Ups and Downs
The upside of this design is total system integration. When you start playing a CD, the amp switches to that input, and the tuner's display shows the track number and CD text (if there is any on that particular disc). But switch to the tuner, and the CD stops. Neat. But there's a downside: the only way to upgrade this highly integrated system is to replace everything.
Although we don't like that design philosophy, we do appreciate some of the other design details. Audiophiles will be impressed that this $700 system has bi-amplified speakers. The woofer and tweeter are each fed by separate sections of the amp, so distortion caused by loud bass won't leak into the treble. However, we found the sound to be unremarkable. The system can easily fill a small- or medium-sized room with music, but it won't blow you away with deep bass, loud volume, or amazing realism. If you're looking for that, you'll need to spend more.
The amplifier's controls are a bit unusual. A pair of buttons cycle you through the available sources: tuner, CD, tape, and external (via the line-in jack on the back of the tuner). Instead of bass and treble controls, the amp has a BLFS button, which cycles through two degrees of bass boost, one of bass cut, and flat. To further tune the sound, a Fine Tweeter control varies the output of the treble amplifiers. We would have preferred a conventional bass control, but we liked the subtlety of the Fine Tweeter control, which only takes effect above about 5 kHz and, therefore, doesn't thin out or fatten the midrange.
The tuner plays an unusually large role in the SC-HD515's operation. We found it to be quite sensitive, delivering good AM and FM reception even in our radio-unfriendly office. The display shows the status of whichever source is active, rather than just station frequencies. The system timer, also located on the tuner, can be set to start and stop either playback or tape recording on selected days of the week or every day.
The cassette deck has autoreverse, Dolby B noise reduction, and automatic recording-level control. Those are all nice features, but some manual level control would have been good; automatic control tends to compress the dynamics of some music.
When compared to similar, high-style, minisystems such as the Kenwood VH-600, the SC-HD515 is a fierce competitor. Its sleek, silver decor, decent speakers, and included tape deck make it an attractive unit for an office or small bedroom.