Photos by Tony Cordoza
Not all that long ago, it seemed like the high-resolution DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD music formats were heading for a showdown. The two sides were entrenched on either side of no-man's-format land, and neither seemed willing to talk about a truce, let alone concede defeat. The DVD-Video juggernaut had not catapulted DVD-Audio to victory, as its designers had hoped. And SACD was busy adding multichannel titles to its catalog. Just as things were heating up, an armistice of sorts was reached as "universal" players began trickling into stores. Companies from both camps are now rushing to build a new generation of machines that can play both types of high-resolution, multichannel audio discs.
The Yamaha DVD-S2300 is an example of this new technological harmony. Besides DVD-Audio discs and both stereo and multichannel SACDs, it can handle many other disc formats, including DVD-Video, DVD-R/RW, CD, and CD-R/RW. Of course, this thoroughly modern component can also play MP3 music files you've ripped to CD.
Even from across the room, it's easy to see that the DVD-S2300's mother and father were both Yamahas. Its square trim, plain faceplate, round buttons, and yellow display are unmistakably Yamaha styling features. I like the display's indicators that show which of the six channels are active. The remote control has a look and feel that's a cut above average, but it's fairly pedestrian for a $1,000 player-it lacks backlighting, for example, and its buttons don't even glow in the dark.
It was easy enough to get the DVD-S2300 situated in my electronics stack. I ran cables from one of its two sets of component-video outputs to my Princeton HDTV monitor and connected both its optical digital and multichannel analog audio outputs to my digital surround receiver. In addition to its ".1" subwoofer output, the player also sports a Sub Output/Bass Management jack that sums the low frequencies of all channels on all discs and can be used, in certain situations, instead of the normal subwoofer output.
The onscreen displays have pretty much the same look and feel I have seen on other Yamaha players. The operating graphic icons have a clean appearance, and the setup menus are easy to use and self-explanatory. Since I was using the progressive-scan output, I could set the deinterlacing to either Auto (normal) or Video. In the Auto mode, the player automatically turns its 2:3 pulldown processing on or off depending on whether the DVD contains material derived from film or from video. In the Video mode, the processing is turned off. I stuck with Auto mode.
The Yamaha's DVD speaker setup options are "large" and "small" for the front L/R speakers; "large," "small," and "none" for the center and surrounds; and "used" and "not used" for the subwoofer. Delay times, or speaker-distance compensation, can be selected for the center and surround channels, but only for DVD-Video, not DVD-Audio-or SACD, which uses a different setup menu with different bass-management settings. SACD and DVD might be married in this player, but they still sleep in different bedrooms.
I started my audition with a romp through Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This is still one of the best comedies ever created (has it really been 27 years since its release?). Everyone has a favorite skit, but I checked out "The Tale of Sir Galahad" and his visit to the Castle Anthrax (the world was a more innocent place in 1975). The 5.1-channel soundtrack certainly didn't stress the Yamaha's Dolby Digital/DTS decoder, but its reproduction of the dialogue was so good that I could hear flaws in the original tape recordings.
The flickering torchlight in this and many other scenes doesn't throw much light on details, but the intricate patterns on the women's white gowns looked sharp, as did the decorations on Michael Palin's armor. The color rendition on Terry Gilliam's animations also looked terrific, with no hint of oversaturation. Overall, the video performance was topnotch. A good part of the credit here goes to Faroudja's DCDi (Directional Correlation Deinterlacing) chip set, which in addition to performing 2:3 pulldown, independently processes motion-video and still-video information, and interpolates moving images to provide smoother edges.
I auditioned the player's SACD chops with the Pilhofer Jazz Quartet's Full Circle. This cool combo, recorded by Tom Jung, is a terrific example of live multichannel recording. The front three channels solidly feature the piano, vibes, bass, and drums across the panorama, with other instruments mixed tastefully in the surrounds. It sounds like you're in the studio at Minnesota Public Radio with them, as opposed to a gimmicky postproduced recording. Interestingly, the "subwoofer" channel in this recording is full bandwidth and can be used as an overhead or back surround channel for extra ambience. The DVD-S2300 handled all six channels with aplomb-its decoding and digital-to-analog conversion was absolutely transparent.
Switching over to DVD-Audio playback, I cued up REO Speedwagon's Plus, a high-energy live recording that uses six channels to put you in the concert hall. The band is arrayed across the front three channels, while the surrounds are largely reserved for ambience and crowd noise, although they also have a good dose of music in them, with reverberation added. The Yamaha made it sound as though my speakers were plugged right into the house mixing console.
As expected, the sound quality of MP3 playback was entirely a function of the encoded file's bit rate and the pedigree of the MP3 encoder used to make the recording. Disappointingly, while program and random play are supported for other disc formats, they're not available for MP3 discs even though this feature is beginning to show up in other new players.
The Yamaha DVD-S2300 spins more than a half-dozen different kinds of discs, letting you play DVD movies and enjoy the new high-resolution DVD-Audio and SACD formats. But don't let those dueling audio formats distract you from the player's superb video playback. Just kick back and let movies-and music-take you away.
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