Sherwood VR-670 Hollywood-at-Home Virtual Theater System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Tuesday, 01 August 2006

Introduction
During my time as a reviewer for Audio Video Revolution, I’ve been fortunate enough to write about and enjoy many of today’s top home theater products from some of the most reputable manufacturers around. It’s a lot like being a kid in a candy store, really. So, when the call came in for my latest assignment, the VR-670 from Sherwood, I was more than happy to oblige. I’ve known about Sherwood for some time and, while I’ve never personally demoed any of their products, their reputation is such that I couldn’t wait for whatever was coming my way. You see, along with designing and manufacturing cutting-edge electronics under their own brand, Sherwood also manufactures several top of the line receivers for other companies as a part of their OEM (original equipment manufacturing) program. Naturally, my imagination began to run wild as I speculated about what balls-out receiver Sherwood had cooked up for little ol’ me to play with. However, when the box arrived at my office, it was neither what I had imagined nor what I would have expected from Sherwood. It was, for lack of a better description, a home theater in a box, except this home theater seemed to be missing a few speakers: three, to be exact. I immediately jumped onto Sherwood’s website and found that not only was the VR-670 not a fluke, but it was one of the many all-in-one solutions that Sherwood offers. Well alrighty then, clearly any manufacturer claiming to produce a true home theater experience complete with surround sound from only three speakers for a modest $399.95 had to be one of two things – crazy or brilliant. Seeing as how Sherwood has built a reputation around the latter, I put my skepticism on hold and pushed onward.

Out of the box, I was immediately taken by the VR-670’s striking good looks. The VR-670’s main unit, an all-in-one receiver/DVD player, had the kind of finish usually reserved for more boutique-style electronics. While its cloudy gray exterior may have been wall to wall plastic, its elegant sloping shape and illuminated controls helped sell the illusion of something much more exotic. Shaping up at four inches tall by 14 inches wide and 11 inches deep, the VR-670 was as easy to place in my system as it was on the eyes. Tipping the scales at just a hair under 12 pounds, the VR-670’s receiver is easy on the back, too. The main unit’s facade is pretty sparse compared to most of today’s electronics. It has a rather large display screen that glows a pale blue during normal operation. I quickly realized that half of the display’s virtual size was because of the DVD tray itself, which stealthily becomes one with the bottom of the display’s receded panel during playback of music or movies. A very cool feature. Resting just below the LCD display are the usual suspects of manual controls, ranging from power on/off to chapter skip. Turning my attention to the rear of the receiver/DVD player, I found few input options. Keep in mind, the VR-670 is an all-inclusive design; if you’re looking for versatility, I recommend examining some of the other product offerings from Sherwood. Starting off, the VR-670’s receiver/DVD player has a single component video out, as well as matching composite and S-Video outs. It features a single optical audio output, as well as two analog audio outs and two analog audio inputs. A subwoofer output rests next to the receiver/DVD player’s old-school dual pushpin speaker jacks. There are connections for both AM and FM antennas, as well as a hardwired power cord to round out the VR-670’s list of options.

The matching satellite speakers are straight out an episode of “Star Trek,” with their curved faces and sloping backs, while the subwoofer is a bit of the futuristic with a flair for the traditional, wrapped in an ebony wood veneer finish. The satellite speakers are smaller than most, at just under nine inches tall by a little over four inches wide and four-and-one-quarter inches deep. Behind the fixed plastic grilles, you can make out the two-and-a-half-inch midrange driver, as well as the single one-inch soft dome tweeter. The speakers themselves can be easily mounted to a wall via a pair of pre-drilled holes on the rear. If wall-mounting isn’t your cup of tea, the VR-670’s speakers are magnetically shielded, so placing them close to your television set is no problem. As for connections, a single pair of pushpin inputs is about par for the course for speakers in the VR-670’s category.

Turning my attention back to the sub, it is pretty elegant and surprisingly compact at 11 inches tall by eight inches wide and a foot deep, which should come in handy when placing it into small spaces such as a bedroom or office. It features a single downward-firing six-and-a-half-inch bass reflex driver, powered by an internal 100-watt amplifier. In terms of control, the sub has a rear-mounted crossover dial, as well as a phase adjustment switch and an auto sensing circuit. As for subwoofer volume, you’ll find the control on the sub’s face, which makes it very easy to make adjustments on the fly.

It’s easy to get caught up in appearances, but there’s more to the VR-670 than just a pretty face. Inside the VR-670’s receiver rests a rather modest (by today’s standards) 25-watt stereo amplifier. Now, I know that 25 watts doesn’t sound like a lot, but in my past life I was a fan of single-ended triode amplifiers which can make sweet, sweet music with as little as a single watt, so 25 seems like more than enough for a system like the VR-670. The VR-670 can play a variety of discs, such as standard CD, DVD, DVD-R/RW, CD-R/RW, MP3, VCD, SVCD, JPEG and finally Kodak Picture CD. The VR-670 can decode both Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, despite only having two speakers. Beyond Dolby Digital and DTS, the VR-670 also features Dolby Virtual Speaker settings, as well as Dolby Headphone decoding software that can be used in conjunction with the VR-670’s headphone jack located on the front of the receiver/DVD player. The VR-670 also features progressive scanning through its component output. If you’re having trouble waking up in the morning, the VR-670 comes equipped with a digital clock, as well as a timer for system on/off that can wake you with the sound of your favorite music, movie or radio station.

Which brings me to the remote. The VR-670 breaks company with its otherwise good looks and goes with a more traditional receiver-like remote control. By “traditional,” I mean out of date and impossible to navigate. Forget backlighting, this baby’s controls are barely readable in broad daylight. Sure, once I learned where everything was, I could manage my way through it with a reasonable success rate. However, if you’re watching a movie at say 2 AM while your girlfriend is asleep, you don’t want to be guessing which button controls the volume when the car onscreen decides to suddenly explode. Damn you, “Transporter 2.”

Set-up
Once I had the VR-670 out of the box, I knew exactly where it was going: my bedroom. I chose my bedroom for two reasons. First, I had my main room all dialed in for another review and second, I’ve never had any sort of system in my bedroom before. So into the bedroom it went. Sherwood’s website claims that even inexperienced users can have the VR-670 up and running in their homes in less than 10 minutes. Wanting to see if there was any truth to Sherwood’s claim, I timed myself. How’d I do? Approximately six minutes, and that included the time it took me to talk my girlfriend into letting me put speakers in the bedroom. Not bad. I connected the VR-670’s receiver/DVD player to my smallish Samsung CRT TV’s component inputs and used a pair of standard RCA cables to route the TV’s audio to the VR-670 and, boom, the hard part was over. I placed the VR-670’s speakers on either side of the television and the sub went off to the side of the low console table that housed all my electronics for the time being. I cycled through the VR-670’s various set-up menus and found everything to be in order right out of the box. It simply doesn’t get any easier than this. Now the question I was eager to answer was whether the VR-670 could do surround sound.

Music and Movies
I started my evaluation with standard CDs and chose a current favorite, Aqualung’s debut album, Strange and Beautiful (Red Ink/Columbia). During the album’s title track, I was shocked by the musical performance that the VR-670 managed to dish out. First off, the highs were silky smooth with little to no sign of harshness when played back at anything less than concert levels. The upper octaves of the piano simply sprang from the VR-670’s diminutive speakers with an appropriate amount of air and reverberation not commonly found in this price class. The lead singer’s vocals were front and center and were brought to life with excellent weight and texture. The bass was solid, quick and blended nicely with the VR-670’s speakers, but it failed to plumb the deepest depths that I’ve heard from this track in the past. This didn’t surprise me. I mean, there is only so much air a six-or-so-inch driver with 100 watts at its disposal can move before you’re just asking too much. What did surprise me was the VR-670’s recreation of space. While not surround sound at all (keep in mind, this is a two-channel disc), the VR-670 dished out one hell of a convincing soundstage that was larger and more true in scale than any home theater in a box I have ever come across. Moving on to the track “Breaking My Heart,” the VR-670 recreated the band’s drum kit as faithfully as it could without overtaxing the rest of the musical spectrum or my bedroom. The kick drum had a wonderful sense of texture and detail in that I could clearly “see” the mallet striking the skins and recoiling back again. Likewise, the piano was very lifelike and at times was more convincing than some systems I’ve had in my house costing two to three times as much as the VR-670. The VR-670 kept its composure throughout the track, even during the song’s more complex and dynamically trying moments, provided I didn’t turn it up to 11.

Content with Aqualung, I moved onto Imogen Heap’s newest album, Speak For Yourself (RCA). During the rather rhythmically driving track “Headlock,” the VR-670’s bass tightened just a little, as well as gaining a bit of impact that helped breathe a little more energy into the track. Heap’s vocals were boosted by the added weight, which helped her to take on a more true-to-life scale in my moderately-sized bedroom. While the added gusto down low was a pleasant surprise, it didn’t overpower the rest of the musical spectrum, which was more than apparent when it came to the harp featured on the track. The harp shimmered and danced across the far corners of my room in time with the music. Dynamically, the VR-670 simply came to play in what was a much more ballsy performance over the previous two-channel discs. Moving onto the track “Hide and Seek,” which features nothing but Heap’s layered vocals, one on top of each other, the VR-670 flexed a bit of muscle when it came to retrieving every last bit of detail in the track. The VR-670’s midrange was such that I began to shake my head in utter disbelief. The purity and natural ease that the VR-670 had with Heap’s raspy yet beautiful vocals was simply amazing.

Without a doubt, when it came to two-channel fare, the VR-670 had little to be ashamed of and a whole lot to be proud of. Never in my experiences have I come across a product that did so many little things right musically that the larger issues like dynamic capability and bass extension didn’t plague my thoughts as I sat, simply enjoying the music.

Moving on to multi-channel music, that’s right, multi-channel, I eagerly popped in the DVD-Audio disc of The Crystal Method’s Legion of Boom (V2 / DTS Entertainment). I set the VR-670’s audio setting from stereo to wide and prepared to find out if it could, in fact, create a convincing surround sound performance. During the opening track, “Starting Over,” I was both a bit surprised and disappointed. Right off the bat, the music itself gained more impact and detail, which was expected. Also, the VR-670’s dynamic capabilities seemed to come to life a bit more. Yet the wide setting seemed to add a certain level of reverberation and distortion to help fake the sense of rear speakers. For the most part, it was a success, but it came at the price of sonic purity. Everything seemed to take on a slight hollowness, which sucked a bit of midrange weight out of the music. It wasn’t all together distracting, however it was present. By the time I got to track four or so, I had subconsciously compensated for it and it was only when doing A/B comparisons that it became an issue. Speaking to the song’s surround sound performance, the VR-670 was able to take some of the track’s more snappy synthetic beats and bring them within inches of my ears. Did I feel surrounded? Sort of. Was it impressive nonetheless? You betcha. I experimented with speaker placement to try and complete the illusion. However, I achieved the best results with the speakers placed on either side of my television in the corner of my bedroom. Undoubtedly, the proximity of the two sidewalls had a profound effect on the success of the illusion, for the sound needs something to hit in order to redirect it behind you. Overall, I found the VR-670’s multi-channel reproduction to be rather robust, rhythmic and, above all, enjoyable.

Content with music, I moved on to movies, starting things off with the recently released comedy “Just Friends,” starring funnyman Ryan Reynolds (New Line Home Entertainment). I was surprised to find out that “Just Friends” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. Then again, it didn’t have any gay cowboys or that one guy, you know, from “Crash.” What it does have is Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit, which is far more enjoyable. Since “Just Friends” is less than a sonic marvel when it comes to movies, I focused my attention first on the image. Through the VR-670’s component output, the image itself was wonderfully saturated with a fair amount of detail and decent black levels. I’m not going to lie and say it’s on par with my Denon 3910 or other HDMI-equipped players, but for a sub-$400 system, it is pretty damn good. The VR-670 had a nice way with the film’s more human elements; the rendering of flesh tones was very natural in its level of detail and saturation. During the film’s close-ups, the characters took on a much more three-dimensional quality than in the wide shots. During the comedic hockey scene, the VR-670’s white levels were kept nicely in check for most of the sequence, with the exception of the fast-moving wide shots. During such shots, some of the characters became a little overwhelmed by their white surroundings, which would create a slightly backlit/ghosting effect. These moments were few and far between, but they did happen nevertheless. Something that was alarming regarding the VR-670’s video performance was its tendency to show motion artifacts and compression, especially in the film’s darker scenes. This resulted in a slightly noisy image that was plagued with image banding and jaggies from time to time. I couldn’t really find a way to completely eliminate these anomalies within reason. Sure, you could pump the image through a scaler or something of the like, but let’s face it, if you’re playing with that kind of hardware, you’re not looking to buy the VR-670. As far as the sound went, I was more than happy with the VR-670’s presentation. The dialogue was clearly intelligible and focused, with a hint of midrange warmth that made the characters a bit more inviting. The film’s largest effects sequence features a sort of comedic Rube Goldberg dismantling of a family’s outdoors Christmas decor. The VR-670 recreated this sequence with reckless abandon as plastic snowmen and Santa Claus figurines flew about the air, catching fire, smashing into fences and so on. The scale on which VR-670 could recreate sweeping action was incredible, despite its only having two speakers. However, the VR-670 never fully fooled me into thinking there were rear speakers present, but what was there was simply stunning.

The Downside
HDMI is all the rage these days, and with good reason, as we move closer to a completely digital age. Sadly, because of this fact, the VR-670 may already be out of date for some people. However, with a system price just under $400, the VR-670 can’t possibly have everything and remain cost effective. Sherwood is making HDMI switchers for other products that very well may work with the VR-670. If not, there are others from the likes of Dtrovision that will allow you easy switching.

I would have like to see a bit more style when it came to the speakers. The subwoofer really stands out as a well-constructed piece, as does the main receiver/DVD player, but when one gets to the speakers, they look a bit out of sorts and a bit cheap. Likewise for the binding posts, I can’t imagine a modest pair of five-way posts adding too much to the VR-670’s price tag.

I was never able to get a true surround sound effect out of the VR-670. This could be due to my set-up, my room or any number of other factors. I will say that what the VR-670 did do in terms of surround sound was way beyond my expectations and it never robbed me of my overall enjoyment.

Lastly, the remote. It sucks. Sorry. It just does. I would have liked any remote more than the one I had to work with. In a system that is pretty much automatic I don’t think the remote needs to try and be more than it is. Make it smaller, with less buttons and save some money so you can afford some proper back-lighting and labeling. As a solution, you might consider a Harmony remote for your Sherwood and other sources with a total cost of under $300.

Conclusion
The VR-670 is, at its heart, a home theater in a box. But unlike its counterparts, this home theater in a box actually sounds damn good and does it with fewer components. I could find little to complain about when it came to the VR-670’s sonic capabilities, given its very modest price tag. While its video performance may have been a bit average, my level of enjoyment with the VR-670 was anything but. The VR-670 is a giant despite its size and I can’t imagine watching TV or DVDs in my bedroom without it. I recommend giving it a listen. You may find it to be more of what you want in a system vs. what manufacturers tell you that you need.
Manufacturer Sherwood America
Model VR-670 Hollywood-at-Home Virtual Theater System
Reviewer Andrew Robinson





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