Sugg. Retail: $499
Distributor: Panasonic Canada Inc.,
5770 Ambler Drive, Mississauga,
Ontario. L4W 2T3
(Reprinted from the Winter/Spring 2000 Audio Ideas Guide)
A couple of years ago I reviewed the Technics SH-AC300 surround processor, and liked its value and ease of use. It’s been in and out of my home theatre system since, serving as a stopgap between the often-more-expensive components that come in for review. The 300 sounded good, but always took second place to processors by such makers as Linn or Sunfire, or more elaborate components and receivers from such companies as Yamaha or Pioneer.
Well, I’m delighted to report that its successor, the SH- AC500D, sounds quite a bit better, has added some very useful features, and fits into my home theatre system even better than the 300. The 500 has 3 digital inputs instead of 2, and also provides full 6-channel throughput. It decodes DTS and Dolby Digital, as well as offering Pro Logic.
The extra input allowed direct digital connection from Star Choice, while the other two inputs were used with the LD/DVD player direct and through an RF decoder for Dolby Digital laserdiscs. The extra analog inputs will come in handy for passing through signals from the coming DVD Audio players, as well as accommodating players like the Toshiba SD-4109X that have built-in Dolby Digital. There’s a lot of versatility and value for $500 in the SH-AC500D.
It looks pretty much identical to its predecessor, and uses almost exactly the same remote control, but with a slightly different button array to deal with DTS and the 3d input; eliminated on the 500 is Cinema Re-EQ, which I hardly ever used, anyway. Easy control is provided of Volume and Muting at bottom, and just above are simple buttons for settings levels and delays. There are no gooey menus except that for initial speaker setup for size and subs. There’s even a Balance control. Ergonomically and sonically, this processor is to me just about the best value in home theatre around, though it is now challenged by such receivers as the TEAC AG-D9320 reviewed elsewhere in this issue.
Using the digital output from the Star Choice satellite dish (my ExpressVu box has no digital output) direct into the Technics processor quite noticeably improved the surround sound from the movie channels. This is probably a result of the Pro Logic decoding being done in the digital domain. So far, I haven’t encountered any Dolby Digital signals coming down from the bird, but it’s gotta happen sooner or later, and may already be occurring on the PPV channels I don’t get.
I’ve been using the SH-AC500 for several weeks now, and have come to very much like its ease of use and good sound. And not only is it not gooey (you surely know I mean GUI, as in Graphic User Interface, which translates into too many button pushes to get anything useful done; how many button pushes does it take to screw in a virtual lightbulb?), but it allows changing of any parameter…level, balance, delays, whatever, without either the sound being interrupted or the screen being overlaid with a bloody menu. Why, I’ve seen receivers where, when you hit the button to make picture adjustments, the menu left so little picture on the screen that it was virtually impossible to set brightness, contrast, or anything else. Let’s call the process virtual adjustment of virtual reality caused by virtual stupidity in the design process.
Not here. This processor does what it’s supposed to, and has no frustrating little quirks. The sound quality is much better than that of the 300, as I noted, something that’s become more apparent with use. It’s a pity, then, that the 500 doesn’t play back 24/96 discs, but you can’t have everything for $499. If you’re looking for an outboard Dolby Digital/DTS processor, you’ll want to check out this one from Technics. I did, and ended up buying it.