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Vantas DPA-P87

"A Digital Resurrection"

- 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 Back of the Box

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" terminals.

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.

Vantas coupled to the Pro-Logic
The Vantas coupled to the Pro-Logic Onkyo

Mounting Concerns….

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 cumbersome.

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.

The processor/amp 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 Short…

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 new one.

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.

Incidentally, Vantas 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.

Manufacturer's Features 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 Modes (Wide/Normal/Phantom)
  • Dolby Digital Karaoke Playback
  • Real-Time VTRACK™ Technology for Automatic Volume Matching
  • 3 Digital Audio Inputs
  • 4 Analog Audio Inputs (DPA-S50 only)
  • Automatic Source Detection & Switching
  • 6-Channel Audio Line Outputs for Flexible System Configuration
  • Thermally Protected Power Amplifier
  • 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 Range Settings
  • Adjustable Bass Crossover
  • Fluorescent Display with Dim Control
  • Low-Profile Design for Convenient Installation DPA-P87 and DPA-S50

Specifications

  • Rated Continuous Power Output: Center (20Hz - 20kHz 0.05% THD, 8 ohms) : ------------------- 100W Surround (20Hz - 20kHz 0.05% THD, 8 ohms): ------------------- 100W
  • 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): ------------------- 90dB
    at line out (re. 2V): ------------------- C/LS/RS = 92dB ---- L/R/SUB = 85dB
  • Channel isolation : ------------------- >70dB
  • Volume control range: ------------------- 75dB and mute
  • Speaker trim range: ------------------- 20dB
  • 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: ------------------- 12dB/oct.
  • Center channel delay: ------------------- 0-5ms in 1ms step
  • Surround channel delay: ------------------- 0-15ms in 1ms step (Pro Logic automatically adds 15ms)
  • Master Volume Tracking Accuracy : ------------------- ± 1dB
  • Digital Connections (DVD/CD/LD/TV):
    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: ------------------- 6W
  • 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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Updated May 5, 2010