NuForce AVP-18 Surround Processor Page 2

The actual calibration process takes about 15 minutes. But before you can start, your room needs to be as quiet as possible because the AVP-18 first measures ambient noise levels in your room, and if they’re too high, it won’t begin the calibration cycle. While this is good for you as it ensures you get an accurate test result, it may be difficult or even impossible to proceed if you live in a fourth-floor walk-up above a German beer hall or somewhere else where the city never sleeps.

214nuforce.rem.jpgWhen the testing is done, you’ll be able to see the results on the screen and save them. The NuForce system calculates 11 parametric bands per speaker, each with its own center frequency to the 1/100th of a hertz, gain or cut to the nearest quarter decibel, and Q, or bandwidth, to the nearest 1/8th octave (the higher the Q, the narrower the frequency range affected by the cut or boost). The results are highly specific, reflecting the effect of room positioning of the speakers and unavoidable real-world differences in speaker components and possibly even amplification on delivering a uniform frequency response to your listening seat.

Those differences between EQ’d and non-EQ’d settings weren’t night and day, nor would I have imagined they would be in my listening space, but they were still readily identifiable. Listening to Joss Stone’s LP1 CD, in Stereo (left, right, plus subwoofer), the room EQ’d mode featured a weaker perceived bass response, not surprising considering the 2-to-3-dB cuts in the 80-to-120-Hz region of the main speakers and even greater cuts to the subwoofer in the 40-to-50-Hz range. Was it flatter? Probably, but preferable? Well that’s subjective and greatly dependent on the source material. On laid-back tracks like “Drive All Night,” I preferred the EQ off. But on more aggressive songs like “Newborn,” the EQ’d setting removed some of Stone’s youthful chestiness, which seemed to be pushing the midrange on my Revel Salons a tad too much, so the room EQ helped there.

The non-EQ’d setting, however, always had the stronger center image with vocalists, be it Stone or John Mayer on his Born and Raised CD. But in Mayer’s case, this stronger center image worked against the recording. While the sense of Mayer being in my room was firmer without EQ, with the room EQ turned on Mayer’s voice sounded more natural, less chesty. While NuForce provides three manual EQ user settings in addition to the Flat (no EQ) and AutoEQ (i.e., room EQ) settings, at this point there is no way to copy the AutoEQ results to one of the three user memories.

With movies, that diminished sense of center translated into more noticeable surrounds, at least in rapid comparison. The opening orchestral introduction to Melancholia was decidedly richer without room EQ but more enveloping with it. All in all, I think NuForce has done an excellent job implementing their room equalization system, and it is well worth the time invested in setting it up.

Two-channel listening provided the most options for digitally processing the sound. NuForce’s Direct mode eliminates the subwoofer output, regardless of how you have your main speakers defined, Small (utilizing a high-pass crossover) or Large. So I recommend Direct mode only if you’re running your mains full range. The Stereo and All Stereo modes use the subwoofer. I found my best results setting the flagship Revel Salons to a 65-Hz high pass and letting the Revel Performa B15 sub’s beautiful and extended deep bass wash over me in Stereo mode. NuForce offers seven proprietary surround modes, from Hall to Stadium, as well as Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 processing, both with respective Music and Movie modes, but I mostly preferred Stereo. Old school, I know.

A NuForce to Be Reckoned With!
NBC’s Dolby Digital broadcast of a football game had good, solid front sound and nicely done (not overdone) surrounds. The AVP-18 was giving me all the thrill of victory without any of the agony—except for the horrible distorting lenses the camera crew was using that turn 300-pound men into ballerinas! Meanwhile, high-def programs like The Bridge on FX and Breaking Bad on AMC were seamlessly enveloping, quite crystalline in their reproduction by the NuForce processor. I like to bring down the screen and fire up the JVC projector for these 1.85:1 epic TV shows more than most movies these days.

I saw Oblivion at an IMAX theater originally, which I have to admit is hard to beat, even with my setup. But I didn’t feel like I missed much watching the Blu-ray at home. The scene where Jack (Tom Cruise) comes in for a landing in a destroyed football stadium starts in the front left channel, the sound of his flying craft gaining volume and low-frequency gravitas until it swings behind you on the left, still behind you to the right, only to come back into view as it lands with thunder in the front right channel. It’s impressive, and I realized I subconsciously ducked my head as the craft flew behind me.

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I found the room-corrected AutoEQ setting was definitely the way to go with a high-powered movie like Oblivion. The spooky by-wire descent (a Cruise signature entrance if there ever was one) into the underground library is accompanied by water dripping behind you, and later steel wires snapping in and out of alignment. While the differences were large, there was a better sense of space with room EQ engaged. The effects were more distinct and at the same time the vast room seemed ever so slightly larger. Here, the effect of the stronger center image that accompanied the non-EQ settings—something that worked better with most music—actually detracted from the sense of spaciousness the audio designers were likely going for here.

My favorite scene in the movie is where Jack thumbs through a collection of vinyl he somehow has managed to collect. I couldn’t help think that if he had a NuForce AVP-18, with its lack of analog inputs, he wouldn’t be able to listen to that Led Zeppelin song. And if the Scavs were broadcasting a distress signal or a call to arms over an old AM or FM transmitter, well, ditto the out-of-luck part. But what the NuForce does do, it does excellently. The AVP-18 is sleek, simple, and from my view, stupendous. Sound quality is completely first rate and far and above what could be accomplished at this price point had NuForce decided to play the features game. I’m now officially a NuForce fan!

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