Ahhh, the Ultra Stereo. We all probably have some sort of opinion about it. Some like it, some don't. I can sympathize with both sides of that argument. First off, what kind of name is "Ultra Stereo"? It doesn't have a professional ring to it. What's next? Super Mega Spectacular Stereo? Oh well. It really isn't the name that matters. It's the product, obviously. And that's what I'm here to review this month. For this review, we'll look at the JSX-1000A which is fully loaded with 1/3 octave EQ and emulated SR. I am not going to be reviewing the optional stereo synthesizer card that claims to take mono sources and play them in stereo. I have no doubt that it can produce stereo effects, but is it worth it? If you have a mono movie, just play it in mono.
The layout of this cinema processor is fairly simple. The buttons are clearly labeled, if you can read the small text. However I find that the buttons are way too small and crammed together. Interestingly, there isn't any MUTE button. The unit can be easilly muted by pressing the AUX button, just as long as there isn't anything hooked up to that input. It provides a nice crossfade between certain formats, which can sound a bit professional. You don't need to pull out a card to adjust the MONO TRIM, which can be handy if you still play your trailers in mono. The volume knob itself is teeny tiny! Because of this, you have to be very careful when making marginal adjustments. Thankfully, the unit provides means of connecting a remote fader. If you want to play the trailers in stereo and the movie in digital(or any other format than the trailers play in), you can remove the format card and set it up to play anything in SR at a certain volume and when it switches to digital, it will play at the volume of the fader. This is a little-known feature of the Ultra Stereo cinema processor.
One thing that bothers me is the STANDBY button. What is the purpose of this? Is it specifically designed to blow speakers in the auditorium? Our unit has a backup power supply attatched and working, and it still thumps when pressed. Also, in emergencies where somebody absolutely has to put the unit in BYPASS mode, they could easilly confuse the BYPASS and STANDBY buttons if they are not familiar with the processor. I have noticed that on the newer power supply cards there is no STANDBY button. About time.
So how does this unit sound? Not too bad, all things considered. Certainly not as good as a Dolby CP65, though. Powering the unit up without any input source and listening to the "silence" in the auditorium, I can hear a very audible hiss. Granted, I can hear this on the Dolby CP65 as well, but it is noticeably louder on the Ultra. The SR is only emulated, but it seems to do a decent job at playing analog SR soundtracks. Nothing is provided to play 70mm, but then again, what do you expect? Both Dolby Digital and DTS sound pretty damned good on the Ultra. But it still has a little bit of that "hollow" type of sound and doesn't seem as rich as the CP65.
This unit is not without some serious flaws. The format card has been a huge source of grief for many Ultra Stereo owners. It sometimes seems as if it is designed to fail. Why does it fail so much? Probably because you get what you pay for in most cases, and everywhere I've looked, the Ultra is significantly cheaper than the equivalent Dolby processor. Also, DTS sometimes has trouble switching formats on the Ultra. For example, take a DTS movie playing in an Ultra Stereo house and purposely load the wrong movie discs. When the feature starts, the DTS kicks in and pulses to digital. But almost at that same exact instant, the DTS realizes that the movie does not match the discs and pulses back to SR (or whatever you have it set to do). Many times the Ultra will not respond quickly enough to be pulsed back to analog and will remain in digital, resulting in no sound in the auditorium. Not every unit will do this, however. I have never had this problem with a CP65. I have also not had any problems using Dolby Digital with an Ultra Stereo unit. There are other flaws which I'm sure everybody else will point out to me. So I apologize in advance if I missed anyone's big gripe with the unit. Everybody seems to have a different experience.
You do not need an extender card to adjust the EQ, since the controls are right on the front. They are tiny trimpots and it is difficult to get an awesome EQ out of this unit. I wonder how much of this is due to the fact the tech grows very tired of standing at the unit (instead of being able to sit down with an extender card) and ends up rushing the calibration process. Also, there are no bass and treble coarse pots, which only makes EQing that much harder. Coarse bass and treble adjustments are a necessity, if you ask me. Setting the surround levels is a pain. You can make a 2-3db difference just by looking at the surround level trimpots, they are so sensitive. Yikes! Adjusting for Dolbytone level is pretty easy, though.
I would only get an Ultra unit for the smallest houses, and only if I absolutely had to. But for many others it may be the perfect price/performace solution.
Bottom Line: If you're not striving to be all you can be, it'll do.
The views contained herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this website. The published views express actual testimony to personal use of particular products or services. The testimonies, good or bad, are based on fact and thereby releases any and all people of any slanderous liability including the author. Anyone who views this portion of the website must accept these views as statements of the author of that opinion based on actual use of the product and/or service.