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Like most A/V receivers, setup of the AVR-1 begins with an onscreen set-up menu facilitated by connecting a video output to display device. The menu panel is straightforward and intuitive to navigate. There are a lot of input options available, so plan on spending some time to thoroughly adjust and fine tune. It's worth it. As well, the receiver comes with a calibration microphone to “tune” your room and maximize the home theater experience. Again, the manual does a good job of walking users through this auto-setup and, finally, setting up and positioning speakers.
AudioControl included its own universal remote, which worked well but not flawlessly. At times, the volume control wouldn't respond so I was left to adjust manually using the front panel volume ring. The alternate approach is to shut the receiver down and then turn on again. The receiver can also be wired to a control system touchscreen and controlled from the RS-232 Serial Port. Three 12V triggers provide for overall management of sources, projectors, screens, etc.
I've had a lot of music DVDs cross my desk this fall and among my favorites is Electric Light Orchestra Live – The Early Years. This disc sports three concerts showcasing ELO in 1973, 1974 and 1976. It's a fascinating account of ELO as the band begins its ascent from small-stage act to theater headliner. If you don't think a band with two cellists can rock – or those cellists themselves – this DVD is worth your time. With leader Jeff Lynne's melodic compositions framing spirited covers of Jerry Lee Lewis' “Great Balls Of Fire,” a rock-and-roll take on Edvard Grieg's “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” and England-meets-Appalachia in “Orange Blossom Special,” the Orchestra puts its all on the line. The two-channel Dolby Digital Stereo sounds terrific, with loads of weight behind the strings and Bev Bevan's drums. Switching to 5.1 brought the band into my living room. Swirls of sound circled my ears: Guitar arpeggios, violin melodies, cello counterpoint and keyboard ornamentations combined to create a “you-are-there” sensation. And that's what you get continually with the AVR-1, rich, full-bodied sound that can fill a room without a hiccup.
Each time I watch the 1981 film Excalibur, I appreciate and respect John Boorman's movie making more and more. This retelling of the legend of King Arthur is a winner on all accounts: acting, cinematography, music. Still, it's hard not to get carried away by actor Nicol Williamson's unique role as Merlin the Magician. The cryptic sorcerer nearly steals the show, but Excalibur is also a visual landmark, full of mood and dark shadows that were created long before computers and software could turn such tricks. Couple it all to the brooding and dramatic music of soundtrack composer Trevor Jones along with past masters Richard Wagner (The Ring Cycle) and Carl Orff (Carmina Burana) and the drama burns with even brighter flame. This is powerful stuff that demands the same from the sources. You don't want broadswords and battles, lances and Lancelot, and fire and brimstone at anything but full power. And the AVR-1 doesn't disappoint, creating an unforgettable theater experience – right at home (I knew it could be done.)
An obvious – but often overlooked – reality about home theater is most consumers will watch a specific movie once or twice and never again. There are some classics that merit revisiting, but the majority of multi-plays in media come from music. That's why the sound quality of a receiver is as important as its video processing abilities. And the AVR-1 is among the top two receivers I've heard, the Pioneer Elite SC-27 being the other. Both are notable for their sonics, which go far beyond most A/V receivers into the realm of high-fi audio separates. The Pioneer has a slightly more muscled sound, while the AVR-1 has more sparkle and transparency, along with plenty of power and detail. Music “blooms” through the AVR-1, full and rich that should appeal to fans of both tube and transistor gear. I could be happy with it just for the sound alone. It has a real sense of substance and presence that make it among the best in class. Though DVD-Audio and SACD never found their larger anticipated audiences, I still cling to these high-res discs and spent hours listening through the AVR-1's multi-channel inputs. Much like the receiver's “Direct” two-channel analog setting, the Multi-channel inputs bypass all digital circuitry and connect the player to the amp with nothing in the way but a volume control. So, high-res lovers can listen in either two-channel stereo or multi-channel and have the best of both worlds, without unwanted digital processing interference.
I listen to Internet Radio primarily via a Logitech Squeezebox Duet. It's a great means to discover new music; however, the audio quality is often compromised by low streaming rates. The AVR-1 can't perform miracles but it can make listening to compressed audio bearable. A Glasgow-based Celtic station that I like sometimes dips down to 56 kbps, which is about as pleasant as listening to a dentist's drill. Even at this glacial rate,though,the AVR-1 delivered enough punch to keep me from turning the dial. When streaming audio jumped to 128 kbps, I was in happy land.
Consumers have hundreds of A/V receivers to choose from these days. Everyone wants the same thing: easy setup, reliable performance, good sound, compatibility with sources and current sound formats. The AVR-1 does it all, but it's in the sound department that it steps away from the competition. In the audiophile world, A/V receivers are often viewed with suspicion, not because they can't do nearly every trick in the book, but because they can do nearly every trick. The purest signal path is the grail, so incorporating exotic processing modes can only interfere with the signal chain and, ultimately, the final sound suffers. That AudioControl has produced a feature-laden unit to satisfy the tech-iest home theater buff while maintaining high-end sound is the AVR-1's greatest triumph. AudioControl backs it all up with a comprehensive 5-year parts and labor warranty.
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