Sherwood R-977 A/V Receiver Page 2

The Bluetooth dongle doesn’t dangle. It’s a nice flattish module with rounded sides that echo the shape of the front panel’s jack cavity. When installed, it sits a half-inch below the volume control, slightly impeding fingers during full rotations of the dial. It also prevents the USB jack from being used for an iOS device or thumb drive: This is an either/or choice. It paired successfully with several devices, including an iPad, an iPod touch, and my low-budget not-very-smartphone. Each time it required input of a four-digit PIN. My first guess (0000) turned out to be correct. This might be a useful feature if you want to set restrictions in a household where multiple Bluetooth devices are clamoring for access to the receiver. The manual did not make any reference to Bluetooth, so I had to find the correct input (labeled F.VID) with button-punching experimentation.

I screwed the supplied Wi-Fi antenna on to the back panel, and the receiver wirelessly detected my router. However, getting them on speaking terms required more effort than expected. There is no network line on the main GUI, and the only way to get into the network menu is with an obscure open sesame: Hold down the remote Setup button for two seconds. To input the router password, I had to intuit the scrolling moves needed to navigate from an isolated line of numerals to hidden lines of capital and lowercase letters—the manual kept this secret to itself. Though I got it to work at the last minute, my use of network audio functions mainly relied on the Ethernet connection, which was relatively trouble free.

Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers, Paradigm Seismic 110 sub, Panasonic DMP-BD87 player for Blu-ray Discs and Netflix streaming, Lenovo Win XP desktop PC for music files, the iOS devices already mentioned, Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable, Shure M97xE cartridge, and Onix OA 21s serving as phono preamp.

Warming Up
While any receiver will benefit from a few hours of break-in, the R-977 needed it more than most and took longer to hit its stride than most. I’ve been barreling through 30 Rock and Breaking Bad on Netflix in my leisure hours and couldn’t help noticing how grainy their usually great-sounding theme music (in Dolby Digital Plus) sounded compared with my Pioneer Elite reference receiver. It generally had an adequate bass presentation, a neutrally proportioned midrange, and a slightly gauzy top end. Using the SNAP room EQ during the music demos reduced gain noticeably—by an average of 8 dB by my SPL meter—and thinned out the tonal balance. It reduced bass but didn’t improve it, and it didn’t noticeably affect imaging.

The Son of No One (with Dolby TrueHD soundtrack) contrasts Channing Tatum and Al Pacino as cops troubled by secrets (with excellent support from Tracy Morgan and Ray Liotta). Dynamically, the receiver had no trouble driving my speakers with loud effects and raised voices, though occasionally some low-level dialogue eluded me. At any volume, it was less transparent than what I’m used to at this price point, though I wouldn’t call the presentation outright crude.

Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional (DTS-HD Master Audio) has Jean Reno as a virtuous hit man, Natalie Portman as an apprentice hit woman, and Gary Oldman as a colorful sociopath. This movie has some surprisingly explosive moments toward the end, and the receiver generated high output with my speakers of reasonable sensitivity. Plentiful gunplay and high-level action were painless to listen to—this was a good thing. Dialogue was more consistently focused. I liked the results better.

Paris (DTS-HD Master Audio) is a refreshingly un-Hollywood European drama with a wealth of interconnecting story lines centered on a dancer struggling with cancer. The receiver had more ear candy to work with this time: Dialogue interwoven with a wealth of pop songs made for civilized listening, and the receiver took advantage of it, revealing more tone color.

Brilliant Ear
In the music demos, the Sherwood didn’t exactly sound like a whole ’nother receiver, but it did sound like a better one. Usually, it sounded best with the SNAP room EQ off.

Donald Fagen applies a brilliant ear to any audio technology that comes to hand, and his debut solo album The Nightfly is the only gorgeous-sounding album I’ve ever heard to combine early digital recording and vinyl release. The R-977 delivered my Quiex II Limited Edition pressing with all of its snappy rhythm and scrupulous clarity, erring only in the final choruses of “Green Flower Street,” in which the massed chromatic vocals seemed a tad congested. SNAP opened them up a bit and made the album in general a little zingier in the presence region. However, the EQ’s level reduction of the sub channel was not helpful, and its midbass seemed thin. The un-room-corrected version had a more attractively dark tonal balance, which I came to prefer.

Dvořák’s New World Symphony gets a definitive airing in the 1964 DG recording with Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. I’ve loved it since my college days. With the original vinyl release—the jacket showing the Statue of Liberty against a red setting sun—the Sherwood had its best moments. It surprised me with its musically adept distribution of frequencies, including a warm though slightly opaque string sound. Dynamics were credible from a whisper to a roar, losing just a little sweetness at the top fortissimos, and the bottom end was solid down to the sub crossover, giving lower strings and kettledrums the right weight. SNAP added a needless touch of astringency to the string sound; once again, I preferred it off.

Stan Getz’s tenor sax and Joao Gilberto’s vocals are the twin stars of Getz’s Ballads and Bossa Novas compilation CD. The receiver got the sumptuous, languorous tenor sax right and mated it with the husky Portuguese-language vocals to produce an irresistible package. Listening to the way the receiver handled this album was relaxing and a pleasure. SNAP did not image the voice and sax any better, which surprised me. Most room EQ systems, interacting with my room, lend greater focus to lead instruments.

I took advantage of the recei- ver’s alternate inputs for non-disc listening. First thing I checked, once the Ethernet cable was plugged in, was Internet radio, and I listened to local stations for a few minutes before moving on. The receiver detected my desktop PC on the network and streamed Gang of Four’s Content album without a glitch. The MP3s sounded good-of-this-kind, smooth, and listenable. I plugged in an iPad 2 and played MP3s of Led Zeppelin’s live Celebration Day, ripped from the CDs that came with the Blu-ray package. The receiver GUI displayed a large musical note symbol with the band name in large type and the other track info in smaller type. It should be quite readable even on a small screen. Again, the sound was pretty good within the limits of the MP3 format. Sticking with Zep, I tried the Bluetooth dongle, and it sounded about the same.

The Sherwood R-977 is a decent-sounding receiver, though at the crowded four-figure price point, the handful of popular brands that dominate the market do a better job. But this is one of very few receivers (along with certain Sony, Onkyo, and Yamaha models) to offer Wi-Fi connectivity along with the more customary Ethernet. The Bluetooth dongle offers wireless connectivity to mobile devices, making the absence of AirPlay less significant. On the whole, this is a fair to middling receiver that offers a lot of network audio functionality for the price.

Sherwood America
(562) 741-0960