The uncluttered faceplate doesn't reveal many clues about the receiver's far-reaching control options, but that's mostly because uncommonly used controls are concealed behind a flip-down door. The large, easy-to-read display will never leave you guessing about what surround mode you're listening to. Pick up the 27-pound 8030, and you'll know why its solid feel outdoes that of nearly every entry-level model on the block.
JVC's Quick speaker setup option is unusually straightforward, so most buyers will stick with that. If you want to explore the 8030's advanced setup options, you'll need to read and reread the owner's manual. Part of the hassle can be attributed to the lack of onscreen displays. The poorly designed navigation on the receiver's own display also regularly tried our patience.
The multibrand remote can command cable set-top boxes, VCRs, TVs, DVDs, and satellite dishes, but its design didn't wow us. Its LCD isn't all that functional in day-to-day use; it just reads out the selected source name. We were also put off by the tiny, poorly laid-out buttons, and some of the labeling is impossible to read under all but the brightest light. It's not the worst remote we've seen, but it's nowhere as user-friendly as the better Onkyo remotes, for example.
For reasons beyond our comprehension, the shipping box dubs the 8030 a "stereo receiver," but it is, in fact, a true 6.1-channel surround-sound receiver. According to the spec sheet, it's more powerful than most of its midpriced competitors, with a rating of 130 watts into 8 ohms.
All of the current surround modes are represented: Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 6.1, DTS-ES Discrete, DTS-ES Matrix, DTS-Neo:6, and Dolby Pro Logic II. The 8030 also features the latest advance from DTS, the DTS 96/24 format.
We were jazzed by the 8030's digital five-band equalization option, which lets you adjust EQ at 63Hz, 250Hz, 1kHz, 4kHz, and 16kHz, albeit for the left/right speakers only. The center speaker has its own, less versatile EQ control.
Connectivity doesn't leave out much. You get HDTV/component-video switching, 5.1 SACD/DVD-audio inputs, and two unusual choices: a turntable input, and full 7.1 pre-out jacks that allow the 8030 to be used with a separate power amplifier. You get four A/V inputs and two outputs, plus three assignable digital inputs (three optical, one coaxial) and one optical digital output. Speaker connectors are all banana plug compatible. The front A/V inputs include S-Video and composite video, optical digital audio, and stereo analog audio.
The 8030 is sold with a two-year parts-and-labor warranty. If it's beyond your budget, check out its less powerful twin, the RX-7030VBK, which lists for $330.
The Quiet American DVD's wonderfully nuanced sound quickly demonstrated the best of the 8030's capabilities. The film is set in Vietnam in 1952, long before the Americans were involved, and Michael Caine and the quiet American, Brendan Fraser, are both in love with the same young Vietnamese woman. The DVD's impressionistic sounds of war are mixed with traditional Vietnamese music, and we were swept up in the drama and the intrigue.
To more fully exploit the potential of the 8030's 130 watts per channel, we watched the sci-fi action-thriller Daredevil DVD with our subwoofer turned off--and all of the power-sapping bass redirected to our five large Dynaudio Contour speakers. This DVD is loaded with room-shaking deep bass, bullets whizzing around, and wham-bam fight scenes spewing out of all five channels, but we never doubted the visceral feel of the action. But the 8030 didn't make us feel any better about this extraordinarily lame movie. Advanced technology still can't make bad movies any better.
In some ways, the toughest test of a receiver's sound is good ol' stereo. Relying on just a pair of speakers highlights what's good and bad, and the 8030's poise on vibraharpist Bobby Hutcherson's Skyline CD knocked us out. The exquisitely delicate transient sounds of sticks on metal or--when he's tickling a marimba--sticks on wood, were beyond what we expect from a midpriced receiver. The instruments seemed to occupy a real space, and despite the receiver's ability to deliver oodles of detail, the sound never got close to coarse or gritty.