A cross between a torque-driven Datsun Z and a rev-happy Mazda RX was the first thing I thought of when I read the model designation of Yamaha's new flagship receiver: RX-Z9. I wasn't far off. This baby is a beast of a receiver with enough horse under the hood to drag you kicking and spitting into a 21st-century home theater beyond reproach. The list of standard features is as long as a dragster's tailpipes, but starting with the 170W to each of seven primary channels (and another 50W for two Presence channels), Yamaha's intentions are quite clear: This is all the receiver you need!
Two years ago, when I visited the B&W facilities in Worthing, England, I heard a demonstration of that company's then-new flagship, the Signature 800 ($16,000/pair). I salivated at the prospect of reviewing a home theater package anchored by these impressive speakers, but ultimately put off requesting them in favor of slightly more manageable and affordable designs.
V, Inc.'s Bravo D1 was the first inexpensive ($199) DVI-equipped DVD player on the market. The D2 is V, Inc.'s response to a little competition from some bigger names in the field, but nobody can beat the D2's price: $249. If you're still not hip to what DVI is, it's probably because you don't have a DVI input on your TV or projector. Simply put, the Digital Visual Interface (DVI) keeps the video signal in the digital domain all the way from the disc to your TV. And if you're the owner of a new plasma or LCD panel, or a DLP or LCD front or rear projector with a DVI input, you should be very excited indeed.
At first glance, Pioneer's new flagship universal DVD player bears a close physical resemblance to its predecessor, the DV-47Ai. And like the earlier model, the new DV-59AVi also includes two i.LINK (IEEE1394) Advanced Resolution Digital Audio Interfaces. These are designed to carry the digital DVD-Audio and SACD high-resolution audio datastreams to select Pioneer receivers—and, perhaps, to other IEEE1394-equipped products, though cross-manufacturer compatibility is not guaranteed.
If you've been following the plasma marketplace, you've surely figured out that there's a lot of product re-selling and "private labeling" these days. It's not unusual for five or more companies to be selling the same 42- or 50-inch plasma panel, albeit with different-colored trim plates and bezels. Some re-sellers even go so far as to put their own processing electronics inside, but these days, that's largely the exception to the rule. There's no end to the companies who are offering plasmas for sale, but only a handful of them actually make the things.
Most power amplifiers are primarily differentiated by their size and color. Eventually, even an amplifier fetishist grows weary of digging for the minute variations that make each amplifier special. Perhaps that's why it's so refreshing to discover an amp that embraces some truly unique new technology. Bel Canto, a small company located in darkest Minnesota, has managed to find a way to manufacture a digital amplifier, dubbed the eVo2, whose performance rivals that of more conventional analog designs.
From the high hills of Boulder, Colorado, comes a $6000 DVD player that doesn't also play SACD or DVD-Audio discs—or, as is increasingly demanded, both. In fact, there are no analog audio outputs at all, only digital. Still, the Ayre DX-7 offers something that can't be ignored: a beautiful picture that, in some cases, compares with the best I've seen in my system. Welcome to the mile-high high end.