Sherwood Newcastle R-972 A/V Receiver Page 3
Movies in Modes
All movie demos were on Blu-ray Disc. Initially, I only used Trinnov’s room correction and room EQ capabilities, and I saved the Spatial and Remapping modes for later.
Even with one hand tied behind its back, the R-972 managed to take the edge off a harsh soundtrack like Crank 2: High Voltage (DTS-HD Master Audio). In Seven Pounds (Dolby TrueHD), low-level details that ordinarily might have slipped beneath the radar—such as the sound of an elderly woman shifting in bed—were palpable. Even the briefest musical cameos, most memorably Nick Drake’s “One of These Things First,” had an audiophile-grade vividness. In Spider-Man 3 (Dolby TrueHD), the fast-moving flight trajectories of characters and objects whizzed vividly. Once again, low-level details like shards of music emerged strongly, without any obvious EQ hyping. These early experiences convinced me that the R-972 is a superb AVR, even when it operates at a basic level.
Next, I briefly cycled among the Spatial Modes: DLY+LVL, 2D Remap, and 3D Remap. (Since I didn’t reassign the center channel to something other than the center speaker, Autoroute didn’t apply. I’ve heard it demonstrated, and it’s a neat party trick.) I chose chapter 28 of Spider-Man 3 as the guinea pig. It’s the scene where large, chiming metal rods are used as weapons. First I played it without engaging the Spatial modes. Then I switched to DLY+LVL, the mode that manipulates channel distance and level. Surprisingly, I heard a slight difference—the “bong” sound of the metal rods had a longer decay.
When I switched to 2D, the horizontal remapping mode, the “bong” had more of an immersive inside-my-head feeling. However, the difference was so slight, I could have imagined it. This might be because my speaker setup, while not horizontally ruler-perfect, wasn’t far enough out of whack to require significant remapping. Then I switched to 3D, which corrects both vertically and horizontally. I heard an amazing soundfield, and it was a clear improvement over having the Spatial modes off. But again, the incremental difference from 2D to 3D was pretty subtle. My center speaker was a couple of inches higher than the left and right, and 3D must have corrected for that, but I’d be a liar if I called this a night-and-day difference.
Your mileage may vary. The Spatial modes, like room correction in general, will undoubtedly have different effects with different rooms and speaker placements.
Full 3D Remapping
I experienced the full effect of Trinnov’s 3D Spatial mode and Cinema Remapping with The Taking of Pelham 123 (DTS-HD Master Audio). The film stars John Travolta as a subway hijacker and Denzel Washington as the dispatcher who tensely negotiates with him. The movie makes artful use of New York City’s distinctive underground train noises. In order to transform this natural urban surround into narrative movie surround, the mixer took liberties and manipulated the familiar materials according to the story’s psychological logic. Aided by a top-quality lossless soundtrack, 3D Remapping made mixing decisions more precise and more dramatic. It was obvious what strings the mixer was pulling—especially to me, a real-life subway rider. Still, that knowledge didn’t prevent the story from gripping me. If I had listened to the movie with my eyes closed, the soundtrack would have told most of the story, with similar emotional impact.
My hyperawareness of what I was hearing continued in Jennifer’s Body (DTS-HD Master Audio), a self-consciously over-the-top story about teenage demonic possession. I could hardly take notes fast enough: “Layering, artificiality, edits, pans, ambience shifts, small effects. Every little sound has its own ambience or lack of it.” This time, I became accustomed to 3D Remapping. When I finally put down my notebook, I could go with the flow without compulsively analyzing every detail. Once 3D Remapping began rewiring my brain’s expectations, the experience got addicting. At one point, a heavy metal interlude blasted into the narrative with waves of cymbal smashes. The gorgeous, undulating, metallic textures were unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a surround system.
The submarine epic U-571 (DTS-HD Master Audio) has become a classic for its underwater action and effects. It boasts an armada of fascinating sounds, from the fatigued-metal groans of a submarine going too deep to the comical forward-and-back movement of a table full of china and flatware. However, this selection confirmed something I’d suspected in the previous two films—bass response was on the light side. Those depth charges should have thundered through the Paradigms’ 7-inch woofers, even without a sub. When I changed the Room EQ from Flat to Natural, it gave these aggressive effects more of the weight that the story demands.
Rebellion and Back
I started my music demos with Prelude and Fugue, a CD where pianist Bernd Glemser audaciously plays both Bach and Shostakovich pieces back to back. In Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode, with 3D Remapping engaged, the piano filled the room with richly reverberant sound. It was the aural equivalent of death by chocolate. A few minutes into the first prelude, I remembered that I’d failed to switch the Remapping target from Cinema to Music. After I corrected this oversight, it discernibly pushed the front left and right speakers farther apart. However, perversely enough, I preferred the tighter soundstage of the Cinema Remapping with this recording. By a strange coincidence, Glemser had a musical cameo in Spider-Man 3.
I switched to vinyl for the Climax Blues Band’s FM/Live. I’d listened to the original concert broadcast on WNEW-FM, a bastion of 1970s freeform radio, so I had some subjective old-timey expectations. These included a phat rhythm section, which was slightly understated in the original recording, and warm blasts of electric guitar. In the old days, I would have adjusted my stereo receiver’s bass and treble controls to get more out of the 10-inch woofers that rocked my college dorm rooms. Once again, I rebelled against the Flat Spatial mode. Instead, I chose the Natural setting with its slight bass boost and treble cut. That warmed things up a bit, but I wanted to go further. I turned off the Trinnov Optimizer, engaged the old-fashioned Tone Control, pushed the Bass setting up 6 decibels, and eventually cut back to stereo for a more concentrated soundstage. This was cruder, but crude was what I wanted. I finished all four sides in an excellent mood. Still, it probably wasn’t as excellent as the original audience at New York’s Academy of Music, who were highly intoxicated and raving nonstop. At one point, they set off firecrackers and the band answered, “We surrender.”
The two-channel rebellion continued well into That’s the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk, a double-LP set from 1984 that features an interesting blend of jazz, rock, pop, and new music artists. Eventually, though, the bass bloat got oppressive. I switched all the fancy stuff back on by the time I got to Joe Jackson’s orchestral version of “‘Round Midnight.” When I came back to 3D Remapping after a brief vacation, it forcibly reminded me how much it refines everything it touches. If I owned this AVR, I’d probably use it for everything. Given my setup, I’d probably also use Natural as the default EQ mode rather than Flat.
The Sherwood R-972 would be a pretty formidable A/V receiver even without the Trinnov Optimizer, with a strong feature set and HQV Reon-VX video processing. But the debut of the Trinnov Optimizer in an AVR is big news. Especially with movies, the 3D Remapping took me places I hadn’t been before. Although I spent longer than usual reviewing this product, I felt I only scratched the surface of its full potential. The Trinnov Optimizer is the sort of thing that may take the home theater community years to assimilate. I look forward to getting to know it even better.