Sugg. Retail: $1099.95 (CAN)
Distributor: Panasonic Canada Inc.,
5770 Ambler Drive, Mississauga, Ont.
(905) 479-4411 FAX (905) 946-7427
(Reprinted from the Spring 02 Audio Ideas Guide)
I first encountered this DVD-A player at an all-day Audio Engineering Society Toronto chapter seminar on the new digital audio formats near the end of May. It was used for DVD Audio playback in demonstrations of the new format, as was a Pioneer DV-38A review sample that I provided.
I was impressed not only by its sound quality with the new formats, but also with its reproduction of CDs, and only later learned that it used upsampling to 192 kHz for CD play. The DVD-RP91 has quite a few other features, too, including 54- MHz/12-bit video D/A converters, and switchable (480P/480i) progressive scan/component video outputs. It also includes virtual surround audio modes (VSS) for speaker and headphone listening.
Of course, all DVD-A players have built-in Dolby Digital and DTS DACs, simply because these also must decode the 2 up-to-192-kHz signals specified by the format and offer 96-kHz capability in all 6 channels. All you need to add to this player for audio or video use is a 6-channel input on receiver, amp, or preamp/processor. The CD playback capabilities are a further bonus.
I listened to numerous discs of either format, including our own Bellingham Sessions, Joni Mitchell’s DVD-A of Both Sides Now, the Doors’ L.A. Woman, a collection called Women On Top (specifically, Bette Davis Eyes in a surround mix), and a number of classical DVD-As, a particular standout being Daniel Barenboim’s reading of the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony on Teldec. The Bellingham Sessions sounded somewhat muffled in the percussion, indicating a problem with the de-emphasis circuit in the player, since it is a disc recorded with emphasis. Other CDs made without emphasis sounded excellent. I suspect the 192-kHz upsampling has an effect on the de-emphasis process.
All the DVD-As sounded great, provided they were good recordings to start with. Jim Morrison’s evocative Riders on the Storm offered a surround thunderstorm that almost got me wet, while Joni Mitchell’s torch version of A Case of You could be heard in all its lushness with a big surround ambient field, while Bette Davis Eyes built its surround synth patterns through the course of the song in tight clean sound. The Beethoven had a very natural hall sound that did not obscure the delicate woodwind passages in this wonderful symphony. I listened to many other recordings with as much pleasure on this player, but these few give you the idea of its clean, detailed and effortless sound. I wouldn’t put it quite in the class of the Elite DV-AX10, but it’s certainly very good for a player in its price class, and a versatile one at that.
Its video performance was more of a mixed bag. If you have a big screen TV, you’ll want to use the progressive scan output, because motion artifacts are somewhat intrusive through even the component outputs in interlaced mode. The progressive picture was not the best I’ve seen, either, with less detail and film-like character than any of the AX-10, the Elite DVR-7000 recorder, or the Arcam FMJ DV-27. They are all, of course, much more expensive players. Non-anamorphic pictures, especially, had a little more grain to them, which tended to fudge detail a bit, and turn into motion twinklies on our 64″ screen.
I was also annoyed that the Virtual Surround Sound (VSS) seemed to default to an On position whenever a disc was inserted, which necessitated repeatedly checking it and turning it off for 6- channel play. Its use with speakers tended to make the sound rather echoey and artificial. However, the Display feature was useful, indicating the sampling rate of the 5 or 6 channels, among other things.
Overall, the Panasonic DVD-RP91 is a very good value, and is an especially good audio component for its price, even without SACD capability. It would be very comfortable in an audio-only system, though for DVD-A play, you might want to add a small TV to access menus and video features on these discs. In a combined AV system it will be an excellent choice, unless you seek the highest resolution video available. And that you just won’t get for $1100.