Sherwood Newcastle R-965 Receiver 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Matthew Evert   
Friday, 01 April 2005

As people rush out to electronic stores to get the biggest plasma or projection HDTV they can afford, many are realizing that something is missing when they get their monster set home. The impact and the “wow” factor of a new TV is not quite the same without the killer sound that we experience in the store. It is essential to not skimp on the audio electronics when building an HDTV-based home theater, no matter the scope of the system. This is where Sherwood Newcastle comes in. What better company to trust with your new receiver than the receiver supplier to many of the industry's best-known brands? Newbies to the world of home theater are often surprised to learn that, in addition to making its own brand of high-quality receivers, Sherwood is also responsible for OEM (original equipment manufacturer) receivers for other companies. Because of their internal R&D paired with an outright amazing ability to build a receiver, Sherwood is among the best values in all of home theater. In this case, Sherwood has outdone itself with the new R-965 A/V receiver, with seven channels (plus a preamp channel) of room-engulfing power to maximize the “wow” for only $1999.95.

Sherwood has been making high-performance audio equipment since 1953, employing renowned audio engineers like Ed Miller. Expertise in making receivers is synonymous with the Sherwood brand name, especially since it was Sherwood that made the first all-silicon solid-state audio receiver. Sherwood did not lose its touch with its high-end audio roots with the R-965. This full-featured receiver pumps out 120 watts of power for each of the eight channels and boasts a wide cadre of inputs and outputs for all your home theater needs.

At first glance, the most obvious thing most users will notice about this receiver is its physical size. This massive unit is a behemoth at nearly 52 pounds. The black steel chassis spans 17-3/8 inches across and 17-3/4 inches deep. Vents above and below the chassis are lifted off the ground by four rubber-tipped feet to help air flow through the unit and cool the receiver. A brushed aluminum faceplate advertises some common input selection buttons and a large two-color dot matrix display. The input selection buttons are lighted for easy operation in dark rooms. Volume and selection knobs smoothly glide when turned, granting the user a predictable feel of control. The faceplate features a fold-down lower panel that exposes more buttons for tuning and navigating radio station presets. Also located in this lower panel is a complete set of analog and digital audio/video inputs, as well as a headphone jack for the times when silent operation is needed. The dot-matrix display can scroll input information across the screen so that all necessary information is presented without confusing abbreviations. Also handy is the graphical representation of the speaker layout that lets the user know exactly which speakers are being used and which audio mode is being employed by the receiver.

The seven-and-three-quarter-inch-high frame houses some impressive components underneath. Large 15-inch heat sinks span nearly the entire length of the chassis to vent any excess heat from the eight channels. A large six-inch diameter toroidal transformer supplies this baby with all the power those channels will need.

The major functions of the receiver are located on individual boards connecting to the main control board in a similar fashion to a video card connecting to a PC’s motherboard. This modular design makes for easy repair and upgradeability. On the subject of upgradeability, this Sherwood receiver can have the firmware upgraded by downloading a new version from their website. You can transfer the new firmware from a PC to the R-965 via the RS-232 or USB port on the back panel of the unit. It was obvious in looking inside this unit that careful consideration was used by Sherwood to use quality parts and construction.

The back panel of the R-965 has the most extensive set of inputs and outputs for video, audio and remotes that I have seen on a receiver in this price range. All input and output RCA jacks are 24K gold-plated for a killer look and a solid connection from any interconnect cable. Six complete sets of analog audio and video outputs (composite and S-video) are available for connectivity to almost any kind of home theater device you can imagine. Three component video inputs and one output to your video display allows for the best quality video output. As an added bonus, this unit will up-convert video signals over composite or S-video to component video signals so that you do not need extra cables stretching from your receiver to your video display. My current $3,000 preamp does not do this and clearly the R-965 has got me wondering why I do not have such a necessary feature as this one. For SACD playback, a set of analog 7.1 channel direct inputs is provided. For digital-capable multi-channel audio sources, this receiver features five optical and two coax inputs. Two IR inputs are provided, so the user has the option to use a remote for a second room.

Sherwood provides a set of 7.1 speaker outputs featuring color-coded binding posts for easy hook-ups to your speakers. Nine preamp outputs (seven speaker channels plus two subwoofers) allow for expandability if you decide to connect a more powerful separate multi-channel amplifier to your system in the future. Two switched AC outlets are provided to automatically turn on other components when your R-965 is powered up. For additional control, two 12-volt triggers are provided so you can power up a set of external amplifiers.

All the latest decoding technologies are handled by this receiver, including DTS ES Discrete and Matrix, DTS 96/24, DTS-Neo 6, Dolby Digital Surround EX and Dolby’s brand-new DPL IIx format. Thoughtfully, Sherwood’s engineers remembered to include Dolby Headphone DSPs and support for older Dolby formats (Dolby Pro Logic, etc.) to complete the package.

To make using this receiver even easier, Sherwood has included an automatic format detection feature so you do not have to manually change settings every time you put a new DVD in with different audio formats. A pure digital mode and a pure analog mode allow for a more direct routing of the audio signal from source to the amplifier section of the receiver. The pure mode results in more of what the artist originally intended and less additions to the signal from other sections of the receiver’s electronics. Bass management for up to eight channels is provided for additional control of SACD and DVD-Audio formats. Subwoofer crossover frequency can be adjusted from 40Hz to 120 Hz in 20Hz increments for additional control to the user. The digital-to-analog converter provides full PCM 24-bit/192kHz decoding on all channels and using a separate digital sample rate converter chip can re-master lower-quality 16-bit CD recordings up to 24-bit/192kHz to noticeably improve their sound.

The remote is my favorite part of this receiver. It is fun to use, which is a rare compliment when reviewing a receiver of this price. The RNC-500 universal remote is a learning remote that is customizable to fit your specific home theater needs. If bought separately, this remote sells for $249.95, so it is not a cheap remote that was simply thrown in. Contoured to fit nicely within my palm, this remote can quickly be operated with a single hand. A large LCD display and all the buttons on the remote are backlit with a greenish-blue color that is a snap to see in the dark. Macro buttons are provided to further facilitate multi-step tasks that you may find yourself repeating often. The remote mimics all of the unit’s total functionality and is essential for a pleasurable experience setting up and using this receiver. A second Room 2 remote is also provided to control the settings of the receiver for a second room of speakers. Keep in mind that you may need an additional remote sensor to use the remote in another room.

“Easy” is the word. After connecting all your components to the receiver, you can connect the speaker cables using the color-coded binding posts as an aid. Thankfully, speaker placement does not require getting out the measuring tape or stealing a laser measure from that neighbor who has the ultimate set of tools. Instead, by using the provided omni-directional microphone, you can perform the auto-speaker set-up and painlessly configure your speakers with the receiver for correct surround sound. This auto speaker set-up uses test tones emitted from all the connected speakers and the provided microphone to detect the correct size, distance and sound level of each speaker. Even better, this procedure and the configuration of anything else you desire on the receiver can be done from the couch, using the handy remote and the onscreen menu. The provided manual is well thought-out, filled with helpful diagrams to help figure out which wires go where.

Music and Movies
I put the R-965 to the listening test, using my Marantz DV9500 DVD player, Polk Audio LSi Series speakers and an Energy ES10 subwoofer. The self-titled Blues Traveler CD (A&M Records) is a classic example of pop-inspired blues. John Popper is a madman on the mouth harp and looks like a paramilitary musician with his vest of a dozen or so harmonicas. Mr. Popper is not too shabby a singer, either. “But Anyway” shows off the wailing talents of Mr. Popper on the harmonica and challenges the R-965 to keep up. The harmonica’s frequency range spans both the high and midrange, but when Popper plays, it jumps around the scale at light speed. Not only did the highs sound lush, but there also were no points in the song where I felt like my eyes were squinting from the harmonica being overly bright. Cymbal crashes throughout the song were subtle as they should have been and did not distract the listener from Popper’s voice or his harmonica playing. Popper’s voice has a pleasant waning to the end of the each sung verse, which is pleasantly recreated by this receiver. The fast-paced vocals and drumbeats of “Mulling It Over” repeatedly drew my foot into the air and back to the floor again. The quick snaps of the snare drums were crisp and had no obvious coloration. Remarkable for this price class, this receiver has a liquid sound that is effortless, an aspect heard in expensive separate preamps but rarely encountered in receivers in this price range.

After leaving Generation-X’s frontman position, Billy Idol became the superstar that we all know with his Rebel Yell (Chrysalis Records) album. “Rebel Yell” reveals the quick riffs of guitarist Steve Stevens and his ability to pump up the listener. The “chun-chun-chun” sounds of Stevens’ axe supports Idol’s vocals with smile-inspiring success. To me, his guitar solo flowed nicely to a more forward presentation than I remember noticing from playback on previous receivers. I really wanted to rip my sleeves off and spike my hair into a Mohawk within minutes of the track starting. The high screams to the low deep chants that Idol belts out puts his dynamic vocal range on display for all to witness. Never did the R-965 shy away from the task of reflecting Idol’s vocal genius back to the listener. “Eyes Without a Face” features a prominent bass line and gaggle of synthesized claps to remind you of the decade in which this song was written. The slow pace of the song elevates it from rock ballad to the head-banging standard of the rest of the album with Stevens’ guitar solo.

  For movies, I began with “This is Spinal Tap” (MGM Home Entertainment). This cult classic Rob Reiner film is a spoof of British metal bands of the ‘80s. The laughs roll in as the band makes a rapid career decline from playing major stadiums to being booked as the opening act for a puppet show. The soundtrack alone is one of the greats of all time. Songs like “Hell Hole” demonstrate the creativity of the actors’ lyric-writing abilities (stars Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer collaborated on the numbers) and the surprisingly musical nature of the R-965 in reproducing the song. The clever riffs from the lead and rhythm guitars got my head rocking with ease. The highs and midranges of the guitars never sounded harsh or brittle, even after upping the volume substantially from less heavy metal listening volumes. The subtle pounding sounds of bassist Derek Smalls (Shearer) and his roadie, trying to break free of his plastic on-stage pod during “Rock and Roll Creation,” were frighteningly realistic as well as openly hilarious with this receiver in my home theater set-up. Talk about getting into the music in a movie!

“Baraka” (MPI Home Video) is a mind-numbing collection of bizarre customs, religious events and scenes of nature. The video in this film is amazingly rich in color and contrast. The strong contrast of the molten lava set against the dark background of the black lava rock in the volcano scene was impressively reminiscent of the last time I viewed this film through my Anthem AVM30 and was no less vibrant in color. The Balinese Monkey chant is the best part of this film for the sound alone. The rhythmic vocals of the lead chanter and the chorus of the other chanters seem surreal. These amazing chanters explore the limitless range of the human voice with this unique religious celebration. The red face paint and garments stand out well against the grey stone temple and no artifacts were noticeable to my eyes during this scene when using the near-broadcast quality video switching in this receiver. Throughout my audition of this receiver, I was impressed with its power; agility and sense of ease most often heard in higher-priced products. At no point during my audition did I feel a lack of excitement and enthusiasm. This receiver kept me rocking.

The Downside
I am not a big fan of the front panel input selection buttons. In the quest to put lights around the buttons, Sherwood made the buttons a little too small for my taste and they are made of hard plastic, so they are uncomfortable to press. I actually get dents in my fingertips when I press the buttons.

I was lukewarm on the placement of some things – for instance, the headphone jack, which can only be accessed by flipping the hidden door down. It’s my opinion that this feature should be exposed on the front panel and not hidden. HDMI and/or DVI inputs and outputs are missing from this receiver, which makes harnessing your HDTV sources something you will need to do outside the switching of the 965.

The Sherwood Newcastle R-965 receiver is a complete package for those looking for some serious “wow” in their home theater system. Any great HDTV set deserves an engaging surround sound system to accompany it. With the high power of this receiver, most medium to large-sized rooms will not struggle to hear effects or music with the R-965 connected. All the possible multi-channel audio formats are supported and even CD playback is improved with the remastering feature of this receiver. Easy set-up and an intuitive remote add value to the list of already compelling R-965 features. Thoughtful planning in the selection of quality components and design should keep this unit in your home theater for years to come. This is a solid purchase and one that you will enjoy for years to come.
Manufacturer Sherwood Newcastle
Model R-965 Receiver
Reviewer Matthew Evert

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