JVC RX-1028V Dolby Digital Receiver Review

Not only is JVC one of Japan’s oldest names in consumer electronics, but as the developer of the VHS format it’s also one of the most successful. So you might expect its take on the A/V receiver genre to be conservative stodgy, even.

It’s not. The firm’s latest A/V flagship, the RX-1028V, boasts snazzy looks, lots of extra features some quite useful and a nicely compact chassis. One of its three big control knobs is a master volume control, and another performs source selection. The third is a “multi-jog” wheel depending on the mode selected by one of the nearby pushbuttons, it tunes the radio, adjusts setup parameters, or tweaks the equalizer or surround-mode settings.

JVC RX-1028V rear panelA front-panel set of convenience jacks includes an S-video input. Around back the receiver is fully equipped, with connections for four A/V components, including two record loops, and S-video jacks for all save VCR2. Four auxiliary audio inputs (for the center, surround, and subwoofer channels) enable it to accept the decoded 5.1-channel output of a DVD player or another outboard processor say, a DVD-Audio or SACD player. (You’d have to use the “regular” DVD input’s left/right analog jacks as well.)

JVC’s digital audio facilities score a birdie: four inputs is one better than par these days. A single coaxial jack flanks three optical ports. The RX-1028V also provides preamp outputs for all five main channels, plus the sub, of course, so you can use it as a preamp/tuner/processor if you decide to upgrade with a higher-power amplifier later on. You also get a multiroom feature, a seeming requisite for all flagship A/V receivers these days, and the handy-dandy Command Center an RF (radio-frequency) remote-control extender made by Universal Electronics that lets you operate the receiver from beyond a line of sight even through walls. The supplied remote can operate many brands of TVs, VCRs, and DBS and cable boxes, but surprisingly not CD or DVD players.

Believe it or not, there are still more features, but we’ve got to move on. I set up the JVC with my usual five-speaker system incorporating dipole surrounds and low-sensitivity L/R front speakers, an array that demands a lot from any receiver’s amplifier section. With two-channel recordings I heard clean, dynamic reproduction with plenty of detail and snap on transients and solid bass action. On “I Want Everyone to Like Me” from Randy Newman’s latest opus, Bad Love, the JVC produced excellent results from the very up-front piano, Dobro, and rhythm-guitar elements, with crisp, defined warmth from ol’ Rand himself. The deep, very loose bass drum (a sort of trademark of producers Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom) had plenty of weighty roll and tone, but it sounded just a smidge looser than with my usual power amplifier. The RX-1028V had ample stereo power to play louder than I would ever really favor, even with my low-sensitivity speakers, but it did sound distinctly hard beyond the upper end of that range, before the onset of obvious distortion.

DragonIn Dolby Digital mode and with my powered sub added to the mix, the JVC delivered all the goods. The James Taylor Live at the Beacon Theater DVD sounded squeaky-clean and broadly spacious even at realistic concert levels, with fine clarity and sparkle up top. The 5.1-channel soundtrack of Dragon, though uneven in quality, was also reproduced with full fidelity and spatial integrity; the tournament fight scene’s busy, widely spread crowd ambience sounded great. The same excellence pertained to DTS 5.1-channel playback.

The RX-1028V was very quiet in its 5.1-channel modes, with virtually no meaningful noise at the listening position. Dolby Pro Logic noise, particularly with an analog input, was a bit more audible, but still within reasonable bounds. The seven digital signal processing (DSP) ambience modes were all a bit noisier still, and its enhanced-surround Theater mode was a lot noisier, enough to be bothersome.

I found the RX-1028V’s human interface a mixed bag. Most controls are logically laid out and carefully implemented, but the receiver’s very depth and density of features may prove challenging to those who don’t spend every day playing with A/V gear. The remote is nicely done, though its upper section is pretty crowded. I liked the simple, clear on-screen menu system for setup and adjustments, but it does not flash changes in volume setting, input selection, or surround mode the way many other on-screen systems do.

One RX-1028V feature that won my unqualified love was the Command Center radio-controlled remote and not because I used the multiroom option other than to confirm its operation. Forget remote rooms: the radio-‘mote lets you operate your system without worrying about pointing the handset at the receiver. In a setup like mine, where the screen and the audio components are in different time zones, this is priceless.

One surprising idiosyncrasy I encountered is that the JVC’s surround-channels level was not consistent between Dolby Pro Logic playback and that of discrete 5.1-channel sources a quirk of our review sample, according to JVC. When I first set the surround levels using a sound-level meter and the RX-1028V’s internal, circulating test-noise generator, the surrounds sounded low with real program material. Checking with a Dolby Labs test laserdisc, I discovered that the surround channels were each about 4 dB low, so I rebalanced (in this case, I gotta take Dolby’s word . . ) Admittedly, this isn’t the first receiver I’ve encountered with a miscalibrated internal noise generator. However, when I double-checked channel balance in 5.1 mode via Dolby’s own Dolby Digital test disc, the discrete surround channels were now each about 7 dB too high, which is an awful lot arrggh! Although the JVC stores relative center- and surround-channel levels separately for each of its own DSP modes (yay!), it does not differentiate between Dolby Pro Logic and Dolby Digital/DTS, meaning you’d have to manually reset the surround levels, each channel individually, every time you change modes.

A workable solution derives from JVC’s excellent One Touch Operation feature, which stores individual defaults for each input/source’s master volume, input mode, DSP surround mode, loudness/tone, subwoofer level, and relative channel level. You could connect two outputs from a key component, such as a DVD player (both digital outputs if possible, or one digital and the other analog), and use one for 5.1-channel recordings and the other for Dolby Surround-encoded ones, setting relative channel levels for each mode.

Speaking of extra DSP modes, the JVC’s got ’em, and as on many A/V receivers, they are a wacky crew. Most deliver reverb and reflections to the front channels as well as the surrounds, making them easy to hear but too exaggerated for my taste. Fortunately, the RX-1028V lets you choose from five levels of overall “effect.” There are also several 3D Phonic modes that provide surround and ambience effects from a two-speaker setup.

FM sound quality was solid, and weak-signal reception was above average not hugely so, but by a noticeable margin. AM reception was mediocre to poor.

As on many A/V receivers, the RX-1028V’s numerous modes and features are not all equally successful. But its fundamental performance in the crucial 5.1-channel modes overlooking the surround-level calibration problem is very good, its amplifier performance is excellent, and its control layout is sensible. And none of its “extras” impede the enjoyment of these key factors, something that can’t always be said of competing models.