The Vantas Advantage
by Les Enser
Dinosaur, or Phoenix?
Imagine having purchased
the latest state-of- the-art receiver - say about five years ago - and
taking a closer look at it today.
Sure, it still works
like the day you bought it but it just won't play the new Dolby Digital
soundtracks from DVD's. Heck, it won't play DTS discs, either, if and
when they start coming in numbers.
So what does a person
who invested heavily in a quality mid-to-high-end receiver or separates
do, short of having your prized possession end up in a neighbourhood landfill?
Think even further
for a moment. Remember your proud purchase of the eight-track back in
the seventies or the Betamax machine in the eighties? Some of us knew
these formats had a bit of a performance edge over competing formats,
like the audiocassette and VHS; it's that thirst for better technology
that makes one go out on the limb and go for the best, even if it means
crashing into the "brick wall of obsolescence".
But wait! There's
a way for owners of those "obsolete" audio/video receivers to
take off those neck braces! Look no further than the DPA-P87 from Vantas
to save you from colliding with that brick wall.
The Vantas is a magical
box that allows you to breathe new life into that old and pricey "Dolby
Pro-Logic" receiver you bought so enthusiastically.
The Magic Box
The unit arrived at
our headquarters and, since I was chomping at the bit to see if this thing
truly could do what was promised, it was rather difficult to contain myself.
The 24 lb. unit's black face blended in perfectly with the Dolby Pro-Logic
receiver, the Onkyo TX-SV909PRO, onto which it was going to piggyback.
The Onkyo was state-of-the-art
about eight years ago and carried a hefty price tag of about $2599 Cdn
- but it can't play Dolby Digital and/or DTS soundtracks. Which explains
the market niche at which Vantas is aiming
The Vantas isn't only
a surround sound processor; it also houses a large 9-lb solid-core toroidal
power transformer that's the heart of the amplifier system. Boasting 100
watts per channel, via 3 discrete power amplifiers, the Vantas is a wolf
in sheep's clothing.
I ended up placing
the Vantas underneath the receiver and went to work, connecting the unit
to the Onkyo. The units connect together via the speaker terminals of
the receiver and of the DPA-P87; Vantas supplies five, 3-foot length speaker
wires (which are pre-scored for easy stripping) for the task.
On the back panel
of the Vantas are ten pairs of heavy duty, multi-way binding post speaker
terminals. The top set is marked "speaker out" and the bottom
is "speaker in". A connection goes from the receiver's main
speaker front L/R out to the "main LT and RT in" on the Vantas.
The "T," by the way, stands for terminal and may seem a little
confusing at first but you get used to it.
You connect the Center
and Surround channels the same way, of course. Once that's completed you
have to connect all five of the speakers (which you have to disconnect
in order to hook in the Vantas) back into the Vantas' "speaker out"
You're not done yet!
Another connection needs to be made, using the "audio line out main"
jacks on the Vantas to the "tape in" jacks on the receiver.
This allows the Vantas to control the receiver's front main (left and
right) speakers while power from its amplifier section is sent to the
center and rear channels. This configuration means that the original receiver
powers the main front speakers while the Vantas does the rest!
Last, but not least,
is the connection of a DVD player, which plugged into one of the three
digital connections on the Vantas. The DPA-P87 features two coaxial and
one optical connection; I ended up using one of the coaxial connections.
The Vantas coupled
to the Pro-Logic Onkyo
I found that with
the receiver mounted on top of the Vantas it was necessary to shorten
the speaker leads and do some other reconfiguring. This is because an
annoying hum from the center and rear speakers had made its way through
the system and I was unable to find the cause.
Fortunately, the people
at Artech, which distributes the Vantas product from Quebec Canada, were
extremely helpful in giving technical support. They offered various potential
solutions, one of which involved shortening the leads - as well as plugging
the Vantas' power cord into a separate outlet from the Onkyo. They suspected
I was picking up 60 Hz cycle noise from another component, or perhaps
from a halogen light.
As it turns out I
do have a halogen reading light in the listening area and this may have
been the culprit, so I switched power outlets and changed the wiring to
some leftover Monster Cable stripped back to 1 foot lengths.
Once I had cleaned
everything up - Bingo! The noise disappeared! If Artech's support to me
is any indication, one can feel complete confidence in knowing that if
you purchase the DPA-P87 help is only a telephone call or e-mail away.
Incidentally, a bonus
to using the shorter cables was that it also minimized the speaker wire
congestion around the back of both units.
It's a Setup
Before I could do
any critical listening, certain parameters had to be set up in order to
hear the unit's performance, which meant I had to flip through the manual.
It shows all of the connections concisely, and gives in depth explanations
of the entire setup procedure.
The Vantas has a "volume
sync" feature, called VTRACK, which allows for precise tracking of
all the five or six channels (if using a subwoofer) flawlessly, but in
order for it to be effective I highly recommend that you read through
the setup process carefully.
The only quirk I noticed
is that the test tone generated (to set the individual channel levels
of each speaker) is way too short. Since the Vantas has no remote control,
and the setup procedure is done manually, it is somewhat annoying when
the test tone cuts off prematurely: it makes balancing the channels somewhat
I recommend using
a sound level meter - and a partner - to set up the channels accurately.
Have your partner engage the tone signals and volume levels while you
sit in your listening seat gauging the meter. Once this is completed,
you're off to the races!
Now for the fun
The first DVD I tossed
in was the new release of "The Thomas Crown Affair," starring
Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. The first thing I noticed was how the Vantas
automatically picked up the digital signal and came alive, switching itself
out of standby mode. After selecting the Dolby Digital soundtrack from
the disc's menu the Vantas displayed the correct mode and sampling frequency.
immediately showed off its tracking ability with a rock solid center image
that revealed easily discernable dialogue. Ms. Russo's low gravelly voice,
when she first confronts Thomas Crown after the Monet painting's theft,
reveals the DPA-P87's dynamics: although her voice level was rather low,
I didn't have to strain to hear her accusations.
The glider scene showed
how well the Vantas' Dolby Digital circuits work. Sounds emanated from
front left, center, front right back to right rear and left rear channels.
Panning sounds through the front three channels was smooth and even as
the plane sliced through the air. Rear stereo separation was truly evident
in this movie and the Vantas handled it with aplomb. Sting's rendition
of Windmills of your Mind at the closing credits demonstrated the 20 bit
D/A converters' music fidelity, with no hint of harness or brashness.
I enjoyed The Thomas
Crown Affair and I decided to try another movie to make sure that I wasn't
imagining the Vantas' impressive sound quality.
The DPA-P87 also has
three dynamic settings: Minimum, Standard, and Maximum. This is a bonus
because, instead of having to turn the volume down (which is not always
desirable, especially when dialogue is involved) the dynamic setting maintains
the level throughout. This way explosions and other sound effects won't
rock your next door neighbour - or your sleeping kids.
This is especially
true of a movie with dynamic sounds such as the re-mixed DVD of "Predator."
The scene in which the creature views his next victim through its eyes,
for example, makes excellent use of the surround channels.
Even with the Vantas'
dynamic setting switched to Minimum, the shooting spree of the commandos
as they fire upon the creature was superbly handled. The quality of the
sound was maintained, but the SPLs (sound pressure levels) were kept in
check. I found the ambience of the jungle eerie and most lifelike and,
again, the "VTRACK" circuitry did a fabulous job.
The final example
of my "movie listening" experience with this unit is the DVD
release of "The General's Daughter." I just have to mention
the sounds of helicopters crisscrossing throughout this movie which, in
one word, translates: WOW! It illustrated that the Dolby Digital mixes
seem to get better and better with newer movie releases.
The Long and the
While the Vantas offers
many more features that I was unable to touch on, such as bass management,
dimmable display, DTS expandability and so on, I can truly say that this
Digital Surround Processor/Amplifier, once hooked up, worked seamlessly
and never drew attention to itself.
In fact, it demonstrated
that it really can confidently breathe new life into a Dolby Pro-Logic-only
receiver that would otherwise now be obsolete. When connected to my Onkyo
TSXV909PRO receiver, it brought on a smile as if I had suddenly discovered
a new piece of audio/video gear.
There are those who'll
argue that sound quality will be compromised with this type of "hybrid"
configuration, and it's true that background noise levels may be a little
higher than some of the more expensive receivers (such as Denon's $1699
Cdn. AVR3300). But that kind of performance means shelling out a lot more
bucks while still dumping the old receiver - not very cost effective when
you factor everything in.
Besides, the background
noise is truly not a factor and certainly does not impede the Vantas'
excellent overall sound quality.
The initial hookup
process may not be everyone's cup of tea, but with a little patience and
the manual by your side the end results are truly worth it - and, fortunately,
it only has to be done once.
Still, the DPA-P87
isn't for everyone - especially if your original receiver investment was
below the $1000 range. After all, you can purchase a Dolby Digital receiver
for under $600 these days, and it could make more sense to invest in a
If you spent a lot
of money on a state-of-the-art receiver a few years ago, however, the
$699 Cdn for the Vantas is well worth it. Connected to my old TSXV909PRO
Onkyo receiver the DPA-P87 magically transformed the ordinary to the extraordinary.
I think the Vantas
fits the bill nicely and is definitely worth considering. Vantas has offered
a commendable solution to over 29 million Dolby Pro-Logic surround systems
out there in North America and should make the environmentalists very
happy as fewer receivers are dumped into landfills.
also makes a processor/amplifier unit that upgrades 2 channel stereo systems
as well. The DPA-S50 features the same power ratings as its bigger brother
gives 2 channel systems Pro-Logic and Dolby digital for about $1099 Cdn.
and specifications (DPA-P87 and DPA-S50)
- 3 x 100W Center
and Surround Channel Power Amplifiers
- 5.1 Channel Dolby
Digital (AC-3) Decoder
- Pro Logic, MPEG,
2 and 4 Channel Stereo Processing in the Digital Domain
- 3 Center Channel
- Dolby Digital
- Real-Time VTRACK
Technology for Automatic Volume Matching
- 3 Digital Audio
- 4 Analog Audio
Inputs (DPA-S50 only)
- Automatic Source
Detection & Switching
- 6-Channel Audio
Line Outputs for Flexible System Configuration
- Thermally Protected
- 20-bit Digital-to-Analog
(D/A) Converters on all 6 Channels
- Dual Transformer
Design (Dedicated Toroid for the Amplifier)
- Test Tone Generator
for Accurate Speaker Balance Adjustments
- Programmable Dynamic
- Adjustable Bass
- Fluorescent Display
with Dim Control
- Low-Profile Design
for Convenient Installation DPA-P87 and DPA-S50
- Rated Continuous
Power Output: Center (20Hz - 20kHz 0.05% THD, 8 ohms) : -------------------
100W Surround (20Hz - 20kHz 0.05% THD, 8 ohms): -------------------
- 2 channels driven
(0.05% THD, 8 ohms): ------------------- 85W + 85W
- Dual transformer
design with dedicated toroid for amplifiers with thermal protection
- Dynamic power per
channel (4 ohms/6 ohms/8 ohms): ------------------- 150W/120W/100W
- Frequency response
: ------------------- 0 ± 0.5dB 20Hz-20kHz
- Total harmonic
distortion: ------------------- 0.05% 20Hz-20kHz
- Signal to noise
ratio (CCIR/ARM) at speaker out(re. rated power): -------------------
at line out (re. 2V): ------------------- C/LS/RS = 92dB ---- L/R/SUB
- Channel isolation
: ------------------- >70dB
- Volume control
range: ------------------- 75dB and mute
- Speaker trim range:
- Digital Decoder
Modes: ------------------- Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, Pro Logic, MPEG,
2/4-channel Stereo, and Dolby Digital Karaoke playback
- A/D converters:
------------------- 18 bits, 48kHz ( DPA-S50 only)
- D/A converters:
------------------- 20 bits, 96kHz
- Sampling frequencies:
------------------- 48kHz, 44.1kHz, 32kHz
- Bass crossover
Frequencies : ------------------- 80Hz, 100Hz, 120Hz
- Filter response:
- Center channel
delay: ------------------- 0-5ms in 1ms step
- Surround channel
delay: ------------------- 0-15ms in 1ms step (Pro Logic automatically
- Master Volume
Tracking Accuracy : ------------------- ± 1dB
- Digital Connections
Coaxial (2): ------------------- 0.5Vp-p / 75 ohms
Optical (1) : ------------------- TOSLINK*
- Analog Connections
(Audio Line Out/Line In/Tape Play In):
- Input level / impedance
: ------------------- 2V / 47k ohms
- Output level /
impedance: ------------------- 2V / 330 ohms
- Maximum output
capability : ------------------- 5.5V
- Maximum subwoofer
output capability: ------------------- 9V
- Power Supply U.S.A.
and Canada models: ------------------- AC 120V, 60Hz
- Other models: -------------------
AC 220-240V, 50Hz
- Power consumption:
------------------- 250W, 316VA
- Standby power consumption:
- Dimensions: -------------------
17" (W) x 4.125" (H) x 14.5" (D) 432mm (W) x 105mm (H)
x 368mm (D)
- Weight: -------------------
24 lbs., (10.9 kg)
*TOSLINK is a trademark of Toshiba Corp.
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