But if Nemo shows the JVC’s strengths, the opening battle scene from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World reveals its weaknesses. Much of the power of this scene derives from the way it blends the almost overpowering “Karruumph” of cannon fire with myriad small high-frequency textural details such as the twang of snapping ropes, the clatter of shattered rigging falling to the deck below, and the highpitched sizzle of flying shards of metal and splinters of wood. In this scene, the JVC underplayed those high-frequency details just a bit, and also lost some of the mid-bass energy that the cannon fire should have had.
Even so, the JVC was generally effective on film soundtracks, in particular because its inherent three-dimensionality made the most of surround effects, while its smoothness helped dialogue sound natural and unforced.
A similar sonic pattern emerges when listening to traditional CDs and to multichannel DVD-Audio or SACD recordings through the JVC. I found that on CD the JVC’s CC Converter sounded noticeably superior to the DACs in my mid-priced reference universal player, offering greater resolution, better reproduction of depth and ambience cues, and a welcome touch of midrange and upper-midrange smoothness. Together these qualities gave the JVC an easygoing, self-confident sound that, though arguably lacking the nth degree of high frequency transparency, was never inappropriately edgy or aggressive.
But perhaps the biggest surprise was hearing how delightfully three-dimensional the JVC’s amplifiers could sound, especially when heard in the ANALOG DIRECT mode. At its best, this receiver throws deep and wide soundstages, and it does a lovely job of conveying the acoustics of the original recording space. Try Chesky’s Rockin’ the Spirit (a brilliantly mastered, multichannel SACD live recording of boogie-woogie piano material) and the RX-DP15B will lift you right out of your listening room and place you into the small recital hall where the recording was made, with the hushed, barely audible sound of an appreciative live audience surrounding you. What you hear through the JVC is actually something akin to good stereo imaging—but in the round. I won’t tell you the JVC offers either the transparency or bass clout of the best midand high-priced stereo amplifiers, but it does offer more than enough finesse for listeners to be able to draw fine distinctions among the sound qualities of various high-end recordings.
The JVC is a solid contender in what is probably the most hotly contested segment of the AVR marketplace. The receiver’s sonic strengths—smoothness, three-dimensionality, and a hint of warmth—serve music well, and help make film dialogue sound natural— never abrasive. What’s more, the RXDP15B offers a great user interface that’s straightforward and simple to use. The receiver’s weaknesses—good but not great treble detail and “air,” and relatively lightly-weighted mid-bass—are for the most part sins of omission. I do, however, wish JVC had provided support for HDMI-equipped source components and displays. But at the end of the day, what stands out in my mind, and I think will attract many listeners, is the way that the JVC produces big, compelling, three-dimensional surround soundstages. Aren’t those the reason that we came?