|Kenwood DV4070 DVD-A/V Player|
|Home Theater Audio Sources DVD-Audio/SACD Players|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Thursday, 01 March 2001|
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Testing DVD-Audio Discs
I held out as long as I could for my Meridian 861 AV preamp, complete with 5.1 analog inputs, to arrive from England. However, when it still hadn’t arrived near deadline, Kenwood was kind enough to lend me a Kenwood VR-4090B receiver, which is a stellar receiver at its $1,150 pricepoint. I used it mainly as an AV preamp so that I could utilize its 5.1 analog inputs.
One of the first and best DVD-Audio discs on the market was Stone Temple Pilots’ Core (Atlantic). Scott Weiland and company, along with Soundgarden, made some of the only real hard-hitting rock in the early 1990’s. The tune "Plush" sounded exactly that – plush – with a 5.1 mix that was wide and detailed. Adding to the mix in the center channel on Core gives the front imaging space and detail that are great improvements over the standard CD. Not much except some ambience was mixed into the rear channels on this CD, but that was of little consequence, as Core got quite a few spins during my listening sessions.
DTS has hopped onto the DVD-Audio bandwagon by releasing four titles, including Toy Matinee (DTS Entertainment), a poppy, highly stylized collaborative project from 1990, featuring Kevin Gilbert and Patrick Leonard that was produced by Bill Bottrell. The tune "Turn It On Salvador," an ode to abstract artist Salvadore Dali, highlights the best of DVD-Audio with spectacular front imaging that is not possible in stereo. More importantly, the bass is absolutely incredible on this track and throughout the entire DVD-A disc, tight, low and crisp. The 4070 was involved in reproduction of the finest low end I have heard in my Wilson WATT Puppy’s and (2) Sunfire Signature Subwoofers to date. The background vocals are mixed to into the rear and sometimes even in the front. Many criticize 5.1 mixes for being cheesy, but this one is not. Upon listening to this disc a few times all the way through and noticing the mix for the rears, I checked the liner notes to discover that Julian Lennon was the performer.
In my hunt for every DVD-Audio title I could find for this review, I came upon a 24-bit DVD-Audio recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (Tacet Records). Telarc has released some classical on DTS CD, but this was the first that I had heard or seen on DVD-Audio. Listening to orchestral music in 5.1 surround takes some adjustment. What I liked about this mix was the fact that, while the rears were audible, they tended to stray from having discrete audio information, the kind you might hear on a pop recording like Boyz II Men’s II record mastered for DTS CD. This Brandenburg concerto reserved the rears for more, but not all, of what you would hear as reflective sound or ambient sound in a live venue. I am not sure it is going to convert the most hardcore classical fan to 5.1, but it may very well sway him or her to DVD-Audio’s 24-bit clarity.
The highlight of my first batch of DVD-Audio discs was Moment By Moment from Larisa Stow (DTS Entertainment), an artist I have been following around the L.A. music scene for more than four years. Larisa has a spectacular voice and wonderful stage presence that automatically makes her a compelling storyteller. Her band, formerly known as the Rainmakers, is as good as you’d expect from the best studio musicians making triple union scale. These cats can really play. Their sound is acoustic, with an edge from some electric guitar and electric bass for foundation. The real draw musically comes from the layering of acoustic guitars and the unique sound of Diana Lorden’s violin. "Living in Your Eyes" was of special note while auditioning the Kenwood DV4070 because I have heard this tune developing through CDRs, demo CDs and live performances. Larisa, in the chorus, goes on to say "Oh this is beyond me – This is larger than life – If God is alive and well – He’s living in your eyes." He may very well be trying to speak to you through your AV system as well. The vocals pop with such tremendous acoustic energy, you can tell that this is no CD. There is something extra here, something powerful.
DVD-Audio is still in its very early stages as a product. You have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get set up as an early adopter, including obtaining a new player, as well as at least an aftermarket modification to your AV preamp or receiver. More likely is a complete upgrade to a new receiver or AV preamp.
The DV4070 has a specific flaw in that when you load in a disc and select that specific disc on the faceplate, the disc rarely starts playing on the first attempt. It usually took three tries to get the disc to actually spin. Never did the disc entirely refuse to spin, but it is annoying to have to go through this process.
Speaking of waiting, the drawer on the DV 4070 is very slow to open and close. If you are organized enough to load hours of discs into your DV-4070, then this isn’t really that much of an issue, but if you suddenly catch a case of Attention Deficit Disorder, the DV4070 may not move as fast as you’d like.
The remote on the Kenwood DV4070 is ergonomically advanced, but you have to use a small toggle switch on the side of the remote to access the multitude of features on the DV4070. This obviously isn’t the most intuitive design for a remote. It seemed to me that the remote was more of a leftover from a DVD-V player, originally designed for onscreen access. When using the DV4070 solely as an audio component, the remote gets a poor grade.
Keeping in mind that the Kenwood DV4070 isn’t a $5000 box like Philips’ and Sony’s first offerings, competing but not compatible SACD players, the DV4070 has some compromises. The digital-to-analog conversion inside the DV4070 doesn’t compete with the best in the world of high-end audio. The 24-bit sound fed from a DTS CD from my DVD player into my Apogee PSX 100 24 bit DAC is in many ways more alive and has better attack than what I heard with the DV4070. Keep in mind the Apogee DAC is $3,200. You do get what you pay for. If you could put $3,200 DACs inside a $1,000 DVD player, there would be no more high-end audio as we know it. For now, the Kenwood takes a pretty strong shot at high-end sound on a beer budget, with added values like 5.1 surround and DVD-Video that you can’t ignore.
If you want to be the first on your block to get DVD-Audio in your AV system, you now know what you have to do. The rewards are already great musically, with fewer than 100 titles in the stores. You could make an argument that at $1,000, the Kenwood DV4070 could be a good DVD-Video player and CD changer that has DVD-Audio functionality ready for you when you are ready for it.
Is now the time right for you to invest in DVD-Audio? It really depends. For $1,000, you get quite a happening player that can do backflips. Will the music industry get their heads out of their asses and allow a digital transmission format? Count on it. DVD-Audio is the future for the record companies that make more than 80 percent of their revenues selling back catalog music. If you and I all go out and start buying all of our music collections all over again, there is quite a payday for AOL/Time Warner, BMG, Sony and the like. Moreover, if we can figure out how to use 20-bit encryption for credit cards on the Internet, then do you really believe the world’s best electrical engineers and programmers can’t find a way to digitally encrypt music from your DVD-Audio player to your preamp?
Will DVD-Audio players and interface get better? Absolutely. Could you justify the investment in a player like Kenwood’s DV4070 today? Go take a listen and don’t forget your platinum card.