Yamaha DVD-S1500 Universal DVD/SACD Player
Yamaha's remarkably trim DVD-S1500 manages to go beyond most other "universal" players. Of course it plays DVD movies plus DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD music discs, most varie-ties of recordable DVDs, and CDs with standard audio, MP3 files, or JPEG-format still images. But it also plays DVDs in the European PAL format on a U.S.-standard TV. (Personally, I couldn't wait to try this out since I have a pile of DVDs I bought overseas.) PDF: Playback Compatibility
SETUP Hookup of the player held few surprises. The menus offered helpful choices for subwoofer crossover frequencies and filter slopes for SACD playback but not DVD-Audio, Dolby Digital/DTS, or CD. My listening and lab tests also showed that DVD-Audio discs receive no bass management, which would send deep bass that small satellite speakers can't handle to your subwoofer. Unfortunately, this situation is common among today's universal DVD players (click to read "in the lab" PDF for technical details).
The S-1500 provides distance compensation, which adjusts for your speakers' different distances from the listening position. It does so for Dolby Digital/DTS and DVD-Audio playback but not SACD, another common situation. For the best sonic imaging, especially across the three front speakers, distance compensation should be the same whether you're playing a DVD movie, an SACD, a DVD-Audio disc, or a plain CD. (Given the company's mastery of digital signal processing, it seems strange that Yamaha hasn't developed a reasonably priced digital solution to both problems.)
It took me a while to get used to Yamaha's onscreen menu system (I often pressed the wrong buttons for the first few days), but the biggest surprise was that Dolby Pro Logic II processing is automatically engaged if you play CDs through the multichannel analog output (the one you have to use for DVD-A or SACD playback). To get plain stereo, you have to go into the setup menu and switch to stereo playback.
The remote is nicely sculpted but has no backlighting, and the buttons are similar in size and shape. They're well placed, though, and all of the controls are accessible with one hand - no need to shift your grip.
MUSIC PERFORMANCE To allow the DVD-S1500 to perform at its best, my listening tests were conducted over a system with full-range speakers all around. The player sounded magnificent - its low background noise levels paid rich dividends. For example, it successfully reproduced the warmly enveloping and natural-sounding churchlike ambience of Paul McCreesh's performance, with the Gabrieli Consort, of Handel's Messiah on a DG Archiv SACD (see review, page 116, December 2004 issue). And the Blue Man Group's second DVD-Audio release, The Complex (see review, page 114, December 2004 issue), gave the surrounds a healthy workout, especially in the drums-only version of "Your Attention."
MOVIE PERFORMANCE The DVD-S1500 left nothing to be desired visually, with as clean a reproduction of movie material as the discs' MPEG encoding would allow. The new Star Wars Trilogy DVDs looked great, with gobs of fine detail in the galactic celebrations at the end of Return of the Jedi, the most exciting new footage in the movie.