By Todd Anderson on Nov 30, 2018 at 4:39 PM
  1. Todd Anderson

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    SVS’s Prime Elevation and Marantz’s SR7012 AVR Tackle Auro-3D: An Exploratory Review

    Manufacturer & Model:
    SVS Prime Elevation, Marantz SR7012, Auro Technologies
    MSRP:
    Prime Elevation: $199/each, SR7012:$2199 (current street price: $1199)
    Link:
    N/A
    Highlights:
    Auro-3D delivers striking immersive realism but has limited US-distributed content, both SVS’s Prime Elevation and Marantz’s SR7012 prove to be invaluable immersive audio tools.
    Summary:
    This exploratory review delivers an in-depth look at Auro-3D, exploring its history and comparing/contrasting it to both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Additionally, the Marantz SR7012 and SVS Prime Elevation are used to evaluate Auro-3D while also searching for a system that can accommodate multiple immersive formats.
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    Let’s kick this off with a quick 3D sound refresher. Immersive audio, you see, has only been relevant in the consumer space for a handful of years. And as the industry introduced the technology’s various formats and performance capabilities, reaction from the enthusiast community was one of excitement tempered by a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, Blu-ray films with lossless multichannel encodes were sounding better than ever and adopting immersive sound meant dumping old gear, investing in new, and deploying more speakers.

    It certainly wasn’t the first time we’d been sold the promise of a new revolutionary AV experience. Remember 3D televisions? How about the launch of Dolby’s Pro Logic IIz? The list of “gotta have, must adopt, eventually flopped” technologies is a long one. Was immersive sound destined to be just another forgettable gimmick?

    My official introduction to the technology happened during 2015 through a combination of event demos and an in-house review of Yamaha’s revolutionary AVENTAGE RX-A3050 receiver. For me, it was love at first sound, as I was quickly seduced by Atmos encoded films such as Gravity (Diamond Luxe) and blown away by a jaw-dropping Auro-3D presentation using PMC speakers at CEDIA’s annual expo.

    Yup, I was easily convinced: This 3D Audio thing is for real.

    At that time, the immersive sound landscape was effectively occupied by two companies: Auro Technologies (makers of Auro-3D) and Dolby. DTS was firmly planted on the sideline, feverishly developing its forthcoming DTS:X format. And for those of us in the United States, Dolby quickly rose to be the most recognized and accessible technology in the segment. In fact, Atmos currently resides as the “Kleenex” of the 3D audio world. Just go to any industry event in the US and you’ll hear most vendors and supporting manufacturers refer to immersive sound strictly as “Atmos.”

    There’s simply no denying that Dolby’s version of the format has dominated the North American market, followed by DTS:X which is poised to gather momentum with its new IMAX Enhanced partnership. That leaves our third immersive player, Auro-3D, squarely on the fringe, fighting tooth and nail for its place at the table. In fact, the word “fighting” is probably fairly accurate, as my industry sources say the market struggle for immersive relevancy has been rough and tumble.

    That leads us to this exploratory review, which has been a long time in the making. It was originally intended to evaluate Auro-3D’s unique immersive approach but has since evolved to explore the utility of SVS’s Prime Elevation speaker and Marantz’s SR7012 AVR in a middle-ground system that accommodates both Auro-3D and Atmos playback. The end result is an evaluation that falls somewhere in between, with a few loose ends that can only be tied-up as the industry’s competitive landscape further settles.


    The Inventor of immersive sound
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    (Auro Technologies) Wilfried Van Baelen behind an Ams-Neve 88D console At Galaxy Studios.

    Just because Atmos is the segment’s most recognizable name, doesn’t mean Dolby was the driving force behind the creation of 3D sound. The concept, in fact, was developed by Wilfried Van Baelen (CEO of Galaxy Studios and Auro Technologies) and first introduced at European and North American AES conventions some 12 years ago. Two years later, Van Baelen revealed the Auro 11.1 Cinematic Format at an AES conference in Tokyo and the rest is history.

    I’ve enjoyed several lengthy sit-down conversations with Van Baelen during recent years, always leaving impressed by his intelligence and insatiable passion for creating natural and realistic audio. Van Baelen, himself, is an accomplished musician, audio engineer, researcher, and thought leader, having created the world-renowned Galaxy Studios during the mid-1990s and forming Auro Technologies in 2010. And he’s the one that coined the term “immersive sound,” which he says describes the emotional experience delivered by the use of layered channels of sound.

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    (Auro Technologies) A peek inside the "AuroTorium" at Galaxy Studios.

    It didn’t take long for Van Baelen’s unique format to appear in commercial theaters, as George Lucas jumped on the bandwagon by releasing his 2011 film Red Tails in Auro 11.1. Today, Auro equipped theaters can be found all around the world – even here in the US, where roughly 170 cinemas feature Auro-backed systems. This may come as a surprise to US readers, largely because Auro isn’t prominently advertised as commercial cinema technology. In fact, most US theaters equipped with Auro are owned and operated by Cinemark, which has incorporated the technology as part of its “Cinemark XD” movie experience. Recently, Cinemark upgraded its Auro 11.1 cinemas with the AuroMax system, a three-layered Auro 13.1 channel based system that includes 128 objects. According to Van Baelen: "AuroMax has become the ultimate sound system for digital cinema and is part of the new SMPTE interoperable standard for immersive sound."

    If you’re curious to find one of these theaters, just follow this link for a map of locations.


    What makes Auro-3D unique?
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    (Auro Technologies)

    More than likely you’ve heard the term “object-based audio,” which is frequently associated with the entire category of immersive sound formats. An object-based approach deviates from traditional multichannel encoding by favoring a process that pinpoints sound within a three-dimensional space. The resulting metadata is then authored to a disc and decoded by a receiver or processor on the user end. The processor analyzes a system’s available speaker array and uses the speakers to best replicate sound within that room’s 3D space.

    Both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X utilize an object-based approach to add a third dimension to theater sound. And while DTS's “doesn’t require any specific speaker layout” claim is a rather big differentiator between the two formats, DTS:X playback certainly excels on a standard 7.1.4 Atmos arrangement using ceiling mounted channels. The installation of such channels – for either Atmos or DTS:X – adds notable height to a room’s existing soundstage, but it also delivers pinpoint sound to objects intended to exist overhead (such as a helicopter), boosting the realism of a home theater experience.

    If you’ve not heard an Atmos system with ceiling mounted channels, seek one out. It’s definitely fun.

    Auro-3D’s basic in-home speaker array differs from that of Atmos, shunning the need for ceiling-mounted channels in favor of ones that occupy two planes of wall space. And unlike Atmos and DTS:X, it doesn't use object-based technology to record and reproduce 3D audio around a listening space. Instead, it relies upon a traditional channel-based delivery method that can be experienced using any Blu-ray player on the market. And while Auro-3D does offer object-based technology for streaming and digital cinema applications, its use of a channel-based approach is content creator friendly, allowing sound engineers to use traditional workstations and 5.1 PCM carrier standards for disc authoring. Also, unlike object-based audio, it maintains a mastering process with music, which Van Baelen says is key for blending sounds with compression techniques to "create that final gloss" on tracks we all enjoy. Additionally, Van Baelen points out that Auro-3D can deliver 24-bit/96kHz Hi-Res audio, which recently became the new standard in music production – the competition, he says, can't claim that.

    For enthusiasts, Auro-3D requires speaker arrangements that are easier to install than that of Atmos (which may ring true for those of you that have run wire for ceiling mounted speakers). That's definitely a bonus for homeowners looking to improve their audio experience.

    Auro’s version of immersive audio purposely shies away from a heavy reliance on ceiling channels (as Van Baelen says: “we don’t have an ear on top of our head”) by spatially replicating sound using two primary layers: a base layer called “Surround” and a second layer called “Height.” Positioning of the Surround layer approximates that of a standard multichannel layout, while the Height layer occupies a high wall area with speakers angled slightly downward. A third “Top” layer can be added with a single ceiling-mounted Voice of God speaker, but most average sized rooms won’t need it. Accordingly, Auro claims its system is designed to mimic real-world audio directionality, effectively tricking our naturally attuned and highly skeptical auditory system into believing it’s hearing something realistic.

    Auro systems can be arranged using a variety of speakers, typically utilizing Auro 9.1 or Auro 10.1 deployments in small rooms and Auro 11.1 or Auro 13.1 deployments in larger rooms, with the basic Auro 9.1 system relying upon five multichannels, a sub, and four wall mounted Height channels. As reference, I deployed a Auro 9.1 system for this particular review.

    If you're curious to read more about recommended Auro installation specifications, click here.

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    (Auro Technologies) Auro 9.1 is the "most efficient 2-layered speaker layout."

    The Auro experience can be enjoyed through playback of native Auro-3D music and movie discs or by converting legacy content using the technology’s Auro-Matic upmixer. Much like Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X upmixing solutions, Auro-Matic translates non-Auro content into a natural Auro-3D immersive experience, while an Auro-2D mode taps either Auro-3D or Auro-Matic processing to playback content without using Height channels.


    The content conundrum
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    Auro's website details cinema and Blu-ray titles available in Auro-3D.

    One of Auro’s biggest obstacles in the US market is native content availability. Blu-ray titles are practically impossible to find and popular e-retail destinations (such as Amazon) only carry a handful of Auro-3D encoded music discs. Contrast that with Dolby, which has released more than 200 Atmos encoded Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray films, most of which are easy to find and purchase.

    That’s a divide that’s quite large and currently grows larger every week.

    Auro content in the commercial cinema world is much more prevalent, with a reported 158 titles having been released with Auro 11.1 audio. Quite a few of these titles are blockbusters (think Skyscraper, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Blade Runner 2049, and American Sniper), which more than demonstrates that Auro has the trust of content creators. But the company’s world-wide Blu-ray presence is much smaller, as its website reports 73 releases (many of which are Blu-ray audio discs). The vast majority of those discs are primarily distributed in European, Middle Eastern, and Asian markets.

    Adding to the US content squeeze is a relatively small selection of available processors and AV receivers with Auro capabilities. Of consumer-focused brands sold in the US, only Denon and Marantz offer Auro-friendly models. Otherwise, you’ll need to reach for significantly more expensive custom install options such as Datasat and StormAudio. Contrast that with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which can be readily found on nearly any brand of gear sold in the US market.

    One reason for this gaping disparity between content and equipment availability was Auro’s initial unwillingness to compromise the user experience by rushing less than optimal gear to market – its choice, right or wrong, was to pursue distribution through brands that valued quality and offered support for appropriate speaker requirements. The company readily admits that Dolby’s initial push to release less expensive gear supporting 5.1.2 arrangements allowed Atmos to grab a large market share. But Auro claims that more top brands are beginning to take a keen interest in what it offers and says a larger market presence is on the immediate horizon.


    Marantz and Auro-3D
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    (Sound United) Marantz's SR7012 AV receiver.

    Before we proceed any further, let’s take a closer look at two key pieces of gear used in this exploratory review. First up is Marantz’s SR7012 AV Receiver. The SR7012 was recently replaced by a newer model (SR7013), however, both versions are roughly the same when it comes to functionality and specs. And for those of you that enjoy hunting for bargains, new in box SR7012s can still be found for a rather significant discount.

    I’ve had extensive experience using the SR7012 and find it to be a highly competent receiver that’s capable of commanding a dazzling home theater experience. It can natively process up to 11.2 (or 7.2.4) channels of audio, requiring the help of an external amp to power speaker arrangements larger than 9.1. And it’s a consumer-friendly piece of gear that offers easy setup, access to Audyssey’s MultEQ-XT32 room correction, full 4K video compliance, HEOS wireless functionality, access to a host of onboard streaming services (including TIDAL), and compatibility with Atmos, Auro-3D, and DTS:X.

    As I noted in my full review, the SR7012’s Auro-2D feature delivers the best stereo music multichannel upmixing I’ve experienced to date (trumping solutions offered by Dolby and DTS). Its ability to keep a front soundstage composed and true to a 2-channel experience while delivering an uptick in surround spaciousness is impressive. It’s definitely a feature worth exploring if you enjoy adding a surround flavor to your favorite stereo tracks.

    For a complete rundown of performance impressions, you can read my full review of the SR7012, here. Also, click on the video below to watch the AVR get unboxed.





    SVS’s multifunctional Prime Elevation speaker
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    SVS's Prime Elevation speaker resting on its backside.

    Last year, we featured a full review of a killer SVS Ultra 7.2.4 Atmos System comprised of Ultra Tower, Bookshelf, Center, and Surround speakers, SB16-Ultra subwoofers, and the company’s versatile Prime Elevation speaker. That same system is making another appearance for purposes of this exploratory review, with our second gear spotlight shining directly on Prime Elevation. This marks the third time I’ve put Elevation to the test, initially pushing it through an evaluation as a standalone speaker for music and later featuring it as a ceiling mounted channel for Atmos duty.



    The speaker, itself, features rock-solid build qualities, sporting a single rear-mounted port, robust 5-way speaker posts, a 1”aluminum tweeter, a 4.5” polypropylene cone woofer, and an attractive black ash finish. Its overall manufacturer measured response is 55Hz – 25kHz with a sensitivity of 87dB.

    Elevation carries two design elements that make it particularly useful for immersive sound duty. First and foremost, its removable mounting bracket system allows for relatively simple positioning on any surface. I’d recommend reading my mounting notes detailed in the Ultra 7.2.4 Atmos System review, but the speaker’s bracket system and locking ceiling insert combine to deliver nearly limitless installation possibilities for a wide range of applications. Secondarily, the speaker’s angled front baffle helps to aim sound at a listening position when wall or ceiling mounted. This feature certainly improved the Atmos experience in my own theater room, but also allows the speaker to comply with Auro-3D’s front and rear wall Height channel positioning requirements. Those requirements call for sound to radiate downward between 25- and 40-degrees toward the primary listening position, which Auro says creates a "vertical coherent stereo field" all around the listener (something, Auro claims, is unique to the Auro-3D format).

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    Prime Elevation temporarily mounted as a front Height channel for demo sessions.

    You can watch Prime Elevation get unboxed and see a demonstration of its bracket system by clicking on the video below. Also, you can click here to read the entire Ultimate SVS Ultra 7.2.4 Atmos System review, which provides an in-depth discussion of Prime Elevation’s Atmos performance. Not surprisingly, Elevation performed equally well during this exploratory review, issuing excellent sound during Auro-3D audio sessions. To put it simply: Prime Elevation is a phenomenal immersive sound speaker.





    System arrangement
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    (Sound United) 9.1 using rear Height channels, shown in the SR7012's Owners Manual.

    As stated earlier, I attacked Auro-3D using a base 9.1 speaker system that relied upon a 5.1 Surround layer (with side surround speakers) and a Height layer comprised of front and rear wall channels. Technically speaking, Auro prefers a layout that places rear Height channels over a system’s surround speakers, however, a quirk in my theater room’s ceiling forced the use of a rear wall Height position (note: this kind of position is recommended by Marantz’s SR7012 Manual as an acceptable secondary option). Because of my theater’s medium size (roughly 18’ L x 14’ W x 8’ T), no centrally mounted Voice of God speaker was deployed.

    Following lengthy Auro-3D demo sessions, I experimented with a mixture of universal immersive speaker configurations allowed within the SR7012’s menu system. These configurations utilized several combinations of front and rear Height positions along with Atmos-friendly Top Front and Top Middle channels. Speaker distances and channel levels were adjusted as different arrangements were explored.

    To note: DTS:X and Atmos are both usable with ceiling mounted Atmos speaker arrays, but Auro’s technical requirements differ. And while the obvious answer is to default to front and rear wall mounted Height channels for universal playback (the SR7012’s menu system allows such an arrangement for Auro, Atmos, and DTS:X processing), my experience has shown that Atmos audio sounds more seamless and realistic when true ceiling mounted channels are deployed. Considering the vast majority of immersive content played in my theater is Atmos oriented, my reference system utilizes Top Front and Top Middle immersive channels.


    Taking Auro 9.1 for a ride
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    Auro Technologies was kind enough to furnish me with a pile of Auro-3D encoded Blu-rays, including Red Tails, two different Auro-3D Demo Discs, and three albums (David Miles Huber’s GAMmA and parallax eden, and BT by Electronic OPUS). Having never experienced Auro-3D encoded music, I was pleasantly surprised to find that each disc presented a menu of multiple listening formats ranging from straight stereo to 5.1 DTS-HD MA and 9.1 Auro-3D. In some cases, each format presented a completely different mix of the same song, which opened the door to a widely varied listening experience across similarly titled content on each disc.

    All three Auro-3D albums proved to be quite extraordinary, ushering my demo sessions to the outer realms of uniqueness. “Renaissance,” an 11 minute long 24-bit/96kHz Auro-3D 9.1 track by David Miles Huber, topped my list of favorites with a wicked techno-esque new age appeal that literally seemed to rotate around the room with a delicate lightness and razor-sharp precision. To be quite honest, this song is like nothing I’ve ever heard – musically speaking – in my home theater room, largely because it appeared to be completely detached from any one speaker. And despite falling outside my preferred wheelhouse of musical genres, it held my attention and left me wanting more. I had a similar experience with “Spectra” from Miles’ GAMmA album, which issued a purity and beautiful spaciousness as it turned my theater room into a circulating caldron of mesmerizing sound.

    While I found Electric OPUS to be the most toe-tapping of the three discs, its presentation wasn’t as rich and delicious as the David Miles Huber experience. Still though – wow – the audio show was something to behold with swirling sounds coming from 360-degrees.

    Next, I maintained speaker positioning and brought video into the mix with Red Tails and various clips from the Auro-3D demo discs. The results were excellent from an immersive perspective, with the Auro-3D demo discs providing the most impressive audio material. While I generally characterize Atmos as an experience that stretches a front soundstage upward while providing direct sounds to objects meant to appear overhead, Auro-3D strongly possesses the ability to inject a true sense of spaciousness and realism using reflected sounds contained in the Height layer. This kind of presentation results in sound that appears to live a tad bit lower within a room’s 3D space (Atmos is more top heavy), but clips such as the commercial jet flyover in Auro-3D Demo Disc Volume 2 proves that Auro can accurately place objects directly overhead, even without the use of a Voice of God speaker.

    One of my favorite demo clips from Volume 2 was audio of a large tractor passing by the left side of the room. With sound reflections clearly audible in areas along the right side of the room, the tractor’s approach and passing sounds were astoundingly real and alive, placing me directly roadside as the massive mechanical beast rumbled by. In response to this listening impression, Van Baelen explained my experience demonstrates the importance of 3D reflections around a source object. Not only do they help to create a more precise localization experience, they also transmit important information about size, depth and overall timbre, helping an object to sound exceedingly real. This, according to Van Baelen, can’t be achieved with object-based technology because each object is typically a mono signal devoid of these important 3D reflections.

    For fun, I experimented with Auro, DTS, and Dolby upmixing solutions using a variety of content. The results were wildly varied. Dolby Surround seemed to favor elevating sounds significantly higher in the room, giving them more volume and a sharper presence. At times, this was to the detriment of the audio experience, while at other times it placed objects exactly where I’d expect them to exist. Auro-3D seemed to prefer reproducing content on much lower planes, and DTS Neural:X typically fell more in line with Auro’s feel and presentation but with a slight nod to the elevation of sound. One great example is the “Helicopter Demo” clip from Dolby’s 2017 Atmos Demo Disc. Auro’s Auro-Matic upmixer very much lowered the appearance of the helicopter’s movement to the edges of my room’s walls, while Atmos had the helicopter appearing to circle directly overhead.

    During demo sessions, I confirmed that Auro-3D performed best while rear and front Height channels where in use, but native Dolby Atmos content suffered because its audio sounded somewhat detached and stretched. Of course, every movie room is different (dimension-wise) so it’s possible that smaller rooms would produce a different outcome.

    Universally speaking, I found that a Top Middle (ceiling) and front wall Height channel configuration worked quite well for both Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D content. This particular arrangement is supported within the SR7012’s menu system, allowing playback access to all three immersive formats. In this scenario, two Prime Elevation speakers were ceiling mounted over the room’s left and right seating positions (angled toward the middle listening position) and two were front wall mounted in an inverted or down firing position. A fairly thorough review of various demo material left me feeling confident that this particular layout could serve as an acceptable universal speaker deployment, and I’d assume that substituting Top Middle channels with Height channels positioned over side surround channels (inverted and firing with a downward angle at the middle listening position) may produce similar results. That being said, I still recommend a combination of Top Front, Top Middle, and/or Top Rear speaker configurations for systems that strictly playback Atmos encoded content.


    Conclusion
    One of the unfortunate realities of immersive sound is a rather large divide that resides between Atmos and Auro-3D technologies, both in design and availability. Here in the United States that divide favors the Atmos camp, although Auro hasn’t been eliminated from the conversation yet (nor should it be). As proven in this exploratory review, the Auro-3D experience has a lot to offer and its immersive capabilities are different and impressive.

    Both Marantz’s SR7012 AV receiver and SVS’s Prime Elevation speakers have tremendous utility when it comes to immersive sound playback. At its core, the SR7012 possesses the relatively rare ability to playback all three of the industry’s immersive formats. Add to that unique features such as Auro-2D processing, and the SR7012 becomes even more intriguing and versatile. Then we have Prime Elevation, which has proven to be an indispensable immersive sound performer. Not only does the speaker sound great, its angled front baffle and wildly flexible mounting capabilities allow it to tackle all three immersive sound formats using a variety of speaker positions. If you're looking for an Auro-3D and Atmos-friendly speaker, look no further.

    While Atmos and Auro-3D sound best when played through format-specific speaker arrays, a Top Middle and front wall Height channel arrangement using Prime Elevation speakers offers a good universal compromise. It’s certainly an option that enthusiasts with multiformat systems should consider exploring, especially if Auro-3D content becomes more readily available.



    Marantz SR-7012 Specifications

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    Amplifier and Processing

    • Number of Poweramps: 9
    • Power Output: (8 ohm, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.08% 2ch Drive) 110 W
    • Power Output: (8 ohm, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.05% 2ch Drive) 125 W
    • Power Output: (6 ohm, 1 kHz, 0.7% 2ch Drive) 165 W
    • Power Output: (6 ohm, 1 kHz, 10% 1ch Drive) 235 W
    • Max Number of Processing (Preamp) Channels: 11.2
    • System Remote Control: RC036SR
    • AM/FM Tuner: Yes
    • DTS HD Master / DTS:X: Yes
    • DTS Neo:X / DTS Neural:X: Yes (11 channel)
    • DTS Virtual:X: Yes
    • Dolby TrueHD / Dolby Atmos: Yes
    • Dolby ProLogic llz: No
    • Dolby Surround: Yes
    • Auro 3D: Yes
    • Audyssey DSX: yes
    • Multichannel Stereo: Yes
    • Discrete Power Amplifier: Yes
    • Power Transformer: Toroidal / EI EI
    • Current Feedback Topology: Yes
    • Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Modules (HDAM): Yes
    • Pure Direct: yes
    • Clock Jitter Reducer: Yes
    Connectivity
    • Gold plated RCA terminals: Yes
    • Composite Inputs / Outputs: 3+1 / 2
    • Component Inputs / Outputs: 3 / 1
    • HDMI Inputs / Outputs: 7+1 / 3
    • Analog Inputs / Outputs: 5+1
    • Phono (MM) Input: Yes
    • Digital Optica Inputs: 2
    • Digital Coaxial Inputs: 2
    • Multi-Room Analog Outputs: 2
    • Multichannel Pre Outputs: 11.2
    • Subwoofer Outputs: 2 (independent)
    • 7.1 Multichannel Inputs: Yes
    • Speaker Terminal: Gold Plated Screw
    • Number of Speaker Terminals: 11
    • Speaker A / B assignable
    • Bi-Amp Drive assignable
    • Multi-Room Speaker Terminal assignable
    • Front Inputs: Audio / Composite / HDMI / USB
    • Front USB Audio: Yes
    • Ethernet Ports: Yes
    Wireless
    • HEOS Multi-room and Streaming: Yes
    • Network Audio Sharing: Yes
    • Wi-Fi: Yes
    • Bluetooth: Yes
    • Dimensions with Antenna Up: 17.3 x 16.2 x 7.3
    • AirPlay Audio Streaming: Yes
    • Internet radio (TuneIn): Yes
    • Spotify / Pandora / SiriusXM / TIDAL: Yes
    • Compatible with Remote APP for Smart Phones Marantz 2016 AVR Remote
    • Compatible with Remote APP for Tablets Android / iOS / Amazon Kindle
    Audio
    • Audyssey MultEQ XT32: Yes
    • Audyssey Dynamic EQ / Dynamic Volume: Yes
    • Audyssey LFC: Yes
    • Compressed Audio Enhancer (MDAX2): Yes
    • Lossy formats (MP3 / WMA / AAC): Yes
    • Lossless formats (FLAC / ALAC / WAV): Yes
    • Lossless formats (FLAC HD 192/24 / WAV 192/24 / ALAC 192/24): Yes
    • DSD Audio Streaming up to DSD5.6
    • FLAC HD 192/24: Yes
    • WAV 192/24: Yes
    • ALAC 192/24: Yes
    Video
    • HDCP2.2 Support: Yes
    • Video Conversion Analog: Yes
    • Analog to HDMI Scaling: 480i/576i up to 4K 60/50
    • HDMI to HDMI Scaling: up to 4K 60/50
    • GUI Overlay on HDMI: Yes
    • HDMI: 3D / 4K / CEC / ARC: Yes
    • Enhanced ARC: Yes
    • HLG / Dolby Vision: Yes
    • 3D Signal Pass-Through: Yes
    • 4K Signal Pass-Through / Scaling / GUI Overlay: Yes
    • HDMI Pass-Through in Standby Mode: Yes
    • Picture Adjust / Noise Reduction: Yes
    • CEC: Yes
    • DSD Audio Capability: Yes
    • Audio Return Channel: Yes
    • Auto LipSync: Yes
    Dimensions
    • Gapless Playback (FLAC, WAV, ALAC, DSD): Yes
    • Weight: 31.1 lbs


    SVS Ultra Speaker and Prime Elevation Specifications

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    Ultra Tower
    • Dimensions (H x W x D): 45.6" x 13.8" x 16.8"
    • Weight: 75.4 lbs.
    • Tweeter: 1"
    • Midrange: dual 6.5"
    • Woofer: dual 8"
    • Frequency response: 28 - 32Hz ± 3dB
    • Port: 3.5" wide-flared rear-firing port
    • Top midrange-to-tweeter crossover: 2kHz
    • Bottom midrange taper frequency: 700Hz
    • Dual midrange-to-woofer crossover: 160Hz
    • Rated bandwidth: 28Hz - 32kHz (±3dB)
    • Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 88dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
    • Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 300 watts
    Ultra Bookshelf
    • Dimensions (H x W x D): 15" x 8.5" x 10.9"
    • Weight: 19 lbs.
    • Tweeter: 1"
    • Woofer: 6.5"
    • Frequency response: 45 - 32Hz ± 3dB
    • Port: 1.7" wide-flared
    • Tweeter-to-woofer crossover: 2kHz (12 dB/octave slopes)
    • Rated bandwidth: 45Hz - 32kHz (±3dB)
    • Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
    • Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 150 watts
    Ultra Center
    • Dimensions (H x W x D): 8.2" x 22" x 10.9"
    • Weight: 31 lbs.
    • Tweeter: 1"
    • Midrange: 4"
    • Woofer: dual 6.5"
    • Frequency response: 45 - 32Hz ± 3dB
    • Port: Dual 1.7" wide-flared, rear-firing
    • Midrange-to-tweeter crossover: 2.2kHz (12dB/octave slopes)
    • Woofer-to-midrange crossover: 500Hz (12dB/octave slopes)
    • Rated bandwidth: 45Hz - 32kHz (±3dB)
    • Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
    • Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 225 watts
    Ultra Surround
    • Dimensions (H x W x D): 14" x 12.3" x 7"
    • Weight: 18 lbs.
    • Tweeter: dual 1"
    • Woofer: dual 5.5"
    • Frequency response: 58 - 32Hz ± 3dB
    • Rated bandwidth: 58Hz - 32kHz (±3dB)
    • Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
    • Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 250 watts
    • Tweeter-to-woofer crossover: 2kHz (12dB/octave slopes)
    Prime Elevation
    • Dimensions (H x W x D): 9.25" x 5.4" x 7.9"
    • Weight: 7.8 lbs.
    • Tweeter: 1"
    • Woofer: 4.5"
    • Frequency response: 55 - 25Hz ± 3dB
    • Port: 1" wide-flared rear-firing
    • Rated bandwidth: 69Hz - 25kHz (±3dB)
    • Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
    • Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 150 watts
    • Tweeter-to-woofer crossover: 2.5kHz (12dB/octave slopes)
    SB16-Ultra Subwoofer
    • Dimensions (H x W x D): 20" x 19.5" x 20.1"
    • Weight: 122 lbs.
    • Driver size: 16"
    • Frequency response: 16 - 460Hz ± 3dB
    • Amplifier: Sledge STA-1500D DSP amplifier; 1500 watts RMS continuous power (5000 watts peak dynamic power; High-efficiency, cool-running Class D topology; Auto-On/On switch with "green" standby mode; Input impedance: 22kΩ (unbalanced line-level RCA)/22kΩ (speaker level); RoHS compliant, lead-free construction, worldwide safety certifications
     
    #1 Todd Anderson, Nov 30, 2018
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2018
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Comments

Discussion in 'AV Equipment Reviews' started by Todd Anderson, Nov 30, 2018.

    1. JStewart

      JStewart Active Member
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      Thanks for the thorough article.
      I hope Auro continues to make inroads and I have the opportunity to hear it someday.
       
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    2. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      Thanks @JStewart

      Auro's presence in other areas of the world is rather significant and has a healthy trajectory. Here in the US, it's not as evident (yet). Just like Dirac is heavily tied to cell phones in Asia (and marketed as plus feature)... not to mention it has a huge presence in the Auto industry. Those are actually its bread-and-butter industries. OPPO, too, has a very healthy presence in the Asian cellphone market. Here in the US, that side of those businesses is relatively ignored.

      We'll be covering some really exciting Auro Technologies news in the very near future (just as soon as we're given permission to discuss it publicly).

      Over the last few years I've read comments by folks questioning Auro... in some ways questioning the company's competency (which is ridiculous, IMO). And, also, there's a notion that object-oriented formats are some how better just because they carry new and fancy terminology. The truth is Auro has a very specific take on creating sound in a way that's natural and capable of appeasing our ears with an experience that they're more likely to think is believable – there's good science and thought behind it. And the rest of the industry has been chasing Auro since it first revealed immersive 3D sound at AES conferences in '08. As I'm told, it was immediately evident that this was the next frontier of sound that would elevate our experience as movie goers and home theater consumers, and both Dolby and DTS knew they needed to join the game ASAP.

      Atmos is certainly interesting and fun in its own right - this is not to say Atmos isn't capable of delivering a really awesome experience. I'm a big fan as tons of us are. But there's definitely something unique contained in Auro's approach. So, I too hope that Auro makes stronger inroads into our US market. We'd all definitely benefit from it!
       
    3. JStewart

      JStewart Active Member
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      Is Auro your upmixer of choice for music now?
       
    4. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      The Auro-2D upmixer? Yes. It’s been that way since I first heard it during the 7012 full review... and i just finished up the functional review of Denon’s X8500H, and have the same impression. Perhaps it’s a personal thing, but the other options sound too processed and lose front soundstage composure.
       
    5. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      @JStewart have you had a chance to play around with Auro vs others for music upmixing?
       
      #6 Todd Anderson, Dec 3, 2018
      Last edited: Dec 4, 2018
    6. Matthew J Poes

      Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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      Hey Todd, great article. Very interesting.

      I have to comment on this ear on top of our head business though. While it’s true that we don’t, that is of little consequence. We can still detect objects in the vertical plane. The resolution is far worse than pans in the azimuth, but it’s none the less there and real. Our HRTF is largely responsible.

      I think the real difference here is which of the approaches is adequate. Since the resolution of our hearing in the elevation is not great, I do see good argument for sticking with high wall mounted speakers.
       
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    7. Sonnie

      Sonnie Senior Admin
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      Very interesting. I've definitely wondered about Auro, but just haven't seen the need to got that far with it.
       
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    8. JStewart

      JStewart Active Member
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      I have not yet had the chance to hear Auro, but would like to.
      I've intuitively thought what Matt articulated above and that the format might be especially good for reproducing music recorded live.
       
    9. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      That comment is somewhat tongue and cheek, of course. And you're totally right, the top most layer (which you're referring to as the vertical plane) certainly has information in it that does exist in the real world... a plane flying directly overhead, a bird chirping directly overhead, etc. Auro doesn't ignore that. The point is, however, that when building an artificial system that reproduces what our ears/brain expects to hear (invoking a sense of realism), the focus needs to be on a be on a base layer with a reproduction of reflections, etc, in an elevated height layer, rather than a system that has a base layer complimented by sound coming from top down. According to Auro, the latter carries to an important gap in formation. And, as you point out, resolution is not as good for sound coming directly down (hence the "ear on top of head" comment). This is simplified, of course... but there's a lot of research behind Auro's design. Whether you believe it or not is up to you ;-)

      Don't forget, the Auro Height speakers are super high in a room and they are angled downward... and the Auro system it can accommodate a VOG speaker for top-down information. I found a 9.1 (no VOG) to sound exceedingly good, even with an object (such as a plane) flying directly over head. But, as noted, the Auro upmixer didn't do as good of a job replicating the Atmos demo disc Helicopter flying around the room overhead (the sound rotates above the head in a circular pattern). The ceiling mounted Atmos channels were better for that. On the flip side, Atmos did a poor job of upmixing the Auro tractor demo clip.

      Just to note, an Atmos system with presence channels spread too far apart from front to back struggles with the Helicopter clip, too. But doesn't keep the sound more elevated in an appropriate place in space.

      I'd be curious to hear an Auro system with a VOG deployed in it.
       
      #10 Todd Anderson, Dec 5, 2018
      Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
    10. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      It's a shame there isn't more cross compatibility, such as we all enjoyed with DTS-HD MA and Dolby True-HD. But right now, that lack of compatibility is built into the design – and it doesn't sound like a lot of cooperation is happening to meet at a middle ground. Obviously, if you don't have Auro-3D content, rigging your whole system to accommodate it would be foolish. That said, I still think Auro-2D on a standard multi-channel system is excellent for adding a hint of spaciousness and envelopment to stereo music.

      I think we're about to see a bit of a shake-up of the status quo with IMAX Enhanced being tied to DTS:X... perhaps that will crack the door for Auro here in the US?
       
    11. Matthew J Poes

      Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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      It would be interesting to know if any of these companies did research to find out what amount of spacing is acceptable. Our sensitivity to change in the azimuth is exceedingly good, but overhead, it can be as poor as 6-10 degrees, or even worse in some areas. Without a visual cue, it can be fairly hard to hear movement overhead until it's extreme. From a multi-layered surround format approach, that is actually a good thing, it means you can get away with fairly crude placement. The issue is, just how crude can you get away with. I know there is some science here, I just don't know if it was tested in the context of surround formats.

      If that science was made public, it could also be useful in deciding how many speakers are needed. For example, based on that information, it would be possible to figure out how many height speakers are needed (overhead or height/wall) for a given sized room. Dolby indicates a ratio based on room dimensions for commercial cinemas that actually suggest rooms as small as mine (my room would be tiny for a commercial venue) needs around 3 rows of overhead speakers and 2 rows of side surround speakers, along with the 2 rear surround speakers. I assume this is all about ensuring sufficient number of speakers to provide the right movement resolution, based on the distance between discrete channels.

      I think that I've read that out overhead movement resolution is most poor directly overhead. As such, I wouldn't be surprised if the VOG speaker idea is really a good one. Place the height speakers at a location closer to where our higher vertical resolution is, and then use a VOG to bridge the gap, but do so sparingly.

      To test a VOG speaker, could you just run a speaker wire through your projector wire chase and then hook a surface mount speaker up in that way? I had even wondered about using a speaker attached to the projector as an option for some?
       
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    12. Matthew J Poes

      Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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      Todd, is a take-away from this that if you optimize for one, you might have good sound with another, but ultimately, it's optimzied for only one. Meaning if you go with Auro and a VOG, it won't sound as good with ATMOS soundtracks, but still sounds better than nothing. With an optimized ATMOS setup (4-6 overhead speakers) it won't work as well with Auro, but is still better than nothing. Short of a ton of speakers and complex speaker switching, you couldn't really be optimized for both.
       
    13. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      I'm sure the research has been done... whether or not they're willing to share it publicly? Not sure. The

      I didn't consider a VOG speaker for this review because of resources... if I'd had an extra ceiling mount channel on hand, I would have deployed it. But when I initially talked over what kind of deployment was best in my room, 9.1 was a great fit and made for easier comparisons between the various configurations I explored. Ultimately, most users are probably going to go high wall for either Atmos or Auro, I'd assume... just out of convenience?
       
    14. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      Yes. BUT, I think room size is a huge factor. Larger rooms, I'd assume, are going to be more problematic, while smaller rooms will let you get away with a lot more. My main issue is relying on front and rear wall height channels for Atmos. You can get away with it, yes, but it's not as seamless and coherent as using ceiling mounted channels.

      I'm thinking about permanently rigging eight height channels... top front and top middle (on ceiling) and front and rear height (at top of wall) – or perhaps top rear, because the Elevation speaker combined with my shorter ceilings practically makes for rear height positioning – and seeing if I can further explore a dual system in my room... I really like the Auro music and would like to explore it more.
       

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