|Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700 Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Wednesday, 01 October 2003|
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When investing in a new receiver, your should look for a unit that not only has all of the features and inputs that you need today, but should also be thinking about where you think your system will be in several years. New sound formats come along faster than “Police Academy” movies did in the ‘80s. The best way to protect your investment is to assure that you have as much of the future features that you can afford. As the story goes, you rarely regret over-purchasing, but always regret under-purchasing.
Enter the $1,850 Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700 Audio/Video Receiver. This THX Ultra certified receiver features 5 x 120 watts of power, a Universal Video HD video format transcoder, HDCD decoding and supports Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, THX Surround EX, DTS ES (matrix and discrete), and DTS Neo 6 decoding audio formats – in other words, in nearly every current decoding standard. Other features of note include a 5.1 analog input for DVD-Audio or SACD, 2 component video inputs and a 32-Bit 2nd-Generation ADI SHARC DSP processor.
Upon opening the box, the first thing that struck me about the VR-5700 was it’s substantial weight and its height. With dimensions of 18.88 inches wide, 17.31 inches deep, and just under eight inches tall, with a weight that is just a shade over 40 pounds, the VR-5700 is taller and slightly narrower than other receivers I have seen in similarly priced receivers. The VR-5700 is part of Kenwood’s Sovereign line and is meant to be a perfect match in both features and physical appearance with their $950 Kenwood Sovereign DV-5700. The VR-5700 features clean lines, soft, rounded edges and two semi-oval glass displays. The top display is the more important of the two, showing the various modes and settings with a subtle blue/gray LCD screen. The volume knob on the right side of the receiver is well engineered and has a good solid feel, a sign of a well-put-together piece of gear.
Real estate on the back of any feature-packed receiver is a valuable commodity and at first glance it is apparent that a great deal of thought has gone into the design of the back panel. I recently assisted AudioRevolution.com’s publisher, Jerry Del Colliano with the setup of a small bedroom theater system and after dealing with the incredibly small and tightly-spaced speaker connectors on the back of his Denon AVR3803 ($1,200), this experience quickly made me thankful for the extra little room on the Kenwood’s speaker jacks. This made connecting all of the components and speakers, a breeze and I was easily able to keep the cables from becoming a tangled rats-nest, as I rarely ever had to crisscross wires.
For each video input, there are several options including Tos-link (optical), digital (RCA) and analog (RCA). The VR-5700 features eight DSP listening modes and has compensation controls for wall type, room size and effect level. Unless you have a great deal of time, patience and know-how, these DSP modes will tend to obscure the audio and make it sound unnatural. Small moves make big differences, so the “less is more” school of EQ and room correction is usually your best bet on the VR-5700. With other components (more expensive Yamaha receivers and Meridian’s new electronics), you can use DSP and room correction to solve many important acoustic problems. My testing left me liking the signal more pure when listening to the Kenwood.
Being a bit of a video game junkie, I require many inputs and the Kenwood was able to handle my Microsoft Xbox, Sony Playstation II and Nintendo Game Cube with plenty of room for my TiVo and two VCRs. There are multiple video inputs on the back of the receiver, as well as one on the front with RCA video and an S-Video input. I found this to be a good place to plug in the S-Video output of my Toshiba laptop computer so I could use my Sony television as a computer monitor. My television’s resolution is not nearly as high as a computer monitor, so the picture was obviously not as good, but it’s a nice novelty trick to see your computer screen bigger than life on a 36-inch TV screen.
The best feature of the Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700, aside from the 5.1 analog inputs, is its two component video inputs. I’d love to have more, but the fact that it has even two was appreciated. My Kenwood DV-5700 DVD-Audio/Video player found its way into the first component video input, and I needed to decide what would go into component video input two. A trip down to Best Buy for an Xbox component video cable was in order. The video difference is absolutely worth the investment in the special cable.
AC power is a huge topic these days and Kenwood has addressed it with their K-Ground™ topology, a grounding technique that uses a single grounding point for all of the amplifier’s components. According to Kenwood, this eliminates ground noise caused by current flow along the ground path. Call it techno mumbo-jumbo if you will, but it really worked, as I heard less ground noise than with any other received that I have reviewed. If you are looking to get really serious about the power in your entire system, especially for your video, you might also consider adding either a Richard Gray’s Power Company 400s ($750) or an Exact Power EP15a ($1995). Both of these products, albeit a bit expensive for a system based around a receiver, help give you more stable and accurate power that really affects both the audio and especially the video of your entire system. If you buy a plasma, an AC power product should be mandatory.
When it comes to power, the Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700 is stout enough to easily power my Paradigm Monitor series speaker system including the fairly large Paradigm Monitor 9 floor standing towers. Despite not being able to handle 7.1 audio, the Kenwood has just about every other sound format and certification that you could ask for, including THX Ultra certification, Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, HDCD decoding, THX EX Surround EX, DTS ES (matrix and discreet) and DTS Neo 6 decoding. Chances are, you don’t have software that takes advantage of all of the formats, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have them available.
Using a single receiver for multiple rooms is not a new concept, but it is a very attractive one. The VR-5700 features just this, an audio/video dual room/dual source capability. You won’t be able to get an extra surround system in a separate room, but you can get another set of speakers running another source simultaneously in another area of your home and video can also be received in that second zone, with a television present. This is quite a useful feature for those trying to get the most value from their receiver.
An often-overlooked feature that I have found very useful on the VR-5700 is the headphone jack on the bottom left front panel of the receiver. The headphone jack is the forgotten feature. 30 years ago, you couldn’t buy a stereo system without one, now they are all but extinct. Living in a townhouse with common walls, there comes a time in the evening when the speakers have to be turned down so far that it’s better to just pop on some headphones. I estimate I’ve used the quarter-inch stereo headphone input for nearly 50-60 so far and the only complaint that I have with it is that it does not have its own independent volume control. To have sound come out of just the headphones, both speaker sets “A” and “B” must be manually turned off and then the volume for the headphones is controlled by the master volume control. It would be nicer to have a volume control for the headphones like the DV-5700 DVD player that I have sitting on top of the receiver. This would, of course, require an additional amplifier, which would add additional weight and cost. If I ever happen to watch a DVD late at night, I’ll literally take the plug out of the receiver and use the DVD player’s headphone input and volume control.
Another option for late-night listening that doesn’t wake the neighbors is the two-stage “Midnight Theater Mode” that is basically a compressor that levels out the loud sections of a soundtrack and boosts quieter elements such as dialogue and sound effects. If you use this feature, you’ll want to be sure to turn it off when you don’t need it, or you’ll lose the emotional impact of the sound while watching movies or listening to music. I found the effect of this feature to be acceptable, but I would opt to listen at a louder volume through the headphones late at night to experience the dynamics of the soundtracks.
The majority of the buttons and features on the DV-5700 are housed behind a flip-down hatch that runs across the bottom front of the unit. Although I normally access most of the features with the remote control, it can be hard to flip down the hatch and see the small black buttons. In my system, the placement of the access hatch is especially awkward because the receiver sits about three inches off the ground inside a black TV cabinet that has a slightly raised lip on it. This means if I want to access any of these buttons manually, I have to lift the receiver a quarter of an inch to open the hatch. If it were sitting on a perfectly flat panel, this would not be an issue.
Remote controls are often a source of disdain for receiver reviewers, but I found the remote for the VR-5700 to be easy to use and quite functional. It is a large silver unit that drains the batteries pretty fast, but it has easy to read buttons that glow faintly in the dark. Programming the commands into a Philips Pronto-type remote will ultimately be a better option, but in the meantime, the VR-5700 remote is quite good.
For those of you who want to enjoy DVD-Audio and/or SACD in 5.1 Surround sound, the VR-5700 receiver features six-channel analog inputs with RCA connectors. In a perfect world, the DV-5700 would feature two separate 5.1 analog inputs for a DVD-Audio/Video player and and SACD player however even Kenwood's higher up model, the VR-5900 ($2,650), only features one 5.1 analog input.
Speaking of DVD-Audio, the VR-5700 has bass management, an important feature that allows the user to control the amount of bass that is sent to the different speakers. This is a big problem when using the 5.1 analog inputs and Kenwood thought ahead by including this often omitted feature. Some players have bass management built into them, so you’ll need to check your player and experiment to see which works best for your system. My front speakers have a fairly wide dynamic range, so I gave them a little more bass than the center and rear speakers which all feature slightly smaller woofers than the mains.