- Review Price: £599.99
One of the main selling points of this classy 2.1-channel system is the wood cone speakers, which according to JVC deliver a warmer and more natural sound than regular cones. We’ll test the veracity of this claim in due course, but their inclusion suggests that this is a system cut from a more luxurious cloth than your average 2.1 system – and we should hope so too with a price tag pushing £600.
Its looks and build quality certainly justify the expense. The cylindrical speakers are encouragingly heavy and robust, and look sumptuous in their gloss black and brushed aluminium finish. You also get a passive, cube-shaped subwoofer that’s compact enough to conceal easily, but if you can’t hide it away then its attractive black finish stops it from being an eyesore.
The main unit – which incorporates a DVD/CD player, 350W amplifier and FM/AM radio tuner – is also dressed in a similar finish as the speakers and its chunky, angular shape is strangely refreshing in a world where curves are king. The big blue light running vertically down the fascia and the large volume dial are nice touches, and there’s a handy selection of buttons for up-close control. You’ll also find USB and headphone ports on the front.
Like any good DVD player, the NX-F7 features 1080p DVD upscaling, facilitated by the HDMI output on the back. It’s joined by component, composite and Scart outputs, plus optical digital audio input/output and stereo audio input for your external sound sources. The speakers and sub also connect to the rear panel using sturdy colour coded plugs (which makes setup really easy), and because the front and surround channel information is carried separately, there are two plugs at the end of each speaker cable.
It’s all part of JVC’s Front Surround system, which attempts to emulate multichannel sound without rear speakers. Each of the speakers features two drivers – the bottom one handles the main front channel information and the top one handles the surround information. The Front Surround circuitry directs the audio to the relevant parts of the speaker, and there are a few sound modes that cater for different types of material.
The clever sound technology doesn’t end there. Clear Voice compensates for the lack of a dedicated centre channel by boosting dialogue, while JVC’s proprietary K2 processing improves the quality of CDs and MP3/WMA tracks by restoring lost detail.
Format support is excellent, and it’s particularly pleasing to see that the system will play DVD-Audio discs when so few manufacturers seem to bother these days. It’ll no doubt be welcomed by the four people who actually own DVD-A discs, but the deck’s 2.1 configuration means you don’t get the full multichannel experience.
It also handles most recordable DVD formats, including VR-mode DVD-RW recordings and DVD-R DL, but it doesn’t like DVD-RAM. Media file support is top drawer, with MP3, WMA, WAV, JPEG, MPEG-1, MPEG-4 (ASF) and DivX Ultra all supported – and the USB port means you don’t need to burn them to disc first. Lovely stuff.
Another nifty feature is the ability to rip tracks from CD into MP3 onto a connected USB device by hitting the ‘Rec’ button on the remote. Rips are made at 128kbps and you can’t change the quality, but you can edit the track names on screen.
So far so good, but with the system up and running we hit our first stumbling block – the terrible remote. It’s cluttered up with so many buttons and labels that it takes ages to find certain important functions and it’s not helped by their fiddly size. But the use of a shift switch on the side, which makes many of the buttons perform two functions, really rubs salt in the wound.
It’s a shame, as the onscreen presentation isn’t bad at all, with nice clear pop-up menus during disc playback and a wonderfully simple and responsive setup menu.
And with a DVD in the disc tray, the NX-F7 proves itself to be an assured performer on the audio front thanks to the excellent front speakers. Unlike many all-in-one systems, the sound isn’t thin or harsh – it’s consistently warm and full bodied, just the way we like it. Those wood cones deliver a smooth and precise sound, with superbly articulated treble and natural-sounding dialogue.
Saving Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach landing scene demonstrates these qualities perfectly. Machine gun fire has the perfect levels of attack and aggression but without the harsh, brittle edge that makes your ears hurt. Surround effects are delivered sharply, the frenzied shouting easily cuts through the melee (hats off to Clear Voice) and there’s a real sense of width to the soundstage.
However, the system’s Achilles Heel is the subwoofer, which is too wild and undisciplined to make this a completely enjoyable listen. Even when it’s turned down to its lowest setting, it overpowers the soundstage and fills the air with poorly controlled, boomy bass that prevents you from losing yourself in the scene completely. You want tight and punchy; you get loud and flabby.
With music, the wood cones lend themselves perfectly to the hi-res stylings of DVD-Audio, delivering a mature performance a range of test discs. It retrieves lots of detail, nimbly handles fast rhythms and makes vocals and solos sound warm and natural. CDs sound great too and you can really hear the extra sparkle added by the K2 processing.
As for picture quality, the NX-F7’s 1080p upscaling is impressive, drawing fine detail with a steady hand and reproducing bright colour palettes with real panache. Skin tones are natural, contrasts are distinct and tricky detail is visible during dark scenes. Some noise and jaggies are in evidence but for the most part the NX-F7 is an admirable picture performer.
The big question is whether or not the NX-F7 justifies its hefty price tag, as it’s a lot more than you’d normally expect to pay for a 2.1-channel system, and the answer is ‘not quite’. Though the superb build quality, generous features and excellent wood cone speakers almost make it worth the cash, unfortunately the over-zealous subwoofer spoils an otherwise impressive audio performance – and at this price we expect better.
Score in detail