JVC RX-818V AV-receiver

Standing at the top of JVC's A/V receiver line is the RX-818V, a rather fully featured unit incorporating digital Dolby Pro Logic decoding circuitry. In surround mode, the receiver is rated to deliver 100 watts per channel to the front left, center, and right speakers and 100 watts total to the surround speakers; power output in stereo mode is 120 watts per channel.

In addition to Dolby Pro Logic decoding, the receiver offers two theater-simulation ambience modes: Theater 1, for the "feeling of a small movie theater with a seating capacity of 100," and Theater 2, like one holding 1,000 people. There are also five music-oriented ambience modes: Dance Club, Live Club, Hall, Pavilion, and H Phones for "a spacious stereo effect when listening to headphones." All ambience enhancement operates by the generation of time-delayed artificial reflections that are sent out in various combinations of timings and levels to the front and surround speakers of a home-theater system, or through the front-panel headphone output in the H Phones mode.

The RX-818V also contains a version of JVC's trademark SEA (Sound Effect Amplifier) equalizer. In this case it has three bands whose settings are displayed graphically in the front-panel fluorescent display and in the elaborate on-screen menu system. Five preset EQ contours are supplied (Rock, Musical, Movie, Country, and Jazz), and there's a front-panel center-speaker tone-control knob intended to enhance soundtrack dialogue.

Settings of the equalizer, digital processer, and volume can be memorized and assigned to an input source or tuner preset for instant recall, a feature JVC calls Compu Link Source-Related Presetting (CSRP). Compu Link also lets the receiver's remote operate other JVC components when they are hooked to the rear-panel Compu Link jacks. When the receiver is connected to a JVC VCR, for example, inserting a tape into the VCR automatically turns on the receiver and selects the video input, then turns on the VCR and starts play.

All of the large knobs on the front panel rotate continuously, so their positions cannot be used as indicators of their settings. Instead, the "position" of the central volume-control knob shows up as a bar-graph readout in the display, accompanied by an adjacent alphanumeric readout running from 0 to 79. While the numerical readout only appears as the volume is being changed, the bar graph is on continuously - a nice touch. The knob directly to the right of the volume control either changes the tuner frequency or chooses a preset station, depending on the tuning mode selected by a nearby button. Selected frequency shows up in an alphanumeric portion of the display, as does the input selected by the rightmost large knob.

Below the display is an area with a series of small buttons flanking a four-button keypad. These controls govern the SEA equalizer, select the surround or ambience processing mode, and set surround speaker balances. Accessible only from the remote are such controls as the surround-mode speaker-balance test tone and the sleep timer, which turns the RX-818V off after a user-set period of 10 to 80 minutes (adjustable in 10-minute intervals).

The remote itself can operate quite differently from the front-panel controls because it commands the onscreen menu system via a set of cursor keys at the base of the handset. Fortunately, you don't need to use the menu system to perform most critical system functions, though you will see various readouts on your monitor screen if it's turned on. A set of multipurpose buttons at the top of the handset can be used to select the SEA mode directly, select and adjust the surround processing, and change the input source, among other things. These buttons are set into a phosphorescent panel that makes them, and the remote itself, easy to find in the dark. The multiple definitions and labeling of the buttons can create some confusion at first, but it is a small price to pay for being able to get some music going without having to turn on the TV.

Although more versatile than many other handsets, the remote is not "universal"; you cannot teach it "foreign" infrared commands used by other components, but it comes preloaded with the basic control codes of many manufacturers' VCR's, TV's, and cable boxes. The commands for a specific component can be activated by looking up the manufacturer in a set of tables and entering a code number on the remote's numerical keypad.

While the front panel has some interesting touches, the rear panel is utterly conventional. FM and AM antennas as well as speakers use snap connectors. There are provisions for two sets of front left/right speakers; the second set, switched on with a front-panel button, is presumably for second-room stereo operation. The surround-speaker outputs are series-connected, which means that you must have two speakers hooked up for either one to work and that for best results they should be identical. Audio-only connections are provided for a moving-magnet phono cartridge, a CD player, an audio recorder, and the audio output from a TV set. There are A/V connections (composite-video only) for one VCR, one rear-panel auxiliary input (Video 1), and one front-panel input (Video 2). There's also a single TV-monitor output, a wideband, mono line-level subwoofer jack, and two switched AC convenience outlets.

At least in our lab tests, the receiver's performance was also conventional. Let me hasten to add that "conventional" for a top-of-the-line receiver like the RX-818V means good to excellent depending on the circuit you're talking about. The tuner was merely good (with, however, typically rotten AM frequency response). The power-amp behavior was very good, with unusually high dynamic headroom for a receiver.

In Dolby Pro Logic operation, the receiver again proved to be powerful. It was also quiet, with very good noise and distortion levels from the surround channel, resulting, no doubt, from the use of digital signal processing. During listening tests, the RX-818V sounded every bit as powerful, quiet, and clean as it measured in both stereo and Dolby Pro Logic operation.

As usual, I found the soundtrack ambience-enhancement modes wearying after a while, since the added reflections tended to decrease the intelligibility of dialogue. The music modes suffered from the very common inability to turn off or separately turn down the artificial reflections from the front speakers, where they can severely color the sound. And since the surround speakers are series-driven in mono, the spaciousness they could have produced during ambience enhancement was reduced by some in-the-head imaging of their artificial reflections.

None of the music-enhancement modes produced artificial reverberation. That's good, since uncolored reverb is very difficult to produce, and it's better not to have any than to have it done poorly. The headphone mode was surprisingly good at expanding the image beyond the back of the head, but the added reflections "of a typical room" sometimes gave a decidedly boxy quality to the sound.

Measurements of the graphic equalizer showed that it produced boosts and cuts of approximately 9 dB at center frequencies of 120 Hz, 1 kHz, and 10 kHz. This capability can provide useful frequency tailoring of many recordings, but it is less useful than, say, a seven-band (or more) dedicated equalizer for correcting speaker frequency response.

The five preprogrammed EQ settings should be used with caution. Most produced exaggerated results through an overall level boost of 2 to 3 dB in addition to the 3 to 4 dB of response adjustments across the frequency range. And do take those preset names with a grain of salt. I can understand why the Rock setting has a 6-dB boost in the bass and a 5-dB boost in the treble, but why should Country have a 2-dB cut in the bass and a 2-dB boost in the treble? Since when does Dolly Parton's top end need boosting?

Ergonomically, the receiver has both good and bad points, as usual. Although I am normally a fan of continuously turning knobs - they're more fun to use than conventional stopped controls - those for the tuner and input selector are too sensitive. It takes only a small nudge to change the tuned frequency or the selected input. The individual input-selector buttons on the handset are easier to use. The remote's set of slanted extemal-component controls and its cursor controls are also very easy on the fingers.

On the whole, JVC has done a very good job with the RX-818V. It is relatively easy to set up and use, and it has a host of features (though of varying utility), a good (if terse) manual, and solid sonic performance at quite a reasonable price.

JVC RX-818V AV-receiver photo