|Proceed AVP AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Monday, 01 November 1999|
The Proceed AVP is a full function audio/video preamp that combines audio preamplification, digital conversion, broadcast-quality video switching and surround sound decoding into a highly refined high-end gem. Priced at $4,995 (S-Video version), the Proceed AVP comes equipped with DTS, AC3, Pro Logic, THX and numerous other surround fields for both music and video playback. The digital section of the AVP uses Burr Brown 1702 20-bit Multibit DACs for the left and right channels and 1-bit, 24-bit compatible AKM Delta-Sigma DACs for the center, surround, aux and subwoofer channels. A dealer-provided software update will be available in the near future to get your AVP ready for the 24-bit 96 kHz performance.
The AVP comes equipped with seven digital and eight analog highly flexible, assignable inputs. A special version of the AVP can be ordered in order to take up to four S-VHS inputs, as well as four composite inputs. A standard AVP comes with six composite video inputs. During the set-up process, you decide which audio and or video device is to go into what input. For example, you can set the primary and secondary input method; a DVD player would take a digital input first and possibly an analog second. The set-up process is not a cakewalk, but it is logical and intuitive. The AVP manual is among the best I have ever read, in that it is complete and easy to understand for the end user.
The faceplate of the Proceed AVP has a non-traditional design that incorporates a sexy modern look with useful buttons in unconventional placements. The controls for the loudspeaker level adjusters are curved around the beautifully milled volume knob. This makes lots of sense in that the volume knob has a dual purpose: it also controls the surround parameters when desired.
The design for the Proceed AVP’s remote is unique in that, unlike its competitors, it fits easily in your hand and features only nine buttons. Each button is within reach of your thumb for both left- and right-handers. The three main buttons toggle up and down smoothly. However, I frequently found myself making the mistake of switching my inputs when I wanted to lower the volume. Ultimately, I added a hand-held touch screen remote to control every component in my system, as well as to facilitate macros.
Music on the Proceed AVP
Proceed’s tie into the Mark Levinson line of electronics is evident as soon as you audition music through the AVP. The AVP is an excellent preamp, worthy to replace many a high-end two-channel contender on the market. Its 20-bit DAC sections for the right and left channels also qualify the AVP as a replacement for the digital conversion found on all but the best CD players and DACs currently on the market.
In my theater application, two-channel music playback has a distinct problem in that my left and right speakers (M&K THX monitors) are installed into a bookcase. The center image is challenged, to put it politely, by a 35-inch Sony XBR tube television set with another M&K THX monitor blue tacked (with that gooey Silly Putty-like stuff) to the top. The musical result is there is very little blending of the left and right stereo speakers (the blend is known as center imaging). After 50+ hours of listening, I tried an experiment that would be considered blasphemy by some audio purists. I switched a two-channel CD over to one of the AVP’s surround modes, L/R Surround. The cut "Lung" from Hooverphonic’s Blue Wonder Power Milk (Epic) provided some of the best results. The center channel immediately solved the center imaging problem while the rears brought a surround sensation that, while obviously not discrete 5.1, was cool and far more musically involving than the traditional two-channel mode. Surprisingly, the L/R Surround mode was not shrill or cheap-sounding. Was it as good a DTS 20-bit CD? No, but with under 200 DTS and Dolby music titles currently on the market, using your AVP to take your music to the next level must be considered a major plus.
The AVP really flexes its muscles for music in 5.1 surround especially on Boyz II Men’s "Thank You" from their II record (DTS Entertainment). Boyz II Men is a great group for discrete 5.1 surround. With four singers, you can experience musical trickery that swirls, pops and creates three-dimensional effects we only aspired to in the glory days of two-channel. On "Thank You," the background vocal parts have the type of resolution and three-dimensional pop you’d expect to get from a $20,000 high end loudspeaker, imaged to the highest level. The musical experience was all-consuming, far beyond anything you can get from mere stereo.
On Steely Dan’s "Hey Nineteen" from Gaucho (DTS Entertainment) you’re hearing a lesser recording mixed into 5.1. The cymbals sounded harsh and a bit shrill, but Michael McDonald’s signature backup vocals were well placed in the rear channels. The song performance through the Proceed AVP was more exciting than I have ever heard it on my reference music system, but it lacked the resolution of the more modern Boyz II Men recording.
One critical, often overlooked aspect of an AV preamp is the importance of a high-quality video distribution and switching mechanism. The AVP uses a broadcast-quality video switching video section capable of passing an HDTV signal with an output bandwidth of 65 MHz. The result of the careful attention paid to the video performance is evident on sources such as scene three of Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (New Line – DTS LD). Here Austin (Mike Myers) does his mod dance sequences fully clad in a crushed blue velvet suit and accompanied by one of the most vibrantly dressed casts ever caught on film. On lesser AV preamps, the blacks seem faded and the brilliant colors look muted. On the AVP, the colors pop with unparalleled beauty and the blacks are extremely dark. With the Proceed AVP, you’ll enjoy more than just amazing audio effect – the picture is simply wonderful.
For an all-out test of the surround capabilities of the AVP, I looked to Tomorrow Never Dies (MGM-UA DVD - AC3) the latest James Bond video release. Chapter 20 has two phenomenal tests of a high performance home theater. First, as Pierce Brosnan’s Bond and actress Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin try to escape via motorcycle while being chased by Chinese assassins in Range Rovers and a helicopter, the duo create a trap in a crowded marketplace. The assassins’ gunshots accidentally set off an entire truckload of fireworks. The surround effect on a lesser system can become blurred, seeming like a sheer wall of sound attacking your ears. On the Proceed AVP, all five of the main loudspeakers are lit up with a dynamic yet detailed explosion that all of a sudden blooms into one of the most amazing home theater moments I have ever heard.
The second test in chapter 20 of Tomorrow Never Dies is at the end of the scene where Bond and Wai Lin are seemingly trapped by the helicopter, which is looming in on the two heroes as they are backed into a dead-end corner. In true Bond fashion, the agents escape by looping a metal laundry wire to the landing gear of the helicopter and immediately taking off. In order to flee their pursuers, Bond and Wai Lin need to slide the motorcycle under the rotating copter blades and jump into a water well. As they pull off this seemingly impossible act, you hear the most tremendous swirling effect with the helicopter blades, coupled with pounding bass. The two dive into the water well and the helicopter explodes with an impact I have never heard before in my theater. The next scene soothingly cues Bond and Wai Lin taking a makeshift shower in an alley way, with the delicate trickle of water strikingly juxtaposed against the preceding cacophony of a helicopter crash.
The Proceed AVP has three balanced audio outputs for left, right and center loudspeakers, while the Proceed Amp 5 five- channel power amplifier accepts five balanced inputs. I could understand if there wasn’t enough room for two or three more balanced jacks on the back of the AVP, but there are in fact two more balanced outputs for zone II operation. I simply don’t understand why the AVP would give up balanced performance for the rears and subs.
The left and right DACs are 20-bit, but the rest are 1-bit. With a future software upgrade the AVP will be able to do 24/96Khz. With the growing importance of full range 5.1 sound for music, video and DVD, it would have been nice to see the highest quality DACs throughout the AVP.
The Proceed AVP is the best value in all of the AV preamps. At $4995, it is far from cheap, but it has all of the features and high-end performance you’d expect from a Madrigal product; you would need to spend upwards of $15,000 to get anything comparable elsewhere. The fit and finish is great and the ease of use is much better than average. As a two-channel preamp, the Proceed AVP could replace nearly all of the existing preamps on the market even if you saved the surround features for future home theater upgrades. The Proceed AVP is a home run of a product. You’ll be proud to own one as the centerpiece of your high performance multi-media system.