Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700 A/V Receiver
In case you hadn't noticed, the receiver market is proceeding at a breakneck pace. It almost seems as though new models are hitting the store shelves every month. Hardly a year goes by in which each receiver manufacturer doesn't introduce new models, if not entirely new lines. Part of this phenomenon is based on the rapid expansion of processing options and other technologies, and part of it is simply business as usual in the receiver game. Receiver buyers, in general, have always seemed to focus on features, options, and having the latest technology at their fingertips—no matter what. As we know, receiver manufacturers are more than happy to oblige.
Kenwood's latest efforts in this category are reflected in their Sovereign line. The THX Ultra- certified VR-5700 model ($2,000) enters the arena with a long list of features but an odd twist when it comes to its capabilities. In terms of processing, it offers all the latest tricks, including THX, Dolby EX, Dolby Digital 5.1, Pro Logic, Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS ES (both the matrixed and discrete versions), and the new DTS Neo:6, which derives six-channel surround sound from two-channel sources. The VR-5700 also offers HDCD and MPEG decoding, the requisite DSP modes, and a Kenwood technology called D.R.I.V.E., which claims to give high-resolution sound to standard-resolution material via proprietary 32-bit circuitry and instant switching of internal filters according to the input source.
The strange twist comes on the amplifier side. The VR-5700 offers seven channels at 120 watts per channel, but take careful note: Two of these channels are dedicated power for zone B, and you can't use them in any other way. That, of course, leaves only five channels of power for the main zone and will cause some serious head-scratching when you get around to trying to put this unit's Dolby EX or DTS ES capabilities into effect. As many of you are undoubtedly aware, a far-more-common scenario is a receiver that has input and control but no power for zone B, plus enough amp channels to handle all of the processing options that the unit offers. While it's nice to have that power already in place for zone B in the VR-5700, the result is that you can't use all of this receiver's processing features unless you buy another amplifier.
Apparently, Kenwood has decided that more people will want the power for the second zone than will want the ability to exploit Dolby EX and DTS ES—or that people are more willing to buy another amp for use with these quasi-seven-channel formats than they are for use in a second zone. Honestly, it's a very odd decision in my opinion, and I'd be remiss if I called the VR-5700 anything other than a Dolby Digital/ DTS 5.1-channel receiver that happens to have Dolby EX and DTS ES decoders on board—for which you're going to need two more channels of power. Kenwood is risking some disillusionment when people show up at the store and find out that what they thought is a fully enabled Dolby EX/DTS ES receiver isn't—or, worse yet, they figure it out after the fact (although they'd ultimately have no one to blame but themselves at that point).
Inputs are plentiful, with 14 digital (seven coaxial, seven optical), nine analog, two high-bandwidth component video, and five composite and S-video connections. Outputs include five analog audio, two component and S-video, and main monitor outputs in component, composite, or S-video. Zone B has a dedicated analog input and a composite video output. Other back-panel tricks include 5.1-channel inputs for use with an external decoder (most importantly, an SACD or a DVD-Audio player), 7.1-channel preouts (which are naturally very important on this piece, considering its shortage of two amp channels), an RS-232 input, various IR inputs and outputs, two 120-volt sockets, and a connection for Kenwood's SL16 control system.