Bright and early Saturday morning I started wiring for the surround and center channels. Fishing wire through the walls of a 105 yr old farmhouse is always a treat. After about 5 hours I was wired and hooked up. I turned everything on and went to the 950 menu. I changed all of the input settings to the various surround modes (everything had been in stereo) and moved to speaker settings. Then I went to speaker calibrations. Right. Left. Center. Huh? No center output! After much tracking through connections and the 950 menu, I am sure that my 4 month old but unused Parasound HCA-855a amp is not reproducing the center channel. Damn. OK, so I will go with 4.1 and call the dealer and Parasound on Monday morning. Calibrated all I can and put in a CD.
CD sound using a digital input and DPL-IIM is excellent. Hiss is nonexistent and the PL-II processing gives just the right amount of surround for my taste. (I have the parameters turned down to their midpoints). The music is very clean. Poorly recorded discs show their shortcomings while top-notch recordings are breathtaking. I found a large improvement over my last system, and can only guess at how much better it will be with a working center channel.
Next was DVD playback. Played the Pod Race and the first 10 minutes or so of Toy Story 2. The sound in our room is definitely better than when we see a movie in a theater. The sound was enveloping, but not pronounced as to take away from the movies. To me, the sound produced by the 950 was flawless, except that dialog had a wider soundstage, probably due again to the lack of a center channel.
We have digital cable with a 2 channel output. I set the 950 to DPL-IIC. TV sound was enveloping, but again not overdone. During today's football games, only the crowd noise surrounded us (and that was not very loud). We were flipping channels and stopped at "Forget Paris" and "Kindergarten Cop". Both soundtracks came through the cable and the 950 with very good surround processing for analog. I am very happy with the digital processing and the analog surround. Both are outstanding (to our ears).
Finally, I sat down with the tuner. I don't listen to AM at home so I had 32 available presets for FM. I live in a rural area and have a directional antenna mounted inside my attic. I found EXACTLY 32 clean FM stereo stations and decided to preset each one so as to never need to tune through static when changing stations. Madison WI is 110 miles southwest of me. The most powerful station there (one I was an overnight DJ at) is crystal clear. Green Bay is 40 miles east of us. Six stations without hiss. Thirty two stations of all formats, from all directions, all received very cleanly. The sensitivity was better than I had thought. The sound? Well, radio stations are known for tweaking thier signals. Some stations tweak certain frequencies for listening in cars or on portables. Some tweak to enhance thier type of music. Still others just transmit a clean, unaltered signal. Where stations used these techniques, the sound was clean, but compressed and unnaturally EQed. On the few classical stations, the PBS station, and a country station, however, the broadcast was CD quality. On these stations, I was highly impressed with the tuner. It was quiet, clean, and in the case of 2 of these stations, quite sensitive (50 and 60 miles away, yet perfectly clear)! DPL-IIM also sounds good with these stations.
I could give the 950 many accolades, even without hearing it with a center channel, but many will think it is because I feel that any product I buy is superior to all others. This is not the case. I have 30 days to return it and get a Rotel or buy a Denon 3802 if I wish. The sound coming from the 950 is nothing short of superb. I will keep this 950.
Finally, ergonomics are secondary to sound for me. The video switching is flawless and very easy to use. The composite to S-video conversion is crisp without any degradation that we can see. The remote works very well at controlling all of our equipment and is laid out well. I can, however, see how others with more equipment than us may have a problem. I cannot comment on component video or 6 channel analog as I do not use either.
One last comment. My wife has commented 3 times in the last 3 days how much better this sounds than out old NAD. We REALLY CAN hear a difference!
THIS SPACE FOR RENT!