For better or worse, names and brands carry with them a fair share of expectations. If Lyle Lovett releases any album, you know it’s going to be a lyrically brilliant mix of styles with a twangy twist. If Facebook puts out a press release, you can bet it is to promise that they really, truly respect your privacy, and this time they mean it. No, seriously.
And if SpeakerCraft enters a new product category, you can safely assume it’s going to boast beautiful design, solid performance, and a strong bent toward the custom installation market. True to expectations, the Vital 910—SpeakerCraft’s first foray into the multichannel AV receiver market— is all of that and more.
Whether you perch it proudly in the room or hide it away behind closed doors, the Vital 910 still makes quite an aesthetic statement via its onscreen menus.
It’s hard not to notice right off the bat the similarities between the Vital 910 and Proficient’s M80 receiver in design and operation (not surprising, given that the SpeakerCraft and Proficient are sister brands), but if you’re unfamiliar with that piece, this one will come as a pleasant surprise. Even before you plug in the first interconnect, you will be taken with the Vital 910’s industrial design; it is simple, elegant, understated, but still quite eye-catching. So much so that secreting it in an equipment closet almost seems like a shame.
Thankfully you won’t have to worry about frying the Vital 910 if you have no choice but to hide it away, because the receiver does a great job of dispersing the heat that it generates. And it definitely generates its fair share.
Whether you perch it proudly in the room or hide it away behind closed doors, though, the Vital 910 still makes quite an aesthetic statement via its onscreen menus. Everything about the GUI is praiseworthy, from the look of it to the layout to the ease of navigation. Put the remote into the hands of even the most moderately technologically capable end users and chances are many of them would never have to glance at the instruction manual to set the receiver up from scratch—partly because everything is so intuitively laid out, and partly because the Vital 910 isn’t cluttered with unnecessary items like lamesounding DSPs. Because, really, when’s the last time anyone engaged the Jazz Hall mode?
The only major source of complaint is the Vital 910’s “Smart EQ” automatic speaker calibration process. The intent, of course, is to replicate something akin to Audyssey. But in practice, Smart EQ is so capricious that I’d recommend skipping it altogether. Run it five times and chances are you’ll end up with different equalization every time. Not to mention the fact that no matter where I placed the setup microphone, I ended up with wildly inaccurate speaker level, distance, and crossover settings. (At the front of the room, it set my MartinLogan Motion 2s to Large; in the back, it set the exact same speaker to cross over at 80Hz. The problem is, the Motion 2’s frequency range extends down to only 110Hz.)
During one run-through of the Smart EQ, it also released such a piercingly loud burst of noise for no apparent reason that it obliterated one of the Motion 2s in question [SpeakerCraft is fixing this problem in its firmware; Sadly, Dennis’ speaker is not so “fixable”—ed.].
Chances are that most rooms in which the Vital 910 will be installed are properly treated and won’t need equalization. And again, the GUI is so slick and intuitive that manual setup is ridiculously easy, although the receiver’s lack of built-in test tones means you’ll need to remember to bring Avia or DVE with you to the site.
Even despite the lack of more sophisticated equalization (or, depending on your opinion of such technologies, owing to it), the Vital 910 is a gorgeous-sounding receiver. With everything from Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks to lossy legacy DD and DTS, the sound is crisp, detailed, revealing, and effortless. Dialogue clarity is impressive, even in difficult scenes. And at 130 watts per channel, the 910 is more than powerful enough for most rooms and most speakers—even the sort of low-impedance speakers with which AV receivers often struggle.
The Vital 910 is also as easy to operate as it is to listen to. For example, instead of turning the receiver on, waiting for it to warm up, and then selecting a source (or programming your remote to do the same, with all of the requisite pauses built in), you merely select a source and the system fires up instantly. I’ve been wracking my brain for weeks trying to figure out why every AV manufacturer isn’t doing the same with their receivers and processors, and I’m at a complete and utter loss. Surely a custom installer must have come up with this ingenious solution. Kudos to SpeakerCraft for listening.
All things considered (and the problems with the Smart EQ system aside), the Vital 910 is quite an impressive debut for SpeakerCraft. It may look a little light on features compared with other receivers in its price range ($1,250), but take it off paper and put it in the room and it more than holds its own, whether you can see it or not.
With everything from Dolby TrueHD and DTS -HD Master Audio soundtracks to lossy legacy DD and DTS , the sound is crisp, detailed, revealing, and effortless.
The Vital 910’s “Smart EQ” automatic speaker calibration process resulted in wildly inaccurate speaker level, distance, and crossover settings.
■ Video inputs: 4 HDMI , 3 Component, 5 S-Video, 5 Composite
■ Faroudja DCDi Cinema Up-Conversion to 1080p HDMI
■ Optional iPod dock with nine-line metadata onscreen display
■ Zone 2 line and speaker outputs
■ SmartEQ auto room setup with mic