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Audio Ideas Guide Reviews the VISO Five

April 23, 2009

Audio Ideas Guide

Andrew Marshall

A trend I've noticed in recent years is the increasing immensity of home theatre receivers - it reminds me of the old days of quadraphonic sound, when the monsters from such brands as Rotel and Sansui, to name just two, were so bulky and heavy you could hardly carry them around! Some of the current Pioneer and Onkyo models, among other brands, today appear to be approaching that same kind of size and weight.

Here, NAD, in its new VISO series, has taken a somewhat reductionist approach, in the FIVE combining a full-featured DVD player and a full 5-channel receiver, eschewing all the gratuitous extra channels and fancy (and largely silly) Dolby-this and THX-that formats which clutter most receivers and confuse many consumers. Though it does offer Dolby Pro logic IIx and DTS Neo:6 Music modes, as well as Dolby Digital and DTS movie play, it offers just its own EARS DSP matrix format in addition. Here's what EARS (Enhanced Ambience Recovery System) is all about:

"In sharp contrast to many 'ambience synthesis' modes, EARS exploits the the VISO FIVE's substantial DSP power to rout the ambient content that is 'encrypted' in virtually all natural-acoustic recordings to the appropriate main, centre and surround speakers, without resorting to artificially generated reflections or regeneration. EARS' natural ambience yields a subtle but exceptionally effective surround mode that naturally enhances the spatial presentation in a fashion suitable for serious music listening."

And I'll quote further from the VISO FIVE manual on its interior technology: "On the digital side, the VISO FIVE combines extraordinarily high-speed DSP processing employing one of the most advanced high-speed DSP 'engines' available, with fully 24-bit, 192 kHz sampling-capable D/A converters for all channels. A single high precision master clock synchronizes all digital circuits to eliminate the timing errors (jitter) that otherwise compromise sonics."

Greater sophistication from this compact box is ensured by the RS-232 interface and "NAD's proprietary Windows compatible software. We are also certified partners with AMX and Crestron and fully support these external devices." Using these facilities, you can control the FIVE from remote locations through a PC. In terms of inputs, the FIVE offers 6-channel analogue audio, cable/sat and VCR (S-video, composite, RCA audio), with HDMI, composite, S-video, 6-channel audio and post-preamp subwoofer outputs. There are single optical digital inputs and outputs, and a coaxial RCA input jack. There is a data port that accommodates an accessory ipod dock, the IPD 1. There's also an XM Radio input port for North American owners, this replaced by a DAB radio input for Europe. An RS-232 multi-pin jack deals with external computer control. A coaxial screw-on connector is provided for FM antenna, while spring-loaded jacks connect an AM aerial. A rear-panel AC outlet is also provided. Speaker outputs are excellent gold-plated types, with red and black-coded tighteners, one set only for each of the 5 channels. And if there aren't enough inputs on the back panel, additional facilities are offered on the front panel under a pull-off plastic cover. Here we find S-video and composite inputs, and stereo audio, along with a headphone jack. This is a true convenience feature, especially for those with camcorders.

Harnessing all this exceptional functionality is achieved through the HTR 7 universal remote control, which can manage 8 electronic devices or receiver functions, with buttons for Amp, TV, MP Dock, DVD (internal), Tuner (internal), CAB/SAT, VCR, or Custom. Another really nice feature of this remote is the 3 level trim buttons at the bottom, marked SURR, CENT, and SUB, which allow on-the-fly adjustment of channel group and subwoofer levels relative to front left and right. I found this feature invaluable when dealing with the wide variety of effect levels and bass content of recorded program material, while the centre trim helped a lot with broadcasts, sports in particular, where the crowd noise sometimes overwhelms the commentary.

In sum, NAD's VISO FIVE is very attractively styled, compact and complete, and offers superb video and audio performance at an entry-level high end price point.

If I earlier called the surround feature set of this DVD/receiver "reductionist", it does not mean that there aren't numerous features within the Dolby Digital and DTS categories. I won't go into all of them (that's why we always read the manual, eh?), but of particular interest to me were the aforementioned EARS, and Dolby Headphone, which has its own 3 sub-modes. The manual says it "accurately simulates the experience of hearing a 5.1 channel speaker system properly set up in a listening room, minus the annoying 'listener fatigue' effect that plagues other headphone-based virtual surround offerings...Dolby HP Mode 1 is a small, well-damped room appropriate for movies and music-only recordings..[it is] known as the Dolby Headphone 'Reference Room'...Dolby HP Mode 2 is a more acoustically live room [while] Dolby HP 3 is a larger room, more like a concert hall or movie theatre. "I began my listening to the VISO FIVE with FM music in the EARS mode, and noted its quite even and natural distribution of energy around the listener, without sounding like one was being attacked on all sides. I found the effect quite pleasant, especially with classical music. The overall sound of the receiver's audio section is very easy and non-fatiguing, with a sense of more power than the rated 45 watts per channel.

The Dolby Headphone surround option was auditioned using my recently reconditioned Grado SR-125. This feature automatically takes over the front panel Surround Mode button, but does not seem to be accessible from the remote. I suppose that makes some sense, because if you can plug the headphone in, you can also press the button. I liked the spatiality of Mode 2, though I can't say exactly why; it's probably a toss-up with different phones and heads, not to mention music.

Hooking its component video outputs to our pre-HDMI Pioneer Elite PRO-710HD monitor, I used the Digital Video Essentials DVD to evaluate picture quality, and was very impressed. In terms of greyscale, it was right on, with excellent blacks, and even gradations from blackest to charcoal and lighter shades on our ISF-calibrated screen. Colour values were also very accurate, with pure reds without over-saturation, and other colours very vivid and clean. Screen geometry was also right on, though this is generally more a function of the display than the DVD player. Resolution was also very high, close to the DVD format limits, with just a little motion blur on the Snell & Wilcox bouncing ball test sequence, but visible lines down to the smallest 480i size shown on our 1080i 64″ screen. Motion effects on video demo sequences were well controlled, and, though not in the class of Blu-ray, excellent for DVD.

I ran quite a few DVDs through the NAD system, including the black-and-white Casablanca, which had a very slight blue tint to it, though most viewers wouldn't probably notice this, and other colour discs, such as The Thomas Crown Affair, and the IMAX film, Dolphins had a natural palette that was very pleasing. For its necessary complexity, the VISO FIVE is a quite easy system to operate and navigate. The remote is certainly large enough to avoid those crevices in the couch that other smaller ones seek out magically, and a little awkward in one-handed use, but it certainly has all you need to operate all the functions of the system. In most home theatres it will probably become the only remote, with its cloning ability, especially, if you have other NAD components. I especially liked the immediately available level trim buttons at the bottom of the remote, even if they were pretty much out of thumb reach in one-handed use.

The only major omission in the feature set of this receiver seems to be the lack of an HDMI input, though it's less needed with the integral DVD player. But if you wanted to add a Blu-ray player eventually, this absence might be of concern. Other than that, the NAD VISO FIVE serves very nicely as the heart of a very high resolution DVD home theatre system. The FIVE will provide higher resolution, certainly 1080i, through its component video inputs, for example, from such sources as satellite or off-air HDTV, as well as from Blu-ray players. In sum, NAD's VISO FIVE is very attractively styled, compact and complete, and offers superb video and audio performance at an entry-level high end price point.

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