I've tested a number of receivers and DVD players for DVD ETC. in our short history, and it's a safe bet there will be plenty more in my future. So much equipment co-habitates with me during the review process, it's tough to tell each "average" receiver or player from another. When you get past the superficial appearance and digest what features are included, it comes down to performance issues to separate the men from the boys, so to speak.
Sherwood is a name that has been synonymous with electronic amplifiers for 50 years. Sherwood Newcastle is the name Sherwood has chosen for their highest performing products. The Sherwood Newcastle products are designed and manufactured at their plant in China, though they get their name from the assembly facility in Cramlington, United Kingdom, near Newcastle on the eastern coast of Great Britain.
Sherwood R-903 Receiver
With that said, let's start off with the superficial aspects. The Sherwood R-903 A/V receiver and V-903 DVD player are micro machines. That is, they pack all their goodness into a smaller size which is ideal when space is at a premium. They are as wide as normal size components, but each has a reduced height and depth than what is considered the norm. I would have really appreciated a micro system when I was younger and changed residences like a traveling gypsy.
Pulling the Sherwood R-903 receiver from the box, the first thing that drew my attention was the case. This is no surprise because the case, regardless of color, size or weight, is the first thing anyone notices. But the mirrored front display panel and silver case of the R-903 is attractive without being over the top. Demure chrome buttons are located on the faceplate for source selection and basic functions, and a small fluorescent display behind the mirror shows necessary system information in white lettering. When powered up and in standby mode to retain the memorized user settings, a blue glowing LED shines brightly on the left side of the unit as if the machine is beckoning to be explored.
As for features, the Sherwood R-903 has a notable list for such a reasonably priced receiver. Both Dolby and DTS decoding in EX, Pro Logic, Pro Logic II, ES, ES Matrix 6.1 and Neo: 6 are embodied in the unit. When in 5.1 or 6.1 surround mode, the channels are driven by 100 watts of power by the amplifier, and a separate LFE output sends signals to a powered subwoofer. The Sherwood can apply digital processing to two-channel recordings through a high performance DSP to recreate sound fields artificially. There are 12 surround modes provided to enhance each sound source according to a desired effect. Movies, televised sporting events, music and even video game systems can have DSP sound fields added for an improved listening experience. The receiver also has a 30 station preset AM/FM radio memory, sleep timer and multi-level brightness display.
Sometimes it seems that while I'm out of the house, my remote controls propagate. When I return home, I have more controllers that I know what to do with. It can be frustrating trying to learn how to access each function on every remote, only to re-learn them later after I fall out of practice. That's why a universal remote is so valuable. The R-903 receiver comes with one remote that can control up to seven devices, even if they are from other manufacturers. Everything from TVs and cable boxes to DVD players and even home automation systems can be programmed into the remote so you only need to learn the button placement and keystrokes for one controller. Additionally, you can save up to three macro commands into the remote with up to ten operations each. So with the press of one pre-programmed button, for example, the remote can turn on each of your home theater components, select the proper input device on both the receiver and television, and play a disc.
Sherwood V-903 DVD Player
Perfectly matched to the R-903 receiver, the V-903 DVD player has a micro design with a mirrored faceplate and a silver case. It also shares the same standby blue LED and well-matched simple chrome buttons with the receiver. And although the compact design lends itself to being tucked away in a corner or banished to an equipment rack, I honestly think the two components would be appealing if they were left out front and center, as if on display.
The V-903 is a progressive scan player that decodes most audio and video DVDs and CDs in a straightforward manner. Basic disc navigation controls are located below the matching multi-level brightness fluorescent display on the front panel. Advanced playback features are accessed through the remote control, including turning on and off progressive scan, displaying disc information, and a bookmark feature that allows you to mark desired points on a disc for later recall. Up to 14 bookmarks can be stored into the memory. Initial settings of the unit can be modified through an on-screen display menu. Video and audio settings can be adjusted similar to the receiver with minimal fuss.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
For the test, I set aside my NAD 1752 receiver and a borrowed Denon DVD-5000 (thanks, Ernie) to replace them with the Sherwood Newcastle components. To be fair, I actually didn't have to move any of my gear, because the footprint of the V-903 on top of the R-903 was small enough to fit beside my existing system.
The R-903 has a nice array of connection options, including a seven-channel direct input for SACD and DVD players. I chose to connect a digital TosLink cable from Bettercables.com between the two. I used THX certified S-Video cables from Monster Cable to link the video signals from the receiver to both the DVD player and TV, because the R-903 does not have component video jacks. The V-903 DVD player does have component outputs though, so they were used to connect the player to my Mitsubishi HDTV for improved progressive scan imagery. Finally, I wired Mirage OMNISAT satellite speakers using the push-pin terminal connectors on the back of the receiver. This brought up a few complaints
and perhaps some terse words. The size of micro components is a benefit to many, but often connections on the rear panel are cluttered and difficult to use during setup. Binding posts in favor of push-pin terminals for speakers would most certainly not fit, unless other connections were omitted. The tight confines of the connections reminded me of the back of a high-end receiver, only in one-quarter scale. The DVD player was better, but of course it has far fewer outputs.
Read more about the R-903 and V-903 performance on Page 2.
Two improvements have been made to the speaker setup routines of the
most recent Newcastle receivers. In previous Newcastle products,
Sherwood offered controls for the size of a speaker ensemble as either
small or large. Changing the setting to large for front channels forced
all rear speakers in turn to be changed to the large setting, because
there were no individual settings for rear speakers. This oversight has
been addressed in the R-903 as changes can be made to each channel
individually. Another shortcoming of past models allowed for speaker
test tones to be accessed only through channels not receiving a digital
signal. Highly annoying, this faux pas has been rectified. Test tones
can now be played at any time, like most receivers.
For my receiver evaluation, I set each of my Mirage satellite
speakers to small and kept the subwoofer channel on for my Canton AS10
to receive a signal. The on-screen display menu is easily accessible
and uncomplicated to operate. From the main menu, a generic room layout
image appears with a television, chair and speakers in the appropriate
positions. After selecting the size of each speaker connected,
distances between the primary seat and each speaker can be set.
Crossover frequencies and other parameters are also adjustable through
the OSD. The test tone generator is provided to aid in changing volume
levels by cycling through each speaker for approximately four seconds
before moving on to the next speaker. The test tone can also be locked
to one channel to allow for an SPL meter to get an accurate reading.
Sherwood's R-903 DVD player has a similar on-screen display with
numerous sub-menus to navigate when making your init. al settings. Some
of the selections in the OSD have buttons on the remote control for
convenience. Turning on and off progressive scan, for example, is just
a keystroke away. This may not be paramount when working with a video
source such as the V-903, but some of the functions of the R-903
receiver must be changed through the OSD, which can be aggravating to
say the least, when the display must be turned on to configure speakers.
The heart and soul of my evaluation came when I sat down to enjoy
various recordings. I started first with several animated classic DVDs
to test the video performance of the Sherwood DVD player. Colors
appeared warm and saturation was ample. Black chroma levels were almost
dead-on, with white luma levels a bit hot. Rich blues and reds that
often cause jagged edges or flickering were presented very nicely in
every test I performed. Overall, this DVD player holds its own against
Turning to audio decoding, movies in each digital format had a
welcomed openness. I did have to return to my speaker volume settings
to increase my surround channels shortly after I started my testing,
but once adjusted, the soundstage was quite natural without being
overbearing. Bass output was solid while dialogue remained consistently
dynamic. However, occasionally during loud action scenes, the receiver
became a bit fatigued and sloppy sounding.
Musically, the R-903 was very warm and spacious. Vocals were clean
and powerful with stringed instruments sounding lively. Just as in
theater mode, when I pushed the receiver to higher volume levels, the
R-903 fell a little short of what I thought a 100 watt amp should
produce. Perhaps I was a bit prejudiced after getting accustomed to my
NAD A/V receiver.
It's a fact that technology advances quickly. It was only a few years
ago logos such as DTS ES and Dolby Digital EX were only found on
flagship components. Now, mid-level components such as the Sherwood
Newcastle R-903 receiver and V-903 DVD player can decode multiple DD
and DTS formats with flair. Both Sherwood components share an
attractive slim design and good build quality. The onscreen display
menus simplify setup procedures and are user-friendly, even for
novices. The included universal remote with its macro commands and
smart design is another plus for Sherwood.
The receiver has 6.1 channel operation, twelve DSP modes for
two-channel operation, and a nice array of connections including a
seven-channel analog audio input for SACD and DVD-Audio. The
progressive scan DVD player is easy to operate and offers convenient
features. Used in tandem, the pair has solid video performance and
reasonably realistic sound reproduction. Only when played at high
volume levels was audio quality markedly flawed.
Choosing a DVD player and receiver is proving to be more difficult
every day, especially when comparing audio performance and system
flexibility against price and features. If the Newcastle moniker is
only used on those higher performing Sherwood products, I can see why
this pair has been deemed worthy of such a name.
Sherwood Newcastle R-903 A/V Receiver
6x100 watts at 6 ohms
Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Pro Logic,
Pro Logic II, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS-ES Matrix 6.1
and DTS Neo: 6
1 Optical digital audio input
2 Optical digital audio outputs
1 Coaxial digital audio output
2 Composite audio inputs
1 Composite audio output
4 S-Video & composite audio inputs
1 S-Video & composite audio outputs
7 Direct analog inputs
1 Subwoofer pre-out
DSP and Bass Management
2 7/8"H x 171/8"W x 10"D
Weight: 9.3 lbs.
Sherwood Newcastle V-903 DVD Player
DVD-Video, CD, CD-R/RW, MP3
1 Optical digital audio output
1 Coaxial digital audio output
1 Analog audio output
1 Component output
1 Composite output
2 7/8"H x 171/8"W x 10"D
Weight: 8.4 lbs.