|Adcom GTP-880 AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Saturday, 01 May 2004|
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I began my video evaluation with Quentin Tarantino’s stylish ode to cheesy kung fu movies titled “Kill Bill Volume 1” (Miramax). I chose the DTS soundtrack of the “Kill Bill” DVD and the Adcom combo, paired with my Energy Connoisseur 5.1 speaker system, did not disappoint. The GTP-880 automatically sensed the sound format I had selected via the TosLink cable connection from the DVD player. Just for kicks, I changed the sound format to Dolby Digital for a minute and, like clockwork, the GTP-880 automatically sensed the audio format change. After turning the sound back to the killer DTS mix, I cued up the scene in the Asian restaurant/night club where Uma Thurman’s character the Bride, codename Black Mamba, has gone to destroy Lucy Liu’s character O-Ren Ishii, codename Cottonmouth, one of the members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad that had tried to kill her.
When Go-Go, the innocent looking Asian schoolgirl with a cold heart and a mean spiked ball and chain, starts swinging her weapon around the nightclub, the speakers began to light up the room. I don’t recall seeing and hearing a demo scene that makes better use of discrete surround sound. As the ball and chain whirls around the room, the sound effects are crystal clear and, at one point when a wooden table is destroyed during the battle, it is possible to hear what sounds like bowling pins crashing down. The Adcom/Energy combo was so clean that it sounded like I was right there in the foley studio as they were adding the sound effects.
After the Bride destroys Go-Go, the sound of hundreds of motorcycles ridden by O-Ren’s henchmen can be heard in the distance. As they arrive and begin flooding into the room to surround the Bride in classic kung fu style, the action turns from color to black and white, apparently to avoid an NC-17 for violence if the subsequent copious flow of blood were to appear in color. The color to black and white change was a formable test for the component video inputs and outputs on the GTP-880. The contrast was stellar and none of the detail of the scene was lost when moving from color to black and white. The shiny blades of the swords, the spurting blood and the sweat on the brow of the Bride were not washed out.
Watching Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion” starring Eddie Murphy, the latest in their batch of popular rides turned blockbuster movies, I was impressed by the clarity of the sound and picture during the opening THX logo and Disney Home Video logo. Ironically, the THX certification is one of the few badges that this Adcom combo does not sport. However, the Dolby Digital surround soundtrack sounded particularly good. The spooky voice that guides guests through the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland begins the movie and is particularly faithful to the sound that you hear on the ride. The movie is as one might expect, a little on the hokey side, with multi-million-dollar special effects and a plot that seems a little forced, but the Adcom again performed flawlessly.
Queen’s tune “Bohemian Rhapsody” from the DTS Entertainment DVD-Audio release of A Night at the Opera (DTS Entertainment) is the track that I usually use to show my friends and neighbors the power of DVD-Audio. This familiar song gave me a chance to try the three different bass management settings on the Adcom GTP-880. I was using fairly small rear speakers and medium-sized floor-standing fronts, so I found the HPF setting to be the most effective, sparing the small rear speakers from being overloaded with low-frequency material. The rear speakers get a workout on this entire disc, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is no exception.
Moving from ‘70s classic rock to early ‘80s jazz/R&B, I cued up the album Winelight by saxophonist extraordinaire Grover Washington Jr. on DVD-Audio (Elektra/Rhino). Like the audio on “Kill Bill,” the sound on this DVD really takes advantage of the rear speakers. The huge reserve of power available from the Adcom amp allowed me to push the volume up to obscene levels, higher than I’d ever normally listen to, yet it remained clean and articulate. The signature track on this album is the classic “Just the Two of Us,” a song just about everyone has heard before. In surround, it was familiar and new all at the same time. The analog inputs of the GTP-880 added minimal if any coloration to the sound. The marimbas and percussion elements moved around the room in an interesting but never cheesy manner. The percussive higher tones from the bass strings came through in the main speakers but the real bottom end was properly reserved for the sub. The onscreen image of Grover playing his saxophone was rock solid, thanks to the clean video output of the GTP-880. This disc makes one thing very apparent. Kenny G can’t even carry Grover Washington’s saxophone case to work.
TiVo and Video Games
As important as it was to evaluate some DVDs through the GTP-880, my TiVo is really the item I use most on a day-to-day basis in my home theater. I used “Video Input 1” of the AV preamp via S-Video and a pair of RCA cables for audio to connect the TiVo. It was a breeze to hook up and the preamp automatically sensed the type of video and audio connections that I was sending to it. Unfortunately, I do not have a digital output on my particular TiVo unit in this room. However, the GTP-880 could sense the analog Dolby Pro-Logic output from my TV and all I had to do to get the TiVo working was press “Video 1” on the preamp’s remote control or the receiver’s front panel. The speed, from the time I selected a new input on the GTP-880 to the time that it switched over, was virtually instantaneous. I have seen some AV preamps that have a more noticeable delay when changing inputs, but the GTP-880 is as quick as I could ever ask for.
The sign of a good AV preamp is that it does its job but stays out of your way, so that you almost forget it’s there. To test this, I used my Microsoft X-Box, first by playing some video games with the system plugged directly into the set of RCA jacks on the front of the TV. This meant the sound was in stereo but the picture was as direct as possible. I played some games on the X-Box, including Microsoft’s NFL Fever 2004, a game that always makes me wish it could always be football season. After several games, I then took the same set of analog outputs and brought them into the GTP-880 to see if it was adding any kind of visual distortion. The image of the X-Box had a little more color saturation, but the average person would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two images. I found the picture improved even more when running through the AV preamp after I replaced the S-Video cable going from the preamp to the TV with a higher quality one from Accell. The GTP-880 is so good that you can actually see the difference when you upgrade the quality of the cables. When using lower-end AV preamps or receivers in the past, the quality of the cables that were used was not such an important factor.
Not many people truly know what 7.1 surround is, but chances are, if you asked average home theater shoppers if they want to have it in their next systems, they would most likely say, “Yes.” At present, there are barely any software titles that are 7.1. However, manufacturers have found a way to split the rear channels and distribute it to an extra pair of speakers that are defined as “right back” and “left back.” My room has an awkward shape that does not lend itself to having rear speakers other than the standard surrounds, nor side channels. However, for this review, I temporarily added a pair of Polk LSI speakers so I could test Adcom’s very own 7.1m2 surround mode. I was a little skeptical, but the algorithm that is done for the rear channels sounded much more natural than I would have expected. Note that you’ll have to have an amplifier like the GFA-7805 that has speaker outputs for all of the speakers when doing 7.1. It was obvious to me that I wasn’t hearing true discrete surround, but the rear soundstage opened up a little on both “Kill Bill” and “The Haunted Mansion” DVDs when running in 7.1 mode. I would have probably kept this set-up if I didn’t need to place one of the speakers on top of a stepladder in the room for the purposes of testing the GTP-880 in 7.1. It’s not the must-have feature that many people think it is, but it’s a nice feature to go along with a preamp already filled with many bells and whistles.
I do most of my radio listening in the car, so it’s rare that I come home from work, plop down on the couch and listen to some talk radio or “Get the Lead Out” on the classic rock station in LA, but for the sake of being thorough, I gave the tuner on the Adcom a try. With the ability to store 30 FM presets and 10 AM presets and a simple method for locking the presets in, I quickly had all of my favorite stations at my fingertips via the remote control. Using the tuner by hand to get the stations set the first time was a little cumbersome, as the tuner would not scroll through the stations quickly. It would stop automatically at anything that it sensed was a radio station, even if it just sounded like pure static to me. When going from 97.1 to 101.1, the tuner stopped about 15 times, even though I know of only about five other stations in between these two. Once I made it though the FM and AM dial with all of the stations that I regularly listen to, this was no longer an issue. The touchiness of the tuner dial could actually be looked at as a benefit in that you might find stations that you might not have known about, but if your tuner presets were ever lost and you wanted to quickly scroll from 101.1 to 106.7, it’s going to take you a good deal of time.
Sonically, the radio tuner was better than I expected. My living room is sunk down and has a block wall under the drywall that is the backside of my garage so it’s hard for me to get a really solid radio signal in it. After playing with the position of the AM and FM antennas, I was able to get an acceptable signal for both bands and listened to a variety of stations. I know that, in a pinch, if there is a specific radio show or sporting event that I’m dying to hear, I’ll be able to pick it up and enjoy it, thanks to the GTP-880’s tuner.