Nakamichi AV-10 Audio/Video Receiver
Nakamichi, or "Nak," as some like to call the company, is best known for its cassette players. While the heyday for cassette decks has come and gone, Nakamichi is still known for producing some of the finest ever. The company has a long history of tape-recording devices. Founded in 1948, in 1951 they produced open-reel tape decks for the Magic Tone label. Their high-quality cassette decks of the '70s and '80s positioned the Nakamichi name as one synonymous with high-quality sound. However, in recent years the Nakamichi product line has been hit and miss with the audiophile crowd -- some products have stood out as very good values while others have fallen by the wayside. Happily, the AV-10 is a surround-sound receiver worthy of the Nak heritage.
Today, makers of surround-sound processors jam more features into their chassis than could have been previously imagined. Just a number of years ago, having five channels of reliable power in a box not much bigger than integrated amplifiers of the day seemed a formidable task. However, times have changed, and five channels now seem like nothing. Along with the power, an incredible number of input and output connections along with the switching capability are no longer a privilege; they are expected.
The AV-10 has an abundance of features, but would not necessarily be called feature-rich. Still, it has enough versatility for the vast majority of users today in an easy-to-use, well-thought-out package. Should a user want every bell and whistle, other companies do provide more. However, features are not the only thing that you should look for in a surround-sound receiver. Besides, I found the AV-10 to be more than sufficient in my system.
On the back panel there are seven analog audio inputs along with two coaxial and two TosLink digital inputs. Should you wish to use an external amplifier, preamplifier outputs are provided. For the majority who will use the AV-10 as a power amplifier too, Nakamichi rates continuous output as 100Wpc with all five channels driven, and 120Wpc with only two channels driven, both at 8 ohms. There is a built-in AM/FM tuner that won't necessarily challenge the state of the art, but it is more than sufficient. Tone controls are provided for bass and treble, but thankfully they can be defeated (left out of the circuit) for us purists at heart. An adjustable subwoofer output is also provided. Levels for all channels are easily adjusted through a built-in test tone activated with the remote control. In the same way, a range of delay settings can be set for the center and rear channels. The digital section will accept 16, 20 and 24 bits and is able to accommodate sampling frequencies of 32kHz, 44.1kHz and 48kHz. The unit will decode Dolby ProLogic, AC-3 (Dolby Digital) and DTS, and for those who wish to add some coloration to their music sound, natural and hall modes are also provided.
I particularly like the supplied learning remote. Despite being relatively large, it is lightweight yet durable, easy to use and surprisingly well laid out and with a good feel to the keys. I programmed the remote to operate my VCR, TV and DVD player. First time around, mind you, I botched up the factory-supplied settings for the surround-sound receiver itself. Once I did this, there was no way out but to reset the unit back to factory defaults and start again. Live and learn.
Build quality seems very good, with a look that is refined and subtle -- it does not jump out you with gaudy lights and the such. Most importantly, the AV-10 has worked with 100% reliability from moment I hooked it up. It runs cool even when placed in a position, like on my rack, with only an inch and a half of clearance to the top and sides. For the price point, all RCA jacks are of good quality and the buttons on the front have a sturdy feel to them. My only real quibble was with the speaker-cable binding posts. While they are of very good quality, I found that I could not practically use spade lugs with them. Either bare-wire connections or banana plugs work best. While not a hassle if you have your speaker cables terminated on of these ways, you will likely need adapters if your cables aren't.
Once set up and plugged in, the unit stays partially powered on in a standby state, which maintains all programmable settings. The owner's manual recommends completely unplugging the AV-10 if you leave for a prolonged period of time.
What drew me to the AV-10 was not the features; instead, I had heard from reliable sources that, given the price, this was one darn fine-sounding receiver. That said, I not only put the AV-10 through the movie paces, I also used it to play a lot of two-channel music, which tests a component's fidelity much more. The AV-10 was placed in a multichannel audio/video system with a Sony Trinitron monitor, Sony hi-fi VCR, Kenwood DV-S700 DVD player and Audio Specialiste speaker system. All electronics were plugged into a Brick Wall 8R15AUD surge suppresser.
The Audio Specialist speakers are of reasonably high efficiency (89dB according to the company), and the AV-10 had no trouble driving them to very high volumes. Bass was strong and tight with infinitely extended high frequencies and a crisp, clean midrange that made dialog easily intelligible. From the deep bass and exquisite detail of the Contact surround mix to the bouncy, driving rhythms of The Fifth Element, the AV-10 was splendid to listen to. At no time in my use of it did I hear distortion or clipping from trying to drive the speakers too hard.
Turning to music, I found the AV-10 to be as impressive a performer as those listeners whose ears I trust did. Given that I am an audiophile used to listening to equipment that costs thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars, I was more than impressed with the level of transparency and detail that the AV-10 mustered. Images were placed rock-solid from left to right, and the AV-10 was able to convincingly show depth and a well-defined soundstage where present in the recording. I listened to many CDs using the internal DAC section of the AV-10. I marveled at just how much information did get retrieved. In most cases, the AV-10's DAC section performed as well as CD players I have heard in the past costing upwards of $1000.
In absolute terms, critical audiophiles will beg for a little more midrange bloom and high-frequency shine, while others will identify just the teeniest bit of solid-state grunge in the mids and highs, which is normally associated with lower-priced components. No, the AV-10 won't beat some $2000 high-quality audiophile integrated amp or separates, but for $1199 you get a very good-sounding multichannel amp, preamplifier and DAC section that are as good or better than any other near the AV-10's price and wholly sufficient to form the heart of an audio/video system. It is this aspect of the AV-10, not its features, that makes it a winner.
Like the Rotel RSX-965 surround-sound receiver I like as well, the Nakamichi AV-10 is a good value not because it contains every bell and whistle, but because of its audiophile lineage. The AV-10 is a nicely built component that sounds remarkably good for its price. While many people buy surround-sound receivers and only look at the specifications for power and features, I caution against this. Many people use their multichannel home-theater system for their music system, and for this they need good sound. Not all receivers do this well. Once the movie image is off the screen and the music plays alone, it is easy to hear flaws in many electronics. I'm glad to say that the AV-10 does not suffer from this. Those who value the sound they hear should go give the AV-10 a listen.
Price: $1199 USD.
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