Sony AVD S50 ES First Impressions
By all relative standards, I am new to the world of audio. Two years ago, I was one of your typical ho-hum consumers cought in blissfull ignorance, fully believing that Bose had the corner on the market, and that very little could challenge their lifestyle system. When I look back and think about how much money I have spent on this hobby, I only wish I could have kept such a stance. Sometimes, ignorance truelly is bliss eh?
Like so many things in life, you often end up in a place that you never could have imagined not long before. Such was my story. It all began what your Circuit City name-brand products, Polk Audio, Onkyo, JVC, Harman Kardon, Pioneer, etc.. I started experimenting with audio, going through it like a fat girl through cake. I then moved up to the world of seperates, having owned mostly Carver, Rotel, and AMC. A simple hobby became a passion, a passion which then turned into an obsession. I then searched the web to see if there were any others like myself, only to discover a network of "audiophools" who shared the same obsessions, often with much more cash, experience, and knowledge. It did not take long for myself to earn a reputation as being one hell of a picky guy. Gear that satisfied most people simply would do nothing for me. Such has been the case to this day.
The reason I give this backround info is not to shamelessly promote a biography, but to instead emphasize that my impressions are coming from that of a critical listener who like so many others, cannot afford what they truelly seek. The reviews about digital drive amplfiers here at the Audiocircles peaked my interest and inspired me to take a plunge on what seemed to have been a "too good to be true" deal. Fully prepared to spend over three-thousand dollars on Solid State seperates, I decided to head the words of those who have experienced the digital drive amps with suprising and tempting results.
The SONY AVDS50-ES was an incredibly tempting target from the get-go. An all-in-one unit that could process video, play cd's, mp3's and best of all, sacd's. It had exactly what I was looking for, power, detail, control and quickness, and it had a sub-out which has been a major concern of mine. The review's have been over-whelmingly positive, how could I pass up a chance to get my hands on this inexpensive "magic box". It also had a 5 year manufactorer warrenty to boot.
I placed the order on a Sunday, and on Tuesday, the unit arrived. I carefully but hastely pried it from the box. I half expected a cheap reciever constructed of flembsy plastic. Instead, I was treated to a solid piece with a nice face-plate and a very solid volume control knob. This Sony felt like a quality product. With baited breath, hoping for bliss and expecting northing short of sheer disappointment, I placed the Polk Audio LSi-15's in their rightfull position, and connected the Kimber 8TC bananas to the Sony. While reaching for a CD to demo, I couldn't help but wonder how this unit would handle a 4 ohm load. Fingers were crossed. I picked out the CD I commonly use for demoing gear, that being Josh Groban's self titled cd. This is a young man with a phenominal voice. The music began to play..
I was not prepared for the initial out-of-the-box presentation. The sound was smooth, articulate, and incredibly detailed. Far more detailed than anything I've ever heard, even on rigs costing upwards between 20 and 30k. The speaker's still had, and still have quite a few hours left before they begin to break-in, yet even that did not hinder the over-all performance of the music. My findings tended to coincide with other reports. The dynamics were incredible, yet the mid-range did seem thin, the highs tended to get "hot" during higher frequencies and the sound was initially cold and un-involving.
Despite the Sony's apparent lack of feeling, its sheer resolution, bandwidth and clarity commanded my attention. There is definately something to this Sony, and to digital amplification. Before the Sony arrived, I had a Rotel RA-932 integrated amplifier pushing my Lsi-15's. Over-all, the bass was un-controlled and while the sound was good, there was still a lot of room for improvement. The Sony by contrast, right out of the box, controlled the drivers on the Lsi-15's with ease. One of the greater complaints against this particular speaker is that its bass does not match the rest of the speaker, being called either too slow, boomy, or inaccurate. For awhile, I was beginning to believe those reports as I recieved the same sound. That is of course, until I used the Sony. All those issues went away immediately.
It did not take long for me to pull out the next cd. My only Super Audio Disc, Pink Floyds; Dark side of the moon. I was absolutely in awe with the level of detail and physical representation in this track. From the early messages in the song, to the famous clock loops. It was like listening to the album for the first time. Crescendo's simply ripped from the speakers as if the drivers had no boundaries. Yep - only on my second disc, and I am hooked.
It was then, when my father entered my room and said "You know Sean, while I am downstairs, I can actually hear a lot of detail I've never heard before coming from any of your speakers". I simply grinned, told him to sit down as I played a few tracks. His eye's lit up. My mother came in to complain about the volume to where my dad instructed her to sit down and listen for herself. She was impressed as well. If one thing can be said about my dad, he is not one to take out the credit card on a whim. In fact, he is downright cheap. Not so in this case. After listening to Pink Floyd and Eric Johnson, he was online making an order for himself. If that doesn't say something about this unit, than I don't know what will.
I have only tested the DVD playback capabilities once, on Monster INC, using a pair of Frank Dai's Signal Cable (Component Video) hooked up to a Samsung 27''Dyna-flat HDTV. While I am no video-freak, the picture looked stellar. Far better then the well-respected Panasonic DVD RP-56. This is an area that will be investigated further as time progresses.
At the moment, I have acrued roughly 10 hours of use on all the components. Clearly, there is still a lot of time and room left to discover this set-ups full potential. I am excited and relieved to know that I have found a unit that will suffice, until the time comes when I can afford that rig of my dream's.
While I would love nothing more than to end this review with constant praise and a finishing statement, I would like to point out that this unit does have its draw-backs. It is good, but far from perfect. When the blue LED lights up (typically while reading a multi format SACD disc), its glow can be quite disturbing in a dark room. Hell, it is disturbing even in a bright room. The dimmer really does little to mask the greenish/blue text on the display panel.
I listen to a lot of modern rock, most of which tends to be recorded poorly, often sporting harsh high's. The Sony is still rather bright itself, so the mix may cause fatigue even on the flattest of speakers.
A larger gripe would be the CD trey noise when a disc is playing. It is high pitched and can be easily audible if there is no backround noise in your room. You should only notice it during the passages of movies or music to where there is no sound data being processed, just pure silence. It is still enough to become bothersome, if for nothing more, than to simply know its there.
The last and final complaint is that I have come to find its surround sound play-back is horrible in comparison to it's two channel playback. This reciever reminds me more of the SS JVC I used to own. A great unit for stereo, but simply "cheap" and weak for multi channel playback. I could not recommend this particular reciever for anyone serious about home-theater.
All things considered, I am incredibly pleased with this purchase. I can claim with confidence that this is the single best purchase I have ever made for audio, since I first began purchasing equipment two years ago. While the Sony AVD-S50ES may not be world class, I believe it is a true testiment to the capabilities of digital amplification, and the potential to create incredible all-in-one units that could meet the demands of a disconcerning listener, and an audiophile, alike. A true giant killer.