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Kenwood Stage III KM-Z1 Multi-channel Power Amplifier Print E-mail
Monday, 01 July 1996
ImageNever known as a manufacturer of high end components, Kenwood's release of the KC-Z1 Home Theater Controller and KM-Z1 Power Amplifier combo, may seem surprising. Part of their Stage 3 line of product, these two components represent Kenwood's attempt at providing high quality home theater solutions.

The KC-Z1 Controller offers the latest circuitry for home theater surround sound including Dolby Digital (AC-3) and the upgraded THX designed specifically for 5.1 channel systems as well as Dolby Pro Logic. The companion six-channel 130 watts per channel KM-Z1, can be connected to the KC-Z1 via a convenient dB-25 Preout Audio Connection, which makes interfacing equipment a much simpler prospect, though Kenwood doesn't supply one with the two units.

The real genius behind the KC-Z1 is its touch screen panel. The touch screen rests comfortably on the front panel of the unit when not in use, otherwise it is a complete 900 MHz universal remote controller. Programming the remote is fairly intuitive and simple. Not only is it a universal remote controller, it also provides complete system control including presets.

Setting up your surround sound levels is very quick. A six channel speaker system is displayed on the panel. Touching one of the speakers allows you to adjust its individual level. There are separate settings for stereo, Pro Logic and Dolby Digital. Touch the mode you want and all the relevant channels are turned on or off as necessary.

I started my listening test by hooking up the KC-Z1 to my reference Proceed AMP3 and AMP2. Other than a slight loss of imaging and a little smearing at the top end of some transients, particularly vocals and piano, I found the KC-Z1 to perform very well in comparison to my reference Angstrom 200 Digital Processor. Vocals were clean with only the barest hint of harshness on certain vocalists, bass was crisp and precise and mids were natural and clear. The convenience and flexible control of the KC-Z1's touch panel alone was almost enough for me to think about switching reference processors.
I then replaced my Proceeds with the KM-Z1 Power Amplifier. Unfortunately I wasn't nearly as impressed. Imaging completely collapsed. Clarity, tonality and bass response were greatly effected. On tracks from the recording of Oscar Castro Neves where the guitars are normally suspended in air, with a beautiful natural tone, they were sandwiched within the two speaker plane. Instead of sounding natural, like they were in the room with me, the guitars had a more digital flavor.

There was more harshness in the mid-range. Hi-hats, and other transient percussive instruments were bright and sibilant, overpowering the mix. Vocals, from Paula Cole's This Fire CD, lost clarity and power in the upper ranges. The piano on Keiko Matsui's Dreams CD seemed dull, lacking presence. Over all low bass was slightly muddy, loosing much of the articulation and depth of these recordings. In comparison, bass with the Proceed's was much deeper and richer. Mid-bass on the KM-Z1, however, was quite good.

Thoroughly impressed with the performance and control of the KC-Z, I think that anyone in the market for a Dolby Digital upgrade should consider this attractive and versatile component. At $2,800 you not only get a high quality processor with the latest surround sound technologies but extraordinary system control. For this kind of control in most high end systems you would be looking at $1,000 plus, not to mention the services of a specialized installer that comes with those types of automated systems. In comparison to my reference Angstrom that starts at $3,500 and doesn't offer AC-3 processing, universal remote features or extensive system control, the KC-Z1 is an excellent value.

The KM-Z1 amplifier, on the other hand, is adequate. It has plenty of power and punch for movie soundtracks, effectively demonstrated on Goldeneye and Jurassic Park but the KM-Z1 lacks the more subtle audiophile qualities I prefer when listening to music. Now in all fairness, the KM-Z1 is about a quarter of the price, $1,200, of my reference amplifiers.

If $5,000 is your spending cap and you want the most up-to-date bells and whistles, you may find this Kenwood home theater combo your perfect home theater solution.

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