD-Audio
• Easy setup and operation
• Compact, space saving design; can be wall-mounted
• Better sound and flexibility available elsewhere for the same price, but not in such a small, one-piece package
• No video switching
• No DVI or HDMI video out