Minisystems often get a bad rap, and while it's true that they can't rival the performance of separate components or even most home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems, they undeniably supply serious bang for the buck. Think of it as dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet: the food might not be the best you've ever had, but you're not going to leave hungry. We like the JVC FS-GD7 for serving up a heaping plate of features, including a five-disc DVD/CD changer, an integrated AM/FM tuner, and extensive connectivity, including component-video outputs and a USB port that allows the FS-GD7 to double as a multimedia speaker system.
From its silver speaker grilles and cabinets to its silver main unit and controls, the JVC FS-GD7 has a bright, in-your-face appearance. The main unit has five up/down switches that play or eject any of the five disc trays, which hide behind a hinged automatic door. Tilting a switch up ejects the respective disc, while tilting it down plays the disc; however, the confusingly positioned Play and Eject labels tended to cause blunders until we grew accustomed to the system. We also wish the 52-button remote featured the Disc Select button more prominently. The remote isn't universal--meaning you can't program it to operate additional devices, such as your cable box--nor is it backlit for navigation in the dark.
With its two speakers measuring approximately 11 by 6.5 by 8.25 inches each and the main unit measuring approximately 9 by 7.5 by 16 inches, the JVC FS-GD7 is compact enough to fit on a shelf or a small table. According to our measurements, the front-vented two-way speakers each have a 4.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter.
The JVC FS-GD7's front-panel display, which is exceptionally difficult to read from off-angle, conveys such basic information as the current track number and the playback time for audio CDs; you can display the same information on a connected TV. The system doesn't display album art or text information such as track titles or artist names for audio CDs. For MP3 CDs, the FS-GD7 displays the tracks' filenames and ID3-tag-based track information, such as artist and album, but it's a letdown that it doesn't let you navigate MP3 CDs via the ID3-tag classifications. You can navigate tracks on MP3 CDs by filename and directory, but that's it.
The JVC FS-GD7 is compatible with home-burned discs, including DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD-R, and CD-RW media. The system supports Video CDs (VCDs) and discs containing JPEG image files, as well as the aforementioned MP3 CDs and even stereo playback of DVD-Audio discs. It's worth noting that unlike Panasonic's comparably priced SC-PM91D, the JVC isn't compatible with WMA files. Also, anyone with a large collection of audiocassettes should take notice: while the SC-PM91D and Sony's single-disc CMT-DV2D system include tape decks, the JVC does not.
The rear panel of the JVC FS-GD7 offers a full complement of video outputs: composite, S-Video, and even progressive-scan component connections. There's also a subwoofer output and an optical digital out; the latter is useful if you want to connect a compatible set of powered surround speakers, for example. There are no rear-panel audio inputs; to connect an iPod or another external device (for example, a cable/satellite box), you'll need to use the line-in minijack on the front. Also on the front panel is a USB port, which allows the FS-GD7 to double as a multimedia speaker system for a PC or a Mac--a nice touch that you won't get with most minisystems. The front panel hosts a minijack headphone output. Except for the headphone port, we wish the line-in and USB jacks were on the back, so we wouldn't have cables cluttering up the front of our system; those who tend to disconnect their gear often may prefer the front hookups, however.
The JVC FS-GD7's 90-watt-per-channel output is plenty for a dorm room or a small living room. Unfortunately, like many of its bargain minisystem competitors, the GD7 delivered overemphasized, boomy bass performance. It's a steroid-pumped sound that might impress on the showroom floor but isn't faithful to recordings. When we fired up OutKast's track "Ghetto Musick," the treble and midrange performance weren't as overblown as the bass, but the overall sound was somewhat muddy and not detailed. By contrast, Panasonic's SC-PM91D (which also has a five-disc changer but lacks a USB input) sounds noticeably more natural. DVDs fared a bit better than music during our listening tests, The dialogue of Star Trek: Insurrection sounded clean, and the stereo soundstage offered adequate depth. The FS-GD7 successfully displayed JPEG images slide-show style from a CD-R. Unfortunately, like competing minisystems such as Sony's CMT-DV2D, the FS-GD7 can't simultaneously play musical accompaniment during slide shows.
Summing up, although the JVC FS-GD7 does leave something to be desired in terms of sound quality and refinement, it's a great option for dorm-dwelling college students and anyone else who needs an affordable, Swiss Army Knife solution for a DVD sound system.
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