|Sherwood VR-670 Hollywood-at-Home Virtual Theater System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Tuesday, 01 August 2006|
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Music and Movies
I started my evaluation with standard CDs and chose a current favorite, Aqualung’s debut album, Strange and Beautiful (Red Ink/Columbia). During the album’s title track, I was shocked by the musical performance that the VR-670 managed to dish out. First off, the highs were silky smooth with little to no sign of harshness when played back at anything less than concert levels. The upper octaves of the piano simply sprang from the VR-670’s diminutive speakers with an appropriate amount of air and reverberation not commonly found in this price class. The lead singer’s vocals were front and center and were brought to life with excellent weight and texture. The bass was solid, quick and blended nicely with the VR-670’s speakers, but it failed to plumb the deepest depths that I’ve heard from this track in the past. This didn’t surprise me. I mean, there is only so much air a six-or-so-inch driver with 100 watts at its disposal can move before you’re just asking too much. What did surprise me was the VR-670’s recreation of space. While not surround sound at all (keep in mind, this is a two-channel disc), the VR-670 dished out one hell of a convincing soundstage that was larger and more true in scale than any home theater in a box I have ever come across. Moving on to the track “Breaking My Heart,” the VR-670 recreated the band’s drum kit as faithfully as it could without overtaxing the rest of the musical spectrum or my bedroom. The kick drum had a wonderful sense of texture and detail in that I could clearly “see” the mallet striking the skins and recoiling back again. Likewise, the piano was very lifelike and at times was more convincing than some systems I’ve had in my house costing two to three times as much as the VR-670. The VR-670 kept its composure throughout the track, even during the song’s more complex and dynamically trying moments, provided I didn’t turn it up to 11.
Content with Aqualung, I moved onto Imogen Heap’s newest album, Speak For Yourself (RCA). During the rather rhythmically driving track “Headlock,” the VR-670’s bass tightened just a little, as well as gaining a bit of impact that helped breathe a little more energy into the track. Heap’s vocals were boosted by the added weight, which helped her to take on a more true-to-life scale in my moderately-sized bedroom. While the added gusto down low was a pleasant surprise, it didn’t overpower the rest of the musical spectrum, which was more than apparent when it came to the harp featured on the track. The harp shimmered and danced across the far corners of my room in time with the music. Dynamically, the VR-670 simply came to play in what was a much more ballsy performance over the previous two-channel discs. Moving onto the track “Hide and Seek,” which features nothing but Heap’s layered vocals, one on top of each other, the VR-670 flexed a bit of muscle when it came to retrieving every last bit of detail in the track. The VR-670’s midrange was such that I began to shake my head in utter disbelief. The purity and natural ease that the VR-670 had with Heap’s raspy yet beautiful vocals was simply amazing.
Without a doubt, when it came to two-channel fare, the VR-670 had little to be ashamed of and a whole lot to be proud of. Never in my experiences have I come across a product that did so many little things right musically that the larger issues like dynamic capability and bass extension didn’t plague my thoughts as I sat, simply enjoying the music.
Moving on to multi-channel music, that’s right, multi-channel, I eagerly popped in the DVD-Audio disc of The Crystal Method’s Legion of Boom (V2 / DTS Entertainment). I set the VR-670’s audio setting from stereo to wide and prepared to find out if it could, in fact, create a convincing surround sound performance. During the opening track, “Starting Over,” I was both a bit surprised and disappointed. Right off the bat, the music itself gained more impact and detail, which was expected. Also, the VR-670’s dynamic capabilities seemed to come to life a bit more. Yet the wide setting seemed to add a certain level of reverberation and distortion to help fake the sense of rear speakers. For the most part, it was a success, but it came at the price of sonic purity. Everything seemed to take on a slight hollowness, which sucked a bit of midrange weight out of the music. It wasn’t all together distracting, however it was present. By the time I got to track four or so, I had subconsciously compensated for it and it was only when doing A/B comparisons that it became an issue. Speaking to the song’s surround sound performance, the VR-670 was able to take some of the track’s more snappy synthetic beats and bring them within inches of my ears. Did I feel surrounded? Sort of. Was it impressive nonetheless? You betcha. I experimented with speaker placement to try and complete the illusion. However, I achieved the best results with the speakers placed on either side of my television in the corner of my bedroom. Undoubtedly, the proximity of the two sidewalls had a profound effect on the success of the illusion, for the sound needs something to hit in order to redirect it behind you. Overall, I found the VR-670’s multi-channel reproduction to be rather robust, rhythmic and, above all, enjoyable.
Content with music, I moved on to movies, starting things off with the recently released comedy “Just Friends,” starring funnyman Ryan Reynolds (New Line Home Entertainment). I was surprised to find out that “Just Friends” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. Then again, it didn’t have any gay cowboys or that one guy, you know, from “Crash.” What it does have is Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit, which is far more enjoyable. Since “Just Friends” is less than a sonic marvel when it comes to movies, I focused my attention first on the image. Through the VR-670’s component output, the image itself was wonderfully saturated with a fair amount of detail and decent black levels. I’m not going to lie and say it’s on par with my Denon 3910 or other HDMI-equipped players, but for a sub-$400 system, it is pretty damn good. The VR-670 had a nice way with the film’s more human elements; the rendering of flesh tones was very natural in its level of detail and saturation. During the film’s close-ups, the characters took on a much more three-dimensional quality than in the wide shots. During the comedic hockey scene, the VR-670’s white levels were kept nicely in check for most of the sequence, with the exception of the fast-moving wide shots. During such shots, some of the characters became a little overwhelmed by their white surroundings, which would create a slightly backlit/ghosting effect. These moments were few and far between, but they did happen nevertheless. Something that was alarming regarding the VR-670’s video performance was its tendency to show motion artifacts and compression, especially in the film’s darker scenes. This resulted in a slightly noisy image that was plagued with image banding and jaggies from time to time. I couldn’t really find a way to completely eliminate these anomalies within reason. Sure, you could pump the image through a scaler or something of the like, but let’s face it, if you’re playing with that kind of hardware, you’re not looking to buy the VR-670. As far as the sound went, I was more than happy with the VR-670’s presentation. The dialogue was clearly intelligible and focused, with a hint of midrange warmth that made the characters a bit more inviting. The film’s largest effects sequence features a sort of comedic Rube Goldberg dismantling of a family’s outdoors Christmas decor. The VR-670 recreated this sequence with reckless abandon as plastic snowmen and Santa Claus figurines flew about the air, catching fire, smashing into fences and so on. The scale on which VR-670 could recreate sweeping action was incredible, despite its only having two speakers. However, the VR-670 never fully fooled me into thinking there were rear speakers present, but what was there was simply stunning.