I thought it's worth starting a separate thread to post here all the da9000es-related data as we manage to 'unearth' these so that we can have them all in one place. To start with, here's the transcribed review published in the May edition of the UK's Hi-Fi News magazine. Interestingly, there's a note in the description of the DA9000ES insides stating 'Much of this information is independently derived and subject to copyright'. Sounds funny 'cause most of it has earlier been figured out by forum members from service manuals and white papers . Here's just a couple of links to demoinstrate this:
*SONY S-MASTER SYSTEM. Is digital amplification out of the woods?*
The SCD-XA9000ES SACD player and TA-DA9000ES multichannel amplifier get the Definitive treatment. An exclusive by Paul Miller
After nearly a decade of waiting, 2004 looks like finally being the ‘year of the digital amplifier’ as Sony’s kicks off with its monumental 7-channel AV flagship. Replete with the facility to decode just about every compressed format under the sun, the GBP2600 TA-DA9000es is also equipped with an i.Link (FireWire) digital input to service, in this instance, the encrypted DSD output of its companion GBP2400 SCD-XA9000es SACD player.
You might see the TA-DA9000es described as a ‘1-bit digital amplifier’. It’s not. The only true 1-bit digital amplifier ever to land on my desk was the Sharp SM-SX100, and this was little more than a ‘technology demonstrator’ for the brand, albeit a highly intriguing one. Instead, the ‘9000es is more accurately likened to a modern day ‘TacT Millenium’ with both S/PDIF and i.Link digital inputs. Much of Sony’s core digital amplifier technology bears comparison with the 8-bit PWM architecture of the Millenium, but both Toccatta (and latterly Texas Instruments) and Sony have their own patents to demonstrate originality.
The heritage of Sony’s GBP2400 SCD-XA9000ES player is easier to trace – it’s a very slightly modified version of last season’s SCD-XA777ES, graced with an i.Link digital interface. This supports the direct streaming of secure (encrypted) multichannel digital audio to compatible receivers which, as I explain in the i.Link boxout, should include any other kit that supports the Audio & Music subset of the AV protocol for IEEE1394. Along with Denon’s DVD-A11 and Pioneer’s DV-868AVi universal players, this includes AV amps like the Yamaha DSP-Z9, Pioneer’s VSA-AX10i and VSA-AX5i. (For more on these see the next issue of AV Tech.)
DRIVING THE DUO As Sony’s SCD-XA9000ES is about as close to a purist SACD player as exists it means that DVD software of any description is spat unceremoniously from its overengineered CD/SACD transport. As there’s no video component in the player, this also means there’s no OSD. Instead, the player is driven off its own display where basic bass management and channel level functions are available. The i.Link output is selected from the front panel and not via the RM-SX700 remote, which was held over from Sony’s earlier SACD players.
It’s also possible to drive the ‘9000es amplifier via its fluorescent display and a bank of rotary controls labeled ‘Main Menu’, ‘Menu’ and ‘-/+’ which step you through its various Level, Surround Setup, Equaliser and Speaker Setup pages. Ideally, the ‘9000es is best driven via its OSD which, for a product of this complexity, is pretty straightforward.
There are numerous ‘firsts’ inside this amplifier, not least the A-to-DSD conversion of all analogue inputs and application of interchannel delays (as well as level and bass management) to DSD-data. There’s also the facility to emulate the LF phase response of a typical analogue amplifier, by way of weaning you onto the digital path. However, the moment you stray from the ‘Direct’ option and invoke some custom equalisation (or even twist the digital tone controls), your 1-bit DSD data is converted to PCM to facilitate the process.
PERFORMANCE If the subjective virtues of SACD are inextricably linked to its DSD bitstream then this probably explains why no DVD-A or universal player has ever quite achieved the deliciously holographic, you-are-there realism of the very best single-media CD/SACD players. And the one feature that distinguished the first SACD players from Sony (and Marzntz for that matter) was the use of true one-bit ‘bit-converter’ DACs, unlike subsequent DVD-A or universal players which have typically used 3-5 bit ‘Delta Sigma’ converters. These DACs may offer compatibility with DSD data but, within the silicon, is ultimately converted to a shade of PCM. At that point, SACD is no longer SACD. By this benchmark, Sony’s SCD-XA3000ES and SCD-XA9000ES possibly represent the last bastions of SACD audio as it was originally intended.
And you can hear it in the extended, transparent and wholly unforced sound of the ‘9000es whose music takes on an almost organic quality. Driving an Arcam AV8/P7 amplifier from the player’s analogue outputs allows the shape and scale of the soundfield to grow with the performance at hand, while both macro and micro dynamics are delivered in proportion and with range to spare. The inherent ‘easiness’ of its music is tricky to convey, but the vast majority of both CD and DVD-A players sound somehow ‘artificial’ when compared with the way the Sony takes to its task . The live mix of Sting’s ‘Shape of my Heart’ from Sacred Love places you at a table near the front of the stage in what is clearly a fairly modestly proportioned venue. Even the height of Sting’s voice is apparent as the gentle bite of the guitar and delicate shimmer of percussion surround you in what is a perfect example of ‘immersive audio’.
Many multichannel systems either paper the walls with audio or squirt it very obviously from the corners of the room, but the best will fill the room itself with living, breathing music and place you at its centre. With Sony’s SCD-XA9000ES at the helm you are already halfway there, Even recordings with a very subtle rear channel mix, including Willard White’s operatic arrangement of Paul Robeson’s Legacy, still move smartly into the room. The deep, extended bass of the player deals with the kick of the drums as slickly as the baritone rumble of his voice which, along with the crisp, metallic edge of the trumpet contributes to a powerful but deliberately understated performance.
Taking the Arcam AV8/P7 out from the system and using the SCD-XA9000ES’s i.Link to drive the TA-DA9000ES directly brings about a very distinct change in presentation. Sure enough, the TA-DA9000ES has that inky black quality that allows transient details to rise from a vacuum of silence but, straight out of the box, it does lack the easy-going fluidity that marks out its partnering SACD player.
Initially, the amplifier sounds a little too ‘up tight’, trading the native see-through transparency of the player for an over-disciplined sound that lacks space to breathe. But leave the amp on for a few hours and it relaxes quite considerably, the congestion heard earlier with Barb Jungr’s homage to Bob Dylan’s High Water dissipating to reveal a thoroughly assured performance. ‘So what?’ I hear you ask. But this is a digital amplifier, and so should not need to ‘warm up’. Either way, this amp clearly does, after which time the bite of plectrum on guitar strings flits easily from front to surrounds while Jungr’s unhurried lilt is punctuated by the crisp, rhythmic thud of drums.
Sure enough, the performance does not quite fill the room as convincingly as the player had with Arcam’s (analogue) amplification, but for such a complex and highly integrated design, the sound is still remarkably unencumbered. Proof of this comes with quality of the vocal that readily escapes into the listening room, even if that ultimate sense of transparency and freedom is lacking. Perhaps it’s the amp’s hint of softness, most obvious with demanding and energetic material like Frankie’s Rage Hard collection, that prevents it from earning that final encore. The competing (analogue) AV behemoths from Denon and Pioneer possess a slightly meatier and more immediate sound that, for many listeners, will tip the balance in their favour.
CONCLUSION Sony may well be transmitting SACD as a DSD bitstream in isochronous mode across its i.Link interface and, equally, may retain it as DSD through some of the TA-DA9000ES’s internal processing. Nevertheless, the analogue audio heard via either its line-level preamplifier of high-level speaker outputs is ultimately derived from a downsampled, PCM code of some description (my measurements suggest Sony’s S-Master amp is a 6-bit PWM device).
This reflects the fact that high performance, 1-bit amplifiers are still commercially impractical. So while Sony’s S-Master PWM approach is not entirely faithful to the ideals of DSD, it is an expedient and superbly executed first attempt. I look forward to round two. In the meantime, it’s the SCD-XA9000ES SACD player that not only benefits from more direct design experience, but that also represents the real jewel in Sony’s very heavyweight crown. If DVD leaves you cold, and you ever buy one last CD player, then make it the Sony ’9000.
... INSIDE THE TA-DA9000ES S-MASTER DIGITAL AMPLIFIER (Note: Much of this information is independently derived and subject to copyright) The heart of the machine is driven by four CXD9730 S-Master processors, which are compatible with both DSD and PCM data inputs. These oversample the incoming (48kHz) data by 16x, truncating the 16-24bit wordlengths to 6 bits and shifting the ‘error’ to inaudible frequencies with 3rd order noiseshaping.
The truncated PWM datastreams are addressed to eight individual MOSFET switching modules. 6 bits of resolution gives a maximum of 64 different pulse widths available per sample period, the finest of which means Sony’s MOSFET transistors are switching at a master clock rate of 49.152MHz (16 x 48kHz x 64).
The rear of the S-Master board plays host to rows of filter networks that reveal the high voltage analogue audio waveform from the high frequency output of the MOSFET switches. They are also the root cause of the amplifier’s increasing output impedance through the treble (see Lab Report).
The digital input board is home to Sony’s 32 DSP engine for Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES channel decoding [ the CXD9718 ] and additional soundfield processing (the CXD9782). Four DSD1800 ADC’s convert multichannel analogue inputs to DSD. Volume is scaled in the digital domain from -120dB to -50dB while -50dB to 0dB is adjusted via the regulated power supply, altering the ‘height’ of the PWM signal.
i.Link data is intercepted by Sony’s CXD3210 receiver. In direct mode, this bypasses the DSP block but will still be converted from DSD to PCM for tone or soundfield facilities.
The multichannel audio and composite/S-Video boards provide switching but no immediate processing.
The TA-DA9000ES features a huge, linear power supply. The amplifier’s largest heatsinks are given over to its supply regulators which, together with the massive toroidal transformer and mounting bracket, account for much of its ~30kg bulk.
Four, two-channel CXD9725 DACs drive the 7.1 channel pre-amplifier outputs. Composite video may be upconverted to S-video here, while S-video is upconverted to component video.
…. LAB REPORT Connecting the Sony TA-DA9000ES amplifier to the PCM or bitstream digital output of a CD, DVD(A) or universal player yields a 2V pre-amp output with a 0dBFs difital input, provided Sony’s master volume is set to +3.0dB. The notorial 0dB volume position gives a 1.4V (+3dBV) line level output or full power into 8 Ohm via the speaker output(s).
Distortion varies between 0.0025%-0.5% from 1W to its full 2 x 195W/8 Ohm output through the midrange and 0.045-0.5% at 20kHz, depending on digital input level and volume setting.
Ultrasonic noise is well managed for a digital amplifier while jitter increases only slightly from ~40psec (SCD-XA9000ES) to 150psec (SCD-XA9000ES/TA-DA9000ES) via the i.Link/HATS connection. Line level outputs are limited to a response of ~45kHz, even if the i.Link input is running with DSD up to 100kHz. Moreover, as all analogue inputs to the S-Master processor are sample-rate-converted to 48kHz this restricts the bandwidth to ~22kHz. The amp’s response is extended with 96kHz LPCM digital inputs and with SACD via the i.Link. The latter, by the way, is downsampled to 88.2kHz LPCM (-0.5dB/30kHz and -11.5dB/40kHz). However, the response of the Sony SCD-XA9000ES player stretches to -1.0dB/40kHz through to -9.0dB/60kHz, -21.5dB/80kHz and -34dB/100kHz with distortion as low as 0.0003%.
The practical response of the amplifier is determined by the rising HF output impedance of its LC filter network, and is optimized for 8-4ohm loads. In this instance, the HF peak seen into 8 Ohm falls away to a -0.8dB dip at 21kHz into a lower 4 Ohm load (read trace). The blue and green traces show the progressive modification of its response into lower 2 and 1 Ohm loads. Thus, the overall system response of the TA-DA9000ES will almost entirely depend upon your choice of cables and loudspeakers. Reviews of the TA-DA9000ES will follow suit.
SEEING EYE-TO-EYE WITH THE i.LINK The IEEE1394A interface, familiar to computer users, was formally ratified in 1995 from a standard already established by Apple Computer Inc. Apple’s trademark for IEEE1394 is ‘FireWire’ and Sony’s is ‘i.Link’ (without Bus power and special connectors) but, as far as us audiophiles are concerned, they are one and the same thing. And a very useful interface it is too, capable of streaming audio and video data at up to 400Mbps in either direction (the IEEE1394B interface extends this to 800Mbps).
In practice, the source and destination (output and input) of the i.Link is determined by the data itself, permitting communication ‘daisy-chain’ across numerous AV components. Incidentally, while Pioneer and Denon use S400-rated i.Links, both the SCD-XA9000ES and TA-DA9000ES use S200 ports. Either way, 200Mbps of capacity is still overkill for the highest rate multichannel audio (6 channels x 96kHz x 24bit).
While the IEEE1394 interface was conceived with an eye for the transmission efficiency and data rates demanded by PC users, time-critical data (such as streamed audio) benefits from the link’s alternative, isochronous mode of operation. Ideally, this ‘real time’ data transfer should be synchronized across the interface to minimize jitter, hence Pioneer’s PQLS (Pioneer Quartz Lock System) and Sony’s equivalent HATS (High quality Audio Transfer System) which do just that.
Importantly, the isochronous mode not only supports compressed audio formats including ATRAC, Dolby Digital and DTS but also multichannel linear and packed PCM (MLP) and DSD data. For security, the audio data is encrypted using CPPM (Content Protection for Pre-recorded Media) or, more specifically, DTCP (Data Transmission Content Protection). The whole process is governed by the DTLA (Digital Transmission Licensing Administrator) and is analogous to the HDCP regime used to restrict digital video and audio transmitted across HDMI interfaces. Nevertheless DTCP and HDCP are neither the same nor compatible.
IEEE1394 also has its own rules or protocols that determine what data and how the data is transmitted across the interface. Audio and video data fall under the remit of the “AV Protocol’, which also encompasses basic device data such as product names and preferred operating modes. Subsets of this protocol include DVC-SD (AV signals in the Digital Video format), MPEG-TS (AV signals used by digital broadcasting) and, finally, A&M. The latter stands for ‘Audio & Music’ and is the protocol to which domestic AV gear such as SACD/DVD-A/Universal players and AV processors/amplifiers should adhere if inter-brand compatibility is to be achieved.
PWM and a Question of Class The complementary power transistors of every, conventional audio amplifier remain wholly (Class A) or partially (Class AB and B) conducting throughout the entire cycle of the musical waveform. Applying a bias current certainly linearises the conduction of these devices and reduces distortion but it’s an inefficient process. And losses in efficiency mean more heat. A Class D amplifier like the TA-DA9000ES is a very different proposition because its output transistors act as switches, which are either fully on or fully off. As switches dissipate little or no heat, the whole process is exceedingly efficient, making for cool-running and potentially very lightweight amplifiers. Switch-mode power supplies assist in reducing bulk, but Sony has opted for a heavier, but high quality, linear supply.
Either way, in order to utilize this Class D technique, points on the continuous ‘curve’ of the musical waveform are represented by PWM (Pulse Width Modulated) signals. Sony calls this PLM or Pulse Length Modulation, but I’ll not argue the difference. For every point or sample, the ‘width’ or ‘length’ of the pulse describes the amplitude of the waveform. In practice, a Class D amplifier represents this signal width by varying the length of time that its output switches are held on and off. Sony’s S-Master processing also provides advance correction of any distortions inherent in its switching MOSFET stages by manipulating the digital signal beforehand. This whole process is also rather more elegant in a digital Class D amplifier because the PWM signal can be derived directly from the digital source with no intermediate analogue conversion. It’s only by filtering the very high frequency, switched output of the MOSFETs that the low (audio) frequency range is finally revealed.
[ This message was edited by: Barmaleo_666 on 2004-06-10 12:45 ]
Joined: Mar 13, 2003
From: Sewell, NJ
Posted: 2004-06-09 14:43
Aparently so. Although the part numbers don't match your source, both the D-AMP board in the STR-DA5000ES and the AMP board in the STR-DA9000ES include a 49.152MHz crystal (different part numbers). It is connected to the first CXD9730 S-Master processor and daisy-chained to the remaining three.
The article that you have posted is very informative! The technical aspects are very interesting and appear to be accurate, but I cannot be positive because I don't have the same level of knowlege as those that provided the technical input to the article. The four CXD9730 S-Master processors in the STR-DA5000ES and STR-DA9000ES are labled "PCM/PWM Processor" in the schematics, which is consistent with the article.
Sony A/V System: KV-36XBR450 FD Trinitron WEGA and AVD-LA2500PKG consisting of AVD-C70ES Super Audio CD/DVD Receiver, 4 SS-LA500ED surround speakers, 1 SS-LAC505ED center channel speaker and 1 SA-WD200 Active Subwoofer
[ This message was edited by: jehill on 2004-06-09 18:11 ]
Thanks for the info...
If let said that the aplification parts of the str-da5000es is similar to str-da9000es means that str-da5000es sounds similar with str-da9000es... only incase if the speakers is hard to drive then 5000es will sound leaner ... anyway price of 5000es only 1/3 of 9000es ... really a steal ...
[ This message was edited by: adi_v58 on 2004-06-09 21:28 ]
On 2004-06-09 23:27, Freeze wrote: Here's a question that's bound to get me exiled to some beginner's thread: what's the difference between STR and TA? As in STR-DA9000ES and TA-DA9000ES?
So sorry to ask.
exactly same internal parts but 'str' is with tuner and 'ta' dont have tuner.. that all ... and there is also some slight doubt... if base on my knowledge the parts that they use for us, european and asia pacific region may be slightly differrent especiall those in a/d c and d/a c portion.
On 2004-06-09 23:27, Freeze wrote: Here's a question that's bound to get me exiled to some beginner's thread: what's the difference between STR and TA? As in STR-DA9000ES and TA-DA9000ES?
So sorry to ask.
Yes, the main difference is that TA-DA9000ES doesnt have built-in tuner, thus being an amplifier (TA), not receiver (STR). However, there are more differences between the two - the European TA lacks DVI-switching as well as multi-room capabilities, let alone trigger outputs. Furthermore, a good deal of the buttons hidden behind the large fascia door, do differ, too. OTOH, the menu of the European TA-DA9000es has a function which is not available in the STR-DA9000es - DSD-SW SWAP (DSD-SW Swapping). There has been mention of this in the Home Cinema Choice review of the TA-DA9000es:
'One curious oddity is the ability to channel the subwoofer channel from SACD recordings to an extra surround back channel, which corresponds to the way that certain SACDs have been recorded.'
The original link to this review has kindly been provided by Pace1983.
The 'Technology Test' published in the May edition of UK's DIGITAL HOME magazine thoroughly examines flaghip AV amplifiers comparing them to each other. The publication is sorta home cinema biased, so are the results. Hopefully, you'll have an enjoyable read anyway
*H O M E C I N E M A A M P S* By Richard Stevenson
AV amplifiers are the heart of a home’s digital entertainment network, so it pays to get the best. We pit five of the most impressive amps on the market against each other
When it comes to serious digital home entertainment forget low bit-rate iPod-itus and compressed video. Proper home AV systems go beyond simply delivering sounds and pictures to immerse you in a full-fat, high-octane music and movie experience.
The heart of of any such system is the AV amplifier and we have brought together five of the best for a head-to-head showdown. They are all mightily powerful, well connected and loaded with digital technology. Simply add a DVD player, speakers and a large screen display to any one of these beasts and you will have a system to eclipse the local multiplex.
Of course there are plenty of inexpensive home-theatre-in-a-box offerings out there that will generate surround sound. However, none of them get close to the performance and flexibility of a well balanced system of separates. How about the ability to extend your AV network into other rooms in the house or operate the entire system from a single remote control? What about the flexibility to use a dozen AV sources and outout to several AV recording devices? All of our amplifiers are designed with these features in mind to become the hub of digital entertainment in your home.
In an era when digital innovation moves along space, how long will an AV system last before technology overtakes it? Not long for sure. But while all-in-one systems will need to be replaced if you want to keep up to date, these amps are fully upgradeable. With firmware updates and upgrades commonly available as web downloads from manufacturers these models can be kept at the cutting edge of technology for many years to come.
But which one is the best of the best? Our top-flight shootout puts the market leaders through their paces to reveal the UK’s finest AV amplifier.
DESIGN AND FEATURES None of these amplifiers are particularly high on cosmetic charm. While the Marantz has the best stab at being discreet, there is little visually to chose between Denon, Pioneer and Yamaha – all progeny of the ‘slab-fronted with big knobs on’ school of design. Then there is the Sony. With its towering dimensions and strange facial step, it’s an amp that you’d definitely have to grow to love.
Looking at it another way, the build quality is first-rate throughout. The Sony and Denon offer their usual high standard of build and finish, being engineered to perfection and offering nicely weighted on-board controls. Meanwhile, Yamaha’s DSP-Z9 is a work of art in milled aluminium. The front panel is thick enough to stop bullets and the control knobs are huge and weighty. Even the back panel is an exercise in no expense spared luxury, with chunky gold binding posts.
The Pioneer and Marantz models are less tactile and both suffer from flimsy plastic control knobs and a generally lower-market feel. The Marantz’s lid is a thin sheet of steel that rattles at high volume and its tuning wheel is over weighted and under damped. Then again, the Marantz is the only one to have a built-in ratio and comes supplied with the excellent RC3200 PC-programmable remote control.
Sony, Denon and Pioneer also offer programmable LCD remote controls but only Denon’s really gets close to the RC3200 for flexibility. The Pioneer remote is logical enough but sluggish and dated-looking, while Sony’s remote is just plain fiddly. Caress its thumbwheel a tad too hard and it selects a seemingly random function. Yamaha’s remote is the most basic unit here and for GBP3,300 that is an absolute travesty. But it is remarkably simple to master.
Thankfully AV amp beauty is more than skin deep. Denon has traditionally lead the pack with new formats and, in addition to the Dolby Digital EX, Dolby ProLogic II, DTS ES and DTS 96/24 that all these models offer, the AVC-1SR adds Dolby Headphone and DVD-A processing, albeit only from Denon DVD-A capable players.
Pioneer and Yamaha can also decode DVD-A though a FireWire connection, and Yamaha ices its Dolby ProLogic cake with the IIx variant – soon to appear as a n upgrade for both Denon and Pioneer models too. In addition, the Yamaha and the Sony offer DSD format decoding for SACD through FireWire. And the Marantz? Above the basics it only adds Circle Surround 2 – a sort of Dolby ProLogic with attitude.
When it comes to build quality, ergonomics and sheer feature count, it’s round one to Yamaha.
CONNECTIVITY There is something of a numbers game going on in the AV amp world. Every single model in this line-up could support several complete home cinema systems.
However, more sockets do increase AV systems’ flexibility and the Yamaha DSP-Z9 is by far the most flexible amp on the market with a whopping 155 rear-panel connections. Uniquely this includes two component video outputs, ideal if you have both a plasma TV and a video projector in the living room. Sony and Denon bag joint second place in the connectivity game with what can only be described as “far more than enough”, while Pioneer and Marantz opt for a relatively sane number of inputs. The SR9300 plays a thumb card at this point by including two Scart socjets for the simplest DVD and TV connection going.
All five use a modular architecture and a serial port connection to the main processing chips. This means that each section can be individually upgraded and the firmware updated. This might involve a trip to your local dealer but more commonly it is becoming an internet download to your PC. What does differentiate these models is the amount of connectivity given over to multiroom installation and new digital interfaces.
While all of these amplifiers have spare audio, S-video and stereo speaker outputs that could be extended into a second room, a true multiroom installation requires individual zone 2 controls. Sony and Pioneer fall by the wayside at this point, being pretty much one-room ponies. In Pioneer’s defence, the upgraded VSA-AX10Ai is likely to be in the shops by the time you read this and we are assured it will have zone 2 controls.
Denon, Yamaha and Marantz do have dedicated AV outputs for a second room installation and individual controls for each zone. Similarly, all three offer at least one remote control extension port, which allows you to use the system remote control from the second room with the relevant cables and repeaters. Yamaha leaps ahead at this point by including a second remote control for dedicated use in the second zone.
The Marzntz is the only model here without at least one high speed digital port but it is far from essential to use these connections in any case. These amps can all accept traditional audio inputs from DVD, DVD-A and SACD players. That said, high speed connections such as Firewire solve cabling headaches and potentially offer the best quality sound. Sadly, the whole digital data debate in AV is still at the bleeding edge of both technology and copyright protection issues.
Denon counters this by doing its own thing - Denon Link. Unfortunately Denon Link is only usedul if you have a similarly equipped Denon DVD player, it won’t transmit SACD data and it can only be used with unencrypted DVD-A discs. Sony has chosen the more popular iLink interface, but the TA-DA9000ES will only decode a DSD data stream from it, meaning only SACD signals at present.
Meanwhile both the Pioneer and Yamaha models have twin Firewire ports, and should happily connect to multiformat disc players. While the Pioneer is awaiting an upgrade to handle SACD as well as DVD signals, the Yamaha does it all and does it now. Round two – Yamaha.
SETUP AND USABILITY Configuring an AV amplifier as complex as these flagship models is not a job undertaken without the aid of the instruction manual. While the semantics are different, for each model, the premise is the same: make all the connections, set speakers, assign your digital audio inputs with the corresponding video inputs, tweak a few settings and away you go. Simple – hopefully.
All but the Yamaha use block-white graphics on a plain background for the on-screen menu and are as slick as this format is ever going to allow. However, the Yamaha GUI is a full colour, full video resolution work of graphic art with menus that scroll in both directions, It is a little more complex, but it’s just so pretty it’s worth it.
To confound the installation issue slightly, the Sony, Denon and Yamaha models can be configured to drive nine speakers plus the subwoofer. In the Denon’s case this is to allow geometrically correct 5.1 channel surround with the additional speakers placed at 45 degrees behind the listening position. Sony integrates all nine speakers at once by using two-pairs of side-surround channels to improve the sense of surround sound, and Yamaha continues its tradition of using Presence channels. These are placed at the front and above the main right and left speakers to create additional ambience.
While having even more speakers in the living room is probably not the best solutions, aesthetically speaking, both Denon and Sony systems work exceptionally well and are thoroughly recommended. The Yamaha’s Presence channels are more ‘suck it and see’ as the results can be variable.
If even the thought of all this manual set-up and confirmation is giving you remote control repetitive strain injury, then the Pioneer and Yamaha amps are for you. Both offer automated setup by placing a supplied microphone in the listening position at about head height. After a few minutes of clicks and whirrs the job is done. While the Yamaha’s settings were extremely close to our sound pressure measured ones, the Pioneer was spot on, calculating speaker distances within a few centimeters and balancing the system nicely.
Once again the Yamaha pulls the rabbit out of the hat by adding the fully automated room EQ system, Yamaha’s Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) analyses the frequency response of each speaker and applies a 10-band parametric equaliser to each channel to optimise the in-room response, thus tuning the whole AV system to your listening room. Setup and usability? That’ll be round three to Yamaha then.
POWER AND PERFORMANCE Our five heavyweights can generate over 6,000 Watts of power between them, averaging some 170 Watts per channel. On paper at least, not one of these muscle monsters should be short on grunt. The Marantz SR9300 and Pioneer VSA-AX10i both claim 160 Watts x 7 channels. However, the Marantz is happiest at moderate levels, but push the volume much past mid-way and its sound begins to harden with glaring treble. Conversely, the Pioneer keeps its well-balance sonic signature right up to sofa shaking crescendos.
Sony has taken a wholly different route to amplifier technology and the TA-DA9000ES is the company’s first high-end all-digital amplifier. Digital or class D amplifiers are extremely efficient which has allowed Sony to squeeze some 200 Watts x 7 channels from the TA-DA9000ES. While this architecture should have meant the Sony was a lightweight member of this group, the need, to generate high current levels has required the use of a huge power supply transformer. Which means that the Sony is actually bigger and heavier that the analogue powered behemoths in this test.
This technology has give the Sony a neutral balance with a tight, dry bass. It has incredible composure even with the volume indicator showing +7dB. With 110dB showing on the sound pressure meter, the TA-DA9000ES never loses its refined nature even with bass-heavy explosions.
The Yamaha DSP-Z9 and Denon’s AVC-A1SR both claim an impressive 170 Watts x 7 channels, with the Yamaha adding another two channels at 50 Watts for its Presence speakers. The Yamaha romps happily into very serious sound levels, but can become unstuck at the very top. Unlike the Denon, which refuses to loose its composure no matter what you throw at it – the AVC-A1SR is a complete powerhouse. With Sony taking a well polished moral high ground and Denon just getting plain physical, it’s a split heat between the two where power and performance are concerned.
PICTURE AND SOUND QUALITY AV amps rarely had influence on picture quality in the past, simply switching video signals and looping them through. While this is still true of the Marantz, the other four have video up-conversion to create a component output from any video input.
The Denon and Pioneer models leave it pretty much at that but both generate a very stable progressive scan image, Sony’s flagship goes one stage further by including fine picture control over parameters such as colour and sharpness. However Yamaha romps off with the Oscar for best picture by including the in-vogue DCDi chipset from Faroudja.
DCDi is a video scaling device, or line doubler, and can increase the image resolution from a PAL or NTSC signal right up to 1080 line High Definition – whatever your display can handle in fact. Okay, it’s not going to turn a TV broadcast into a D1 master tape, but scaling a good DVD picture up to the maximum resolution of a high class plasma TV is really quite something else.
Sonically, our assembled amplifiers are all premiere league contenders but each plays in a very different way. The AVC-A1SR is the latest incarnation in a long line of top-of-the-range AV amplifiers from Denon and this is the best yet. The Denon’s huge dynamic swells any movie soundtrack, and crisply positioned effects can eclipse all but the very best home or commercial cinemas within the opening scene. It doesn’t quite manage the resolution or polish with music as, say, the Sony, but for the average Saturday night in the movies, it just can’t be beaten.
Marantz’s SR9300 is the smoothie of this bunch. At normal listening levels it creates a very natural soundstage for movies that lures you into the film. When the going gets tough, such as X-Men 2’s airborne dogfight, it shows a sudden fleetness of foot and picks up the pace admirably. This even-handed balance makes it a great choice for those who listen to as much music as watch movies. As long as the volume is kept sensible, the Marantz can lose you in the emotion of a good song or the plot of a good film with equal aplomb.
Having spent most of this test being thrashed at specification trumps by the Yamaha DSP-Z9, Pioneer’s VSX-AX10i turns in a superb all round performance. Its tight bass and ability to create and open vista of sound gets it a thumbs up for both music and movies. Playing Sting’s Sacred Love SACD, the Pioneer handles the natural sibilance with grace and accuracy. With films, the crashing storm scene in Pirates of the Caribbean leaves you swaying with the yaw of the ship and metaphorically soaked as waves crash over the gunwales. It’s enough to make you buy a parrot.
If you are looking for an ultimate multichannel music amplifier then Sony’s incredible TA-DA9000ES is an obvious choice. One of the first AV amplifiers to have genuine audiophile pedigree, this all-digital monster unearths detail like no other AV amp on the market and has bass so tight it’s got sharp edges. Playing Elton John’s remastered Goodbye Yellow Brick Road SACD is little short of a sonic revelation and guaranteed to put a tingle down your spine. The Sony is a might too dry and reserved to match the full Odeon experience with DVD movies that some of our contenders can create but its sheer clarity and effortless dynamics go a long way to compensate.
Switching straight to Yamaha’s mighty DSP-Z9 after the Sony is like hitting a nitrous button. The chase scene through the asteroid belt in Star Wars Episode 2 is delivered bursting with sofa-gripping excitement and the exploding seismic charges cut through the room like, well, seismic charges. Down tempo to a subtle multi-channel music disc and the Yamaha can be as graceful as it is potent. It can’t match the Sony for sheer clarity but that certainly doesn’t stop the DSP-Z9 from bringing a tangibly real Norah Jones to perform in your living room.
The Sony and Denon are a little too single-minded for overall accolade but the other three make good all-round performers. Marantz’s lower cost begins to show as the volume is pushed up, leaving the Yamaha and Pioneer to share top honours in sheer sound quality. Factor in the Yamaha’s impressive picture processing technology and the DSP-Z9 steals the show again.
CONCLUSION For AV systems in smaller rooms, Marantz’s SR9300 is a great choice. It’s simple to use, comes with a cracking remote control and is good for both music and movies at modest listening levels.
Moving up market, Denon’s AVC-A1SR and Sony’s TA-DA9000ES are highly recommended contenders with distinctly different flavours. The Denon is a home cinema monster, and can thump out a movie soundtrack with unrivalled authority and precision. Alternatively, the Sony is an audiophile statement in multi-channel music, offering a level of detail and clarity that even many hi-fi stereo amplifiers fail to achieve.
For the very best in all-round movie and music performance there is barely a popcorn husk separating Pioneer’s VSA-AX10i and Yamaha’s DSP-Z9. These amps sound awesome, are a joy to use and even set temselves up for you. They can both form the heart of a multi-room AV system, are eminently upgradeable and are at the cutting edge of digital entertainment technology.
But with the best styling, best ergonomics, greatest flexibility abd a features list that goes on forever, Yamaha DSP-Z9 is clearly the best integrated AV amplifier you can buy.
OVERVIEW ================================================================================== DENON AVC-A1SR (GBP 3,000) Denon’s house style has remained through several incarnations of the AVC-A1 although the logo count of supporting technologies gets bigger every time. This giant is solidly put together with well weighted controls, although the fascia door has a penchant for trapping fingers. The remote control is the size of a house brick and its LCD display has buttons big enough for the most ham-fisted home cinema enthusiast to use. FOR: Great build quality, excellent remote, muscular home cinema sound. AGAINST: Music playback lacks detail, Denon D-Link of limited use. VERDICT: A thoroughbred big screen entertainer with power and pedigree in equal measure
================================================================================== PIONEER VSA-AX10i-s (GBP 3,000) Pioneer’s flagship amp and remote control are looking a little dated in this company but it is simplicity itself to set up and use. The aluminium fascia is sumptuous but the plastic knobs don’t have the high-class feel of the Yamaha. This model is just about to be upgraded to VSA-AX10Ai – which will add SACD compatibility, a much slicker LCD remote control and around another 30 Watts more power per channel. FOR: Great sound, accurate automated setup, Firewire port for DVD AGAINST: Dated cosmetics, no zone 2 control, plasticky control VERDICT: A first class AV amplifier with most of its foibles to be ironed out in the new VSA-AX10Ai
================================================================================== SONY TA-DA9000ES (GBP 2,500) It’s huge, but Sony’s TA-DA9000ES is actually a masterpiece of refined digital engineering. Build quality is excellent and the large fascia door drops smoothly down to reveal a suite of manual controls and front AV inputs. The stepped fascia design means that the main control buttons and source indicator lights are very easy to see. The LCD remote looks good but requires Olympic standard finger dexterity to operate. FOR: Awesome audiophile sound with music, excellent build, all digital amplification AGAINST: A little reserved for all action home cinema, remote control fiddly, no zone 2. VERDICT: The hi-tech solution for audiophiles wanting to incorporate home cinema
================================================================================== MARANTZ SR9300 (GBP 2,000) Marantz’s smiley faced front panel looks good but the knobs and switches are pure Airfix quality plastic. Thankfully it doesn’t matter as the supplied RC3200 remote control is one of the hottest programmable remotes on the market. Also note our SR9300 is actually a gold finished SR9200 with a THX Ultra 2 upgrade. SR9300’s are available in black or silver but owners of the original model can cut it with the THX Ultra 2 big boys for a GBP200 retrofit. FOR: Easy to use, brilliant remote, Scart sockets, built-in radio, good with music and movies AGAINST: Build quality not great, sound hardens at high volume, no component video VERDICT: As an all round amplifier the Marantz is a real smoothie in sound quality and operation
================================================================================== YAMAHA DSP-Z9 (GBP 3,300) Smooth, clean and bang up to date, the DSP-Z9 is pure class. With a fascia thick enough to class as armour plating and adorned with super smooth all-metal knobs, the Yamaha cleans up in the style stakes. The main remote control on the other hand is a relic of Yamaha’s distant past and should never been taken out of retirement for such a prestigious amplifier. The second zone 2 remote is a small recompense when you have spent GBP 3,300. FOR: Connectivity, superb sound quality, video processing, luxury finish, build quality AGAINST: Basic remote control, and that’s about it… VERDICT: Leads the pack with a great combination of first class sound and useable features
[ This message was edited by: Barmaleo_666 on 2004-06-10 12:41 ]
Joined: Aug 29, 2002
From: Portland, Oregon - USA
Posted: 2004-06-10 14:37
Great post Barmalaeo! I learned many new things. Up until now I did not know that the Sony DA 9000ES was "The ultimate multichannel Music amplifier which unearths detail like no other A/V amp on the market".
----------------- A Satisfied Sony Fan Since 1974!
Joined: Oct 21, 2003
Posted: 2004-06-10 14:50
Very good article. Thanks for the post. Sounds like the Yamaha and Pioneer are pretty good choices. Funny thing is that we carry the Pioneer here in our showroom too. I was auditioning it against the Sony to decide which to purchase and I liked the Sony better. Just goes to show there is no science to preference.
"DCDi is a video scaling device, or line doubler, and can increase the image resolution from a PAL or NTSC signal right up to 1080 line High Definition – whatever your display can handle in fact. Okay, it’s not going to turn a TV broadcast into a D1 master tape, but scaling a good DVD picture up to the maximum resolution of a high class plasma TV is really quite something else."
It seems DCDi does do HD upconvert. I had one thing right.
Joined: Oct 21, 2003
Posted: 2004-06-10 19:12
This is a common mistake that everyone seems to overlook. DCDi is NOT a scaler! It is a deinterlacer, it takes 480i to 480p period. There is another chip in these machines that does the scaling. If you want more proof check out this link. http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0%2C3973%2C1153273%2C00.asp It says in the article that if an input source is 480i it deinterlaces it and scales it to 720p and 1080i. If it has a progressive video input, 480p, it bypasses the DCDi chip and is only scaled. These ARE two different chips. Sorry but you were not right on this. If you would like other links I can provide them to you.
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