JVC RX-D702B A/V Receiver
During the first hour that the JVC RX-D702B surround receiver sat on my rack, it began to wirelessly suck MP3s out of my PC. Then it sensed the clapping of my hands and automatically set its channel levels. Unpredictable moves are typical of JVC, one of the most underrated companies in consumer electronics.
JVC's video achievements are legendary. In 1939, JVC marketed the first TV in Japan. In 1970, Japanese consumers went gaga over the Videosphere, a TV built into what looked like an astronaut's helmet (complete with an AM/FM radio). Even today, JVC's D-ILA technology is a highly regarded player in the high-def-microdisplay market.
As an audio company, however, what has JVC done for us since they aided the flat record's triumph over the cylinder? More than you might suspect. At the dawn of the CD era, JVC invented their own maverick method of digital-to-analog conversion, and a player using that PEM (Pulse Edge Modulation) technology won a coveted spot on the Recommended Components list of our sister magazine Stereophile. The JVC RX-D702B receiver uses PEM for the front, center, and side surround channels (although not for the rear surrounds). Also present is JVC's CC Converter, which attempts to compensate for data lost to digital compression by increasing quantization resolution for low-level signals and sampling frequency for high-frequency ones.
This receiver is armed for bear. Video upconversion benefits from Faroudja's DCDi chip. The DSP that drives the surround decoding is TI's new Aureus, another digital overachiever. That kind of bleeding-edge technology is rare in receivers in this price range.
Digital and Musical
JVC has marketed some pretty good-sounding surround receivers, the last of which I reviewed in these pages three years ago. The RX-D702B is a major departure. The first thing you notice is its small size. JVC's digital amplification technology uses a combination of digital and analog feedback to facilitate serious wattage in a chassis about half as tall as that of a typical receiver. JVC quotes 150 watts per channel into 6 ohms. (See our test measurements for the more common 8-ohm spec.)
HDMI is starting to make its influence felt, as evidenced here on the back panel, although legacy analog video and analog audio jacks still take up most of the space. The two available inputs use HDMI 1.1—which passes video, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, and DVD-Audio—while the monitor output is HDMI 1.0, which passes only video.
JVC receivers were among the first to be interoperable with other same-branded components, thanks to the AV Compu Link feature, which still survives in the RX-D702B. Connect its Compu Link jacks to those on, say, a JVC DVD player, and the components will talk to one another, saving you a lot of button pressing.
The first thing I tried—even before I set the levels—was the PC music connection, which may operate either wired or wirelessly. Either way, it can stream Sirius, XM, or Internet radio. The wireless version operates on the 2.4-gigahertz frequency at 2 megabits per second. I screwed the included short antenna into the receiver's rear panel and carried the 2.75-inch-long USB transmitter across the room to my PC. It was too bulky to fit into the inconveniently recessed front USB jacks on my IBM ThinkCentre PC, but JVC provides a USB extension cable that fits easily. Windows XP loaded the driver automatically. (The feature is also Mac-compatible.)
To get the receiver and transmitter to recognize one another, I just flipped a switch on the former to ID mode and held down a button on the latter. When the transmitter's indicator flashed, I returned the receiver's switch to its original On position, selected the USB wireless input on the receiver, and, sure enough, there was Beethoven. I listened to Alfred Brendel's Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas (well, some of them) as Windows Media Player read them off the PC's hard drive. The 2.4-GHz connection was so robust that I could sever it only by holding the transmitter tightly in both fists—and, even then, it faltered only for a second.
When Speakers Listen
Surround sound neophytes daunted by the level-setting ritual may take comfort in JVC's totally new and unique Smart Surround Setup method. The technology is making its debut in Version 3.0 and uses a JVC-developed IC, not something off the shelf. There's no need to endure test tones while you watch the needle on a sound meter—indeed, no need even to connect a microphone to the front of the receiver. Instead, JVC makes your speaker diaphragms do double duty as microphones, and, if that isn't worth an exclamation point, nothing is!
There is a catch. You have to enter the setup menu and set the speaker size—either large, for full-range speakers, or small, for subwoofer-dependent ones. I think JVC made the right move here, because some auto-setup receivers have failed to correctly identify my identically matched Paradigm Reference Studio/20s as large. And anyway, I prefer to run them small for better dynamics.
Once you've set the speaker size, all you have to do is start the auto-calibration routine and clap your hands. The speakers sense the noise, and the receiver takes a few seconds to make up its mind. Then it briefly displays the speaker-distance and level settings on the screen, and you're good to go. I went through the routine several times—it was so much fun, I could hardly stop myself. I felt like a kid.
The resulting distance settings varied but never by more than a foot, the smallest allowable increment. Level settings were surprisingly accurate for the front speakers, but several times I found +/–2-decibel variations in the surrounds. My speaker arrangement is asymmetrical, and the surrounds sit closer to the walls. That makes it hard to set accurate levels, so the system's slight imprecision in the surrounds wasn't unexpected.
Silk, Not Metal
Every manufacturer has an institutional personality that has as much of an effect on sound as price, build quality, and so on. JVC's institutional voice is a strongly outlined midrange with a fully developed treble.
Although the company went to considerable trouble to change the amplifier technology that underlies this thoroughly re-envisioned product, it still sounds like a JVC. If I were mating it with speakers, I'd probably go for the gentle-voiced Aperion and Wharfedale models as opposed to the more up-front Paradigms. In the mood for tweaking? Try the manually adjustable five-band graphic equalizer. (Audiofool that I am, I refrained.)
This brings us back to Beethoven. I have the earlier of Brendel's two cycles for Philips, and the RX-D702B brought out the piano's ringing quality while it underplayed the recording's buttery smoothness. Right out of the box, the treble seemed grainy, but that break-in effect smoothed out by the second day of listening. The string orchestra in Bernard Herrmann's score for Psycho was trenchant and scary. Vocal music from my test CD-R was agreeably detailed, with good separation between voices in an unaccompanied choral recording.
The receiver did a great job of highlighting details and distinguishing metal textures in guitar-based rock—from Audioslave's Out of Exile to Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door. However, it didn't encourage me to crank it up and bug the neighbors. It loved cerebral rock with a melody, ticking along nicely with the clockwork tunes of Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick.
I turned to Kill Bill Vol. 2, looking for action-movie surround effects, but what got to me was the receiver's way with dialogue. Quentin Tarantino characters talk a lot, and some of them tend to mumble. By keeping an iron grip on the conversation, the JVC kept me immersed in the story, preventing my attention from wandering. Bass was on the lean side—as I discovered when I briefly ran the speakers full-range—but a sub crossover of 100 hertz took care of that.
JVC has scored a couple of major coups with the RX-D702B. It's not only easy to set up, but easy to set up fairly accurately, matching convenience with performance. This incredibly—no, credibly—ambitious receiver is a credit to the long tradition of the Japan Victor Corporation.
• Hand-clap calibration routine takes some pain out of receiver setup
• Wireless or wired PC music link
• Best sound I've heard from a Class D amp for less than $1,000