Proceed PAV audio/video preamplifier Page 4

Over this long-term listening period, however, my cumulative feeling was that the Proceed was sonically more precise—even surgical—in its soundspace re-creation, but without the brightness that this might imply. The McIntosh, on the other hand, was a shade warmer—a bit more relaxed.

A closer, side-by-side comparison of recent samples of the two units reinforced these earlier impressions. It also indicated that the Proceed presented the more finely graded detail. On Patriot Games—another first-rate soundtrack—the PAV sounded more open, with a slightly less homogenized quality evident in more convincing reproduction of subtleties: eg, the wind whistling around Ryan's house in the climactic scenes, and the space and depth in music-scoring mixer Shawn Murphy's stunning recording of James Horner's remarkable score. I noted the same differences in other first-rate soundtracks. In Glory, however, the choice was much more of a toss-up, with the slightly sweeter sound of the McIntosh running neck-and-neck with the Proceed in reproducing the astonishingly good sense of depth and space on this laserdisc—particularly in its music (not coincidentally, another fine Murphy/Horner collaboration).

In the final analysis, I had a slight but definite preference for the PAV's pristine, if slightly cooler, sound. The McIntosh was in no way humbled, however, and it is some $700 less expensive (even less if you purchase it without its THX option).

One additional feature of the PAV which deserves mention is the mono surround mode that the PAV provides for non-stereo-encoded program material. I've never heard successful enhancement of mono before, and I didn't hear it here, either. Every time I switched from straight mono to mono surround, I found that the basic sound was degraded, rather than enhanced, by a rather bloated, imprecise quality. There's probably material out there somewhere that will benefit from such "enhancement," but I found that straight mono worked best with mono material.

In the listening room
I was initially surprised at how well the PAV performed as a stereo preamp. I shouldn't have been; a system with the Proceed Pre (a new, two-channel, preamp-only version of the PAV), a Proceed power amp, and two Magnepan MG 2.7 loudspeakers had been one of my favorite systems at the 1994 Stereophile High-End Hi-Fi Show in Miami. In its stereo-only, preamp-only mode, the PAV was hard to fault; it had an easy, relaxed sound, good definition, and no irritating qualities.

But it couldn't quite match the Rowland Consummate I compared it with. Stacked up against the Rowland, the PAV's sound was less expansive, with a subtly grainier top end and a less extended deep bass. In compensation, the bass from the PAV was tighter; yet that same quality may have been responsible for the PAV's somewhat leaner, less palpably there sound—particularly on vocals.

An audiophile friend who also heard the comparison in my listening-room reference system (Mark Levinson No.31 transport and No.35 processor, Krell KSA-300S power amp, and Energy Veritas v2.8 loudspeakers) commented that the "magic" was missing with the PAV, but was clearly there with the Rowland. I don't disagree with his judgment, but it may be a bit severe. Remember, the Proceed is essentially a $2000 preamp with a $2200 surround-sound processor built in. The Consummate is a $6000 preamplifier. I'm certain that even Madrigal would argue that their own, more-expensive, Levinson-brand preamps would outperform the PAV in its stereo mode.

What the PAV is, however, is a solid-performing preamp that will in no way embarrass the best high-end Home Theater systems in which it's likely to be used—with either music or films. Its stereo-surround music mode is effective, but should you choose to listen to your music in normal, unprocessed stereo, you'll get an easily Class B preamplifier tied to a Class A Pro Logic/THX processor.

It would be less than up-front of me to fail to bring up the subject of discrete multi-channel sound—some form of which may well find its way into the consumer market in the next two years. Whichever system wins out (Dolby has a system which, as I write this, appears likely to be the first to market), it will use some form of data reduction to place 5.1 non-matrixed channels (the 0.1 is the limited-bandwidth subwoofer channel) onto a laserdisc. Separation between the channels will be dramatically improved over that of Pro Logic, the rear-channel decorrelation and delay won't be required, and all channels (except the subwoofer channel) will be full-range. Existing processors, including the PAV, won't be compatible with this and will have to be redesigned (footnote 2).

Should you wait? Not necessarily. Pro Logic will be around for a long time. It'll take years to remaster existing titles for the new system, and many titles will never be remastered. Only you can decide if an investment now in an expensive Pro Logic decoder will be justified. If you must be the first kid on the block with the new toy, then you just might want to wait until the new discrete, multi-channel system is available.

But if you want state-of-the-art Pro Logic and THX processing today, and don't want to settle for a compromise until there's sufficient new-format software to justify purchasing the hardware to play it on, the PAV is waiting. It's expensive, but as part of a first-class, no-compromise Home Theater, it's worth every penny.

Footnoote 2: Tom Norton followed up this review in Vol.1 No.1 of Stereophile Guide to Home Theater.—Ed.