|Sherwood Newcastle P-965 AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Monday, 01 May 2006|
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The Sherwood P-965 is a full-featured AV preamplifier that can serve as the centerpiece of a multi-room theater system without blowing even modest budgets. This piece is at the tops of the Sherwood Newcastle line and has just about every feature one could ask for in a high-end AV preamp, yet it is smartly designed to leave out many superfluous features that you don’t need but often pay for in more expensive components. The P-965 is priced at $1,495 and is indicative of Sherwood’s longtime philosophy of foregoing frills in order to keep its pricing competitive.
When I received the P-965, I found it well packaged inside a box within a box. When I removed the box, I noted that the unit was standard in size at 17-and-three-eighths by seven-and-three-quarters inches by 17-and-three-quarters inches deep and weighed a respectable 26 pounds. The front panel was attractively finished in aluminum, with two large knobs that flank a large display with a row of buttons under the display with a headphone jack and AV input hidden behind a drop-down door. The rear panel has a plethora of connections, including three component video inputs with one component video output, 7.1 analog inputs for your multi-channel music player, 7.2 analog outputs, tape loop, a phonograph input, three analog inputs, a USB input, four optical digital inputs, one optical out, two coaxial digital inputs with one coax out, six AV inputs and rooms 1 and 2 video out, Digilink, RS-232, DC triggers, and an IR input for second room control.
Notably absent from the otherwise loaded rear panel of the P-965 are any HDMI connectors. While many may think that all HDMI connections are the same, they are not. The HDMI connection standard is fairly new and still evolving as Hollywood studios struggle over the topic of whether or not to copy-protect their content when sent in HD. Sherwood’s solution to the problem of evolving HDMI standards (audio isn’t currently supported by HDMI in its current version) is to have HDMI switching handled in a small, external box called the Link. This way, when the standards change, you can simply switch out the relatively inexpensive Link, rather than being stuck with an expensive, out-of-date AV preamplifier. Without question, this is a clever move. The Link sells for about $300 and has multiple HDMI inputs, as well as composite, component and S-Video inputs. The incoming signals are transcoded as necessary and output as HDMI. The Link can connect to and is controlled by the P-965. The Link was not available for this review, but it is slated for release within weeks.
Features abound in the P-965. On the audio side, the P-965 can handle DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, DPL IIx, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Headphone, digital re-mastering to 192kHz/24 bits, Analog Devices 1852 192kHz/24-bit DACS for all channels, pure analog mode, selectable crossovers, lip sync-capable, Cinema EQ, Cirrus Logic 24-bit CS-49400 DSP, 7.1 input with bass management, SNAP (Sherwood Newcastle Automatic Parametric) EQ, automatic speaker set-up and more.
Video is not neglected, as the P-965 features universal video upconversion (i.e., your inputs can be composite, S-Video and component and you only need to run one output cable) and relay-switched component inputs for superior picture quality and unlimited bandwidth.
Sherwood doesn’t stop there. The P-965 is also user upgradeable with downloadable firmware. A second remote control is included for use in the second room. The primary remote control is the highly regarded Universal Remote Control RNC-510. The RNC-510 series also features a large LCD screen, a large preprogrammed library and learning capabilities.
Setting up an AV preamplifier can often be more challenging than most other components in a modest home theater system. There are typically many more connections and settings involved with AV preamplifier than any other component. This said, the P-965 was one of the easier AV preamps to connect and get running.
I started by making all the connections and noted that all analog audio connections were single-ended. Video connections were simplified from my prior unit, as I ran the best available analog video output from the source unit, whether it was composite or component, to the P-965. Due to the universal video feature, I only had to run a single set of component video outputs. Once all the connections were made, it was fairly simple to go through the menus and set up the controller. The Sherwood features an auto speaker set-up and equalization that was extremely simple to use. I found that it was quite easy to go through the set-up process and had everything ready to go in a few minutes.
I must note that the included remote, the Universal Remote Control RNC-510 normally sells separately for $250. The remote is well-regarded and can be programmed to control up to 10 devices, which should take care of most theater systems. Even AVRev.com’s resident remote critic, Andrew Robinson, has good things to say about this remote, which adds significant value to such an affordable AV preamp.