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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 722/98

Kenwood's VR2090
(combo Dolby Digital / DTS receiver)

review by Digital Man, special to The Digital Bits

The market anxiously awaited the release of the first Dolby Digital / DTS combo receiver last year with the Newcastle 945 for $1200. Since then, Yamaha has released its DSP A1, and B&K has the AVR 5.1. Now, Kenwood beats the $1000 mark with the VR 2090. Does it live up to the dual-format competition?

The first thing that grabs you about the piece is its nifty flat-display, back-lit remote. Its ergonomic design looks like something Mulder and Scully might find next to a old cigarette butt on an empty floor. However, using it is a different story.

When you first plug the batteries into the remote, immediately, you enter the unit's setup. From this hierarchical structure, you must choose the receiver model, and set the speaker distance and tone level. The unit gives you control over every speaker - a must in today's speaker market. However, identifying which icons do what is another thing. In an example of one of the worst manuals of all time, the books tells you NOTHING about anything to do with the remote. It only says to, "follow the simple, on-screen display." Stephen Hawking likely has an easier time contemplating Big Bang theory.

Once you get through the extremely long and difficult long process of setting up the unit, the sound and everything else is basically automatic. The Dolby Digital and DTS on this unit are flat, and there's no available dsps to use. The dsp processing the unit has, only allows for Pro Logic and stereo modes. The unit offers theater, cathedral, arena, and stadium modes, which use all five speakers.

The inputs on the back of the unit call for a multitude of digital inputs (optical and coaxial), 4 S-video inputs, and matching composite. There are pre-outs for the surrounds, center, and sub, but none for the fronts (pretty silly). There is no six channel input, but there is a digital output. The bindings allow for bananas or clips, and feel fairly sturdy.

Now to the meat of the matter: the sound. Despite poor ergonomics and silly setups, the VR 2090 allows for great sound. The 100 x 5 amp is crisp and powerful. The unit is intuitive and auto-senses both sound schemes without the annoying DC mute noise which occurs on the B&K unit. The ability of the unit to auto-decode 2 channel Dolby Digital into the proper sound scheme is also nice. A lot of the new decoders will only decode 2 channel into stereo. All in all, the unit sounds great.

Overall, if you get through all the annoying setup problems, the unit is nice. Poor design and rushed production forced the first batch of these units to be recalled, due to a problem with the remote. The new units are shipping now. If you want both digital surround sound formats for under a grand, get in line for the VR 2090.

Digital Man

Editor's Note: After this review was posted, we received this comment from Jim Arvanitis, National Marketing Manager for Kenwood USA:

"Although there was a rumor on the Internet that we recalled the VR-2090 due to design problems, (something we responded to electronically on July 22, 1998 in the bulletin board section of our web site) the fact is, there was never a recall on this product. The VR-2090 followed our anticipated production schedule and was delivered right on time. I'm not quite sure of the rumor's origins, but trust me, they are unfounded."

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