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In 2013, Sherwood, formerly Sherwood Electronic Laboratories Inc., celebrated its 60th anniversary -- a rare event in the home-audio industry. The company was founded in Chicago in 1953 to manufacture an amplifier designed by Ed Miller. Its first products were tuners, integrated amplifiers, and receivers with enamel front panels and knobs rather than the toggle switches typical of the era. And inside, of course, were vacuum tubes. By the early 1960s, Sherwood was supplying FM broadcasters with stereo multiplex equipment, and in the hi-fi era was responsible for a few “firsts” -- such as the first solid-state receiver (the 1005, in 1967), and the first FM tuner with a digital readout (the SEL-300). Like much of its competition, Sherwood had moved production to the Far East by the late 1970s. The company now makes stereo and audio/video receivers, iPod docks, wireless speakers, sound bars, tuners, turntables, and disc players. I was sent a sample of the newest of their 11 models of 7.1-channel A/V receivers, the R-807 ($450 USD).
The R-807 is billed as the world’s first 7.1-channel AVR with WiFi-Direct, a peer-to-peer technology standard that allows wireless devices to pair without an intervening hardware wireless access point (in home installations, typically a Wi-Fi router). Android has natively supported Wi-Fi-Direct since v.4 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”), as have Windows 8 and Windows RT; Apple’s AirDrop is a similar technology for OS X and iOS.
The R-807 is a full-size component (17”W x 5.4”H x 14.8”D) weighing nearly 19 pounds. Mounted on its faceplate of glossy black plastic are two large knobs: a silkily smooth-turning volume control, and the input selector. There are buttons for power, tuner band, tuning, tuner presets, display mode, surround mode, and stereo mode. Below the LCD display are jacks for headphones (1/4”), an audio player (3.5mm), the included setup microphone, and USB Type A (for a flash drive). The display indicates the volume, the source selected, and the decoding, among other info. However, two display features I’ve enjoyed seeing on other receivers are missing: any indication of the source signal’s PCM sample rate, and the ability to rename a source. (In my setup, for example, the Game source is actually a PC.)
The rear panel boasts a number of inputs: five HDMI 1.4, one RJ-45 Ethernet, one optical, one coaxial, four pairs of analog, and two composite (but no component) video. On the output side are an HDMI 1.4 that supports Audio Return Channel (ARC), seven channels’ worth of speaker binding posts, outputs assigned to Blu-ray and DVD players, and outputs for a mono subwoofer, stereo recording, and Zone 2. Digital content can’t be sent to either of the last two outputs, which is fairly typical. The ungrounded power cable is detachable. As the R-807 is a receiver, it has connectors for AM and FM antennas (both antennas are included). The FM antenna terminal is a push-on F-type rather than a screw terminal -- my FM cable actually fell out a few times. A screw terminal makes for a much more robust connection. The R-807 has no cooling fan.
Control apps are available for both iOS and Android. Codec support is extensive on the video but not the audio side, supporting Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital/Digital EX/Pro Logic IIz, DTS-ES (Discrete/Matrix), DTS 96/24, and DTS Neo6 (Cinema/Music). The R-807 supports signals of resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz, and its AM/FM digital tuner can store 30 presets. It’s claimed to output 75Wpc into 6 ohms with a THD of 0.1%, two channels driven -- a bit low for large rooms, compared to similarly priced AVRs from the mass-market vendors.
The included infrared remote control is decent overall, with a good balance point and few buttons, which share functions. The remote’s lower portion is blank, which makes all of the buttons easy to use without changing one’s grip. While it’s not backlit and there are many small buttons (for source selection), the remote is basically usable in the dark by touch alone, once the buttons’ positions have been learned.
After connecting my sources (mostly via HDMI) and speakers, I went through the R-807’s setup process. The system settings can be reviewed on the front-panel LCD display or, more easily, by using the onscreen display (OSD) via a connected TV. The five menus are displayed in a large font easily readable from across the room. I went through the automated speaker setup using the provided setup microphone. This is not the mike that accompanies the popular Audyssey system; its base lacks the convenient threaded socket for a tripod, to permit easy replication of the height of a listener’s ears when seated. Consequently, the mike positions I ended up with weren’t quite as precise as I would have liked -- I had to resort to balancing the mike atop a stack of pillows.
Auto setup plays a single pitch through each speaker and measures the response. After the receiver performs its calculations, it sets the speaker configuration, crossover frequencies, speaker distances, and channel levels, any of which can be further customized through manual adjustment of the menus. I left them as determined by the auto setup, a process that took much less time than does the Audyssey system included in Cambridge Audio’s Azur 651R AVR, which I reviewed earlier this year. As far as I could tell, there is no optimization of equalization, something that Audyssey does do. I had only 5.1 speakers to hook up to the 7.1-channel R-807; the remaining two channels can be assigned as Surround Back, Room 2, or to biamp the front L/R speakers, but I left them idle.
Network and USB features
As do many mass-market AVRs, the Sherwood R-807 includes a number of features for both wired and wireless networks. Many competing receivers in the sub-$500 price range still omit Wi-Fi capabilities, or require purchase of a proprietary, overpriced dongle. These network features are accessible via a much more modern, graphic user interface than the setup menus. Sitting next to my audio rack is a 100Mbps, 16-port, rack-mount network switch by D-Link, so that I can use my system’s wired LAN capabilities -- my usual practice -- and about 15’ away is a Wi-Fi 802.11n access point by Asus. Both are served by an Internet connection that regularly provides 9-10Mbps of downstream bandwidth.
At the router, I’ve set the Quality of Service (QOS) to prioritize A/V streams. Netflix never buffers. So I was disappointed to discover, in one listening session, that the vTuner app built into the Sherwood R-807 was buffering every 10-15 seconds. This occurred with a variety of stations; vTuner on my Sony BDP-S590 Blu-ray player didn’t exhibit this problem, and the Sherwood didn’t have this problem in every listening session. The stations are generally low-bitrate streams (64kbps AAC or 128kbps MP3) from a wide variety of providers. The Sony vTuner app was better at finding streams, with icon-based browsing and multilevel organization, but the Sherwood afforded searching a particular radio station. The Sherwood vTuner app uses a small font that was a bit hard to read via OSD, and didn’t make full use of my 1080p display’s real estate -- large areas of the screen were left blank, with results and options paginated across many screen views, necessitating extra key presses.
DLNA is implemented in the “push to” receiver style rather than the “pull from” file system of browsing network shares. This approach has the advantage of moving the file and playlist selection from the receiver to a computing device, which usually has a more developed user interface -- navigating many-levels-deep file shares with an infrared remote is a pain. On the other hand, using a computing device is thus made necessary, at least for file and playlist selection. I used PlayTo Lite by Dayglows on my Samsung Galaxy Player (running the ancient Android 2.3) to select files on my Synology NAS and send them to the Sherwood, the latter operating as a media renderer. PlayTo functionality is built into Windows Media Player as well, but may require editing Windows’ firewall settings.
Some files worked, others didn’t. I was able to play the MP3 “Elder Scrolls: Oblivion” from The Greatest Video Game Music (MP3, X5 Music Group/Amazon), performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrew Skeet, conducted by Jeremy Soule; and “Jitterbug Waltz” from Anat Cohen’s Notes from the Village (AAC, Anzic) -- but not “The Purple Piece,” from Cohen’s Poetica (AAC, Anzic/iTunes). Both Cohen tracks were in iTunes formats, but the one that played successfully was from a CD I’d ripped (.M4A); the one that wouldn’t play came from iTunes itself, in a protected format (.M4P) -- a freebie from my having attended the Monterey Jazz Festival. It’s not unusual for devices to restrict which formats are supported, but such guidelines are typically disclosed. In the R-807’s manual I found no list of which formats it can and can’t play, as I generally have with other products. Eventually, I found that the formats MP3, WAV, WMA, and AAC are listed on Sherwood’s website. Critically, FLAC, which forms the bulk of my collection, is not supported.
Free mobile apps for iOS and Android are available from the respective app stores. In my experience, the Android app couldn’t find the R-807 when operating through the main wireless access point, but did connect when I selected the Sherwood as the Wi-Fi network. I’ve used mobile apps from Roku, Panasonic, Sony, and Autonomic without having to disconnect from my primary network. Sherwood’s app is very simple, allowing for volume control, playback mode, input selection, and selecting one of the three network features. It often lost connection to the R-807, and had to laboriously search for the receiver again before proceeding. When launching vTuner, the Sherwood’s Internet Radio feature, I hoped to see a two-way mobile touch interface, but was instead presented with a directional pad. Unfortunately, the audio-only Internet Radio feature can be operated only via the display.
Finally, the Sherwood was able to find and play everything on a Kingston flash drive I’d loaded with media files in a simple directory structure. (When I’d tried a backup flash drive full of many files, the R-807 never found the media files.) The interface is entirely text-based -- no cover flow, even though the R-807 had a network connection -- displaying eight lines per screen when browsing directories, and a single line on the Sherwood’s front panel. When playing an MP3, the R-807 shows the title, artist, album, bitrate (e.g., 320kbps), and time elapsed on the OSD, and title and artist on its front panel. I liked that, for many functions during setup and use, the Sherwood could be navigated with the TV off, using only its front-panel display; however, this would be tedious for browsing the directory tree. The remote has hard buttons for Repeat, Shuffle, Skip Forward/Back, Play/Pause, Stop, and Fast Forward/Back -- once the music (e.g., a folder) has been selected, a TV is unnecessary. I was surprised to find that the Sherwood would play the audio track of an MP4 video, displaying onscreen the time and filename, but reporting the bitrate as “00” kbps.
Music from CDs sounded generally small and constrained, as with Son yürük semā’ī, from Sarband and Concerto Köln’s Dream of the Orient, conducted by Vladimir Ivanoff (CD, Archiv Produktion 474 193-2). Santana’s Abraxas sounded mushy (CD, Columbia/Legacy CK 65490), particularly “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts.” “Slow Hot Wind,” from Pat Metheny’s What’s It All About (CD, Nonesuch 52791-2), lacked crispness and punch in Metheny’s guitar line. When I connected an NAD D 1050 DAC ($499) to the Sherwood’s analog input and switched to Direct mode, the R-807 had surprisingly sufficient powers of resolution -- the music tightened up, and the imaging was more distinct. However, problems of truncated bass and dynamic range remained.
My Sony Blu-ray player gives the user the option of sending to a receiver, via HDMI, either DSD or high-resolution PCM. When I had the Cambridge Azur 651R, it simply would not play the DSD tracks of SACDs. The Sherwood R-807, however, supports PCM via HDMI from the Sony -- I was able to play the stereo and multichannel DSD layers of both hybrid and non-hybrid SACDs. (Occasionally, a disc would fail to work for no reason I could discern.) However, the sound left much to be desired. Images were congested and too centered, failing to use much of the soundstage in the massed orchestral and choral passages of the recording of Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky by the New York Philharmonic led by Thomas Schippers, with contralto Lili Chookasian and the Westminster Choir (Sony Classical SS 37711). The chorus’s lines were smeared, and lacked depth and detail. The Sherwood had limited dynamic range -- a critical feature for orchestral recordings. I had to raise the volume level to hear soft passages, but the amplification became noisy when the volume level got high. Bottom line: The support of SACD playback and high-resolution PCM via digital inputs and HDMI are less useful features than they might be because the R-807 is generally unable to do justice to the additional musical content.
Unlike higher-end AVRs, the Sherwood R-807 does not upconvert or extensively process video signals. Ideally, a receiver should live up to the maxim “first, do no harm,” and I saw no ill effects when I routed the HDMI video signal through the Sherwood vs. a direct connection to my TV. Switching between sources was generally quick and reliable -- something not true of the Cambridge 651R. However, I found that although the picture changed when I switched HDMI sources, sometimes there was no sound, even after I’d waited a considerable amount of time. At such times I had to switch to a different source and then back again before I heard sound. The problem was occasionally present whether or not CEC was enabled. However, this problem happened rarely. At first I thought the R-807’s Audio Return Channel (ARC) function wasn’t working, but then discovered that it did work when CEC was enabled.
The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Luhrmann (BD, Warner Bros.), is expectedly lush and lavish and abounding in eye and ear candy -- car chases, period audio cues, and more than 40 songs. The R-807 had no problems with audio/video synchronization (lip sync) or video quality -- highly saturated as colors are in this film, I believe, having seen Luhrmann’s other films, that that’s how he wants Gatsby to look -- and the dialogue was easy to understand, even against a crowded soundfield. The Sherwood had a tendency to play up the center channel, which worked for many film scenes. I’ve heard better film sound from more upmarket products, but was never taken out of the movie experience by any shortcoming of the R-807, which delivered quite acceptable performance for the price.
My Onkyo TX-SR500, a mass-market AVR from 2002 ($300, discontinued), predates the HDMI era. Of course, the Sherwood R-807 has many features that didn’t exist a decade ago, but I wondered: How might they compare as integrated amplifiers with an analog source -- in this case, the NAD D 1050 DAC?
They turned out to be quite comparable. At reasonable listening levels, the Onkyo provided a broader, more forward soundstage with more distinct images. In Grieg’s Norwegian Dances, with Paavo Järvi conducting the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra (CD, Virgin Classics 3 44722 2), the low notes sounded more like notes through the Onkyo. On the other hand, the Sherwood was quite a bit more powerful, with considerably more dynamic headroom, if a bit noisy. The R-807’s more accentuated bass kick, which I didn’t prefer for classical music, sounded appropriately at home with rock, such as Eric Clapton’s The Cream of Clapton (CD, Polydor 31452 7116-2). With a subwoofer switched on, the Sherwood had much better bass control than the Onkyo, but the sound of neither AVR was particularly clean, detailed, or distinct. With the films that both receivers could decode (DVDs, via the receivers’ digital coaxial inputs), the Sherwood enunciated the center channel better, making dialogue easier to follow, but its rendering of musical scores was less involving. And, of course, the Sherwood also supports the remarkable Blu-ray codecs.
The lower the price, the harder it is to design a product to meet that price, and audio/video receivers have a particular problem: the market demands that they include a plethora of features, many of which require paying licensing fees to the likes of Dolby Labs or HDMI Licensing. The Sherwood R-807 would be an appropriate choice for someone who watches movies more often than he or she listens to music, who has little or no legacy equipment to connect to it, and who is satisfied with a level of musical reproduction better suited to background than serious listening.
There are many good choices of AVR for around $500, some of them quite innovative -- such as the NAD D 3020, for those more interested in two-channel audio; and traditional AVR models from Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, and Yamaha, among others. In this market segment, choosing an AVR often comes down to features more than to sound quality, and the Sherwood would be a considerable upgrade from a sound bar, let alone the built-in speakers of a flat-panel TV. If that description fits you, the R-807 might be the right fit.
. . . Sathyan Sundaram
- Speakers -- Wharfedale: Diamond 8.2, Diamond 8 Centre, PowerCube 10 subwoofer; Infinity Primus P162; M-Audio Studiophile DX4
- Headphones -- Grado SR80, Shure E3
- Analog sources -- Goldring GR1 turntable, Rega RB100 tonearm, Goldring Elektra cartridge; Cambridge Audio 540P phono preamplifier; Sangean HDT-1 tuner; Onkyo TA-RW244 tape deck
- Digital sources -- Music Hall MMF CD-25 CD player; Pioneer DV-563A DVD/SACD/CD player; Sony BDP-S590 Blu-ray player; Roku XDS; Intel H61 desktop computer (2.6GHz, 8GB RAM, Crucial SSD) running Windows 8.1 Professional (64-bit), Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (64-bit), VLC, foobar2000, and XBMC, with Realtek ALC887 DAC/optical output (WASAPI/ALSA drivers); E-MU 0404 USB DAC (WASAPI); Synology DS211j SMB/DLNA server; Google Chromecast
- Subscription services -- MOG Primo, Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video
- A/V receiver -- Onkyo TX-SR500
- FM antennas -- RadioShack 15-1843, Fanfare FM-2G
- Television -- Panasonic TC-P50S30
- Remotes -- Samsung Galaxy Player 5 (Android 2.3); Asus Nexus 7 (2013) (Android 4.4)
- Power conditioner -- APC Line-R LE1200
Sherwood R-807 Audio/Video Receiver
Price: $450 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
6120 Valley View
Buena Park, CA 90620
Phone: (714) 739-2000
Fax: (714) 739-2009