Pioneer DV-667A vs Nintaus N9868
After my last review I was itching to do another. But something different was required. I have always liked music and with the emergence of high resolution audio, namely SACD and DVD-A it seemed logical to investigate the player options in the cheaper end of the market. My review products come at my expense, so I didn’t see fit to go buy a Sony for two and a half grand. The cheaper end of the market is where the unit sales will be and perhaps the make or break of these new formats into the popular mainstream.
I decided on the Pioneer DV-667A-K and the Nintaus N9868, these units are freely available from major department stores and hifi shops. The Pioneer was introduced late in 2003 at $699 but has had it’s price slashed to $329, which is much nicer. The Nintaus is also a relative new comer and with a claimed RRP of $149 is well priced. This machine was sourced for $96, but I have seen it online for over $200, so I cannot be 100% certain of the RRP.
There are added bonuses with the Pioneer. An optional three year warranty is available by registering. This can be done by mail in card or over the internet. Also included is a one month free trial to Webflicks, worth $38.
I have tried to keep the format similar to the last review, but have made some changes with scoring. As this is primarily a DVD-A review, the score for that section will carry a 50% weighting. DVD Playback gets a 25% weighting, 5% goes to CD playback and the remotes, finally The Box, Unit and Connections, Setup, OSD, MP3/WMA, JPEG all get 2.5% each of the overall score.
Now on to the nitty gritty
Being the most important aspect of this exercise, I will start with the DVD Audio side of things.
The new formats DVD-A and SACD are touted as taking over from CD, this process won't happen over night and is nowhere near fruition yet. Look at CD though, it took a good four or five years to gain mainstream acceptance and take sales from LP’s and cassettes. One of the big issues I can gather with these new formats, is one of compatibility. If you can’t plug the machine into any surround amplifier then the whole idea becomes a much harder sell. Another big issue is the range of titles available, I believe there are only a few hundred DVD-A discs available, SACD seems to be taking off a little better with around 2000 titles. These numbers are world wide, with an even lower number available locally.
It seems that all current DVD-A players require you to use their onboard decoding. For this to be successful you have to be able to set the type of speakers (small or large), whether a sub woofer is connected and most importantly the distance the speakers are from the listening position. Also of critical importance is your amplifier having 5.1 channel in.
On to the listening tests…
I started with the Pioneer and track two on Foreigner 4, Juke Box Hero. The first thing you notice is the full range sound coming from the front mains and rear surrounds, depending on volume level, this is something to experience. The lyrics appeared to come from the whole front sound stage. At normal DVD review volume this track is really pumping. Using the CD version of the same song, everything sounds very different, impact is greatly reduced, the recording level is higher on the DVD-A disc, but this isn't the only difference. Overall this sounds very impressive and is a great way to show off your system.
Trying the same process on the Nintaus led to bitter disappointment. You can’t select the speaker distance/timings, I poured through the setup options and the manual, but I could not see anywhere to set this. A quick listen proved the audio sounds impressive in depth and range, but the rears and centre sound out of phase with the mains, the end result is no cohesion between the speakers and listening position.
The Nintaus loses the comparison at this point in proceedings, leaving a dead rubber for the Pioneer. The DVD-A function could be considered a marketing ploy, but in my opinion is not worth it.
Two channel audio is still a listening option for DVD-A discs and all DVD players can play these in this manner, to get high resolution sound though, you need on board decoding. The Nintaus can decode the high resolution stereo track, although I believe that a claim of DVD-A compatibility should be for two channel and multi channel, not one or the other.
I have sampled a few DVD-A discs, and sadly not all are as impressive as the Foreigner title, out of the five titles tried this is a standout. One of the others is not too bad, but the other three suffer from poor mixing or simply lack lustre live artist performance. A word of warning, know your material before purchasing. Thankfully the DVD-A titles available locally are reasonably priced, unlike dts CD’s from a couple of years back, which were $50, versus the $29~$33 for DVD-A.
The Box (first impressions):
The first impressions of any new electronic gadget are in its packaging. Read on to see which put the right foot forward out of the box.
The Nintaus box is a printed black design with a carry handle on one end. Inside, the unit is held firmly between styrene blocks, plus another styrene block to protect the power cable and plug. There is a plastic zip lock bag with the instructions, remote, batteries and stereo/video RCA cables. No component cables this time, worse luck, but for most people the included cables will get you going. The player is covered with a plastic bag also. Points awarded for minimal packaging and for the handle, but some lost for the styrene and the printed cardboard.
Pioneer have gone for the more environmental friendly look. The first thing you notice is how plain the box is, with basic cardboard and black printing. The box is slightly larger than the Nintaus. Inside the unit is secured using two styrene blocks. The remote, power cable and supplied stereo / video RCA cable is off to one side of the box, separated by cardboard. These items are in separate plastic bags. The unit is covered with a thin styrene type bag. This unit scores marks for plain cardboard packaging, but loses marks for styrene.
Unit and Connections:
Overall appearance is important to many people, sometimes too much, to me substance over style any day. But quality and class stick out a mile. After the unit has been eye balled, it is time to connect so we’ll have a look at the machines and their connections.
The Nintaus front panel has a very slim tray and an almost full length clear plastic panel, with the display on the left. This panel has a mirror finish to it, which at first made me think this unit had no display. The power button is on the left and over on the top right are seven buttons for open/close, playback and menu functions. The back panel has a fixed power cord. The bottom panel / chassis and rear panel are metal, but the rest of the unit is plastic. Fit and finish is very good, better than the last Nintaus reviewed. The rear panel has connections for composite video, component video, 5.1 audio out, stereo out, S-video, optical digital and coaxial digital. The unit claims 20w power consumption. One sore point, the length of the power cable, which in my opinion is too short.
Over to the Pioneer, this unit also has a slim centrally mounted tray (not quite as slim as the Nintaus). The Pioneer screams technical details on the front panel. It has a soft power button on the left. Around the tray are playback buttons and to the right a circular menu selector with arrow keys and a big enter button. The display sits below the tray and has a variable brightness feature. Only the front panel of the Pioneer is plastic all others are metal with a metal chassis. On the back is control in/out mini plugs, optical digital out, coaxial digital out, S-video, component video, composite video, stereo RCA out, 5.1 out then a detachable power cord on the right. The finish is very good and superior to the Nintaus, at twice the price this would be expected. Both units weigh a similar amount. Power consumption is claimed at 14w.
There is a wide variety of devices that can be connected to a DVD player. Some of these connections can have quite technical settings and if the player has an easy setup process then this can be less daunting.
Once all connected, setting up the Pioneer is very easy, there are two setup processes. The first setup process runs through when you first turn the machine on. This initial setting just needs to know the type of TV connected (either WS or 4:3). The second setup process is accessed via the ‘Home Menu’ key on the remote. All that is required is to select the ‘Setup Navigator’ and this will complete the audio / video process with a few simple questions.
The Nintuas doesn’t prompt for setup on first use. It is an entirely manual process. Once powered on, you just need to press the ‘Setup’ button on the remote. Some of the setup areas are a little technical and may require consultation with the printed manual. I guess the easy answer is if you don’t understand the option then don’t change it.
After your shiny new toy is on the shelf and connected, the remote becomes a very important device. Being responsive and working with funny angles is all part of what the user should expect from a remote, although easy to read buttons and logical layout could also be a highly desirable.
Pioneer use the same remote for all their cheaper units. Unlike the old days this remote isn’t colour coded, just presented in an inoffensive grey. It is smallish in size and fits well in the hand. The buttons are reasonably well placed and have a positive action. The quality of this unit is quite good. A plus for the Pioneer is that the remote works on fairly tight angles.
Over in the Nintaus camp, the remote hasn’t changed since I reviewed the N9808, while I don’t like change for changes sake, I think Nintaus could have improved things, but then again at this price point, I can understand why they may not have. Compared to the Pioneer remote, this unit is fairly average. Most of the buttons are the same size and are poorly labelled. There is nothing worse than cursing the player for not doing what you want when it is simply you pushing the wrong button! The remote has a cheap feel and appearance to it. A major bug bear is the lack of response, especially at any angle other than dead ahead. If your DVD player is under or next to the TV then OK, if it is along one wall like mine then it is totally useless, and that is being nice. In my previous review the Nintaus remote was equal best, here it is simply out classed by the Pioneer unit.