DVD media compatibility, single-piece surround units, record players and receiver volume settings

Sound Advice

Week 41, 2006

Q: I have a Sony digital camera and I use a 512 MB memory stick, which will record 30 minutes of video in movie mode. I download the memory stick into an iMac computer and then burn the video on a DVD-R disc My problem is that the DVD will play on some DVD Players but not on other ones. Is this a common problem, and can I do anything about it?
-Don Krause, Maple Grove, MN

A: The problem is with the DVD players. Some play different types of media (DVD-R, DVD+R, VideoCD) and different types of files (AVI, MPEG, etc) better than others. There is not much you can do about it, unfortunately, other than shoot with a DV camcorder and use iDVD to make the DVDs. That is not foolproof, but the DVDs will be more compatible than the ones you are making now.

Q: I would like to purchase a virtual surround sound system for the TV in our small family room. I have a DVD player which is using the Stereo speakers in the TV. I would like to get a system that will improve the sound quality and also permit me to play music CDs without having the TV on. The room is small and I can’t run wires easily so a virtual surround sound system seems ideal. What would you recommend?
-Richard M. Schultz, Pittsburgh, PA

A: My favorite products of these type are still the Soundmatters MAINstage units.   Since I first recommended the original MAINstage a few years ago, Soundmatters has expanded and improved the line and has something for everyone.

For readers who missed these columns, the MAINstage is a portable, self-contained sound system that can be connected to your TV, DVD player, cable box, iPod, or anything else with an audio output. Placed on your TV, it produces much higher qualit sound than the TV’s speakers and adds convincing, room-filling sound effects. Most people don’t realize how much of the soundtrack they are missing because the TV’s speakers are not of high enough quality to reproduce it all. Using a MAINstage will reveal previously unheard nuances and it is a revelation to those who have not experienced good TV sound before. It’s a great solution to those who want to experience more of a home theater experience without running wires around the room.

The original MAINstage is now available for only $199 after rebate. New to the line is the $399 MAINstage HD, which offers greater fidelity and higher volume levels, and the SUBstage 100, a “stealth” subwoofer that can be placed almost anywhere. The MAINstage HD and the SUBstage 100 are also available in the FULLstage package for $599. You can see them all at www.soundmatters.com.

Q: I have 40 Watt Kenwood Amp I bought in 1977, with a separate tuner, turntable, cassette deck and CD player. When I use the turntable, I have to turn the volume up much higher than when using other components. It sounds fine, there is no hiss or anything, I just need to turn it up higher. Do I need a pre-amp, or should I get a new amp or receiver? I have a bit of a nostalgic connection to the Kenwood, and would rather not have to replace it.
-Tim McLarnan, Moorhead, MN

A: What you are experiencing is not uncommon- the turntable puts out much lower voltage than the cassette and CD. There is circuitry in the amplifier to compensate for the difference, but even with this circuitry you still usually need a bit more volume dialed in to match the volume of other components. As long as you are not hearing hiss or other undesirable distortion, everything is fine the way it is.

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