The svelte form of JVC's RX-8040 hides a couple of secrets. One is the smooth, drop-down door that conceals a full set of front-panel convenience inputs - great for quick camcorder hookups - including an optical digital audio input for jacking in your portables. (In fact, all three receivers have front-panel digital audio inputs, which constitutes a bona fidetrend.) A small antenna poking up from the rear betrays the JVC's other secret: a remote-control system that works on both infrared (IR) and radio-frequency (RF) signals. The beauty of RF control is that you don't have to aim the handset directly at the receiver or other components to operate them (more on this later).
Other than its defeatable Compression Compensative Converter, which converts all incoming digital audio signals to a 196-kHz/24-bit format, the JVC is burdened with few oddball extras. Setup was straightforward, though the receiver lacks any onscreen displays or menus, which means basic settings are made via the front-panel display. Assigning the two component-video and five digital audio inputs to your specific source components is a bit restrictive: you have to scroll through a long list of "this-plus-this, but - not - that" options, which might not in clude every combination you'd like. Nor was I thrilled to discover that only one of the digital audio inputs is coaxial, which could be a deal-breaker if you want to connect more than one component that has only a coaxial audio output.
Once everything was set up, I found the JVC pleasant and straightforward to use - in a word, likable. The remote lays out the primary receiver functions in clear and accessible fashion, and operation is simple because JVC opted to include only basic source-component controls like play/pause/ skip, TV volume and channel up/down, and so on. And, of course, thanks to its RF capability, I could aim the remote in any direction (or none in particular) and still get exactly the results I intended. There's an IR blaster so that when you send commands for your other components to the receiver by radio, it sends out a strong enough infrared signal to cover your component stack. When I carried the remote to another room to operate a Zone 2 system connected to the receiver, JVC's claim of a 50-foot RF range proved to be pretty accurate.
MOVIE PERFORMANCE The RX-8040 cranked out ample power for movie (and music) listening and sounded great in every mode. Cueing up the biggest battle sequences from the demanding and consummately produced Master and Commander DVD at movie-theater volumes yielded clean, dynamic, theaterlike sound. At the other extreme, listening at very low volume in the JVC's Midnight mode was still satisfying, because the softest passages were boosted enough for movie dialogue to be intelligible without waking the baby. And it works on all digital input signals, not just Dolby Digital.
MUSIC PERFORMANCE I was highly impressed by the quality of the RX-8040's DPL IIx 7.1-channel playback of stereo sources, such as Music Choice on digital cable. (DPL IIx's advance over DPL II is that it can derive a back surround channel from two- and four-channel sources, giving them as full a sound field as you get from Dolby Digital EX or DTS-ES soundtracks - assuming that you have a 6.1- or 7.1-channel speaker setup.) I was hooked by a hypnotic performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto. I don't know how much compression Music Choice's Classical Masterpieces channel uses, but 6.1-channel playback in the JVC's DPL IIx Music mode was magical.
At extreme volumes in surround playback, the receiver began to sound slightly metallic, signaling the onset of amplifier clipping. But that was only with superclean music productions like In Time: The Best of R.E.M. on multichannel DVD-Audio. (In fairness, the same thing happened, plus or minus a decibel or two, with the other two receivers.)
The JVC has a handful of music surround modes using digital signal processing (DSP) to simulate the ambience of different kinds of performing/listening spaces: Hall 1 and 2, Theater 1 and 2, Pavilion, and so on. All of these DSP modes added some artificial reverberation in all channels, and though the ambience effects were more restrained than in some other receivers' DSP modes - the Sony's, for example - the results were nothing special.
The same could be said for the receiver's five-band graphic equalizer, which boosts or cuts only the front left/right channels. A couple of operational quirks bugged me, too, like the user adjustments for DPL IIx (and DTS Neo: 6) being accessible only from the front panel, not the remote, which means you can't really fine-tune things like center width from the listening position. I guess JVC's engineers wanted to keep the remote control simple to use and felt this was a reasonable compromise. Geeks like me will beg to differ.
Overall, the JVC RX-8040 receiver gets high marks. Its DPL IIx mode and its RF remote capabilities are decided pluses, and its fundamental performance in my tests was solid. Best of all, most folks will find it a cinch to use.
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