Sherwood Newcastle R-972 AV Receiver Review

Sherwood R-972 Home Theater Receiver
Sherwood R-972 Home Theater Receiver - Front Panel Open. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Introduction to the Sherwood Newcastle R-972

The Sherwood Newcastle R-972 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receiver is an affordable high-end home theater receiver.

This receiver delivers a strong power output and features Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio processing. This receiver also has 4 HDMI inputs and also features multi-zone operation with two remote controls.

The R-972 also includes the innovative Trinnov Optimizer Room Correction System.

On the other hand, the R-972 isn't designed for the novice as it is not the easiest receiver to use. It also has problems with video performance, which will be discussed in this review.

A complete specification and feature overview of the Sherwood R-972, along with close-up photos of the product and onscreen operating menus, can be found at the Supplementary Photo Gallery provided as a companion piece to this review.

The Trinnov Optimizer

In addition to the standard features you find on this class of home theater receiver, the Sherwood R-972 also incorporates the Trinnov Optimizer Room Correction System in its stable of features.

The Trinnov Optimizer is a built-in loudspeaker setup and room equalization program used in professional settings. The Sherwood R-972 uses a consumer version of this powerful audio reproduction tool.

The Trinnov Optimizer allows the user to set listening room parameters for up to three distinct seating positions.

A special microphone (see photo) is used to capture test tones generated by the Sherwood R-972. Unlike microphones used in other automatic speaker setup systems, instead of one element to pickup test tones, the microphone has four distinct elements (referred to as capsules by Sherwood). The user sets the microphone on a flat surface (or attached to a camera/camcorder tripod) and places it where the listening position is to be located.

According to the information provided by Sherwood, the four-element microphone not only picks up the direct sound of the test tones but more accurately picks up additional information, such as sound reflections off walls.

As a result of this process, the Trinnov Optimizer not only able to calculate the distance of each speaker position but the speaker's location in three-dimensional space. For more details on how the Trinnov Optimizer works, check out the last three photos in my Sherwood R-972 Photo Gallery: Trinnov Optimizer Main Menu, Trinnov Optimizer Start Page, Trinnov Optimizer Calculation Results

Audio Performance

Using both analog and digital audio sources, the Sherwood Newcastle R-972, in both 5.1 and 7.1, channel setups, delivered an excellent surround image, bolstered especially by the effect of the Trinnov Optimizer.

The main thing I observed was the entire sound field seemed pushed a little more forward and was more enveloping than I had expected. The conclusion I drew is that the Trinnov Optimizer effectively repositioned the speakers virtually in three-dimensional space to create a more effective sound field in such a way that it seemed like that the room was filled with a continuous row of speakers on all sides.

Another way you could describe is that the Trinnov replaced the room with an imaginary giant set of surround sound headphones.

There were no perceivable audio dips as sounds moved from the rear to the front speakers in movie surround soundtracks. Also, with music-only listening, the Trinnov revealed more sonic detail in the mix and very effectively allowed the Pro Logic IIx mode to perform its job better in creating a multi-channel music listening experience from two-channel source material.

Depending what Trinnov parameters you wish to set for each input source, the effects can be tailored to your listening preference.

You also have the option of not using the Trinnov settings for any input you select.

Another aspect of the Sherwood Newcastle R-972 was its multi-zone capability, which is becoming more common in home theater receivers. Running the receiver in the 5.1 channel mode for the main room and using the two spare channels (normally devoted to the surround back speakers), I was able to run two separate systems.

I was able to access DVD and Blu-ray audio in the main 5.1 channel setup and easily access XM or CDs in the two channel setup in another room using the R-972 as the main control for both sources. Also, I could run the same music source in both rooms simultaneously, one using the 5.1 channel configuration and second using the 2 channel configuration.

The R-972 can perform second zone operation with its own amplifiers or use a separate external amplifier via Zone 2 preamp output. It is important to note that only analog audio sources are available in a 2nd Zone. Refer to the R-972 user manual for specifics on this feature.

Video Performance

To start off my comments about the video features and performance of the R-972, I have to say I was extremely disappointed, especially after my relatively positive impression of the R-972's Trinnov Optimizer on the audio side.

In bypass mode, the R-972 was able to pass through any video source at that source's incoming native resolution. However, the main problem I had with the R-972's video performance is that I couldn't get it to scale up to full 1080p from composite, s-video, or component video input signals outputting a 480i signal.

The R-972's scaler worked at the 480p, 720p, and 1080i settings, but when I switched to 1080p. or Auto resolution output, I got only an intermittent flickering signal, or at most, the menu of the source or the disc. When any content started playing the image flickered or went out completely to a blank screen.

Also, when setting to 720p scaling, the left and right side of the image was shape distorted. Specifically, using the HQV DVD Benchmark (original version) test disc with horizontal scrolling letters and on the Race Track test, lines of the stands are straight in the center of the image, but was bent on the sides.

To see these effects, click on the three photo links I have provided here: (photo 1 - note the letters "yp" on the left and "mig" on the right) (photo 2 - note the letters "mig") (photo 3 - note the bend in the line separating the yellow and blue portion of the seats). I must note that these effects did not occur when the source was using a different scale than the R-972's scale at a 720p setting.

These tests were run with R-972's HDMI monitor output straight to the HDMI input or when using an HDMI/DVI conversion cable on my video display. I also conducted the same tests using both standard and high-speed HDMI cables between the R-972 and the displays, as well as two different DVD players (Oppo Digital DV-980H, Helios H4000) set to 480i output via composite, S-video, or Component connections between the players and the R-972. I also had a DVDO EDGE on hand as a comparison video scaler.

The displays used in this portion of the review included a Westinghouse Digital LVM-37w3 1080p LCD Monitor, Hannspree HF-237HPB HDMI-equipped 1080p PC monitor, and Samsung T-260HD 1080p LCD Monitor/TV and the same symptoms occurred when they were connected to the R-972, with the R-972 set to scale to either 1080p and 720p from 480i source content.

On the other hand, none of the "bad" effects occur when using these display devices with my source components, either using their own upscaling processors or when connected through the DVDO EDGE video scaler.

This doesn't sound like a typical HDMI or HDMI/DVI handshake issue, unless the HDMI firmware in the R-972 is not properly implemented. It would be unlikely that I would have the same problem across several brands and models of display devices.

My observation is that Sherwood has a definite problem with the video processing section of the R-972 that needs to be addressed.

What I Liked About the Sherwood Newcastle R-972

1. Very good build quality. At 46 pounds care should be given when lifting or moving.

2. Trinnov Optimizer provides accurate speaker setup measurements and sound field processing options.

3. Firmware upgradable via USB and RS-232 connections.

4. Two remote controls provided for both main and 2nd/3rd zone operation.

5. Main Remote is both RF and IR compatible.

What I Didn't Like About the Sherwood Newcastle R-972

1. Video upscaling at the 1080p setting is not functional. As explained in detail in the video performance section of this review, Sherwood has a definite problem with the video processing section of this receiver that needs to be addressed.

2. No home network or internet connectivity. An increasing number of home theater receivers, especially in this price range, are incorporating features such as Internet Radio, audio streaming, and/or home network connectivity for retrieving audio, photo, and music files from a PC.

3. No Dedicated input for phono/turntable.

4. No front panel HDMI input. This in not a deal-breaker, but having added an HDMI connection on the front panel would add convenience for temporary high definition sources.

5. User Manual is comprehensive, but not always clear. Not for the novice.

6. Main remote control sometimes difficult to use.

Final Take

In summing up the Sherwood Newcastle R-972 Home Theater Receiver, I must say that it has a definite case of split personality.

On one hand, the R-972 is a landmark product that offers the most comprehensive speaker setup system available on a home theater receiver up to this point, and the overall audio performance does not disappoint.

On the other hand, the R-972 fails in video performance. This, despite the fact that it features the very reputable IDT HQV Reon processor that is known for excellent video upscaling. I usually include a video performance photo gallery for products that feature video upscaling, but with not being able to access the 1080p scaling function on the R-972, it was not feasible for this review.

Taking the combination of features, audio performance, and video performance into consideration, I can only come up with a star rating of 2.5 out of 5.

To put it bluntly, the Sherwood Newcastle R-972 still needs more refinement to be considered an acceptable option as a complete audio/video home theater receiver. If the R-972 was a receiver that was not intended to include video upscaling capability, or if the included video processing would have worked properly, the star rating would have been higher.

However, that being said, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Sherwood assisted me in this review on a timely basis by providing a second R-972 sample to work with after encountering the video upscaling problems. Unfortunately, the second sample also exhibited similar video performance issues.

More Info

For an additional look at the physical features and the operation of the Sherwood Newcastle R-972, including the Trinnov Optimizer, check out my supplementary companion Photo Gallery.

The R-972 has been discontinued for some time, and it Sherwood's Official R-972 Product Page is not longer posted - but there is an official photo and brief spec info on Sherwood's Heritage Page.

If you are looking for a home theater receiver for your setup, check out current alternatives on my periodically updated home theater receiver top picks lists: Home Theater Receivers - $399 or Less, Home Theater Receivers - $400 or $1,299, and Home Theater Receivers - $1,300 and Up.

Additional Components Used In This Review

Home Theater Receivers: Onkyo TX-SR705, Harman Kardon AVR147,

DVD players: Oppo Digital DV-980H and Helios H4000.

Blu-ray Disc Players: OPPO Digital BDP-83 and Sony BDP-S350

CD-Only Players: Denon DCM-370 and Technics SL-PD888 5-Disc Changers.

Loudspeaker System 1 (7.1 Channels): 2 Klipsch F-2's, 2 Klipsch B-3s, Klipsch C-2 Center, 2 Polk R300s.

Loudspeaker System 2 (5.1 Channels): EMP Tek E5Ci Center Channel and 4 E5Bi Satellite Speakers (On review loan from EMP Tek).

Powered Subwoofers used: Klipsch Synergy Sub10 - used with System 1. and  EMP Tek ES10i - System 2.

TV/Monitor: A Westinghouse Digital LVM-37w3 1080p LCD Monitor, Hannspree HF-237HPB HDMI-equipped 1080p PC monitor, and Samsung T-260HD 1080p LCD Monitor/TV.

Audio/Video connections were made with Accell, and Cobalt cables.

16 Gauge Speaker Wire was used in all setups.

Level checks for speaker setups were done using a Radio Shack Sound Level Meter

Video Scaling Reference: DVDO EDGE

Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, and CDs Used In This Review

Standard DVDs used included scenes from the following: House of the Flying Daggers, The Cave, Kill Bill - Vol1/2, V For Vendetta, U571, Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master, and Commander, and U571

Blu-ray Discs used included scenes from the following: 300, Across The Universe, Godzilla (1998), Hairspray, Iron Man, Night at the Museum, UP, Rush Hour 3, Shakira - Oral Fixation Tour, The Dark Knight, and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.

For audio only, various CDs included: HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Lisa Loeb - Firecracker, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite.

DVD-Audio discs included: Queen - Night At The Opera/The Game, Eagles - Hotel California, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood - Uninvisible, Sheila Nicholls - Wake.

SACD discs used included: Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon, Steely Dan - Gaucho, The Who - Tommy.

Content on CD-R/RWs was also used.