Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
The 578A's bass management can cope with demanding tiny satellite speakers, such as our Energy Take 5.2 satellites, which we successfully blended with Energy's matching S8.2 subwoofer. The Crystal Method's killer DVD-A disc, Legion of Boom, had just the right amount of room-shaking oomph without forfeiting bass definition. Most universal players are nowhere as adept with their bass management.
We liked the 578A's small, gray plastic remote, mostly because its minimalist button contingent doesn't cram in too many keys.The 578A's main claim to fame is compatibility with numerous formats. It handles DVD-Audio and SACD discs, plus DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, and CD-R/RW, in addition to MP3, WMA, and JPEG files. We were surprised by its amazing memory: if you stop playing a DVD in the middle of the movie, listen to a few CDs, then reinsert the same DVD, the 578A will return you to the point where you stopped watching the movie.
Although we appreciated the ability to control lots of picture characteristics, such as contrast, brightness, and even gamma, we left them in the middle position for evaluation.
Connectivity choices include progressive/component, composite, and S-Video outputs, coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, and stereo and 5.1 analog audio outputs. The DV-578A also features built-in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoders, so you can connect everything via the 5.1-channel analog jacks.
Please note: Before you buy this or (almost) any other DVD-A/SACD player, make sure your A/V receiver has 5.1/multichannel analog inputs. The 578A's multichannel analog outputs are the only way to send SACD/DVD-A signals to your receiver. Its digital audio outputs transmit only CD/Dolby/DTS data.Big Head Todd's Crimes of Passion, a country-tinged DVD-A release, sounded mighty fine. We particularly liked the understated tunes such as "Beauty Queen," when the band's rippling steel and acoustic drums laid out a shuffling pulse and the wraparound soundstage drew us into the music. Muddy Waters classic Folk Singer came out on SACD a while back, and it sounds amazing on the DV-578A. The blues master's vocals have incredible dynamic range and power, and Buddy Guy's tasty guitar licks sounded reach-and-touch real. We swapped out the SACD and checked out the CD version, but the guitars sounded thinner and lacked the body of the SACD's. The studio's acoustic reverberations and ambience were present on the SACD, but mostly MIA on the CD. We attribute the difference to the SACD's higher resolution.
Finally, we compared the 578A's audio to that of our reference universal player, a Denon DVD-2900. The Denon's big black chassis exudes confidence and certainly looks more high end, but the sonic differences between the two machines were fairly subtle. On jazzman McCoy Tyner's Giants SACD, the Denon sounded, well, bigger. Tyner's quartet grooved harder, and Eric Harland's drum kit had more you-are-there presence over the Denon. But the 578A's bass definition edged out the Denon's; we found it easier to distinguish each note rolling out of Charnett Moffett's stand-up bass. We next sampled David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust SACD, and once again, we didn't note any knock-your-socks-off differences between the two machines, though we'd give the nod to the Denon. But you'd have to be a hard-core audiophile to justify the Denon's five-times-higher price; we heartily recommend the Pioneer for everybody else's ears. (Check out our top 10 must-haves for more DVD-A and SACD recommendations.)
In terms of video quality, the 578A put in above-average marks for its progressive-scan playback. Its main flaws included an inability to pass blacker-than-black material, which robs well-adjusted TVs of some shadow detail, and the combing along edges of color, indicative of a chroma bug. The bug surfaced only on unflagged material, which occurs most often in low-budget discs that originate on film. The player did a good job of cleaning up artifacts on film-based discs (2:3 pull-down).
Our tests of disc compatibility revealed that this player can spin just about anything; in particular, it's one of the few players we've tested that can handle MP3 files burned onto recordable DVD. Mixed photo-and-music discs were also not a problem.