Equipment Review No. 2   October 2002

SHERWOOD Newcastle R-963T
A/V Surround Receiver

Setup/ Connections:
I. Speaker Connections. All speaker connections, including the surround rear and surround back channels, accept single banana plugs or bare wire. For safe amplifier operation, the R-963T recommends using speakers with impedance of over 6 ohms .
II. Other Connections. I ran a coaxial digital cable from the DVD player to one of the two assignable coaxial digital inputs. I connected the supplied indoor FM antenna to the 75 FM input. Although it was supplied, I did not connect the AM loop antenna.
III. Video Connections. This R-963T offers dual component video switching. This will be very helpful to home theater enthusiasts whose monitors only have one component input but who own two or more pieces of A/V equipment with component outputs (i.e. progressive scan DVD, HD decoder box, Xbox, etc.). The receiver’s component video output has a 54 MHz bandwidth and is fully capable of switching HDTV’s highest frequency signals thereby alleviating any concerns about a loss in video quality.

IV. Surround and speaker setup. The R-963T offers setup for the speakers and surround sound decoding via its on-screen display (“OSD”). The use of a monitor is necessary for this initial setup procedure. Under the OSD main menu, the first option is POWER AMP ASSIGN where one chooses whether to allocate power amp usage to the surround back channels or for a separate Room 2 application. SPEAKER SETUP is the second menu option and speaker configuration choices here include setting speaker sizes to large, small or none. A ‘large’ speaker is defined as one with the ability to fully reproduce sounds below 80Hz. When ‘small’ is selected, sounds below 80Hz are sent to the subwoofer. (A potential downside to the single frequency cut-off point of 80Hz is that surround speakers with woofers smaller than 5” often cannot reproduce sounds below 150Hz. With such speakers, even when the ‘small’ designation is chosen, sounds between 80 and 150Hz will potentially be lost). I set all of my reference speakers to ‘small.’ Remaining options under the SPEAKER SETUP menu include speaker distance and LFE level control. Speaker distances are displayed in both meters and feet and are adjustable in 0.3 meter/1 foot increments. Subwoofer levels can beadjusted from –10~0 dB for both Dolby Digital sources and DTS sources.

The third OSD main menu option is FUNCTION SELECT and this is where, among other things, one can assign the digital inputs of the receiver, set tone controls, and activate the digital remastering mode. SURROUND SETUP is the fourth option under the OSD main menu and it is from here that one chooses his/her preferred decoding mode (i.e. Dolby Digital, DTS, MPEG, PCM or Auto). I choose ‘Auto’ as the decoding mode of choice for this review. The last two options under the OSD main menu are CHANNEL LEVEL TRIM (sound level adjustments for each of the 7.1 channels) and ROOM 2 FEED SETUP.

V. Direct Access and Decoding Modes. There is no direct access to the surround modes on the front face of the receiver - meaning that you might need to cycle thru all of the available choices (as many as 18 different modes) in order to make your selection. The RNC-500 remote control however does have limited direct access to some of the more popular surround modes (i.e.: DPLII Music, DTS NEO:6 Music, Stereo) under its CD and TAPE sub-menus. When selecting a decoding mode (via OSD, front panel or remote control), one can manually choose the input signal (Dolby Digital, DTS, MPEG, and PCM) or opt for Auto signal detection. (With regard to DTS ES and Dolby Digital EX source material, the R-963T will auto detect this as DTS and Dolby Digital material respectively, but one still needs to select the ‘Extra Surround’ button on the front panel or remote control to activate the rear back channel processing). The receiver’s front panel includes an indication of the current surround mode that is in operation. The R-963T also displays all of the speakers that are present in the various modes and surround mixes.

VI. Remote Controls. The main remote control for the R-963T is the RNC-500 unit. It is a backlit IR remote with LCD screen, learning capabilities, macro operations, memory backup, and the ability to control up to 10 devices. It is fairly simple to navigate (42 buttons total) and is able to be held in one hand. The second remote for the R-963T is the RM-103 unit and it is primarily used in Room 2 applications. It is also an IR remote and is extremely simple to navigate (13 buttons total). The RM-103 unit, however, is not a universal remote. A nifty little device that enables one to use either of these remotes in a room where there is no direct line of sight for the IR signal is the Xantech Hidden Link Kit. This kit contains a slim-line IR repeater box that effectively carries the IR signal back to the R-963T as if the remote and receiver were in the same room.

Amplifier Performance: The R-963T has discrete amplifiers for each of its 7 channels. These amplifiers are rated at 120 RMS with no more than 0.05% THD into 8 ohms, plus they offer 100kHz audio bandwidth and 192 kHz, 24-bit DACs. Therefore it did not come as a surprise to me that the receiver was able to pump out loud and clean sound on each and every occasion to all 7 of my speakers.

Tuner Performance: Using only the supplied FM wire antenna, I would rate the R-963T’s ability to receive local radio stations as fair to good. I was able to receive all of the local broadcast stations and while there was some background noise and hiss, I am sure that it is not anything that a separate outdoor antenna or an amplified indoor antenna would not have eliminated. I didn't listen to any AM broadcasts.

Performance of the PCM Modes for Music: The R-963T incorporates many of the typical modes found in surround sound decoding/processing for PCM and analog music signals, as well as including some of the newest formats too. The available modes include Stereo, DPL II Movie, DPL II Music, DPL, Dolby Virtual, DTS Neo Movie, DTS Neo Music, Matrix, Game, Arena 2, Arena 1, Club 2, Club 1, Church, Stadium, Hall 2, Hall 1, Movie and Theater. Using my test material consisting of tracks 3 and 8 from James Taylor’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 CD, I shall share my thoughts on the performance of two of the processing modes listed above.

1. Dolby Pro Logic II Music. Charged with the task of converting 2.0 source material into 5.1 channel surround, this format did an excellent job of deriving near-Dolby Digital 5.1-quality separation of sound. Unlike the original Dolby Pro Logic (“DPL”), the material didn’t collapse into the center channel. There are even optional adjustable parameters available for this mode. What I like best about this mode, and the reason it is my preferred music mode for 2.0 channel material on the receiver, is that it has a diffuse sound presentation across the forward and rear soundstages. All of the 5.1 channels are actively utilized but the seamless blending of channels doesn’t make you feel like you are listening to 5 separate speakers that are not interconnected.

2. DTS Neo: 6 Music. Similar to DPL II, DTS Neo takes 2.0 material and converts it into 5.1 channel surround (and actually goes one step further than DPL II by converting the material into 6.1 channel surround if you have the rear back channel enabled). I felt that the DTS Neo forward and rear soundfields weren’t as seamlessly connected with one another as was with DPL II. DTS Neo seemed to want to focus on the separation between the front and back soundstages as opposed to trying to blend them as much as possible. There are also optional adjustable parameters for this mode.

Performance of the PCM and Analog Modes for Movies: With regard to television and movie software soundtracks, the R-963T incorporates the same surround sound decoding/processing modes for PCM and analog signals as it does for music. Again, the available modes include Stereo, DPL II Movie, DPL II Music, DPL, Dolby Virtual, DTS Neo Movie, DTS Neo Music, Matrix, Game, Arena 2, Arena 1, Club 2, Club 1, Church, Stadium, Hall 2, Hall 1, Movie and Theater. Using my test DVD of Tombstone, I shall share my thoughts again on a couple of the processing modes listed above.

1. Dolby Pro Logic II Movie. Again charged with the task of converting 2.0 source material into 5.1 channel surround, this format did another excellent job of deriving near-DD 5.1 quality separation of sound. Compared to the original DPL, DPL II had overall better dynamics and depth of sound. The surround channels were more pronounced and had more frequency information steered to them. Center channel dialog was more crisp and intelligible. While not quite reaching the sound quality of Dolby Digital 5.1, DPL II is a giant step forward for the playing 2.0 material and I can’t think of a reason anyone would ever want to opt to use DPL over DPL II for watching movies. There are optional adjustable parameters available for this mode.

2. DTS Neo: 6 Movie. As I mentioned earlier, DTS Neo takes 2.0 material and converts it into 5.1 (or 6.1) channel surround. As was the case with their respective music modes, the DTS Neo Movie mode’s front and rear soundfields aren’t as seamlessly connected with one another as they are in the DPL II Movie mode. However, I actually prefer this increased sense of detachment when it comes to watching movies. Since it provides nearly the identical increased audio benefits that DPL II does, DTS Neo Movie is my preferred favorite surround mode for movies encoded in 2.0 stereo. There are also optional adjustable parameters for this mode.

Performance of the Dolby Digital and DTS Modes: The R-963T offers the following surround sound choices when Dolby Digital 5.1 signals are input: Dolby Digital, Dolby Virtual, and Extra Surround 6.1/7.1. When DTS signal inputs are input, the following surround sound choices are available: DTS and DTS ES. Using Gladiator as my test DVD here, I can say that the R-963T performed well in reproducing both the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtrack formats with no audio dropout. With both soundtracks, there was sharp separation among the discrete channels, palpable bass, and clean dialogue from the center channel. As I was using a 7.1 channel system for this review, I was also able to utilize the rear back surround channel information encoded within this DVD. I thought that with both the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks the rear back surround speakers helped add a subtle degree of increased depth to the surround channels and created a more enveloping experience. The rear back channels were more pronounced in the DTS ES soundtrack than in the Dolby Digital Extra Surround, probably due to the fact that the DTS ES signal was discrete rather than a matrixed signal.

Conclusion: I concentrated on covering some of the more important features of this receiver during the review, however, there are many great features that I didn’t mention that are definitely worth checking out for yourself. While not perfect in every respect, the Sherwood Newcastle R-963T is an all-around solid performer. It has 7 powerful amplifiers, the latest processing/decoding functions, multi-room capability, connections for today and the future, and two nifty remote controls. Backed by Sherwood America’s 3-year parts and labor warranty, the R-963T has firmly established itself in my opinion as one of the better high end A/V receivers on the market today.

- Calvin Harding, Jr.

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