Roxsan Capsian AV Preamp Reviewed

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To my dismay, it sounded just like what it was: a purist audiophile's interpretation of a home theatre product. It's as if the unit was designed in a vacuum, despite boasting Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS decoding, the sort of set-up facilities which allow you to fine-tune 5.1 channels (including speaker delay), DAC level trim to match inputs, dynamic range compression for late night listening, and a few other unique-to-home-theatre elements. But that's it. Take them away, and you're in a Flat Earth hell-hole, circa 1979.

Let's start with the remote. While I'm certain Roksan thought they were being trendy, surely the frostly-blue iMac look is already past its sell-by date. The remote control is finished in that tedious see-through blue plastic in a feeble attempt at appealing to Mac owners. But, unlike clear-blue-coloured computer peripherals such as printers and scanners, which at least relate to computeresque, this is out of place next to a solid-metal piece of sculpture like a Caspian component. And it's as minimalist as the unit itself, with only two buttons each for input and volume (up-and-down), test tone and level trim select with plus-and-minus control, DAC and delay select, select and set-up buttons for the various surround modes and stereo, a mute and power-on. Spoiled as I am by the Lexicon, I'd prefer at the very least a button for direct access to each input, instead of having to scroll through them.

Then, the front panel. While it's easy to applaud Roksan's attempt at breaking away from the button-filled overkill of most Japanese A/V receivers, some with 50 buttons or more, the Caspian's dearth of controls borders on the sadistic. No volume control, for ****'s sake! Flanking the display, which tells you which source, what processing type, what level has been set, and if you've hit overload, are three buttons to the left and three to the right. On the left are on/off from standby (the main AC on/off is at the back), and two buttons for scrolling up and down the inputs; on the right are buttons to choose stereo (2ch downmix), Pro Logic or 5.1. That's it. Er...doh. I could just about live with that array, but no volume control? I use the Lexicon's rotary all the time, and not because I've misplaced the remote or the batteries have gone dead. It's a natural extension of using the system, full stop. Maybe I'm the only schmuck on the planet who does so, but it wouldn't have killed Roksan to allow users the option. No volume control...gimme a break.

But the real demonstration of detachment from the real world is around the back. What you get are four sets of analogue inputs, a cluster of phonos for surround, centre and sub inputs from, say, DVD players with analogue multi-channel outputs, analogue tape out and the requisite six outputs for the 5.1 channels. On the digital side, you get one coaxial-only output and one optical and three coaxial digital inputs, one for AC-3/RF, the others for two-channel sources. Then, as a throwback to the very worst days of computing, a cheap and nasty DIP switch array for selecting subwoofer on/off, centre speaker on/off and surrounds on/off. Quite clearly, Roksan is so locked in a two-channel mindset that it treats 5.1 channel like a necessary evil. On a user-friendly, A/V processor, the DIP switches' functions would appear on a drop-down menu, accessible via remote. But that presupposes an on-screen display...

So now, we get to what's missing. On the back is a nine-pin computer socket marked 'video switch port'. Yup, video switching is an optional extra (not supplied for review), and with a price pegged at 'maybe 200 or 300', which puts this perilously close - at upwards of 1500- 1600 - to a truckload of rivals with comprehensive video switching as standard. If my maths (see above) are correct, there's only the one 5.1 digital input, compounded by no S-video inputs, no balanced inputs, no coaxial video, no SCART - nothing, nada, nyet. So I called Touraj and had to cut the conversation short before I lost my rag: He had the chutzpah to tell me that Roksan fitted so few inputs on the back because consumers didn't want all of the leads going to one place, and that DVD player wasn't in the same place as his processor. Which makes the only schmuck on the planet...

And there I was, thinking that the beauty of those massive Japanese A/V receivers, if you can deny your high-end tendency, was the concentration of everything in one place. One AC cable, one cluster of video inputs, another for audio inputs, a remote that operates your entire system including TV and most sources AND the controller, all in one tidy array.

Silly me.

I don't want to go on any further with this, because it's starting to look like I'm kicking a man when he's down. So, to sum up, Roksan missed a great opportunity here; I'm sure that I'm not the only one who awaited an ideal mate for the company's superb multi-channel amplifier. And, sonically, the Caspian DSP is a real alternative for those who just can't abide the thin, overly-processed interpretation of surround sound according to the mass-market manufacturers.

But this product should never have left the factory in such a stripped-down, feature-less form. Unless, that is, Roksan was misled by market research which involved canvassing people who have never operated an A/V set-up, or who plan to use their A/V system only for listening to 2-channel CDs, and who gave them a resounding, 'Yes! Give us an A/V processor with no video switching, a shortage of inputs, a masochist's remote! And then charge us the same as Yamaha or Denon or Nakamichi would while throwing in all the extras AND five channels' worth of amplification!'

Wake up, guys: this is 2000 and you've tossed your hat into the home cinema arena. If you want to pretend otherwise, then stick with stereo audio, which you do so very well. Otherwise, you should know that the 'V' in 'A/V' does not stand for 'vinyl'.

Additional Resources
• Read more high end AV Preamp reviews from the likes of Anthem, Arcam, Sunfire, Meridian, Krell, Mark Levinson, Lexicon and many others.
• Read a review of the Roxsan Hotcakes Loudspeakers here.

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