An evening with Marantz, Anthem, Monitor Audio, and a little dude named Willow...

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jay Mitchosky, Nov 19, 2001.

  1. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    This past Saturday marked a long-overdue local HTF meet hosted by Jeff "Tweak Until You Bleed" Kowerchuk. Also in attendance were Andrew Pratt, Matt Broeska, Jeremy Santos, and Luc Labelle. It was a great evening that included product demos, giveaways, and a pre-screening of Fox's upcoming release of Willow on DVD.

    Jeff works a local A/V store (arguably the finest in the city) and they were kind enough to let him borrow some great gear for demonstration over the weekend. On tap was the new Marantz SACD player, Anthem's updated pre/pro, and Monitor Audio's georgeous Gold Reference GR-10 speakers, as well as MA's Gold Center channel. Jeff can fill in the blanks for the part numbers.

    We spent some time setting up the Anthem for the evening, including channel levels and delay times. This pre/pro has some nice features to allow you to tweak your system. Thankfully bass management uses an adjustable crossover (increments of 10Hz from 40 to at least 80, didn't check above that point). It's a global setting - individual channels would have been better, but at least you are afforded some flexibility. The AVM also includes a center channel EQ function to offset differences in speaker height relative to the mains - you actually indicate the size of the set that you're using. We didn't get the opportunity to play with this setting, but the idea is interesting. You are also able to save settings so they're not randomly changed. The sound produced by this unit was rich, crisp, and clear. Jeff likely spent some more time with it on Sunday and will be able to give a more detailed account. My only beef with the Anthem is the front panel design. It's a personal bias but I just don't see a need for so many buttons.

    Next up was some comparative listening between Redbook and SACD versions of some funky blues tracks (again, Jeff will detail exactly which discs he brought home). The Redbook layers sounded terrific through the GR-10s. Great dynamics and punch with a clear top end. Vocals were very natural. We were all surprised at the low end response of these little speakers. {I later checked the specs to confirm that they extend to 40Hz +/- 3dB). In comparison the SACD recording offered a smoother response across the spectrum, with a little more "air". Midrange in the vocals was also less chesty. All in all it sounded terrific. Jeff was planning for a day of 2-channel on Sunday to take advantage.

    The GR-10s replaced Jeff's Paradigm Reference 40s for main channel duty. All of us were in love with these speakers by the end of the evening. They presented movies and music with ease and grace. Fit and finish were immaculate. At C$2Kish a pair these are not inexpensive speakers, but for the price I think they are a bargain.

    We also spent some time with a couple of DVD demos and a comparison of The Fifth Element original and SuperBit releases. Of the latter we all felt that the SuperBit version was cleaner and sharper than the original, but without A/B comparison you can still not complain about the first version's transfer. Jeff has done a fantastic job in calibrating his Toshiba 56H80 - TFE looked as good as I've ever seen it. Colors were spot on, contrast was just right, black levels were dark and detailed. And artifacts from the Panasonic RP-10 DVD player were essentially none.

    Finally we enjoyed our feature presentation - a pre-screening of Fox's upcoming release of Willow on DVD. In short it was excellent. The video transfer ranged from good to stellar, the variability a function of the source material. There were scenes, particularly those that were well lit, that looked just a good as many current releases. Others could be a bit soft or murky but again we're talking about film elements from the mid/late eighties. Colors were natural and well saturated. Flesh tones were excellent.

    The audio was truly great. James Horner's soundtrack was very rich and warm. Sound effects were well integrated and of excellent fidelity. Dialogue was good, if not a little chesty (Jeff's new HT layout includes an inset center channel, and the acoustic insulation had not yet been replaced after exchanging his Paradigm Reference CC for the MA Gold Center - likely the culprit). Overall there was little to suggest that the audio is around 13 years old.

    Another very cool part of the evening were door prizes! Jeff's store ponied up a Tara Labs optical cable, and Ralph LaBarge (sp?) at Alpha DVD (through Andrew) provided a 5.1 classical music DVD. Luc and Jeremy were the respective winners of the evening.

    Thanks to Jeff for hosting this event, the "sponsors" who provided demo equipment and giveaways, Ron Epstein (and Fox) for providing the Willow screener, and the gang of local HTF members who contributed to a great evening.
     
  2. Gregg Loewen

    Gregg Loewen Video Standards Instructor, THX Ltd.
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    kewl!!
     
  3. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Producer

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    Just one quick point to clarify it was Alpha DVD that sponsored the DVD give away not DVD international... thanks Ralph!
    I must agree with Jay on his views on the gear we got to demo on Saturday evening, I've been to Jeff's numerous times but hadn't seen his latest rearrangement and I must say he's done a bang up job with his HT room. He has now got his TV and gear flush with the rear wall in a similar fashion to Obi and IMO this really helps the front soundstage and greatly improves the look of the room.
    This was my first listen to SACD and to put it bluntly I'm sold on it. Flipping back and forth between the redbook version and the SACD version of the songs (these are hybrid discs containing both versions of the tracks) it was very evident that the SACD sounded much less digital and was IMO more pleasant to listen to. The first thing that jumped out at me was the warmer top end on the SACD version. It almost seemed like the tweeters were been rolled off but as you listened a little closer you realized that what you were hearing was a more natural sound.
    Our SACD player was the Marantz SA-14 SACD which was a very sexy piece of gear. I think all of us there fell in love with this item at first glance. It has a retro look is some respects but all in all it just looks elegant and expensive[​IMG]
    Our demo of the super bit 5th Element disc vs the regular one didn't surprise me too much given the excellent examples of the differences done by some other people but both Jay and I commented that the dialog also seemed a little clearer (we were using the DTS track on the super bit disc)
    The anthem pre amp is quite feature packed with THX Ultra certification and the ability to do 7.1 and has balanced inputs and outputs which was a nice surprise. It does lack Pro logic II though if thats a feature you're interested in. My first impressions were similar to Jay's in that there are way to many buttons on the front but like Jay thats a personal preference and not a deal breaking flaw.
    I also got to see the Panasonic RP-91 DVD player that Jeff reluctantly bought, i use the A320 so I'm fairly familiar with its interface and ergonomics but a few things were new. I hardly ever use the A320's remote but I did notice that the 91 now has all the buttons exposed where the A320 remote hid some under a sliding panel. I'd have to spend time using both remotes before I could say which I preferred though.
    A special thanks to Ron for providing us with the Willow DVD. It had been a long time since I'd last seen the movie so a lot was new for me. The transfer looked very good for the most part esp considering the age of the film. We took a quick spin though some of the extra's and it was fun to see lucas looking so young[​IMG] I'll let Jay comment more on the extra's on the disc though since I'm sure he's spent more time with the movie then we had time for.
    Thanks Jeff for the great meet...
     
  4. Matt Broeska

    Matt Broeska Stunt Coordinator

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    wow. i don't know what i could say that could possibly add to what jay has already said. it was a good night, with good music, great demos, awesome equipment and to top it all off, a surpisingly excellent dvd edition of willow.

    to start off, the equipment demos were amazing. i'm not going to claim to have as good an ear as jay, or anyone else there, but i'd definitly say that the sacd (to me) was a more detailed and warm sounding recording vs. it's normal cd counterpart.

    the fifth element superbit in an a/b test was the clear winner with the image being slightly more detailed (especially noticeable in the highlights) and the dts audio track being just a slight bit more clear (noticeable in the voices). of course that is in an a/b test. i don't think anyone in the past has been dissapointed with the original release nor would they notice a difference unless they were to do testing of their own.

    and lastly, willow. i was thinking getting into it, that it wouldn't be that stellar based on some other 80's movies i have who's transfers are lacking. but this was a huge surprise. aside from a handfull of slightly muddy shots, it was crystal clear. easily as good as many new releases. and the audio was excellent as well. i don't think i can really add any more to what jay had said. we didn't get into any of the special features, but it did look to have to interesting documentaries on it as well...

    all in all an excellent evening.

    the end.
     
  5. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

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    I don't think this was mentioned: Does the Marantz player support multichannel SACD? If so, did you try it out? I'm actually interested if you fooled around with the AVM 20 "bass management" mode that can be applied to the 5.1 inputs. I think it does digitize the signal first; correct me if I'm wrong.

    Thanks.

    Doug
     
  6. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

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    Just another word on the Monitor Audio Gold series. I've auditioned the GR20s on several occasions and am very impressed with it. It is the smaller of the two Gold line floorstanders. It had been on the top of my purchase list until I decided to try out a pair of ribbon speakers (still pending). Last I had heard a while back from Monitor Audio is that they were coming out with Gold surrounds expected about this time.

    My experience with the GR20 is that they need a decent amp / good power to open up sufficiently. What was driving the GR10s?

    Thanks.

    Doug
     
  7. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Producer

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    Our intention was to drive the MA's with a nice Anthem power amp but we discovered that the amp had a dead channel in it so we ended up using Jeff's Marantz 8000 receiver as our power amp (feeding pre outs for anthem to 8000's 5.1 inputs)

    For what I've read about the Marantz SACD player indicates that its a 2 channel model only and the manual that comes with the Anthem pre amp indicates that it does in fact have an analog by pass mode.
     
  8. McPaul

    McPaul Screenwriter

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    Great to hear about your meet, guys! That was some nice gear you 'borrowed' for demoing.
    I'm curious, Andrew, about the 5th element superbit disk, and others like it. You mentioned you thought the dialog was clearer. Was this ONLY because you were using the DTS track as opposed to DD on the superbit disk? or did the 'superbit' disk actually sound and look BETTER than the regular version?
    Thanks buddy! [​IMG]
    I have more questions on your thoughts on SACD when I have time to write them. Gotta run for a meeting.
     
  9. Jeff D.

    Jeff D. Supporting Actor

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    Not much I need to add to Jay's excellent review.
    It was an excellent night and my thanks to everyone in attendance. Special thanks go out to Jay Mitchosky and Ron Epstein for securing the advance screener of Willow. It was much appreciated by everyone. Thanks to Andrew for providing another door prize. Thanks to Matt for helping me lug all the gear from the store! The thing about high-end stuff is it tends to be bloody heavy!
    Just to fill in some numbers... The Anthem pre/pro used was the new Anthem AVM 20. A stunning successor to the excellent AVM 2. According to Anthem, upgradeability was a key part of the design and the main processing functions have been designed for easy upgrades. It also includes an RS232 port where new features etc. can be downloaded from the website. Anthem will also be providing Pronto CCF files for operation of the unit. The unit also includes high quality component (HDTV compatible) switching. There are also balanced ins and outs, including a balanced digital in.
    The CD player was the Marantz Reference Series SA-14. This is a 2-channel SACD player. It includes balanced outputs in addition to the standard SE complement. Truly a remarkable product, both as a standard CD player and SACD player.
    The Gold Reference series speakers are absolutely stunning. I agree wholeheartedly with Jay - an absolute steal at $2K. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that they are STILL $2K. [​IMG]
    Anyway, that's all from me. Thanks to everyone who attended. I hope you all had a great time. It was a lot of fun.
    ----
    Jeff
     
  10. JoeDelan

    JoeDelan Stunt Coordinator

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    BUT what were the Munchies???

    And is the $2K American or Canadian???
     
  11. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Andrew - thanks for the clarification on Alpha DVD. I quickly took a peak at one of my check discs and DVDI was the first thing I saw. I've corrected this above.
     
  12. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

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  13. Trevor Schell

    Trevor Schell Supporting Actor

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    Another reason to live in Winnipeg![​IMG]
    Glad you guys had a great time.
     
  14. McPaul

    McPaul Screenwriter

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    I'm curious. Do all of you have SACD players now? How much of a difference was there between the SACD and origional versions?
    Do you think SACD will make a difference on all systems or only high end stuff (like Andrew's planars)?
    I'm very curious about SACD right now and have not had a decent demo of it yet that impressed me, although I'll go back to the high end shops to take a more detailed listen when I have the time.
    And Jay, thanks for the further comments on Superbit disks. I think we can all agree thhat the two versions sounded DIFFERENT because of the difference between DD and DTS. To ascertain further differences it would be necessary to do more detailed listening with the same soundtracks on each disk. I've always thought these superbit disks to be somewhat of a gimmick. Perhaps I'm wrong, I'll have to compare for myself I suppose.
    Thanks guys! I wish you all lived out west here or vice versa so I could join you in your demos. They sound like a lot of fun.
     
  15. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Producer

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    well I don't have SACD yet but I'm a believer in the format now. The differeces in sound were far more apparent the differences in DAC's IMO. I think that the benefits of SACD should be audible on mid fi gear but maybe more has to do with the listners ability to hear differences then the gear it self.
    As far as super bit I can't say if the differences in sound were due to the DTS track vs the DD one but there is a difference and it was better on the superbit version. Also the video did appear slightly better but like someone pointed out above without doing an A-B test I don't think anyone is going to really complain about the old 5th Element DVD[​IMG] I know I'm not in a hurry to replace my copy of the 5th E but given the choice in future I'll purchase the super bit version
     

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