Not long after it arrived, I took to calling JVC’s RX-DP15B A/V receiver the “Black Beauty,” in honor of its elegant, gloss-black front panel. Naturally, there’s more to any AVR than good looks (or at least there should be), yet the RX-DP15B’s clean, simple styling and self-evident build quality struck me from the start as promising that this might be a wellmade, no-nonsense receiver that had its priorities straight.
The RX-DP15B is a 7.1-channel, 120Wpc, THX Ultra2-certified, dualzone AVR that, in both obvious and subtle ways, makes a serious commitment to sound and image quality. You can see that commitment in features such as JVC’s K2 Technology, said to achieve a “drastic reduction” in digital distortion and to create “original sound ambience with high precision,” and in a CC (Compression Compensative) Converter that processes digital audio data using 24-bit quantization with 192kHz upsampling. And, unlike many AVRs in this or any price class, the RXDP15B provides not one but two sets of multichannel analog inputs—one 5.1- channel and the other 7.1-channel--as well as a phono input. The short message: JVC gets the purist appeal of high-quality analog signals, whether they come from turntables or high-end digital players. On the video side of the equation, JVC upconverts composite and S-video signals to component video, and provides both composite and S-video feeds for Zone 2 viewers, something many other multi-zone AVRs fail to do. The RX-D15B, however, does not provide HDMI inputs or outputs—a potentially serious oversight given that most new displays support HDMI and that HDMI-equipped HD-DVD and Bluray disc players will soon be here.
Like any modern AVR, the JVC is chock full of features and functions, but the good news is that it’s not at all intimidating to use. Instead, this receiver offers one of the most logical and sensible user interfaces we’ve seen on any AVR, and its manual is a model of clarity, too. JVC understands, for example that users can’t always know in advance which channels will require level adjustments, so the receiver’s remote control gives users direct access to all channels, allowing them to make delicate ± .5dB level changes on the fly. No muss, no fuss, and no climbing through umpteen onscreen menus to get the job done. Why can’t other AVR makers figure this out? Similarly, the RX-D15B makes it easy to transition back and forth between analog and digital listening modes, offering, on the one hand, THX, SURROUND, and DSP surround mode controls for times when surround processing is called for, and unequivocal SURR/DSP OFF and ANALOG DIRECT switches for those moments when you prefer to listen without any processing at all. Bravo, JVC! But having reviewed the receiver’s basic features and functions, let’s take a closer look at its real-world performance.
All in the Performance
In practice, the JVC video switching functions performed well, showing essentially no visible degradation of component video signals routed through the receiver to my HD plasma display. Likewise, composite- and S-video-tocomponent video upconversion functions performed well, without adding visible noise to onscreen images.
Sonically, the JVC’s three defining characteristics are unfailing smoothness through the midrange and on up through upper midrange, a gentle touch of warmth, and a pleasing quality of three-dimensionality, which is most apparent on really good soundtracks and multichannel music recordings. These qualities form the very real substance behind JVC’s claim that this receiver offers “natural audio reproduction” (italics mine). However, relative to some of the strongest competitors in its price class, the RX-D15B comes up a little short in terms of high-frequency transparency (where the Sony STRDA7100ES offers more of a “seethrough” sound) and in terms of midbass punch (where certain NAD models are perhaps the mid-priced leaders).
The spectacular soundtrack of Finding Nemo did a great job of revealing the JVC’s strengths. For instance, the RX-DP15B makes the “Pelicans” scene, where a friendly pelican helps Marlin and Dory escape from a horde of shrieking seagulls, sound appropriately exciting and dramatic, yet very smooth, where some AVRs make the scene sound hard-edged and bright. Through the JVC you can appreciate the way that swooshing surround effects build as the pelican makes its madcap flight across Sydney harbor, and at the penultimate moment, you can savor the way the chase ends with the sharp “thwups” of the seagull’s beaks crashing into a sailboat’s mainsail and jib. The key to the JVC’s handling of the scene lies in its ability to reproduce small midrange details and dynamic accents in a forceful yet balanced way, without overdoing the tart timbres of the pursuing seagulls’ voices screeching, “Mine, mine, mine…”
But if Nemo shows the JVC’s strengths, the opening battle scene from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World reveals its weaknesses. Much of the power of this scene derives from the way it blends the almost overpowering “Karruumph” of cannon fire with myriad small high-frequency textural details such as the twang of snapping ropes, the clatter of shattered rigging falling to the deck below, and the highpitched sizzle of flying shards of metal and splinters of wood. In this scene, the JVC underplayed those high-frequency details just a bit, and also lost some of the mid-bass energy that the cannon fire should have had.
Even so, the JVC was generally effective on film soundtracks, in particular because its inherent three-dimensionality made the most of surround effects, while its smoothness helped dialogue sound natural and unforced.
The Sound of Music
A similar sonic pattern emerges when listening to traditional CDs and to multichannel DVD-Audio or SACD recordings through the JVC. I found that on CD the JVC’s CC Converter sounded noticeably superior to the DACs in my mid-priced reference universal player, offering greater resolution, better reproduction of depth and ambience cues, and a welcome touch of midrange and upper-midrange smoothness. Together these qualities gave the JVC an easygoing, self-confident sound that, though arguably lacking the nth degree of high frequency transparency, was never inappropriately edgy or aggressive.
But perhaps the biggest surprise was hearing how delightfully three-dimensional the JVC’s amplifiers could sound, especially when heard in the ANALOG DIRECT mode. At its best, this receiver throws deep and wide soundstages, and it does a lovely job of conveying the acoustics of the original recording space. Try Chesky’s Rockin’ the Spirit (a brilliantly mastered, multichannel SACD live recording of boogie-woogie piano material) and the RX-DP15B will lift you right out of your listening room and place you into the small recital hall where the recording was made, with the hushed, barely audible sound of an appreciative live audience surrounding you. What you hear through the JVC is actually something akin to good stereo imaging—but in the round. I won’t tell you the JVC offers either the transparency or bass clout of the best midand high-priced stereo amplifiers, but it does offer more than enough finesse for listeners to be able to draw fine distinctions among the sound qualities of various high-end recordings.
The JVC is a solid contender in what is probably the most hotly contested segment of the AVR marketplace. The receiver’s sonic strengths—smoothness, three-dimensionality, and a hint of warmth—serve music well, and help make film dialogue sound natural— never abrasive. What’s more, the RXDP15B offers a great user interface that’s straightforward and simple to use. The receiver’s weaknesses—good but not great treble detail and “air,” and relatively lightly-weighted mid-bass—are for the most part sins of omission. I do, however, wish JVC had provided support for HDMI-equipped source components and displays. But at the end of the day, what stands out in my mind, and I think will attract many listeners, is the way that the JVC produces big, compelling, three-dimensional surround soundstages. Aren’t those the reason that we came?