|Kenwood VH-600 / DM-VH7 Mini System|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Tony Kaklamanos|
|Saturday, 01 July 2000|
This contemporary mini-system isn't for the faint of heart. The VH-600 is the amp, receiver and CD player section. The DM-VH7 is the MD (mini-disc) section, which is optional and sold separately. The list price of this system is $599.00 for the VH-600 and $399.00 for the DM-VH7.
Before we go further down the road with this review, I've got to tell you, I was quite a skeptic about the whole MD format thing. I thought, oh boy – great – another format to deal with. Well, I'm pleased to say this unit has turned my head. Read on.
We'll start off with the features. First, the VH-600 / DM-VH7 is a bookshelf system. Kenwood has had the foresight to design the units for vertical placement. You might say; well, that's all fine and good, but how would I read the display? I'm glad you asked: the units have a gravity-triggered ReadRight backlit display, which adjusts itself according to whether the unit is set vertically or stacked horizontally. The VH-600 includes a slot-loading CD player (similar to many car players), which has 32-track programming, repeat play, random play, HDCD (High Definition Compact Disc) compatibility and the ability to accept both five and three inch CDs. This CD section also features One Touch editing, which allows you to either record a single track or a whole CD to the DM-VH7. Okay, okay, just one more CD player feature - if the CD is coded properly, the display will scroll the artist name and track title in text. Pretty cool stuff. Moving ahead to the digital tuner section: the VH-600 offers 40 AM/FM stations and auto preset, which automatically enters stations, as well as seek and step tuning. The amplifier section delivers 20 watts per channel, using discrete power amplifier circuitry, and offers a two-position natural bass feature, which comes in very handy at low listening levels. Another power handling feature is the VH-600’s Class A or AB operation through Pure A amplification. At low listening levels, the unit automatically switches to Class A amplification for lower distortion levels, which equals better sound. When the volume is cranked up, the unit switches to Class AB operation for more power.
The front panel is cleanly laid out, with button-style basic controls and a mult-purpose control knob (most of the features are controlled by the remote). There is also a mini-stereo headphone jack that automatically cuts off the loudspeakers.
Speaking of loudspeakers, the VH-600 is equipped with a pair of two-ways. The enclosures are blue, with a maple veneer front insert that beautifully matches the top and bottom panels of the VH-600. Fabric grilles are included, but these little guys are just too pretty to hide – I left the grilles off while testing the unit for this review. The four-and-one-half-inch polypropylene woofer cone comes in a shade of blue that complements the enclosure. A one-inch metal inverted dome tweeter supports the high end. The enclosure has a front port to release energy that can build up within the enclosure and cause resonance. And, for all of you gear-heads out there, impedence is rated at six ohms, 30 watts maximum input power, 85 dB/W at 1M sensitivity. The crossover frequency is 2,500 Hz.
Moving around to the back, the VH-600 has a host of input and outputs: tape RCA stereo input and output, spring clip AM antenna input, FM antenna input, MD RCA stereo input and output, aux stereo RCA pair inputs, subwoofer preamp RCA output, binding post speaker terminals, Toslink digital output from the unit’s CD player and the system control jack that activates the one-touch recording feature for the DM-VH7.
There are additional bells and whistles, such as a sleep timer, auto power save function, two daily timers and an OTT timer, which allows you to play back material from a specified source at a pre-designated time; the power then completely shuts itself off after one hour.
And now, let’s talk about the DM-VH7 MD recorder. Cosmetically, this unit matches the VH-600 perfectly, right down to the gravity-activated display. It also matches up functionally through the use of the system control cable. There are some incredibly cool features within the DM-VH7, including Quick Moving, which allows you to move the order several tracks within one operation. Not only that, the tracks being moved don't have to be adjacent to one another; neither do their destinations. There are also four repeat modes: disc, track, program and random, along with 32-track programming. The DM-VH7 can record and play back in mono, which doubles the playing time of a disc. It also uses 20-bit digital to analog and analog to digital converters (not to get too techie), which means that a "greatest hits" compilation can be produced using your favorite HDCDs. Another fun feature is Titling. This allows you to input up to 1792 characters per disc (80 characters per track). You then can view what you've input on the display during playback. Titling also comes in very handy if you plan to use the Title Search feature.
The rear panel has the following inputs and outputs: analog RCA input and output pairs, two system control cable jacks (one connects the DM-VH7 to the VH-600; the other connects the DM-VH7 to the optional X-VH7 cassette deck). Two Toslink digital jacks are included. One is an input from the optical output of the VH-600; the other is an output that can be connected to an external DAT or CDR. Whew!
Since the system is compact, I decided to set it up in my home office. I figured that this would keep the unpacking mess out of sight and my wife off of my back. Hooking up the system is a no-brainer. Kenwood has included not only pre-scored speaker wires, but also a wrench to position the unit's feet for horizontal or vertical orientation. After about five minutes, I was ready to power up the units.
I slid in Eric Clapton and B.B. King's ‘Riding With The King’ (WEA/Warner Bros.). Listening to a couple of my favorites, from the Chicago style of title track to the swampy delta feel of "Key To The Highway," gave me the chills. The VH-600 played it well. To tell you the truth, I was actually suprised at the sound quality. I personally prefer loudspeakers with a flat frequency response, and these bad boys held up really well - not too thin at all, even at low listening levels. Those natural bass filters really work. Next, I inserted Matchbox 20's ‘Mad Season’ (WEA/Atlantic/Lava). The track "Black & White People" is a horn-blistering rocker. I drove the volume up and the unit held on just fine with very little distortion. I calmed things down a bit with a taste of jazz. One of my favorite pieces of software to use for reviews is the HDCD. I checked out Zoot Sims' ‘Quietly There’ (Fantasy, Inc.). The brushes on the snare underpinning Zoot's tenor sax were extremely real. By this time, I was wearing a big smile and wondering just how long I would be able to hang onto this system.
Moving on to the DM-VH7: As I mentioned earlier, I was a big skeptic when it came to the mini-disc format. Playing with this DM-VH7 thing and making my own blues compilations was so much fun that I'm forced to re-think my hesitancy in relation to this format. After all, you can erase, replace, move tracks around, etc. So what if I can't take the disc into the living room and play it on my DVD player? I tend to make compilation discs with my computer and CDR. However, I have found that many of the new players – including my DVD – won't play CDRs. Who cares? The DM-VH7 rocks.
At this price point, the downsides are far and few between. Cosmetically, I would have done a couple of things differently. The front left and right edges have a scalloped treatment that I don't really care for. Sonically, I would have like one more natural bass filter preset, making a total of three. However, Kenwood does have a built-in way of working around this low-frequency issue: the SW-500 powered subwoofer. The only disc that I reviewed – Vonda Shepard's ‘The Radical Light’ (Vesper Alley Records) – could have used a little more natural bottom end.
A word to the wise: this is a near-field system. Don't expect it to sound wonderful in a room much bigger than approximately 20 x 15 feet.
I guess that by this point, you’ve figured out that I really enjoyed reviewing the VH-600 / DM-VH7 system. If you're looking to purchase a mini system with industrial flare, a touch of elegance and great sound for the price, the VH-600 / DM-VH7 might be the one for you. I can't think of a better system suited for the office or bedroom environment. Hey Kenwood, is it too late to get the matching cassette deck and subwoofer?