Sherwood RD-7503 A/V Receiver Page 2
One quirk emerged when I set up the receiver. The onscreen user interface appeared only through the composite video output. Even with this HDMI 1.3–savvy receiver, you’ll have to run a composite video cable to your video display if you want to access the onscreen menus. I’ve seen this limitation before, but it hasn’t happened in many years. Nowadays, even HTIBs pass their interfaces through HDMI.
On the plus side, the receiver lets you adjust the channel levels without entering the onscreen menus. A dedicated button on the remote cycles among the channels using the front-panel display. This makes on-the-fly adjustments easy and painless. For instance, if you’re not catching the dialogue on a certain movie, you can raise the center-channel level. All manufacturers should adopt this simple and sensible idea.
The Sherwood ran five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers full range. I do this with all receivers I review to give them a harder load to drive. Granted, not many bass connoisseurs will use an entry-level receiver to run full-range speakers. And the fact that Sherwood specifies that the bottom end of this receiver’s frequency response is 40 Hz (not 20 Hz) suggests that it has a limitation in the low bass. Still, I like to give the amps a good workout. Other associated gear included an Integra DPS-10.5 universal player, Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, Rega Planar 25 turntable, Shure V97xE cartridge, and NAD PP-1 phono preamp.
Lossless Versus Lossy, Continued
Ironically, the only movie that required a midcourse volume drop was the one with a lossless soundtrack. National Security (Blu-ray, Dolby TrueHD) is liberally sprinkled with ballistics as it follows the high jinks of two washed-up cops in a story that’s half comic buddy movie and half action film. I started this movie—like most others—at two-thirds of the receiver’s volume control range, but I had to throttle it back to slightly over half. Despite the relative painlessness of the opening shootout, a subsequent one that occurs in a soft-drink warehouse was harsh enough to make me search for the remote control’s two oddly small and dark volume control buttons.
When Australia gets to the scene where a herd of “cheeky bulls” is driven through town and onto a ship, the Paradigms’ five 7-inch metal-coned woofers received enough upper bass energy to suggest plenty of beefsteak on the hoof. The endearing squeak of Brandon Walters, as the indigenous boy who narrates the epic story, emerged as naturally as the voices of the leads, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. I watched the Dolby Digital DVD (as opposed to the Blu-ray version) because a friend rented it for the evening. Still, I don’t think my impressions would have been much different with a lossless soundtrack.
Pride and Glory (DVD, Dolby Digital 5.1) sets its New York City cop story in a sonic ambience that’s pretty authentic, and I say that as a 30-year resident. The subway noises actually sound like the subway. A sparsely attended night football game among police officers is alive with shouts. Mark Isham’s score is especially notable for its restraint. It starts out as a faint wash of tone color, then it takes on more melody and percussion as the drama builds. I had to turn up the volume to catch all the naturalistically recorded dialogue in this movie, but the louder bits were pretty easy on the ears.
Focusing and Telling the Truth
Jan Akkerman’s Focus in Time name-checks his old band, Focus, and borrows liberally from Bach, Mozart, Grieg, and Fauré. It was well produced with the recording technology available in 1998. It has a relatively small overlay of digital glazing. I first heard it in compromised MP3 form and was pleased to find that the Japanese CD, when I finally tracked it down, was cleaner. While the Sherwood did not prove to be totally transparent—what budget receiver is?—it was good enough to demonstrate the superiority of the CD compared with the lossy computer files.
Blues and the Abstract Truth by Oliver Nelson includes a cast of characters who are too good not to list: the band leader’s alto and tenor sax, Eric Dolphy on alto sax and flute, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, George Barrow on baritone sax, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Roy Haynes on drums. It’s always a good day when I have an excuse to listen to Dolphy while waving the Home Theater banner. The good news about my LP is that it was “custom pressed on premium virgin vinyl,” which reduces sur- ace noise to an almost imperceptible level. The bad news is that it was “digitally remastered from the original stereo master tapes,” which leaves the music bereft of both tape hiss and high-frequency extension. After a few moments in Dolby Pro Logic II music mode, which had the unfortunate effect of moving the drummer’s brushes too far toward the right surround channel, I settled for stereo. The receiver was truthful about the record’s warm tonal balance and its unfortunate airlessness.
Béla Bartók’s For Children—or Für Kinder, as Telefunken’s double-LP box calls it—shows a kinder and gentler incarnation of Hungary’s greatest composer than his dissonant and harrowing string quartets. These Eastern European folk-tune-derived piano pieces range from sprightly and march-like to somber and reflective, much as children themselves do. The sensitive performance by Bartók specialist Dezsö Ránki was mastered to maximize the dynamics of the piano. That meant a major volume hike, which fortunately was not accompanied by a storm of surface noise. Those old Telefunken pressings can be amazing. Given this pristine analog material, the Sherwood behaved well. It offered the right balance between instrument and ambience, albeit with less overall focus than a higher-end amp would provide.
It goes without saying that a budget receiver, even one a step up from the bottom of the line, will have its compromises and quirks. You’ll have to be pragmatic about equipment matching. Look for a speaker package that has high sensitivity or efficiency ratings and perhaps a slightly forgiving midrange. You’ll also need to get used to accessing the onscreen interface via composite video. But this receiver does provide onboard lossless surround decoding at an unprecedentedly low price point. And it’s the first budget receiver to be on speaking terms with Bluetooth devices. You can almost visualize Sherwood’s competitors slapping their foreheads and saying: “How are we going to follow this?”