“Sound is our most important consideration, and this receiver performed well across the board in that respect.”
- Three HDMI inputs; decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio bit streams; includes calibration mic for automated setup
- No video or digital audio inputs in the front panel; no "direct" mode; crappy remote control
If you’ve been waiting for the prices of HDMI-equipped A/V receivers to come down to earth, Sherwood’s new RD-7503 should help you pull the trigger. While it doesn’t have every bell and whistle, it does boast a long list of features and can be expanded to include more. And with an online price less than $400, it costs only a little more than a good Blu-ray disc player.
But if you’re planning to connect this receiver to a home theater PC, be aware that we encountered some compatibility issues in our testing. We connected the HDMI outputs from two computers (a home-theater PC with integrated AMD Radeon HD 3200 graphics and an HP Pavilion HDX 9000 notebook with an AMD Radeon HD 2600 XT videocard), and neither machine would send video to the receiver at any resolution other than 640×480 (480p).
We then connected a third machine equipped with a videocard based on Nvidia’s GeForce 9800 GT card and a DVI-to-HDMI adapter, and the system worked as expected—sending video at 1080p to the receiver and on to the display. We achieved the same positive results when we plugged in our stand-alone Blu-ray disc player into the receiver, and then an ordinary DVD player with HDMI output (and the capacity to scale standard-definition video to 1080p).
At this point, AMD believes the problem is related to the computer’s video processor not reading the receiver’s EDID profile correctly, but the person we fact-checked this story with told us they have not encountered this problem with any of the other A/V receivers they’ve tested. A Sherwood representative initially told us that they had encountered a similar problem with a Motorola DCH3200 digital cable set-top box, but then did not respond to our follow-up questions by our deadline.
According to Sherwood, the RD-7503’s Class B amplifer produces 110 watts per channel with less than 0.1 percent total harmonic distortion when driving seven speakers with six ohms of impedance each. The amp produces 100 watts with 0.2 percent THD when driving eight-ohm speakers. You can automatically calibrate the receiver to your room by plugging Sherwood’s setup microphone into the front panel, or you can do so manually using the remote control. All the receiver’s menus can be displayed on your television by plugging a composite video cable into its monitor out port.
The receiver has three HDMI 1.3 inputs and one HDMI 1.3 output, which might not be enough for an advanced home-theater setup. We have a Samsung BD-1600 Blu-ray disc player, a home-theater PC, and a Dish Network HD satellite tuner; if we also had a game console, we’d be out of inputs. Having only one HDMI output is a bigger problem, because it meant we had to swap cables when we wanted to switch from the ViewSonic N4285P television in our entertainment center to the Epson PowerLite Cinema 500 mounted on our home-theater’s ceiling. The receiver doesn’t perform any digital video processing, either; but you’ll typically find these two features only in much more expensive receivers.
More importantly, the RD-7503 is capable of decoding losslessly compressed Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio bit streams from Blu-ray discs. We tested the receiver’s audio capabilities with two action films, Spider-Man 3 (encoded with Dolby TrueHD) and Quantum of Solace (encoded with DTS-HD Master Audio) and were very impressed with the audio quality, given the receiver’s budget price tag. We paired the receiver with Klipsch Reference Series speakers (RF-35 floor-standing speakers, RC-35 center channel, and RS-35 surrounds) and a Boston Acoustics PV-800 powered subwoofer.
We were equally pleased with the performance the receiver delivered with audio DVDs encoded in DTS 96/24 surround sound recorded at a sampling rate of 96kHz and with 24-bit resolution. (We used The Blue Man Group’s The Complex and Frank Zappa’s Quadraphiliac” for our tests.) The same goes for stereo music ripped from CD, encoded with the FLAC lossless compressor, and streamed from our home server to a Sonos multi-room audio system (using an optical digital connection).
Some manufacturers are beginning to phase out older types of video inputs, such as composite and S-video, which can leave you high and dry if you still have a VCR or an analog camcorder and a full library of content. The RD-7503 doesn’t have this problem: It’s equipped with three S-Video inputs and one S-Video output, three composite inputs and one composite output (plus a monitor-out for the onscreen display and a third composite out for sending video to a second zone; more on that later). The receiver also has two sets of component inputs and one component output. But if you plan to record to an analog device (a VCR or an audio cassette, for instance), there’s only one pair of analog outputs.
The receiver is also limited in its digital audio inputs: There are two optical and two coaxial inputs, both of which are assignable. There’s also one optical output, if you want to hook up a CD recorder or if you prefer to run an outboard DSP (digital signal processor). The receiver has one set of eight discrete analog audio inputs to accommodate such outboard gear, as well as devices such as DVD-Audio players or computers that don’t have HDMI outputs.
The RD-7503 has three special-purpose inputs for optional accessories that further increase the receiver’s functionality: There’s a rear port for Sherwood’s DS-10 iPod dock ($75), which enables you to control and pipe audio and video (either component or composite) from a docked iPod and control the player using the receiver’s remote control; a front port for Sherwood’s BT-R7 Bluetooth receiver ($50), which receives audio from any Bluetooth wireless device or adapter; and a rear port for a Sirius satellite radio tuner (prices start at about $50, plus the cost of a subscription).
But we’d happily trade any of these ports for additional front-panel A/V connections. The RD-7503 has a 1/4-inch headphone jack and a 1/8-inch stereo jack for an MP3 player, but there’s no digital-audio input in the front; and the absence of a video input means you’ll have to reach around to the back of the receiver to plug in a camcorder. We also miss having a “direct” mode that takes an input signal and routes it straight to the amplifier, bypassing the receiver’s other circuitry. And as is typical of receivers in this price range, the RD-7503 lacks a phono input; so if you want to listen to your collection of classic vinyl, you’ll need a turntable that has its own integrated pre-amp.
We were surprised to discover that the front panel also doesn’t have any buttons for selecting the input source; instead, you rotate an oversized control knob and cycle through each input. The fluorescent display presents the currently selected input (or radio station ID, if you’re using the radio) using large fonts that are easy to see from across the room, but you must stand right in front of the receiver to be read other important information, such as the currently active surround-sound mode. The universal remote is also a major disappointment, with the most commonly used controls—volume up and down—relegated to two tiny buttons above four very large buttons that are used only infrequently (when assigning inputs, for instance). The input source buttons, meanwhile, share the numeric keypad, and the transport controls are assigned to tiny buttons on the bottom half of the remote.
The RD-7503 is capable of sending independent audio and composite video to a second room, but it relies on its rear-surround amplifier to do it. Alternatively, you can use that rear amp to bi-amplify your front stereo speakers (using one amp to power the tweeters and a second to drive the mid-ranges and woofers). But you have to choose which role you want the amp to play, because it can only do one at a time.
We’re not surprised at some of the compromises Sherwood made in pursuit of a budget price tag for this receiver. Having three exclusive functions share the rear-surround amp isn’t a big deal, and having only one HDMI output is certainly no deal killer. We’ve also decided not to factor in the compatibility issue we encountered with AMD videocards—at least until we have a better idea of what the problem is.
Sound is our most important consideration, and this receiver performed well across the board in that respect. But the absence of a full complement of front-panel inputs is irksome, the information presented in the display is weak, and the remote control is poorly thought out.
- Strong price/performance ratio
- Includes features normally found only on more expensive receivers
- Calibration mic and onscreen display for easy setup
- Not enough front-panel inputs
- Lousy remote control
- Rear surround amp not available if you bi-amplify or support a second room
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