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If you have a PC that's running Windows 98 or later--sorry, Mac users--you can digitally send audio from your computer to the 9010VBK, which is great if you're occasionally going to hook up a laptop to listen to MP3s or stream audio from the Internet. In our tests, the USB audio quality was far superior to the analog output of a Dell laptop. The improvement in stereo imaging and detail was dramatic and easy to hear. Still, we question why the USB port is on the front of this receiver; if it were around back, you could leave it permanently plugged into your desktop with the cable hidden.
The rest of the features are bit more commonplace. The amp section delivers 100 watts of power into each of five channels. For surround sound, the 9010VBK decodes the usual Dolby Digital and DTS formats, although it doesn't have Dolby Pro Logic II processing. Oddly, JVC's step-down model, the RX-8010VBK, does have Dolby Pro Logic II processing. You'll find plenty of conveniences on this model, though, including two levels of Midnight Mode, which normalizes dynamics.
The 9010VBK is blessed with a host of connectivity options, including two component-video inputs, eight S-Video ports, three optical inputs, one coaxial digital-audio input, one optical digital-audio output, and a six-channel analog-audio input for connecting a DVD-Audio or Super Audio CD player. Analog audio connections include a phono input and two tape loops, among others.
This receiver is especially well suited for multiroom and multisource operation, meaning that you can hook up a pair of speakers in a second room. Plus, you can listen to the radio in one room while a CD plays in another. You'll find both an extra set of speaker connections and a line-level output on the back for the second zone.
The included programmable remote control emits both infrared (IR) and radio-frequency (RF) signals so that you can control all of your other equipment, even from the second room. This is due to the fact that RF signals can pass through walls, while IR needs a line of sight to work. Unfortunately, the remote isn't backlit and is cluttered with lots of small buttons, making it a bit difficult to use.
How does it sound?
We took a listen to the 9010VBK and found it to be well up to the task of our favorite Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. The creepy atmospherics and natural-sounding dialogue from the Fight Club DVD were all present, and the system handled the dramatic midair collision in chapter 9 without a hitch, proving that this receiver has sufficient power reserves to drive our Tannoy speakers. But this JVC has a tendency toward brightness, so depending on the speakers you own, you might opt for a receiver with a warmer sound.
On stereo material such as Morphine's "The Night," we found the 9010VBK to be less convincing. The slowly swinging track had lots of moody atmosphere, but the stereo image never quite came together. The sound seemed to stick a bit to the speakers. We then popped on some Lester Young recordings, which came across much better, but this receiver will please home-theater fans more than audiophiles.
Although the 9010VBK carries a list price of $550, we've seen it selling for considerably less online, making it very affordable for an A/V receiver with multisource/multizone functions. If you're intrigued by only the USB element and not by the multiroom capabilities, take a look at the $450 RX-8010V, which also has Dolby Pro Logic II processing. Or you could consider coupling Pioneer's VSX-D850S--which sounds a bit better--with Xitel's $50 HiFi Link to connect your computer to the receiver.