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Sherwood Newcastle R-945 Receiver Print E-mail
Monday, 01 September 1997
Image It's not all that uncommon for people to assume it would be an expensive and frustrating project to design a high performance Dolby Digital/DTS home theater. It wasn't all that long ago when their assumptions would have been correct. Enter the comprehensive Sherwood Newcastle R-945, which provides powerful amplification for five channels, functions as a full-featured A/V preamplifier, has a built-in phono section, includes an AM/FM tuner, as well as a useful universal remote controller. Add to that the fact that the Sherwood Newcastle R-945 is the first A/V Receiver to offer both Dolby Digital and DTS decoding anywhere near $1299 and you have a serious A/V contender.

Installation and Operation
The R-945 is well endowed with inputs. There is room for CD, DVD, Laserdisc, VCR, a couple of audio tape decks and a turntable. If necessary, the tape inputs can be used for other audio/video gear. There are also outputs for all five channels in case you get the urge to use external amplification while keeping the R-945 as an A/V preamp.

With most A/V preamps and receivers, the inputs are named by the factory, which may or may not exactly meet the needs of your system. The R-945's programmable video inputs let you identify the actual component with up to 9 characters to label your sources. When you select your input, the name you've assigned will appear in the LCD display as well as on-screen. Unfortunately, the input programming function is only available on the four video inputs, it would have been great if Sherwood had made this feature available for all inputs.

Set up for 5.1 audio doesn't get much easier. Even novices who think that setting up a five-speaker surround system is difficult will be encouraged by the R-945's quick and effortless set-up process. The owner's manual provides simple step-by-step instructions for each procedure. Even the more complex aspects of a home theater set-up such as adjusting speaker levels is well explained and easy to follow. The on-screen display (OSD) provides basic operational information, simplifying set-up procedures even further. In addition to the discrete multi-channel Dolby Digital and DTS surround modes, the R-945 offers Dolby 3 Stereo and four hall effects. The hall effects provide various fixed delay times for the rear speakers to recreate specific environments (theater, hall, stadium and church).
The Dolby 3 Stereo mode is perfect for Dolby Surround sources such as TV, VHS and older Laserdiscs, when your system has no rear speakers. This mode combines the rear speakers into the front L/C/R speaker array, providing more presence with a wider soundfield than conventional stereo. Dolby Digital sources can automatically be downmixed to 2-channels, but there is no provision for downmixing DTS sources.

The R-945 incorporates large power supplies and a totally discrete amplifier stage to deliver a full 100 watts per channel to all five loudspeakers (L/C/R and Surround). It is no phony specification either. These amps are the real deal and after some burn-in time they smoothed out very nicely. The R-945 had absolutely no problem driving the large Genesis Technologies APM1's I use as a reference speaker. More often then not, the worst part of a receiver is the amplification, but the Sherwood R-945 amplifiers proved that this unit is more than your average receiver, it is a high fidelity component.

The R-945's tuner has 30 station presets, more than most people would ever need, and provides the ability to directly input a station's frequency or program a station by its call letters. The signal-to-noise ratio for FM is exceptional at 73dB.

The RNC-100 universal remote control that comes with the R-945 is terrific. The extensive IR code table in the back of the manual makes it a snap to program your other remotes into its memory. It took a matter of minutes to get my cable, CD, Laserdisc and DVD loaded into the remote. It was refreshing to put all of my remotes in a drawer for a month while I was using the R-945. (A word of warning: since many of the key buttons on the RNC-100 perform different functions depending on what unit it is controlling, it may take an adjustment period for you to feel comfortable using it.)

Listening Test
I was concerned that it would be a major adjustment to switch to an A/V Receiver since I was used to the high-end performance of my reference sound system (Theta Casablanca and Lexicon DC1). Sure the sound was different, but there was a quality about the sonics I liked right from the beginning. At first the R-945 was a bit bright and had an edge to it, but I let the amplifiers burn-in for a week, allowing them to loosen up. I've tested very expensive amplifiers that took two or three weeks to show any appreciable burn-in, but after only a few days the R-945 began to exhibit a smoother and warmer tonal balance, that just got better with continued play.

On "Anaconda" from the guitar duo Strunz and Farah's Heat of the Sun (Selva) CD, there are some wonderfully delicate guitar passages that seem to float on air when I'm using my reference system. I was impressed, almost beyond belief, to hear the resolute articulation of the guitars and the strong mid-bass punch of the rhythm instruments after switching to the R-945. There was no collapsing of the soundfield, and instrument placement was still very open. Janet Jackson's vocals on "What About" from her Velvet Rope (Virgin Records) CD lacked a certain purity with the R-945, but it was still dynamic with plenty of presence.

From the 20-bit DTS-encoded Come On In This House (Telarc), Junior Wells deep-throated vocals are sweet and resonant on the track "Why Are People Like That?" and there is a very nice blend in all the speakers. The bass was ultra deep and penetrating. The track "Cloudburst" from Alan Parsons, DTS-encoded On Air (HDS) had tremendous energy with a cohesive and tight sound. Now, I am extremely familiar with the wide-open instrumentation on this track, and while the instrumental layers were not as distinct as they could be, the spatial detail was still exceedingly good.

Starting from the DTS trailer, the Laserdisc of Waterworld (Universal) is simply awesome. There is incredible depth with no audible distortion on the deep and thundering bass. The 360 degree coverage is coherent and transparent. On the Dolby Digital transfer to DVD of G.I. Jane (Hollywood Pictures) channel separation and localization is exceptional. There is no holding back on the extreme dynamic range of any 5.1 audio source.

The Downside
Many of the latest processors will auto detect the incoming bitstream and switch modes to ensure proper playback. In fact, some units have a 5.1 audio priority, which means it looks for a 5.1 audio source first. However, in the case of the R-945, It is necessary for you to switch to the appropriate decoder (Dolby Digital or DTS) manually. For instance, if you pop in a DTS Laserdisc or CD you will hear only white noise until you switch over to the DTS setting. Also, if you want to play a Dolby Digital encoded Laserdisc, you have to manually switch to the RF input or the R-945 will read the PCM track automatically and default to Dolby Pro Logic.

Since, the R-945 remembers a host of operating parameters and associates them with each input here is a possible fix, assuming your Laserdisc Player is your primary source device. The actual LD input could be set up as the RF digital input and used only for Dolby Digital sources. Then you could re-label another input LD-DTS and assign it the optical digital input, dedicating it for DTS. The third input could be labeled LD-PCM, assigned an analog input, which would be used for all other source material including CD's. This leaves a video input for a DVD player, which could be assigned the coaxial digital input since it doesn't need a RF Demodulator for Dolby Digital sources.

I don't think it comes as any surprise that the R-945 lacked a certain level of subtly and super-fine detail during the critical music listening tests. If a $1,299 receiver could perform exactly like a $15,000 dollar preamp/amp combo, there would be no need to invest huge sums of cash on amazingly high-end components. The fact that the Sherwood Newcastle R-945's amplifiers performed so admirably next to my reference Proceed amps, is a great compliment. Overall, the R-945 delivered an enjoyable and very satisfying sound on every piece of source material I tested. Its strongest asset is its extraordinary performance on movie soundtracks. It handled the extreme dynamic range of film soundtracks splendidly.

Sherwood has been designing and building audio components for more than forty years, but the recently developed Newcastle product line is breathing new life into the Sherwood brand name. The R-945 is the best sounding A/V receiver I've heard in years. The Sherwood-Newcastle R-945's intuitive operation and state-of-the-art features make it one of the best price-versus-performance A/V products on the market. Even if you decide to upgrade amplifiers later, the R-945 will continue to function as a superb A/V preamp. If you are in the market for an A/V receiver, look no further than the Sherwood Newcastle R-945.

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