Pros: Low price, excellent sound quality, connectivity, DPLII finally improves stereo music
Cons: No S-Video out for VCR, no front inputs
Upon purchasing my Panasonic SA-HE70K receiver at RefurbDepot.com, I realized that it came with a manual for another model - SA-HE100. Nonetheless, I took it out of the box and was watching movies with Dolby Digital soundtrack in a matter of minutes. With 100 Watts per channel (into 6 Ohm speakers), the receiver has plenty of power for my needs.
The receiver is available in two colors: black (SA-HE70K) and silver (SA-HE70S). I got the black model. The receiver is quite large and somewhat heavy. Which I like. The front panel has two knobs (volume and source select) and a little more than a dozen buttons, one of which (Digital/Analog toggle button to select between analog and digital inputs) has a green led above it.
The display below the centrally-located volume control knob is large enough to be clearly seen at a normal listening distance. Overall, I like the looks of this receiver.
I was looking for a receiver with S-Video inputs for at least 3 devices. The HE70 lets me connect 3 S-Video devices (DirecTV receiver eith TiVo, DVD player and an SVHS VCR) and has one S-Video out (goes to my TV). Unfortunately, neither HE70 nor HE100 has a second S-Video out (for VCR recording). But HE70 has a composite video out for this purpose.
I use one of the two optical digital audio inputs to connect a DVD player and the other one to connect my DirecTV box. I have one unoccupied coaxial input.
To summarize the receivers inputs/outs:
3 S-Video inputs (marked DVD in, TV in and VCR in) and one S-Video out.
3 inputs (TV, VCR and DVD) and 2 outs (TV Monitor and VCR).
2 Optical and 1 Coaxial inputs.
Analog Stereo Audio
5 inputs, 2 outs. CD input, Tape in and out, TV input, DVD input, VCR in and out.
5.1 Analog Audio Input (DVD-Audio, SACD or decoded DD/DTS)
One 5.1 input (uses DVD stereo input described above for the front left/right channels).
5 Spring-loaded connectors and a line-level RCA subwoofer out.
AM and FM connectors. Antennas are supplied.
The rear panel has a switched AC jack (for powered subwoofers up to 75 W). I don't use it as my subwoofer has power supply that switches on when the subwoofer signal is fed to the subwoofer and switches off once there is no signal.
There is a headphone jack on the front panel.
What I Have Connected
The connection process is quite easy. I have the following connected to the receiver: a JVC SVHS VCR (using S-Video input, composite in/out, audio in/out), a DVD player (S-Video in, optical digital audio in), DirecTV with TiVo (S-video in, optical digital in), TV (S-video out).
The receiver remembers the kind of connection (digital or analog) you last time for every component and also remembers other settings for components separately (e.g. if you used analog inpput, DPLII Movie with TV last time, the next time you switch to TV, it will go into DPLII Movie mode and switch to analog input).
Dolby Pro Logic II
The sound in Dolby Digital mode is nothing short of amazing. You can feel cars pass, bullets fly around you. There is no comparison to lame Dolby Pro Logic or simulated surround sound. But that is not new.
What is amazing is what new Dolby Pro Logic II can do with stereo music and (to lesser extent) movies. The DPL2 on HE70 has 3 modes (Music, Movie, Panorama). In Music mode, when you listen to stereo music (be it CD or MP3), the sound seems to move around the room with some sounds being reproduced from the center and surround speakers.
It creates great sound effects with music like Pi Soundtrack. Tracks like Kapol Intro seem to make the entire room reverberate with sound, even at low volumes.
You can adjust Center Width and Dimension parameters of sound in DPL2 Music mode. DPL2 Movie improves sound for Dolby Pro Logic encoded movies and it is remarkably better than regular DPL. Last night I was watching "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" on TV and the DPL2 Movie mode made for some interesting surround effects, which were far better than anything regular DPL can come up with.
The sound quality is excellent, although there is a bit of noise at very low volumes. The sound quality, of course, mostly depends on the speakers used. I was using KLH L853B speakers for a while, but recently got highly acclaimed Athena Point Five speaker system. With Point Five, the sound improved dramatically over the KLH speakers and is nothing short of great.
While listening to Richard Wagner's Preludes CD in stereo mode, this receiver with Athena Speakers (Athena Point Five system as well as Athena AS-F1 floorstanding speakers) produced instruments I didn't know existed on that CD. The violins sounded great and life-like and instruments sounded full-bodied and sonically separated.
The receiver uses class H amplifier (two power supplies - "rails", the higher power "rail" employed only when high power output is needed). Calss H amplifiers run cooler than class A amplifiers.
There are several SFC modes: Hall, Live, Club, Theater, Party and Simulated Surround. They give dimension to stereo sources and each is better suited for different listeners and different sound source (music, movie, etc).
The menu is easy to use. You can adjust speaker settings individually (Size, Volume, Delay, Distance, Subwoofer Volume), set subwoofer crossover frequency (Filter: 100Hz, 150Hz or 200Hz). I would like more gradual approach. What if I want to set it to 120 Hz? Not a big issue, however.
Note: the "Filter" option does the following. If you set the speakers to "Small", it will use the high-pass filter and not allow the frequencies below the set level to pass to your speakers. If the speakers are set to "Large", the "Filter" has no effect.
You can assign digital audio connections to different sources. Also, you can adjust bass and treble (50Hz and 20kHz, /-10dB).
Also, you can connect an equalizer to the Tape in/out (instead of the tape deck) to adjust sound. If you have a tape deck with 3 heads, you can monitor the recording sound quality as you record.
The remote allows you select between the sources at a touch of a button and control some of them. Out of the box it could control my Panasonic DVD player and on of the VCRs I have (Panasonic).
A section of buttons in the middle of the remote glows in the dark, which I find helpful when watching movies in the unlit room. But I don't do this often anyway - it is not good for the eyes. The transport row has no pause button, however and I cant use Cue/Review with a DVD player.
Also, I couldn't find a way to switch between DPL II Movie and DPLII Music modes from the remote. Because of this, every time I have to switch between Movie and Music modes while watching TV, VCR or VCD/XVCD/Stereo DVD, I have to get up and push a button on the receiver.
Almost all other functions can be controlled from the remote. You can also program the remote to control devices other than Panasonic by holding down the device key and entering the code for the manufacturer. Now I can use the remote to control a JVC SVHS VCR I have. Unfortunately it does not control my AKAI TV...
The SA-HE70 is an excellent budget receiver with Dolby Pro Logic II, two optical and one coaxial digital inputs, S-Video switching and a 5.1 input.