It wasn't until I brought home a used Sony CD recorder (RCD-W50C) that I realized, once again, how good CDs can sound. I returned the Sony because the analog record level didn't work, but I had a chance to use it for a couple
of weeks. I had the DV-563A on pre-order for quite a while, but, frankly, I didn't expect much from
it and kept looking for a decent player, especially for CDs although I wanted SACD and DVD-A as well, if possible. My current JVC XV-SA70
(which replaced the 723 model) is quite capable of producing fine video, but it's DVD-A is
down mixed to 48
mHz and CDs sound thin. Most of the time it finds the right video mode automatically and the picture is excellent and very cinematic.
One day while browsing at Tweeter's, I was coaxed into trying the Pioneer DV-45A with no risk since it could be returned within 30 days.
Unfortunately, the sound just didn't compare with the Sony's. Even SACDs didn't have the depth that CDs had on the W50C. Because of this, and given it's performance on DVD-A and video, I returned it after a week. I knew my DV-563A would be coming sometime, but given the performance of the DV-45A (it's video wasn't that bad, really, just not my cup-of-tea), I had little hope that it would be
any better. I knew the Denon 2900 would be just what I needed, a high quality,
all-in-one solution, but it's $1000 price tag was more than I was willing to
spend at the time. So, I made up my mind to pick up a used Pioneer Elite PDR-19RW CD
Recorder and forget about SACD for a while. All the reviews I'd read on this
recorder gave the CD playback high scores, comparing it to stand alone CD players costing up to $3000.
On Friday, the day after I returned the DV-45A, my DV-563A arrived at work. I
connected it to the stereo I have set up there (Marantz Model 2225 receiver and 3D Acoustics satellites and
Sub) and popped in an MP3 CD-R I had made for a 50th Anniversary party which consisted of songs from the 40's, mostly.
(The MP3s were recorded at 128 kps from CDs with names like "Hits of the
40's", so some songs were compressed.) The first thing I noticed was how smoothly the tray pushed in. Not as smooth as my old
Panasonic RV-32 (which you only have to breath on), but much smoother than my JVC. The
DV-563A is light, but it doesn't feel flimsy. The remote is not fancy,
it's not back-lit and the buttons don't glow in the dark, but they are well laid out and can be navigated easily by feel with one hand. (It shouldn't take long to program it into my Pronto.)
The sound quality from the MP3s was both gratifying and bothersome at the same time. Gratifying because the sound was excellent (given the source) and bothersome because it led me to believe that Pioneer decided to make this inexpensive unit to appeal to the mass market and put all the quality into MP3 (and possibly JPEG) playback. Nevertheless, I decided to just enjoy the MP3 songs until closing time and judge the rest when I got home.
At home, it didn't take me long to hook up the 563 to my Toshiba 50H81 TV and Harman Kardon AVR-320 receiver. The closest disc was a JPEG CD-R at 1.3 MPixels. I popped it in and the pictures loaded quickly. They can be played in a slide show spaced about 15 seconds apart (I didn't time it), or advanced manually or chosen from a menu. They were extremely crisp and clear. That was enough of that. I wanted to hear some music.
Before I forget, I have to mention that at no time did the DV-563A get hot. It got
very warm, didn't stay cold like my old Panasonic, but also didn't get scorching hot like my JVC does.
The first CD was Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature". The Sony played this with a lot of depth, and many times sound seemed to come from the wall behind me
(I actually climbed on my couch to make sure nothing was coming from the
surround speakers). This is something that my JVC would never do, and the DV-45A didn't do, either. I expected CDs
on the 563 to sound thin with an exaggerated high end to give novices the impression of a lot of detail, but what I heard amazed me. The soundstage was even wider than the W50C, yet the imaging was precise. The sound was detailed, but it was also warm and solid right down to the bass. The depth was incredible and the imaging went front to back as well as side to side. With sound coming only from the two stereo speakers, I was engulfed in music. Still
skeptical, I thought, OK, if any CD can make a system sound good, this is the one.
Let's see how it does on something else.
Next up was Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" (CD). Norah's voice was sweet and clear (of course) and the soundstage was still wide. The depth reached me, but didn't go behind me. Imaging was as perfect as
I'd ever heard it on my system. On some tracks, it seemed like I was leaning on Norah's piano, notes knocking on my ear drums, and her singing 5 feet away.
Then I thought, her voice is never harsh, so again, this really isn't a good test of the player. I looked around and grabbed Linda Ronstadt's "For Sentimental Reasons". Linda's voice covers something like, what,
3 octaves? With the 563, it never got shrill. Once again, the sound stage was wide (wall to wall) and deep, but the imaging remained focused. The sax and trumpet solos were excellent. I tried several other CDs and was utterly impressed with the 563's playback quality. At this point, I'm not even sure I'll need to buy that Elite PDR-19RW.
I played some Music DVDs like the Eagles' "Hell Freezes Over" (acoustic guitar in the intro to 'Hotel California' was excellent), Paul Simon's "You're the One", Alison Krauss's "Live", and Norah Jones' "Live in New Orleans". All sounded excellent and DD5.1 and DTS performed extremely well. The
layer change on Paul Simon's DVD took under a half a second, which is about the
same time it took on my JVC player.
For SACD, I played Norah Jones' hybrid SACD of "Come Away With Me". The sound was fantastic in 5.1, stereo and CD. The only SACD player I can compare this with on my home system is the DV-45A. The 563 is an easy choice here. I have heard SACD at other places, but I really can't make reliable comparisons. I'll just say that I'm quite satisfied with the 563's SACD playback. It's airy and articulate, yet full and sweet. Very nice.
For DVD-A I played Willie Nelson's "Night and Day", Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature" and Queen's "A Night At The Opera". On some discs I had to lower the bass, but otherwise it was every bit as good as the SACD sound. Very well done. After
my initial auditioning, I played several other SACDs and DVD-As and was never
I found the Redbook CD playback 'average' in frequency only. Sonically, for detail, soundstage, depth and imaging, the 563 is much better than average.
If you set the 563's analog output to 2 channel instead of 5.1, you don't have any bass management. When the analog output is set to 5.1, you have bass management in all formats
(for CD and MP3 you need to set your front speakers to Small for BM to work). This means you do have bass management with stereo SACD and stereo
DVD-A as well as multi-channel in both formats and regardless of speaker size
Update 1] You cannot set the crossover frequency in the bass management.
According to Dave Levy of Abbey Road Home
Theater, Pioneer has stated that the crossover frequency is fixed at 100 Hz
for DVD-A and 120 Hz for SACD and the frequency is the same whether you've selected Large or Small front
The way material is directed to the main speakers and sub-woofer when
playing a DVD is fairly typical, but has a couple twists. Deep Bass
(material normally contained in music) is directed to the sub-woofer when
the main speakers are set to Small, but not when they are set to Large.
This is normal enough, but the twist is that, even if the Center channel
speaker is set to Large, Center channel material is still directed to the
sub-woofer. The only time it doesn't do this is when all the
speakers (including surrounds) are set to Large. So, if you plan on using
an ICBM for Bass Management, this would the setting to use. The other twist is in the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel.
That's the .1 channel in a 5.1 surround system. When you set the menu
option to turn OFF the sub-woofer (as if it's not installed), LFE material
is not redirected to the main speakers. Regardless of the (somewhat high)
crossover frequencies and how all the mixing is done, the blend works surprisingly
well. Of course, like any player, the
Bass Management only works when you are using the Analog output on the DV-563A.
When watching a DVD movie or listening to CDs or MP3s, most people will probably
use the Digital output of the 563 and Bass Management would then be handled by
your AV Receiver. You can read more about how I did the Deep Bass and LFE tests
by clicking HERE.
At one time, the Pioneer web site stated that the DV-563A has video-off, which means that you can shut the video section off while playing music
to eliminate possible interfere with the sound quality. I talked to Pioneer
about this and they said that due to last-minute design
refinements, this feature was not included.
The way Pioneer elected to do DSD conversion for SACD's is quite interesting,
and not unlike a couple of very expensive and well regarded SACD players.
With Bass Management off, the signal goes from DSD to Analog directly, and with
Bass Management on, it goes from DSD to LPCM to Analog.
Since it goes to LPCM, it shouldn't make a difference in sound quality and, in fact, I hear no difference when playing it either way (except, of course, nothing comes from my sub-woofer with BM OFF).
Speaker setup (this affects analog only) is located under the Initial Settings menu, but is also located under Audio Settings. Only 3 items appear in that menu, but if you scroll down the others appear. Conveniently, speaker gain and speaker delay are in separate menus, so you can set your speakers to "fixed" rather than "variable" (output) and still have access to the delay.
The Initial Settings menu can not be accessed while playing a disc, but the
Audio Settings menu can. The 563 includes one feature that's not found on many,
more expensive universal players. The 'timing delays' used to set speaker
distance, is also functional in SACD. On most players, this only works for DVD-A
and the video sound formats (DD 5.1 and DTS), and on some players it's not
functional with any Hi-Res format.
Because of pressure from my family, we watched a rented DVD "Just Married" before I adjusted my TV with VE (I've done it since, though). I played around with some adjustments during the movie and nothing
stood out as having bothered me. The colors were stable and there was no combing. I didn't notice
the layer changes if there were any. The rented DVD was dirty, and I didn't clean it as I usually do before watching. It played through on the 563 with no hiccups.
After calibrating the 563, I watched 4 more movies over
the weekend. The first was a rental of Dinosaurs. Again, the disc was dirty but I didn't clean it before playing. I mention this because my
JVC is very fussy about dirty discs. I have to wash all the rentals before playing or I'll get pixelation and eventual lockups. The DV-563 played through it, again, without a hiccup. Then I watched Jurassic Park 3, Ice Age and
Pearl Harbor. I was on the lookout for bothersome anomalies, but found none. At one point, I played part of a movie with the 563 then turned it off and unplugged the AC so I could plug in my JVC player and make a video comparison. When I reconnected the 563 and put the movie back in, it "resumed" where it left off before. A nifty feature that remembers up to 5 such places and can be defeated by hitting the "stop" button.
All-in-all, colors were rich, contrast was very good and blacks were black. Oddly, I didn't notice layer changes in any of these
movies, either. There were no blurs, no combing and no dancing lines or colors (chroma-bug free?). The colors didn't bleed at any time. Keep in mind that these are generally regarded as pretty good quality DVDs, so I don't know if all this would be true on every movie. I don't believe that the 563 has motion adaptive
de-interlacing, but it certainly does a good job hiding this fact.
Over the next few weeks, I watched several other movies. The layer change
in "Lord of the Rings - Two Towers" took less than half a
second. I've included some pictures from "007 -Die Another Day"
that I took with my
Kodak 1.3 Mpixel camera. The first picture is a
close-up of a Lamborghini falling out of an airplane. This actually takes place in
lower, left hand
corner of the picture and is a typical spot for finding motion blurs. Despite
all the action, the 563 handled the scene very well. The next picture
shows a bright, silver gun barrel moving against a black background.
One might expect to see "stair stepping" or "jaggies"
here, but again, the 563 handled it perfectly. The next two pictures show
that the detail, color saturation and black levels are very good. I added
the last two pictures from "Kangaroo Jack" and "Ice
Age" only because I realized that the "007" pictures all
have fairly dark backgrounds. I
compared these images with my JVC XV SA70, which is reputed to have
excellent video reproduction, and see no reason not to replace my JVC with
the new 563. Keep
in mind, of course, that the camera
I used is not very high resolution and that I hand-held it while taking
the pictures in the dark. I didn't use a tripod to steady the image. Most
of the images are cropped and resized, but no touch-up was done.
The picture in progressive scan mode is great on most DVDs (all the ones I own), but I've also used it in interlaced mode through s-video and component outputs, and the picture is very good that way, too.
The setup menus resemble the DV-45a, but with less adjustments available for video tuning. You'll
probably want to do this on your TV anyway. There are no MODES to choose from (like Auto1, Auto2, Film, etc.), so watching a DVD is
There are some things I've noticed and others that have been brought to my attention. This is a $180 player and for this kind of money you can't have everything. Pioneer left out a handful of convenient menu features such as being able to dim the display from the remote rather than the front panel. There is no onboard tint adjustment (you'll have to do that on your TV), and the speaker setup for the analog output is limited in that you can't set the center or surrounds to a greater distance than the mains (might effect 1% of the users). When I pause the picture, small bright objects can have some jitter. It's very slight, but I can see it. This is not the case when viewing
JPEGs, though. The built-in calibration tones are OK, except for the sub-woofer
tone which is too low. I'd recommend that everyone should use the test tones on
their Avia or VE calibration discs to set the speaker levels anyway. And while
you're at it, don't forget to re-calibrate the video section (on your TV).
Pay particular attention to the Sharpness settings which will undoubtedly
have to be increased. With 2 or 3
high-end exceptions, all DVD-A and SACD players will only play these hi-res
signals though their analog output connections. As with some other SACD players,
the sub-woofer level through the analog output is somewhat low and
you have to make adjustments to your other speakers to balance them all.
For $180 you get a player with very good video, optical and coaxial digital
outputs, stereo and 5.1 analog outputs and very nice SACD, CD, DVD-A, MP3, SVCD and
JPEG playback. (SVCD
playback is not specified for the 563A in the manual or on the Pioneer web site,
but I had no problem playing both of my SVCDs and VCDs.)
Every once in a while someone produces a "Gem". It's a piece of equipment that plays well beyond it's price range and is often compared alongside of units costing
3, 4 or 5 times as much. Only time will tell if the 563 ever gets to "Gem"
status and I'm sure you won't find anyone trading in a Denon 2900 for one, but in my opinion it's
Pioneer's best effort yet. If the DV-563A is any indication of what they have in
store for us, Pioneer's future in DVD looks bright. The bottom line is, while
the 563 may not be an audiophile's dream player, it's an outstanding value.
best picture viewing, use this step scale to adjust your
and brightness until you can see all 17 shades. The
2 bars on the left are very close to the same shade.