Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700 Receiver 
Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers
Written by Bryan Dailey   
Wednesday, 01 October 2003

Introduction
When investing in a new receiver, your should look for a unit that not only has all of the features and inputs that you need today, but should also be thinking about where you think your system will be in several years. New sound formats come along faster than “Police Academy” movies did in the ‘80s. The best way to protect your investment is to assure that you have as much of the future features that you can afford. As the story goes, you rarely regret over-purchasing, but always regret under-purchasing.

Enter the $1,850 Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700 Audio/Video Receiver. This THX Ultra certified receiver features 5 x 120 watts of power, a Universal Video HD video format transcoder, HDCD decoding and supports Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, THX Surround EX, DTS ES (matrix and discrete), and DTS Neo 6 decoding audio formats – in other words, in nearly every current decoding standard. Other features of note include a 5.1 analog input for DVD-Audio or SACD, 2 component video inputs and a 32-Bit 2nd-Generation ADI SHARC DSP processor.

Upon opening the box, the first thing that struck me about the VR-5700 was it’s substantial weight and its height. With dimensions of 18.88 inches wide, 17.31 inches deep, and just under eight inches tall, with a weight that is just a shade over 40 pounds, the VR-5700 is taller and slightly narrower than other receivers I have seen in similarly priced receivers. The VR-5700 is part of Kenwood’s Sovereign line and is meant to be a perfect match in both features and physical appearance with their $950 Kenwood Sovereign DV-5700. The VR-5700 features clean lines, soft, rounded edges and two semi-oval glass displays. The top display is the more important of the two, showing the various modes and settings with a subtle blue/gray LCD screen. The volume knob on the right side of the receiver is well engineered and has a good solid feel, a sign of a well-put-together piece of gear.

Set-up
Real estate on the back of any feature-packed receiver is a valuable commodity and at first glance it is apparent that a great deal of thought has gone into the design of the back panel. I recently assisted AudioRevolution.com’s publisher, Jerry Del Colliano with the setup of a small bedroom theater system and after dealing with the incredibly small and tightly-spaced speaker connectors on the back of his Denon AVR3803 ($1,200), this experience quickly made me thankful for the extra little room on the Kenwood’s speaker jacks. This made connecting all of the components and speakers, a breeze and I was easily able to keep the cables from becoming a tangled rats-nest, as I rarely ever had to crisscross wires.

For each video input, there are several options including Tos-link (optical), digital (RCA) and analog (RCA). The VR-5700 features eight DSP listening modes and has compensation controls for wall type, room size and effect level. Unless you have a great deal of time, patience and know-how, these DSP modes will tend to obscure the audio and make it sound unnatural. Small moves make big differences, so the “less is more” school of EQ and room correction is usually your best bet on the VR-5700. With other components (more expensive Yamaha receivers and Meridian’s new electronics), you can use DSP and room correction to solve many important acoustic problems. My testing left me liking the signal more pure when listening to the Kenwood.

Being a bit of a video game junkie, I require many inputs and the Kenwood was able to handle my Microsoft Xbox, Sony Playstation II and Nintendo Game Cube with plenty of room for my TiVo and two VCRs. There are multiple video inputs on the back of the receiver, as well as one on the front with RCA video and an S-Video input. I found this to be a good place to plug in the S-Video output of my Toshiba laptop computer so I could use my Sony television as a computer monitor. My television’s resolution is not nearly as high as a computer monitor, so the picture was obviously not as good, but it’s a nice novelty trick to see your computer screen bigger than life on a 36-inch TV screen.

The best feature of the Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700, aside from the 5.1 analog inputs, is its two component video inputs. I’d love to have more, but the fact that it has even two was appreciated. My Kenwood DV-5700 DVD-Audio/Video player found its way into the first component video input, and I needed to decide what would go into component video input two. A trip down to Best Buy for an Xbox component video cable was in order. The video difference is absolutely worth the investment in the special cable.

AC power is a huge topic these days and Kenwood has addressed it with their K-Ground™ topology, a grounding technique that uses a single grounding point for all of the amplifier’s components. According to Kenwood, this eliminates ground noise caused by current flow along the ground path. Call it techno mumbo-jumbo if you will, but it really worked, as I heard less ground noise than with any other received that I have reviewed. If you are looking to get really serious about the power in your entire system, especially for your video, you might also consider adding either a Richard Gray’s Power Company 400s ($750) or an Exact Power EP15a ($1995). Both of these products, albeit a bit expensive for a system based around a receiver, help give you more stable and accurate power that really affects both the audio and especially the video of your entire system. If you buy a plasma, an AC power product should be mandatory.

When it comes to power, the Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700 is stout enough to easily power my Paradigm Monitor series speaker system including the fairly large Paradigm Monitor 9 floor standing towers. Despite not being able to handle 7.1 audio, the Kenwood has just about every other sound format and certification that you could ask for, including THX Ultra certification, Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, HDCD decoding, THX EX Surround EX, DTS ES (matrix and discreet) and DTS Neo 6 decoding. Chances are, you don’t have software that takes advantage of all of the formats, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have them available.

Using a single receiver for multiple rooms is not a new concept, but it is a very attractive one. The VR-5700 features just this, an audio/video dual room/dual source capability. You won’t be able to get an extra surround system in a separate room, but you can get another set of speakers running another source simultaneously in another area of your home and video can also be received in that second zone, with a television present. This is quite a useful feature for those trying to get the most value from their receiver.

An often-overlooked feature that I have found very useful on the VR-5700 is the headphone jack on the bottom left front panel of the receiver. The headphone jack is the forgotten feature. 30 years ago, you couldn’t buy a stereo system without one, now they are all but extinct. Living in a townhouse with common walls, there comes a time in the evening when the speakers have to be turned down so far that it’s better to just pop on some headphones. I estimate I’ve used the quarter-inch stereo headphone input for nearly 50-60 so far and the only complaint that I have with it is that it does not have its own independent volume control. To have sound come out of just the headphones, both speaker sets “A” and “B” must be manually turned off and then the volume for the headphones is controlled by the master volume control. It would be nicer to have a volume control for the headphones like the DV-5700 DVD player that I have sitting on top of the receiver. This would, of course, require an additional amplifier, which would add additional weight and cost. If I ever happen to watch a DVD late at night, I’ll literally take the plug out of the receiver and use the DVD player’s headphone input and volume control.

Another option for late-night listening that doesn’t wake the neighbors is the two-stage “Midnight Theater Mode” that is basically a compressor that levels out the loud sections of a soundtrack and boosts quieter elements such as dialogue and sound effects. If you use this feature, you’ll want to be sure to turn it off when you don’t need it, or you’ll lose the emotional impact of the sound while watching movies or listening to music. I found the effect of this feature to be acceptable, but I would opt to listen at a louder volume through the headphones late at night to experience the dynamics of the soundtracks.

The majority of the buttons and features on the DV-5700 are housed behind a flip-down hatch that runs across the bottom front of the unit. Although I normally access most of the features with the remote control, it can be hard to flip down the hatch and see the small black buttons. In my system, the placement of the access hatch is especially awkward because the receiver sits about three inches off the ground inside a black TV cabinet that has a slightly raised lip on it. This means if I want to access any of these buttons manually, I have to lift the receiver a quarter of an inch to open the hatch. If it were sitting on a perfectly flat panel, this would not be an issue.

Remote controls are often a source of disdain for receiver reviewers, but I found the remote for the VR-5700 to be easy to use and quite functional. It is a large silver unit that drains the batteries pretty fast, but it has easy to read buttons that glow faintly in the dark. Programming the commands into a Philips Pronto-type remote will ultimately be a better option, but in the meantime, the VR-5700 remote is quite good.

For those of you who want to enjoy DVD-Audio and/or SACD in 5.1 Surround sound, the VR-5700 receiver features six-channel analog inputs with RCA connectors. In a perfect world, the DV-5700 would feature two separate 5.1 analog inputs for a DVD-Audio/Video player and and SACD player however even Kenwood's higher up model, the VR-5900 ($2,650), only features one 5.1 analog input.

Speaking of DVD-Audio, the VR-5700 has bass management, an important feature that allows the user to control the amount of bass that is sent to the different speakers. This is a big problem when using the 5.1 analog inputs and Kenwood thought ahead by including this often omitted feature. Some players have bass management built into them, so you’ll need to check your player and experiment to see which works best for your system. My front speakers have a fairly wide dynamic range, so I gave them a little more bass than the center and rear speakers which all feature slightly smaller woofers than the mains.

The Movies and the Music
After installing all of my components into the receiver and doing some basic settings for room size and type, I busted out the DVD player to watch some “Fight Club” (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment). The first rule of “Fight Club” should be to crank the volume on the Kenwood to see how much power this baby can dish out. When Edward Norton’s unnamed character is in his boss’s office, and decides to beat himself up and goes crashing into the glass table, the Dolby Digital Surround EX soundtrack was as powerful as the onscreen visuals. The sound was effortless and never sounded the least bit constrained or compressed even at obscene levels. The Dust Brothers’ musical score pumped through the Kenwood with ease and filled my room with ample amounts of volume. This bizarre, twisted adventure into the mind of a schizophrenic Joe-anybody who finally snaps looked great and was a breeze for the Kenwood to handle audibly. I am Jack’s Kenwood receiver …

Next up is the ultra-mega-cheesy yet technically spectacular “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” Widescreen Edition (Lucasfilm/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment). I was pleasantly surprised with the progressive video performance of the Kenwood DVD player through the VR-5700, but my goal with this disc was to see if I could easily follow the clunky dialog of the movie. The sound on the disc came through with superb clarity and I felt that the Kenwood easily powered all of the speakers in my 5.1 setup. The receiver automatically adjusted for the sound format that I chose to view the movie in (Dolby Digital 5.1 EX), which made life easy. All too often I’ve seen people with receivers that have many different sound features, yet forget to switch the inputs on the receiver to actually accept the correct input. With the auto-sensing feature, this is less likely to be an issue.

Since the Kenwood specifically has 5.1 analog inputs for DVD-Audio, I was excited to see how well it would work with the Kenwood DV-5700 DVD-Audio player. My previous experiences with DVD-Audio were on systems that were many times more expensive at trade shows and other reviewer’s higher-end systems, so I was very curious to see if the Kenwood/Paradigm system could compare. Beginning with Frank Zappa’s DVD-Audio disc Halloween (DTS Entertainment), I sat down to see if the Kenwood could transport me to the middle of New York City’s Palladium in 1978. The sound of the crowd enveloped me before the musical festivities even began and was full and energizing. This 5.1 mix sounded great and was both detailed and dynamic. The DV-5700 was capable of bringing this new format alive and at a reasonable price.

Cuing up the Rush’s new CD release, Vapor Trails (Studio) and the track “One Little Victory,” the thunderous drums and heavy guitar riff quickly engaged my ears, as the Paradigm Monitor 9’s were fed an abundance of clean juice by the VR-5700. Aided by the Paradigm PW-2200 subwoofer that had it’s own internal amplifier, this little stereo/sub combo was a relatively low priced powerhouse.

To hear the definition of the system using a much cleaner and subtler stereo recording, I put aside my musical preferences and put on The Counting Crows’ newest CD, Hard Candy (Geffen). You can sometimes be artificially biased when evaluating the sound of a system by just listening to music that you love, so I find if helpful to listen to music that I’m less emotionally invested in but I know is technically stellar to give me a better idea of how well the system is able to reproduce it. On the title track “Hard Candy,” Adam Duritz’s unique voice and David Bryson’s guitar rings through with so much more clarity and resolution than I had heard on my $699 Sony AVD-C70ES receiver that it became quite apparent to me that the extra dough for a receiver of this caliber was hugely worth it.

Downside
From a design standpoint, the front panel of the VR-5700 is very dark and some of the buttons and features are hard to see without adequate light. Fortunately, the layout is fairly intuitive so it becomes a “set it and forget it” component for the most part, but when it’s time to do some tweaking, you are going to need to be sure you have adequate light or a flashlight on hand.

The height of the unit and may be a problem for some people to fit into rack shelves or an entertainment center. I found that I had to do some serious equipment rearranging when switching from my shorter and slightly wider Sony receiver to the squattier Kenwood. It also ran much hotter than the Sony did. This is one of the tradeoffs of having oversized power supplies, but you’ll want to think about making sure the receiver has enough room to “breathe” and may want to think about the option of installing fans on the back of a rack near the receiver. It was never so hot that it caused the unit to shut down, but if you are stacking gear on top or under the VR-5700, do take note of the heat it generates.

The VR-5700 has only five channels of available amplification in a time when many if not most are now being outfitted for 7.1. Some are even shipping with 9.1. There are very few discs that are encoded in 7.1 surround sound and I don’t have the room in my system for side channel speakers but, due to the fact that the receiver has only five channels of power, you’ll need to run the pre-outs to a separate amplifier if you someday have the need. Kenwood does make an amp for this purpose, so it is an option that you can certainly add later, but just know this in advance if you are a surround sound junkie and simply have to have a true 7. 1 system.

Conclusion
The Kenwood Sovereign VR-5700 has just about every type of connection that you can think of. When shopping for a receiver, I want to be sure that I’m going to have enough connectivity for all of my components with room to spare in case I want to add another toy to the system. Aside from the lack of a second 5.1 analog input, which would be too much to expect from a receiver at this price point, the VR-5700 has as many input options as you could ask for.

With an instruction book that rivals “War and Peace” and a feature lineup longer than Oprah’s weekly grocery list, I still find myself learning more and more about the VR-5700, even after having it in my system for several months. Even with all the bells and whistles, Kenwood has found a way to make this receiver very intuitive and simple enough for the beginning user. The simple back panel layout made for a fairly easy, hassle-free installation with my existing equipment. The vast amount of options and settings do not intrude on the person who wants to just turn the receiver on, select the desired input, then happily channel surf or relax and watch a movie. This makes for a receiver that appeals to the geek who wants to be able to tweak out incessantly with it, but also is simple enough that other family members don’t have to have a degree in computer science to watch a DVD or play some video games. I found the VR-5700 to be a great value in its price class and a worthy investment for anyone looking for a receiver that will last the test of time.
Manufacturer Kenwood
Model Sovereign VR-5700 Receiver
Reviewer Bryan Dailey





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