|Aragon Stage One AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Ed Masterson|
|Wednesday, 01 January 2003|
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Aragon has a long and well-respected reputation for producing high-value, high-end two-channel music preamplifiers and, more specifically, power amplifiers. Today, under the ownership of Klipsch, they are expanding into the highly competitive market of multi-channel music reproduction and home theater. Aragon is not attempting to compete with the inexpensive mass-market products but instead going head-to-head with the best in the mid- to high-performance class, such as Sunfire and Anthem.
The Stage One is a full-featured theater/multi-channel music processor, AM/FM tuner, two-channel analog preamplifier and video switcher, built into a single chassis. The Stage One measures 17 inches wide, five-and-one-half inches tall and 15 inches deep and retails for $4,000. It has seven inputs for A/V sources, all of which accommodate composite video, s-video, analog audio, and digital audio. Component video inputs are available on three of the inputs. Three toslink digital inputs are available, as well as a toslink output for high-quality digital recording. The analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion is performed using 24 bit/192 kHz DACs. The Stage One provides an eight-channel analog input (normally analog inputs are only six channels, but Aragon is leaving room for future surround sound formats) for DVD-Audio or multi-channel SACD players. The unit also has stereo analog outputs for recording, a 12VDC output to trigger external devices, and a RS232 connection for software upgrades from PC and/or advanced control systems. Aragon smartly provides a pre-programmed Philips ProntoNeo programmable LCD touchscreen remote control with the Stage One.
One of the standout features in this product is the THX ULTRA2 certification. This certification requires certain features that are intended to give the user everything needed to achieve proper set up in any room, with nearly any speaker configuration. It also assures compatibility with nearly any music or video format available. Aragon has also added some of its own features to help entice customers. First, they use an analog preamplifier stage, which gives you the ability to bypass all of the digital circuitry with a mode they refer to as direct. This provides the opportunity to use it as part of a system employing a minimalist approach to two-channel stereo reproduction. Better yet is the ability to do the same thing for up to eight channels. This allows you to run DVD-Audio discs and multi-channel SACDs in purist fashion, relying only on the digital processing in the source component.
The Stage One is a theater/music surround processor with 7.1-channel output capability to support all of the latest surround sound formats and decoding options. This includes Dolby Digital, DTS, THX Surround EX, DTS ES, DTS Neo: 6 and Dolby Pro Logic II. The Stage One will also digitally enhance stereo signals and create multi-channel music or movies in a few different modes. As is required in the THX ULTRA2 specification, it will automatically select the proper format based on the signal from the source. There is a complete sequence to cover speaker set-up alone. They have also provided the ability to set crossovers, speaker distances (from the listening position), and individual speaker levels. One new feature that is valuable to me is a boundary gain compensation function, which helps to control the bass in a listening position near a wall. If this all sounds far too complicated to remember, you’re not alone in this view. Today’s home theater systems have become extremely complicated. To give you an idea of exactly how complicated, the manual is 28 pages long and contains very useful and, in some cases, critical information required for set up and operation. Fortunately, set up is the biggest portion of the learning curve. Once connected, the Stage One is designed to be automatic. Ideally, you should just turn it on, select a source, set the volume control, and let the fun begin.
Upon unpacking the Stage One, the first thing I noticed was the swanky-looking machined aluminum enclosure on the component. The front panel is simple, with a few buttons and a volume knob. There is machined groove on the front face that lights up to look like the letter “M.” I assume this is for Mondial Designs Ltd., the original manufacturer of the Aragon product line, which now exists as the Mondial Designs Team. The Stage One is a well-built piece of hardware, just what you should expect when you lay down this kind of cash. When I looked at the back of the unit, I noticed a feature that makes connections a little easier. There are double labels for reading, one set for reading right side up and one set for reading while leaning over the top of the unit. The connector layout is exceptionally easy to follow. All of the connections are solid and give you a confident feeling when connecting some of the beefier high-end cables.
Before I knew it, all the connections were made and I was turning it on. That was perhaps the easiest theater processor set-up that I have ever done and I still had not cracked the manual.
As mentioned earlier, Aragon supplies a pre-programmed Philips ProntoNeo remote control with the Stage One. Although this highly respected remote worked perfectly for my needs, I am not personally a fan of the touch-screen LCD-style remotes. In a dark room, it is difficult to find the button I need without turning on the remote light. The Stage One does not provide an onscreen display (OSD) function. It does, however, provide a big bright display that is readable at up to an estimated 16 feet for people with average vision.