JVC RX-D702B Digital Surround Receiver

Digital amplifiers are nothing new - they've been around for years in powered subwoofers and, more recently, home theater box systems. But standalone digital receivers are a somewhat new revelation. The JVC RX-D702B is one of this breed and only the second receiver with a digital amp that we've tested (click here for my review of Panasonic's SA-XR70). The efficiency of digital power amps means less heat - freed of massive heat sinks, digitally powered receivers can use smaller and lighter chassis than conventional receivers with equivalent output specs.

What We Think
The digital amp, stylish design, and cool USB input are pluses, but you may get more flexibility in a conventional receiver at this price.
But besides its amp section, the JVC is the first receiver we've seen to offer another digital perk - a wireless USB input. Given that so many of us now collect digital music files on our computers, it's only logical that we'd want to play that music on a decent sound system when we can. This wireless connection lets you easily stream music right from your computer to your home theater system.

I liked JVC's 7.1-channel receiver the minute I opened the box. Its styling is as elegant as a Steinway grand piano's, with a brushed black faceplate, cool blue backlighting, and chromed end caps. Instead of a maze of buttons packed across the front, there are just a few in a horizontal row plus a source-selector scroll wheel and a volume knob. Behind a drop-down front panel, you'll find conventional A/V connectors and a USB connector. It can be used the same way as the wireless USB port to directly jack in digital audio signals from a computer. Very tidy.

SETUP The JVC's trendy simplicity is carried over to the back panel, which is lean and mean by multichannel receiver standards - nice for simplifying setup, but it comes at the cost of some flexibility. For example, it's here that you notice that the JVC has no A/B speaker outputs (so no A/B switching) and no line-level output for multizone playback. That's surprising for an $800 receiver today. On the other hand, I was particularly happy to see two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output, so you'll be able to move digital audio and video through your system from a digital cable box or upconverting DVD player without risking signal degradation from a cycle of digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion.

The receiver supports the newer HDMI 1.1 specification. Connected to a DVD player with an HDMI output, it accepts and decodes both Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound as well as the high-resolution multichannel PCM tracks on DVD-Audio discs (some early HDMI-equipped receivers can't accommodate these). Bear in mind, however, that there's no bass management for DVD-A through the HDMI input or for the multichannel analog input.

Making the wireless USB connection to my computer was easy. I have a PC, though the feature also works with Macs. You start by mounting a stubby antenna on the receiver's back panel and plugging the supplied USB transmitter, physically reminiscent of a small USB drive, into your nearby computer (the necessary drivers install automatically). To establish the connection, you switch the receiver's rear-panel switch to "ID learning" mode, and press and hold an "ID" switch on the transmitter till the two find each other. At that point, you flip the receiver's switch from "ID learning" to "on," and you're then able to select the USB feed from the receiver's controls like any other input. To select and play songs, you use your computer's onboard music player software as you would normally. I have iTunes, but other programs should work fine.

The JVC also has Smart Surround Setup to adjust speaker levels and establish distances from each speaker to the listening position - an otherwise time-consuming project in a 7.1-channel system like the one I used here. After wiring the speakers, I manually set the bass-management "size" for each and the crossover for redirecting deep bass to the subwoofer - unlike with some receivers, the auto-setup routine won't do this part. Then I just sat in my listening position and clapped my hands, and the levels were balanced and time delays set automatically - I didn't even have to set up a microphone or say, "Abracadabra." The levels selected were only slightly different from those suggested by my sound-level meter - close enough for government work.

MUSIC PERFORMANCE I listened to several multichannel recordings including Styx's Cyclorama, which has mild passages that can reveal subtle noise and distortion as well as rocked-out songs that test peak power ability. "Yes I Can" begins with guitar and vocals. Detail on both sounded clear and transparent, and when the tambourine came in it was appropriately bright and crisp, not harsh or toasted. "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye" features hard-driving drums and blazing guitars. Even when I cranked it up to head-banging volume, every channel held together - though there was a little edginess in the loudest transients. Snare shots sounded a bit brittle compared with what I knew was on the recording and have heard on conventional receivers with similar power ratings. Don't get me wrong - under all but the most extreme conditions, the receiver sounded great. But when pushed to the wall, the sound got a little fragile.

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I rarely indulge in pale imitations, but the JVC also offers a full assortment of ambience modes. For example, Hall1 and Hall2 attempt to simulate the sound of different 2,000-seat concert halls. I've listened to lots of similar sound field modes, and these were actually a cut above, providing a good (not cheesy) sense of a large room, particularly after fine-tuning.

Like most new receivers, the JVC also offers Dolby Pro Logic IIx, including DPL IIx Music mode. On the title track from the Dire Straits' classic "Brothers in Arms," this added a terrific sense of space once I tweaked the Panorama, Center Width, and Dimension controls for my listening room.

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