HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



February
2004

Reviewed by
Wes Marshall
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2004


Fosgate Audionics
FAP T1
Surround-Sound Processor

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Fosgate Audionics FAP T1

Price: $2500 USD
Dimensions: 16.61"(W) x 5.67"(H) x 14.76"(D)
Weight: 30 pounds

Warranty: Five years parts and labor

Features

  • Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Surround EX, Dolby Pro Logic II, 7.1 Extended Surround, DTS 5.1, DTS-ES 6.1
  • Fully programmable user preferences for surround modes, channel levels, speaker configuration, and time-delay adjust, via onscreen or front-panel LCD display

Features (cont'd)
  • Analog 5.1-channel input with analog bass management
  • Analog stereo bypass (allows bypassing of any DSP processing of external analog sources)
  • Six selectable crossover points (40, 60, 80, 100, 120, 150Hz); each channel independently selectable
  • Future software upgrades via replaceable EPROM
  • Programmable AM/FM stereo tuner
  • Headphone input
  • Universal remote
  • IR input/output on back panel
  • Discrete IR codes (input selection, mode selection, power on/off)
  • Two DC triggers

Jim Fosgate -- surround-sound pioneer!

Jim Fosgate is a fanatic about sound. He developed one of the first good-sounding surround-sound systems, the Fosgate Research TATE 101A, which ended up winning the Consumer Electronics Show Design and Engineering Award back in 1982. After Harman International bought Fosgate Research, Jim created their Citation 7.0, another design with great sonics. He left Harman and created Dolby Pro Logic II, a system that has moved a substantial number of "two-channel" fans into the surround-sound fold. In 2003, Fosgate won a special Emmy Award for the Development of Surround Sound for Television. In all, he holds 25 audio patents.

Fosgate is also a self-proclaimed tube freak. He did all of the development work for Pro Logic II with tubes, then took the design to Dolby Labs to re-create in solid-state. In fact, well-heeled tube fans can buy an autographed version of his prototype Pro Logic II design, the FAP V1, for a cool $13,000. All in all, the Fosgate name is a powerful recommendation in audio. I decided to get a review sample of the $2500 Fosgate Audionics FAP T1 and try it out.

Fire that baby up

The FAP T1 arrived in a sturdy box that provided excellent cushioning from the tender ministrations of UPS. It’s a beautiful piece of equipment, neatly designed to be casually unobtrusive -- at least until you fire up its attention-grabbing 5" LCD screen. The screen sits stage center, flanked on the left by an ingenious navigation system, on the right by an oversized and well-damped volume control. On the left is something you don’t see every day -- a headphone jack. Turns out that Fosgate likes to work odd hours and is sensitive to waking up his family.

The rear panel has plenty of connections for most households. On the video side are three component-video inputs with a reported 60MHz bandwidth (the manual incorrectly lists the bandwidth as 45MHz). There are also five S-video inputs, five composite inputs, a VCR tape loop, a composite input for your security camera (!), a composite output for a second zone, and composite, S-video, and component monitor outputs.

As is no surprise from a sonic adventurer such as Fosgate, audio options abound on the FAP T1. There are four optical and two coaxial digital inputs, nine analog stereo inputs (each of which can entirely bypass the digital manipulation and be sent direct to the volume control and your amplifier; my Rega P-25 says "Thanks!"), and a six-channel input for your SACD or DVD-Audio player that remains in the analog realm. There’s also a brilliant little two-way switch on the back, labeled Analog Bass Management. When it is in its down position, all speakers are fed the full bandwidth; the subwoofer gets the summed sub-80Hz information. In the switch’s up position, all below-80Hz information is subtracted (in the analog domain) from the main, center, and surround speakers, and is sent to the sub. This is a neat solution to providing some management without forcing the signal through an unnecessary analog-digital-analog turnaround.

Setting up the FAP T1 required some time reading its manual. Entering the speaker sizes and calibrating the levels was straightforward -- the addition of six different crossover points helps a lot -- but setting up the inputs took a bit more work. You’re given 11 inputs, two of which (for the AM and FM tuners) are fixed. For the other nine sources, you must select where the audiostream comes from, what kind of surround mode you want, whether you want to alter the bass (6dB around 30Hz) or treble balance (6dB around 10kHz), and whether or not you want to use the Fosgate’s Night effect.

"Night" is used for compression of Dolby Digital-encoded soundtracks. Remember what I said about Jim Fosgate liking to work odd hours without disturbing anyone? Well, now that he’s successful, he’s been able to build an underground lab and not bother anyone. But he knows that most of us don’t have that option, so he’s included Dolby's very benign compressor that lets you drastically lower the volume and still hear everything. For a long time, I didn’t use it. Just before the end of the testing, I finally found a neat use for it that actually did occur at night -- the Night mode works great for playing music videos in the background at a party.

Once you’ve configured all of your inputs, you’ll probably notice that you can’t change any of their names. That means that you and your co-users will have to remember that "Video 2" is the TiVo, or "Auxiliary 1" is your turntable. This may or may not be an issue for you. But because I have every single input filled, I usually have to scroll through to find whether I put the DVD recorder on DVD or on Video 1, 2, or 3. A helpful page in the owner’s manual, suitable for photocopying, allows you to note where and how everything is set up. You’d be wise to fill this page in completely and keep it somewhere convenient.

If you wonder how I have managed to fill up all 11 inputs, let me ’splain. I love having music on all over the house. For me, a preamp-processor without a Zone 2 is a nonstarter. The FAP T1 has a Zone 2, but it doesn’t work with digital inputs. Consequently, if you prefer using the digital feed from something that you also want to use for Zone 2, you have to use both a digital and an analog input. For instance, if you want to get DirecTV’s Dolby Digital 5.1 feed for a movie but also want to listen to one of their jazz stations in Zone 2, you have to use up an analog and a digital input. Want to use your DVD player as a music player throughout the house? Again, you’ll have to use both a digital and analog input. As you can see, all those wonderful inputs can get used up very quickly. There’s an easy solution: a slight redesign to allow the digital signals into Zone 2. It would make a huge difference.

Speaking of Zone 2, getting it going from the front panel can take up to 18 keystrokes -- and that’s before you set the volume! Both the Lexicon MC-1 and Sunfire Theater Grand III pre-pros can accomplish the same thing with two or three strokes. Using the remote control makes the process much faster, but I usually like to switch on Zone 2 from the front panel rather than hunting down the remote. I hope that, in the future, Fosgate will make accessing Zone 2 from the front panel a little easier.

The 5" LCD screen has a number of great uses. You can make changes in the setup without having to turn on your monitor. It allows you to check what you’re sending to Zone 2 without having to walk to the other room. For you survivalists, it even lets you check your security camera to see who’s at the front gate. Most important, for us music lovers, it means we can use DVD-Audio without having to fire up the monitor.

The FAP T1’s remote control appears to be the same one used by Atlantic Technologies for their P2000, and by Outlaw Audio for their Model 950. It’s nicely backlit, and the main controls -- input selection, volume, and menu commands -- are easy to see and use. If you want to go deeper, you’ll have to keep a magnifying glass next to your seat. The rest of the remote features 16 identically sized buttons above ten identically sized buttons, many of them labeled in 8-point gold type.

Enough, already. How did it sound?

One of the best-sounding films to come out in quite a while is Rabbit-Proof Fence. Peter Gabriel’s score features all sorts of electronic and acoustic instruments jumbled into soundstages both real and imagined. On top of that, it pumps out wall-rattling bass. The sound through the FAP T1 was lively, assertive, and in-your-face. Action films such as Galaxy Quest, Tears of the Sun, The Quiet American, and Die Another Day shot out of the speakers with incredible effect. In Dinosaur, during the opening chase with the Carnotaur trying to eat everyone, I could feel each footstep. Final Fantasy is another "big sound" film; again, the Fosgate had more oomph than the Lexicon or the Sunfire. Whether or not it’s too energetic will depend on your taste, but I found myself occasionally wishing for the Sunfire’s more elegant sound.

Next, I decided to try the FAP T1 with music. Using the coaxial digital input fed by a Tascam pro-audio CD player and using Pro Logic II, the sound maintained its force, but also was capable of extremely delicate shadings. William Mathias’s Dance Overture [Lyrita 328] goes from pp to fff, all the while shifting orchestral sections and offering lovely combinations of instruments. With Pro Logic II, the sound had substantial depth and airiness. I also tried the piece using the Tascam’s DACs run direct through the analog bypass. The two-channel sound was clear and clean, but, as usually happens when you do an instant change from surround sound to two-channel, the stage depth dropped dramatically.

Just for fun, I tried the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds DVD-A [EMI 77937DVA]. I was able to run the single DVD four ways: 5.1 analog, 2.0 analog, Pro Logic II, and Dolby Digital 5.1. The FAP T1 offered beautiful sounds in all four formats. My preferences, in order, were 5.1 analog (the DVD-A track), Dolby Digital 5.1, DPL II, and 2.0 analog. The surprise to me, after the forward sound of films, was the smooth and elegant sound of Dolby Digital on music.

The FAP T1’s picture was excellent. I generally run my main DVD player directly to the projector and everything else through the processor. In this case, I decided to give the FAP T1’s video section the toughest test I know: comparing a bypassed picture to the FAP T1’s picture. Through the component circuitry, I saw no difference whatsoever. Through the S-video and composite, the FAP T1’s picture was just slightly brighter and noticeably less sharp than the bypassed.

Which would I choose?

Here’s how I would rank the three preamplifier-processors I had on hand: Sunfire Theater Grand III ($3500) first, Fosgate FAP T1 ($2500) second, and Lexicon MC-1 ($5999 in 1999) third. The Sunfire has the same explosive transients but a more consistent and articulate sound, though the difference was slight. The Sunfire’s user interface is better, and it comes with the best remote I’ve used. It also costs more and doesn’t have the cool and very useful 5" LCD screen. The FAP T1 scores over the Theater Grand III with SACD or DVD-Audio; the Fosgate’s bass-management system is something you don’t get, in any form, on the TGIII.

Fosgate’s FAP T1 handily beat the five-year-old Lexicon in sonic quality. The FAP T1’s ability to work with a 5.1 analog signal from SACD or DVD-A, especially with its classy analog bass-management system, was something the Lexicon couldn’t match.

If money were no issue, I’d choose the Sunfire. If the extra $1000 were going to hurt, I would happily take the Fosgate and never feel slighted.

Conclusion

In its price range, the Fosgate FAP T1 is the best processor I’ve come in contact with, and a striking bargain at $2500. The sound is intense and exciting with action films, yet delicate and revealing with music. The 5" LCD screen is genuinely useful, and the Fosgate’s component-video switching seems close to perfect. I haven’t had the chance to try all of the FAP T1’s competitors in the $2500 range, but other than my personal issue with not being able to use the digital inputs in Zone 2, the FAP T1 seems unbeatable. If you are in the market for a processor in the $2500 to $3000 range, the Fosgate FAP T1 belongs on the top of your list.

Review System
Speakers - ATC SMC 50A (mains), Sonance Symphony (surrounds), KEF Model 100 (center), Sunfire True Subwoofer Signature
Processors - Lexicon MC-1, Sunfire Theater Grand Processor III
Amplifier - B&K Video 5
Sources - Pioneer DV-434, Panasonic CP-72, Ayre D-1x DVD players; Panasonic DMR E60S DVD recorder; JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS recorder; Rega P-25 turntable, Rega Super Elys cartridge, Musical Fidelity XLPS phono stage; Tascam CD-RW4U CD player-recorder
Cables - Canare, Straight Wire
Projectors - Runco Cinema 750, Boxlight Cinema 20HD, PLUS Piano Avanti HE-3200, InFocus ScreenPlay 7200
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Fosgate Audionics
546 S. Rockford Dr.
Tempe, AZ 85281
Phone: (866) 777-7282
Fax: (480) 894-1528

E-mail: support@fosgateaudionics.com
Website: www.fosgateaudionics.com

 


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