Review of
Panasonic® (Technics®) SH-AC500D Surround Sound Decoder - $300 list
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Can a lightweight be a heavyweight?  That’s the question posed by the Panasonic (Technics) SH-AC500D Surround Sound Decoder.

The unit is light on price - $300 list.  In addition, on opening the box and lifting the unit, one is struck with how little it weighs. There’s not a lot in this cabinet, and obviously it doesn’t have heavy duty power supplies. But is the sound that comes out of it as lightweight as the unit and the price?

Definitely not. Although not as smooth, detailed or open as the reference "budget" decoder – the Sony® EP9ES – the Technics comes close in many ways. Plus, it offers decoding of all currently available audio sources – Dolby Prologic®, Dolby Digital®, and DTS®.

It includes a remote that can access all the functions except initial set-up. The remote is simple and easy to use, and ergonomically acceptable (unlike the obscure remote on the Panasonic A110 DVD player).

The unit doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility – no adjustable cross-over, no equalization, no decorrellation, no synthesized acoustic environments. What it does do, however, is take a digital bitstream at the input and turn it into decent quality analog 5.1 channel audio at the output – not high end sound, but much better than mid-fi, and much better than one would expect at less than $300.

Probably the only real deficiency is that the analog output level appears to be on the low side, such that it’s not possible to achieve the highest sound levels, even with the volume cranked full up. Of course, with a higher gain amplifier this problem would be less significant. But Technics needs to watch "This Is Spinal Tap," and remember to include an "11" on the volume control. Also, perhaps because of this limited drive capability, dynamics are not as open as on the Sony EP9ES.

The bottom line is that this decoder offers a lot for its price, and represents an excellent entry-level unit into surround sound separates. Although not clearly stated in the Panasonic marketing material, the unit will decode a Dolby ProLogic bitstream, and thus is fully compatible with the ACKDACTM analog to digital converter.  With this combination it can also decode ProLogic from analog sources such as television, vcr, and satellite.

So maybe this isn't a heavyweight, but it's a middle weight at a lightweight price.

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