Posted in: Hardware Reviews by Archive Authors on November 7th, 2003
Jamo is the second largest speaker manufacturer in the world, and is certainly number one in Europe. In North America they remain a somewhat unknown brand but have been gaining in recognition over the last few years. If you have a look at their website their product offering is very broad with stylish Lifestyle speaker designs all the way up to the mega-buck audiophile grade (a couple of friends of mine own the D8 towers and I can say with confidence that they are stunning).
…his product is a little bit of a departure for them as we see them venturing into the amplifier/DVD player market. One of the reasons we see them headed in this direction is the popularity of the Home-Theater-In-A-Box. We have all seen these marvels of technology at our local big box electronics retailer the system that contains an impossibly small amplifier with a DVD player massaged in there for extra credit and the box also contains 5 speakers and some form of bass box (I can’t bring myself to call them subwoofers as they are not even in the same league). All this for the low low price of $1398 (Canadian), if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Jamo wants to give everyone the convenience of smaller components and fewer cables but with out the loss in quality usually associated with these products.
Features and Build
The first thing you notice when opening the box is the remote, this is one of the best remotes I have ever seen. It has a heavy solid feel, fits very nicely in your hand and places all of the buttons within a thumb reach; you also get a very nice suede finish to the top as well as solid feeling rubber buttons with color coding to help navigate the remote at a moments glance. Next is the manual and it contains a total of 17 pages, having a quick flip through this certainly looks like one of the simplest products to operate that I have ever seen.
The unit itself has a nice solid feel to it with the same silver/grey suede finish of the remote control. The front has a draw for the DVD/CD tray a simple LCD display and a row of 4 buttons that provide up to 8 different functions and are arranged very discreetly in a line between the display and tray door. On the back we have our speaker and subwoofer outputs, three sets of analogue audio inputs and one output, both a coaxial and optical digital audio inputs, optical digital audio output as well as composite, s-video and component video outputs. The next thing you will notice is this large computer like connection that says SCART above it, SCART is a connection system used in Europe and this product is identical to the unit sold in Europe so it is included here. We also have antenna inputs for AM/FM radio.
The DVD section of the unit plays every format of disc known to man from DVD to CD/MP3 to SVCD and also is the first player of its kind to include support for DIVX. DIVX is another form of video compression similar to MPEG2 that DVD uses but allows for smaller file sizes that will give you close to DVD quality on a standard CD, this format is very popular among those nasty internet movie pirates but, also comes in very handy for putting your home movies on disc and still getting really good quality.
Set-up of the unit is all done through the on-screen menu and when you fire the unit up for the first time it takes you to the simple menu where you select the language, connection type for the video output, TV aspect ratio and speaker type (choices are small, medium and large). All of these options are shown with matching pictures so that anyone can understand the adjustments being made and this process was infinitely simple. If I would like to customize things farther I can got into the advanced menu and adjust speaker level setting, parental passwords, display brightness and acoustical settings. This was again very simple and very well laid out.
I connected the component video outputs to my television and sat down with a couple of discs to see how the player looked. I was immediately stunned at the quality of the image I was looking at. Images where very sharp and detailed with nice punchy colors and the black levels where stunning. This player is one of the best DVD players I have ever seen in my life and even surpassed my current home unit.
One thing that did throw me off was that I was not looking at a progressive scan image; I had a look at the menu again and could not figure out how to turn it on. I headed over to my computer to find an email from Jamo waiting for me with instructions on how to turn on the progressive scan through a secret menu. I headed back to the unit and flipped it on and was treated to an n image that got even sharper and also removed the 3:2 pull down artifacts that are present on some discs. I did find it kind of strange that this feature was hidden, but a couple of days later I received another email about a firmware upgrade for the unit. It seems that his machine can have its software upgraded, after performing the upgrade (which I have to say was a simple process and took all of 15 minutes) I know had the ability to turn on progressive scan from the menu and had better support for different DIVX formats. It even improved the remote reception; I have to say that I was pretty impressed. I almost forgot the unit played every format of disc that I tried on it and evenly played badly damaged discs with no hiccups. The quality for the DIVX home movie discs that I made looked as good as the originals from my digital video camera.
The second part of this unit is its built in amplifier and tuner. The amplifier section employs what is known as a digital amplifier. Digital amplifiers have been around for a few years with somewhat mixed results. The advantages are that they are much smaller and produce far less heat then a typical amplifier but they don’t tend to sound as good. I connected the speaker outputs to my everyday speaker system, grabbed some discs and sat down for a listen. Starting with DVD’s first I found things to be in pretty good order. Voices tended to exhibit a slight sibilance but nothing that would prevent you from understanding what was being said. The score seemed to be missing some presence and the treble had a slight gritty quality but again nothing that would distract form the listening experience in a dramatic way.
The unit drove my speakers to more then acceptable volume levels and I was very impressed that at higher volumes those things did not deteriorate. On to music we go, I found with music that some of the qualities of the digital amplifier start to show up. In the past digital amplifiers have been classified with a very cool sound, they seemed to lack power and really suffered through the upper midrange and treble areas. I really only noticed this very slightly with this unit, things where not quite as warm as my usual amplifier and the treble lost some of the smoothness that I am accustomed to but overall things sounded very good.
The soundstage was wide and detailed with good depth, volume levels where easily acceptable and I can’t help but think that if I wasn’t driving full range towers that this unit would sound even better. This unit is not the last word in audiophile sound quality but it is more then acceptable. The tuner in the unit performed just as good as my regular unit does and sounded great. My only complaint with the tuner is that it is a little tough to navigate the preset stations with out turning on my TV, not a big deal though.
Jamo has a winner on their hands with this unit, it sounds far better then any of the HTIB options available at the local electronics mega plex and the video performance is stunning. Add in an awesome remote control and make the unit super simple to set-up and operate and I don’t know what else they can do to make it better. Oh, I almost forgot make the unit upgradeable and you have a first in a product at this price point. This unit is a real winner and should appeal to anyone who is looking for a simple system that will perform exceptionally well and look good doing it.