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The matching SD-HX500 amp and receiver/DVD player will look snazzy flanking your flat-screen TV. To that end, Sharp includes a pair of all-metal wall-mount brackets. Thankfully, the company throws in table stands as well. Another key cosmetic detail for you (or your home integrator) to keep in mind: only the power amplifier is fitted with an AC power plug; the DVD player receives power via a dedicated cable that runs between the two units.
Loading discs is a bit out of the ordinary. The entire front panel of the HX500's DVD player unit swings forward, and you lay the disc vertically on the inside front lip. Press Play, and the disc lowers as the front panel returns to the closed position. Even if you fail to position the disc perfectly--which we did any number of times--the jam-proof loading mechanism either realigns the disc or reopens the door so that you can try again.
The large curvy remote is illogically laid out, and we never got the hang of its nonstandard button positions. Even finding the Volume Up/Down or Menu buttons was a chore. For $1,199, the lack of any sort of backlighting was a little hard to swallow.The SD-HX500's five 70-watt 1-bit (all-digital) amplifiers sample audio signals at 5.6MHz--that's 128 times faster than a CD. Sharp claims this über-sampling rate produces accurate sound. The HX500 plays CDs, DVDs, Super Audio CDs, and DVD-Audio, as well as home-burned DVDs. Despite all the bells and whistles, however, the engineers neglected something as basic as bass and treble controls. Surround processing is also bare-bones (albeit completely adequate for 5.1-channel surround): just Dolby Digital/Pro Logic II and DTS.
The receiver/DVD player's cramped backside offers few connectivity options. In addition to the usual set of component-video, S-Video, and composite-video outputs, you'll find three stereo audio inputs, three digital audio inputs (two optical, one coaxial), and one optical output. Happily, the amplifier features burly speaker-wire binding posts. The HX500 lacks provisions for switching external video sources such as game consoles or satellite boxes, so you'll have to hook those directly to your TV.
If you love the HX500's looks but need more jacks, step up to Sharp's $1,499 SD-HX600, which includes a separate A/V selector system. If you want to go even smaller, Sharp offers the pip-squeak SD-PX2.We put the Sharp SD-HX500 through its paces with the Goldmember DVD. We enjoyed the receiver's low bass weight during the sumo wresting scene, and Fat Bastard's body slams were felt throughout our listening room. But as we watched other DVDs, the bassy sound was too much of a good thing, so we turned down our subwoofer's volume. That adjustment smoothed things out a bit, but the sound was still too flabby for our tastes.
Moving on to the high-resolution audio formats, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds DVD-A disc sounded rather mellow. The guys' voices were reasonably warm, but their ethereal harmonies were clouded over. If the HX500 had a treble control, we'd be reaching for it.
SACDs didn't wow us either. Beck's Sea Change sounded listless and murky. This disc is loaded with shimmering details and psychedelic surround effects, but the sound was hazy and two-dimensional. Bass definition was on the soft side of neutral.
We next compared the SD-HX500 to a Denon AVR-2805 receiver with the Ramones Rocket To Russia CD. The Denon kicked butt on "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," but switching over to the Sharp, the Ramones sounded like they were on quaaludes. The Sharp dulled the band's raucous edge.
Before you dismiss the Sharp SD-HX500, however, consider this: for some buyers, the unit's sleek looks may be enough. Sound quality, after all, is a matter of taste. You may enjoy the HX500's mellow tone.