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Reviewed by
Roger Kanno

HTB 503DV Integrated
Home-Theater System

Features SnapShot!


Components included: VR-407 receiver, DV-403 DVD player, KS-401HT speaker system, SW-32HT subwoofer
Price: $700 USD

Warranty: Two years on receiver, speakers, and subwoofer, one year on DVD Player

  • Rated Power: 100Wpc into 8 ohms
  • Dolby Digital and DTS processing
  • S-video switching
  • six-channel inputs
  • Includes all necessary wiring
  • Available without the DV-403 DVD Player as the HTB 503 system for $500 USD

The recent growth of the home-theater market has resulted in the proliferation of new products such as digital multichannel receivers, DVD players, and surround-sound speaker systems. Many manufacturers have responded to this by offering packages that combine the receiver with the necessary speakers required for home theater. Some have even integrated the DVD player into the same unit as the receiver, while others package it along with the receiver and speakers. These packages are known collectively as "home theater in a box" or "integrated home-theater" systems, and nearly all manufacturers, including Kenwood, whose system is the subject of this review, have at least one in their product lines.

Kenwood is a name that many may associate with car audio products or budget-priced home audio gear. However, it should be noted that Kenwood was one of the first manufacturers to offer reasonably priced THX-certified home-theater components as well as one of the first to include Dolby Digital processing in their modestly priced A/V receivers. And they continue to offer many high-value components, such as inexpensive receivers with both Dolby Digital and DTS processing as well as produce high-end receivers and DVD players.

So what’s in the box?

The Kenwood HTB 503DV system consists of the VR-407 Dolby Digital/DTS receiver, DV-403 DVD player, KS-401HT speaker system (fronts, surrounds, and center) and the SW-32HT subwoofer. The system is also available without the DV-403 DVD player as the HTB 503 system. Even though this is an entry-level system, it features Dolby Digital and DTS decoding as well as a rated 100Wpc for each of its five channels and an output for the powered subwoofer. While there are a few nice features to this package, given that it's a budget system, there really is not much surprising in either the design or operation of any of these components.

The DV-403 is your typical budget DVD player. It features one each of component, S-video, and composite video outs as well as a single set of analog audio outputs and an optical (TosLink) and a coaxial digital output. There is also an additional analog audio output labeled "Subwoofer," which can be used in conjunction with the analog audio outputs. The remote control is basic, with the menu system fairly straightforward and easy to navigate. The DV-403 can play VCDs, but not CD-Rs.

The VR-407 may be an economically priced receiver, but it sports some useful extras for the budget-minded consumer. Not only does it offer the option of DTS decoding, but it also has S-video switching and a six-channel audio input for any future formats such as multichannel DVD-A or SACD. It has two coaxial and two TosLink optical inputs for receiving signals from digital sources that are preassigned to particular sources/inputs. There are a total of five video inputs (including one that is a VCR loop and one on the front panel) all with S-video and composite RCA jacks as well as an audio-only tape loop for cassette decks, and even a phono input. There are two switched AC outlets on the back panel, binding posts of average quality (which will accommodate banana plugs) for the front and center channels, and spring clips for the surrounds. There is also an AM/FM tuner if you want to listen to the radio. The VR-407 offers enough connectivity and features to make it a worthy centerpiece for an entry-level home-theater system.

The KS-401HT speaker system is the weakest part of this system. The left and right speakers are a two-way design utilizing a D’Appolito configuration, while the center and surrounds each have only a single full-range driver. The cabinets are not very solid, the speakers are fairly light in weight, and the terminals are spring clips. None of this should come as a surprise considering the low price of this system. Finally the SW-32HT subwoofer is included to handle bass duties. It has a single line-level input and lacks high-level (speaker) inputs. The high-pass filter is adjustable from 60Hz to 200Hz and has a bypass switch to disable it when used with a processor or receiver with its own crossover.

Opening up the box

The first thing that you will notice about the Kenwood HTB system when you open the box is the very large instruction sheet that is packaged on top. This provides simple-to-follow diagrams and directions for the installation of the system. With these instructions and all of the required wiring provided (including color-coded speaker cable), the HTB system was a snap to install. However, the provided wires for the surround speakers and subwoofer were a little short, requiring that I replace both with my own wiring.

The VR-407 provides the requisite level settings and delays for the center and surround channels. The levels of the center and both surrounds are independently adjustable in increments of 1dB. Delay settings are adjusted by simply entering the distance of the speakers from the seating position rather than trying to calculate delays in milliseconds or differences in distances, as with so many other receivers and processors. Bass management is a bit confusing. The front speakers can be set to "large" or "normal." If they are set to large, then the center can be set as large, normal, or no. If they are set to "normal," then the center can only be set as "yes" or "no." The settings for the surrounds are similarly affected by the setting chosen for the center channel. While this type of bass management makes a certain amount of sense for some users, some may find it too limiting. Other than the rather small, hard-to-read buttons on the remote and the restrictive bass management, setup and calibration of the HTB system was straightforward.

The sound

The sound of the HTB system was enjoyable and remarkably good considering its price. The presentation did lack some dynamics and soundstage depth in an ultimate sense, and the treble was a bit bright. However, the front speakers were able to image amazingly well with instruments and vocals, with sound effects floating nicely between them. For instance, on the CD Mercury Falling [A&M 3145404832], Sting's vocals imaged well, but were slightly hardened, especially at high volumes. The bass was quite good, but the lowest registers not surprisingly, were missing. The bass on James Taylor Live At The Beacon Theater did not quite integrate as smoothly as I would have liked, but these are minor quibbles.

The atmospheric bass on American Beauty added significantly to the enjoyment of the film with this system. CDs such as Sarah Brightman’s Time To Say Goodbye [Angel 724355651129] sounded quite pleasing and would keep anyone happy who simply loves music and does not expect audiophile performance. Whether it was the raucous soundtracks of Saving Private Ryan or The Matrix, the Kenwood HTB system could play quite loud and sounded very satisfying until pushed past its limits. More subtle soundtracks such as Apocalypse Now, specifically where the helicopter rotors and Martin Sheen’s throaty voice move from speaker to speaker in the opening scene, were nicely reproduced as was the Doors’ performance of "The End." In Chapter 6: "The Helicopter Attack," imaging was good, but it lacked some depth, and Wagner’s "Ride of the Valkyries" was a little lean.

To get a better idea of how good the VR-407 receiver is, I used it in two-channel mode with a pair of NHT 1.5 loudspeakers (probably as good a pair of speakers as anyone would use with this receiver). Substituting the 1.5s increased the dynamics and added depth and body to the sound. Even though the NHTs are not an extremely easy load like many home-theater speakers, the VR-407 was able to drive them quite nicely and was even able to produce some substantial bass on CDs such as Peter Gabriel’s Ovo [Real World PGCD9]. The VR-407 created some fine music with the NHTs, with its limitations only being exposed when played back at very high volumes.

How does it look?

The picture quality of the DV-403 DVD player was comparable to competing models, meaning that it was quite good. Colors were rich and warm, which resulted in a pleasing picture. It may have been a little softer than I would have liked and the colors perhaps a little less accurate, which made the presentation less eye-popping than with some other players, but the differences were subtle. Using the VR-407 to pass the S-video signals from DVD player to the TV monitor led to some degradation in the signal, but again this was very subtle. The loss of picture quality was so minor that I would not hesitate in using the VR-407 to switch S-video signals.

How did it stack up?

I did not really have any components that I could compare directly to the HTB 503DV system. The discontinued Technics SA-AX6 that I own is also a surprisingly good-sounding budget receiver, but it requires an outboard processor for Dolby Digital and DTS decoding making the VR-407 a much better value. I did not have anything to reasonably compare with the KS-401HT speaker system. And to be fair, considering the system’s price, these speakers cannot be expected to compete against more expensive speaker systems from the likes of Paradigm, API, PSB, NHT, etc.

The DV-403 DVD player works and functions much like most other entry-level DVD players from major manufacturers that use the same or very similar video and audio digital-to-analog converters. The DV-403 did a good job of delivering high-quality picture and sound.

Closing the box

While I was not thrilled with the speakers that came with the HTB 503DV system, I can't say they are bad by any means. Their strongest attribute is their excellent imaging. The DVD player included in the package is an admirable performer, as are most brand-name DVD players in this price range. The real standout in this package is the DV-407 receiver. With many useful features and performance that will allow it to be used effectively with even much more expensive speakers, this receiver should easily fulfill the needs of any low- to moderately priced home-theater system.

You could purchase the VR-407 receiver and DV-403 DVD player individually, but the savings would only be about $200. And where could you find a home-theater speaker system that includes a subwoofer for only $200? Add to this the convenience of having all the necessary cables thrown in and installation instructions that even a small monkey could understand and you begin to see the Kenwood HTB 503DV system’s merits. Even a snobbish home-theater reviewer like myself can appreciate the value and convenience of a system such as this.

Review System
Speakers - Infinity Compositions Prelude (mains), Boston Acoustics 555x (center), Definitive Technology BP-10 (surrounds), Paradigm PW-2200 subwoofer, NHT 1.5
Amplifiers - Blue Circle BC32, Anthem MCA5
Processor - Sherwood Newcastle AVP-9080R
Source - Pioneer DV-626D
Cables - Nordost, Sonic Horizon, MIT, AudioQuest, Monster Cable, Straight Wire
Monitor - Toshiba CX32H60

Manufacturer contact information:

Kenwood USA Corporation
PO Box 22745
Long Beach, CA 90801-5745
Phone: 1-800-KENWOOD

Website: www.kenwoodusa.com


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