Equipment Review No. 3   September 2002

Kenwood Sovereign Entré Media Player
SRP: $1800

Kenwood USA Corporation
2201 E. Dominguez St.
Long Beach, CA 90801
310-639-9000 (voice)
800-536-9663 (toll free)
310-604-4487 (fax)
http://www.kenwoodusa.com/


Basic Description

Plays CDs, MP3s, CD-R/CD-RW discs directly; manages CDs, CD-R/RWs, DVDs, MP3s, WMA is for streaming internet radio only files, and Internet Radio via unit or along with a compatible DVD changer like the Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M; controls (Kenwood) CD/DVD changer and receiver; can be controlled via computer to manage music files; internal 20gig HD; multi-room capability with optional Kenwood Axcess Remote Portal Audio Player and supports 4 (!) independent audio streams from HD or Internet Radio; On-screen interface; allows E-commerce capability when connecting to the Internet; also retrieves cover art for both Audio and Video discs; supports MP3 recording (96 kbs – 320 kbs); can record CD-R (10x)/CD-RW (4x)/MP3 discs; MP3 transfer capability for portables; digital inputs and outputs; 2-year parts and labor warranty; 17 5/16” W x 4 ” H x 11 ” D; 14.3 lbs.


Equipment

System 1: Meridian 568 Preamplifier, Mark Levinson No. 29 Amplifier, Martin Logan SL3 speakers, PS Audio P300 Power Plant, Audioquest, De Corp cabling.

System 2: Musical Fidelity CD Pre, Musical Fidelity M250 Monoblock Amplifiers, B&W CDM7 NT speakers, Fujitsu PDS-5002 plasma television, Audioquest Cabling.


Setup – Audio, Video, Control Connections

Setting up the Entré is more involved than with most components. There are two manuals that come with the unit: a Connection and Setup Guide, and a User’s Guide.

Video connections are via S-video, component, or composite connections—there are inputs and outputs for all types. The inputs serve as loop through connections when coming from the receiver (45MHz on component, and 6.5 MHz on composite). The video signal then passes through the Entré and directly to the display device (TV), and works even when the unit is off. There are optical and coaxial inputs for digital connections, an optical output, and a set of analog inputs and outputs, along with a set of analog monitor outputs. In addition, there are USB connections, phone connections, and RS232 control cables for hookup to a Kenwood CD/DVD changer and/or receiver. I used this connection for testing purposes with the DV-5900M (already reviewed). There is a single mini plug input for IR.

The remote control that comes with the Entré controls other video devices: TVs, DSS, and cable.

Once you have the connections figured out, it is time to go through the Quick Startup and set up the Entré for Internet access (see Internet Setup below). There are other setup features that you can access from the setup menu in case you need to change the settings at a later time. The preferences section allows you to adjust the screen saver (in 5/10/15/30/60 minute increments, or turn it off completely). The music recording section enables you to change the quality of the MP3 recordings the Entré makes (at 96/128/160/192/320 kbps). You can tell the unit which audio inputs are used for what device, and make use of built-in test patterns to aid in centering the screen, and adjusting brightness, contrast, sharpness, color, and tint. You can control the lookup process for discs that are in the companion DVD changer—what discs to check, a quick lookup, a global lookup, etcetera. Lastly, you use the utility section to view statistics on the Entré itself, reset the machine to its defaults, and update software.


Internet Setup

Connecting the Entré to the Internet was not as easy as I would have liked. If you have a dialup ISP, then it is simple—just connect the phone jack to the Entré, and the phone jack from the Entré back to the phone/computer. If you have a free ISP, AOL, or Compuserve, then this connection will NOT work. The other problem is for people like me who have Cable Modem, or DSL. You need an Ethernet adaptor that hooks up to your router via CAT5 cable. (And, yes, you do need an unused line from the cable modem or DSL, so you need a router if you don’t already have one.) From the Ethernet Adapter, you connect a USB cable that goes to the Entré. Kenwood sells this device for $60 on their website shop, and they can also help determine what will be needed - just call them or check their website.

Kenwood is available at (800) 762 2244 or inquiry@kenwoodusa.com if you have any questions. There is a separate sheet with the rest of the paperwork encouraging the end user to call if there is any trouble. There is also a complete troubleshooting guide at the end of the User’s Guide.

After connecting the adaptor that I received from Kenwood, I began to go through the set up process. I kept getting an error message, but called Kenwood for help. The gentleman I spoke to had me reset the unit, and eventually, restoring the unit to default configuration solved the trouble. I had the RS-232 cable connected to the DV-5900M DVD changer at the time, and immediately the Entré started to look for cover art information. Both Gracenote and OpenGlobe are the services being used for lookup. You are at the will of their database in terms of accuracy of the lookups. (See pictures.)

Some cover art was retrieved, but in most cases, all that was assigned to the CD was a generic grouping cover (i.e. jazz, lite and easy, etc). There was no recognition of a few DVD-A titles since htere is no DVD-A database, and no recognition of half of the DVD titles. This was of a sampling of about 13 discs. This will depend upon how new the disc is, as well as how up to date the OpenGlobe database is. What was curious was the Entré did not find the cover art for Artificial Intelligence, and showed “Unknown DVD” in the display, while the changer itself showed the title. The other DVD title was A Clockwork Orange. It too, showed on the DV-5900M, but could not be found by the Entré. This makes little sense to me. I would think there would be communication between the DVD player and the Media player so this type of problem could be avoided.

If the unit does not recognize a disc or track, you can enter it manually via on-screen menus, or via the computer.


Media Manager Software

There is special software that can be downloaded to your computer for control and customization purposes of the Entré (from the Kenwood website). You can create playlists and groups, title albums and artists, delete information, import MP3 files to your computer (though there seems to be no way to export to the machine—a feature I think should be standard on all of these types of machines). It seems to be well laid out, although I didn’t have a cable long enough to run to both my computer and the Entré at the same time to test it.


User’s Guide and other functions

I’ve already discussed hookup and other information that is covered in the Connection and Setup Guide. The User’s Manual is 112 pages long, and answers all the questions you may have on the operation of the unit.

From the bottom of the remote, you can select music, radio, or movies. These control music inside the Entré as well as music and movies inside a companion DV-5900M DVD/CD changer. If a Kenwood Sovereign receiver is connected, then you have access to local radio stations in addition to the radio stations on the Internet. I was extremely disappointed at the amount of pre-loaded radio stations available. There were 12 stations in the jazz section and not much more in the other areas. A quick search on Windows Media Player found 100 jazz stations in less than 5 seconds. Another search found at least another 50. It is a nice feature if the selection improves, otherwise using a computer still seems to offer the most quantity and variety. I was later informed that there is a way to directly enter the Internet radio URL if it is .asx or .asf format. I did not realize this was an option at the time I had the unit under evaluation.

There are buttons for web access and email that are future capabilities. Another function that is available is access to the OpenGlobe website. There you can purchase CDs, get miscellaneous information about the CD you are listening to (if available), and learn other music-related information.

The on-screen interface is about the best I’ve ever used for this type of machine. It was extremely easy to read, to use, and was very responsive. After 15 seconds I understood everything in the display, and exactly how to make the selections I wanted. The system is based on menus, and most selections are made by either moving up, down, left, or right, and then selecting whatever is highlighted.

You can create custom groups or playlists to aid in the organization of the machine. You can then browse through these with the same ease as the standard ones.


Recording

There are several options for recording. You can easily “rip” CDs onto the Entré hard drive. The speed is roughly six times normal read speed (6x). You can record a mix of MP3 tracks (that are stored on the unit) onto a CD-R/CD-RW. You can record an “Audio Mix” CD when a changer is connected. In other words, take different songs from different CDs and record them to a blank disc in the Entré. You can copy CDs directly in the unit, even if you do not have a separate CD player or changer. You can make recordings from external devices whether they are analog or digital components (via the analog or digital inputs) to either CDs or to the unit itself. The Entré can also transfer MP3 files to a portable via a USB connection on the front of the unit. A list of supported players is available on the Kenwood website.


Listening

At first I tried to use the Entré as a conventional CD player. When you insert a disc the unit will start up automatically even if you don’t want it to. But when a CD is already inserted and you try to get there “blind” it is very difficult if not impossible. Unless you memorize the menus, and how everything works it is very difficult. With the on-screen video this is not a problem in the slightest. Once I got a CD playing I was very impressed with the sound of the unit. It worked fine with the optical digital out in both System 1 and 2. Unfortunately, the optical output does not work with music that is recorded on the hard drive of the Entré! This would normally have been extremely disappointing, but the fact is, the sound out of the analog jacks was better than I expected. It could serve as a conventional player (if necessary) from a sonic standpoint.

I turned on the video display to help me navigate through the menus, and started recording. I recorded the entire Nelly Furtado Whoa, Nelly! album and listened to it. Skipping songs was rapid and easy from one song on the Entré to any other.

Next, I ripped a single track from Fleetwood Mac’s The Dance, and everything went smoothly. It is easy to just select a single track (or a few), and then hit record. I listened to both of these recordings right after ripping, so they had not yet been converted to MP3 format. The machine does this when it is idle, and not immediately after recording. You can select the quality of MP3 conversion from the preferences menu—I set it to 320 kbps for the best quality. Ultimate sound quality of the recordings will depend on this setting. The sound of the radio will depend on the station itself.

No comparisons were made to similar products at the manufacturer’s request.


Noise

One annoying thing about the Entré is noise. Even when the unit was off I could hear the hard drive spinning or doing something. And occasionally the fan would spin, and that was noticeable too. You can hear the unit more than several feet away in a quiet room. It is much quieter than a typical computer, but louder than most (all?) audio components. I did happen to have the unit located on an open shelf, and when enclosed in a cabinet I would assume that this would not be an issue.


Conclusion

I had high hopes for the Kenwood Sovereign Entré, and I was impressed. Media controllers and hard drive recorders are becoming more prevalent these days, but the thing that sets this unit apart is integration. When you have a companion Kenwood DVD/CD changer (and/or receiver), and an Internet connection, you will be rewarded with added flexibility and control that most of the other units do not offer.

The other important advantage of the Entré is its sound quality. Even though it has computer-like functionality, it is an audio component at heart, and it performs like one. Although the machine is not without quirks, those are almost forgettable, when the quality of sound, ease of use, and other capabilities are taken into account. If you are looking for this type of control, then you owe it to yourself to audition an Entré system.

-- Brian Bloom     big_brian_b@hotmail.com

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