Datasat RS20i audio processor review

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posted on Saturday, 1st February 2014 by Steve May

Datasat  High-end  home cinema 

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When it comes to creating a memorable home theatre experience, immersive mutli-channel audio is key. And of you're specifying at the premium end of the market, then Datasat Digital Entertainment has a very compelling proposition in the shape of the Reference grade RS20i processor. A direct descendant of the AP20 cinema processor, it offers a level of performance and versatility that few elite brands can challenge. Entering into this review, we suspected that the RS20i would be good. We just didn't realise how good. Partnering the RS20i for our audition was Datasat's own power amplifier, the unfeasibly heavy seven channel RA7300.

Datasat RS20i: Specification
The RS20i draws heavily on Datasat's pro-cinema lineage, and shares much of its connectivity and purpose. Gimmicks are thin on the ground. Think Spielberg not Spotify. Connectivity therefore is measured but adequate. The unit sports four HDMI v1.4a inputs and three digital audio inputs (two optical and one coaxial) plus two analogue stereo connections. There's only a single HDMI output, so no provision for a dual monitor/projector configuration. Signifying its commercial roots are 25-pin Dsub connectors, used to couple with the brand's seven channel RA7300 amplifier. The RS20i doesn't do zones; it's a dedicated theatre product not a multi-room solution.

System control can be either via VNC on a tablet, or more likely via a dedicated control system, such as Crestron or AMX. The processor itself sports a full-colour touch sensitive screen, which when used with the fascia-mounted selection dial, allows direct access to the many menus and system options. To help installers find their way around, an Expert mode collates together various menus for easier access, with subtle colour coding to help identify the various input/output sections.

Out of the box, the processor will handle Dolby True-HD and DTS Master Audio, plus Neo and Dolby post processing, in addition to linear PCM. The RS20i can also be ordered with an Auro-3D sound decoder card, or retrofitted with Auro-3D at a later stage. This new immersive sound format adds additional height layers to the standard 5.1 speaker configuration.

Datasat RS20i: Design and Features
The RS20i is a substantial piece of kit, and the quality of finish is excellent. While fan noise is high, this won't be an issue when it's racked away. When it comes to setup and calibration, installers are spoilt with a wealth of options. Every input can be configured differently, with provision to have separate equalisation for movies, music and games. In addition to extensive parametric EQ on board, the RS20i is also compatible with DIRAC Live, the calibration system developed by Swedish DSP outfit Dirac Research. You'll need the appropriate software running on a laptop and calibration microphone to set this up. Inevitably, aspects of the installation process are comparable to those used with regular AV receivers. You can instigate precise delays on individual channels, and time the subwoofer outputs so they're as tight as Peter Parker's Spidey suit with the L/C/R.

The precision DIRAC calibration brings to the ensemble is quite astonishing, and allows the RS20i to be optimised perfectly for less than acoustically ideal rooms. Data taken from multiple seating positions, typically nine in the average theatre, is then mashed to create an accurate acoustic model of the venue. While the various microphone positions are designed to map out the listening area, in some circumstances it's actually worth mic'ing behind the main seats too, if that's a space where viewers are likely to stand to watch the screen. Equally, you could mic lower to the floor in front of the main seating, if owners and guests are prone to squatting on the floor. Once done, the Dirac software allows the processor's output to be moulded precisely to the venue.

A USB Save and Restore function, using a port hidden behind a flap on the front fascia, allows any best known working configuration to be backed up and preserved. This is a welcome safety net during installation and any subsequent call-backs. You can also lock the system down to prevent user alterations if preferred.

Datasat RS20i: Performance
To evaluate the RS20i in full Auro-3D glory, we decamped to Genesis Technologies which has the combo installed as part of its demo ICE Cinema, along with additional amplification and a three-tiered cake of speakers to make the most of it.

The first thing to point out is that Auro-3D doesn't sound like Pro-Logic IIZ, DTS Neo X or Audyssey DSX; it delivers an altogether more holographic experience. There's not just a sense of height, but an all pervading ambiance that adds additional realism. It's like slipping on a sonic snood. The inclusion of a Voice of God channel makes the archetypal home cinema fly-over effect astonishingly realistic. We demo'd Auro-3D on the RS20i utilising a variety of content, both bold and atmospheric, and found the results phenomenal. As yet there's no native Auro-3D content available to play through the processor, but Blu-ray releases sporting the mix have been promised before the end of the year. In the meantime, the RS20i with Auro-3D can be used to upmix existing 5.1/7.1 soundtracks.

Of course, the RS20i doesn't need Auro-3D to deliver visceral audio excitement. The system does an incredible job with conventional sound formats. Spatial imaging and dynamic attack are sensational. Against expectation, the Datasat duo also sounds surprisingly good with two-channel music sources too. That tight, accurate soundstage makes for a mesmerising musical experience, particularly with acoustic song-birds, while the imperious muscle of the RA7300 is more than able to do justice to the rockiest of gods.

The amp requires twin power sockets to run and is rated at 300w per channel into 8ohms. This means it can deliver cinematic volume in even large dedicated theatres, although you'll need to take care when racking it, as it tips the scales at 56kg. Contributing to this phenomenal weight is a heat sync seemingly robust enough to cope with solar flares. Hot air vents down a central tunnel and exits to the rear. While there's support for bi- and tri-amping, we ran it in a standard seven channel configuration.

Datasat RS20i: Verdict
When it comes to kitting out a high-end home theatre, this Datasat system demands to be shortlisted. In terms of overall versatility and performance, it really has few peers. And while the brand may not yet be a household name, Datasat's cinematic heritage should prove irresistible to film fans. When optimised by DIRAC Live, the RS20i can make the most of any room condition, and in turn bring out the best from speakers and source components. Client satisfaction is absolutely guaranteed.

Available now:
Datasat RS20i audio processor (without Auro-3D) £18,600
Datasat RA7300 seven-channel power amplifier £14,400

For more on Datasat Digital Entertainment visit our partner page here.

Also read:
Datasat outs LS10 audio processor, intros Auro 3D

DatasatDigital Entertainment sound tour

Expendables 2 to be the first Blu-ray with 11.1 audio

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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Posted by Wayne Grant on 1st January 2015, 7:24 PM
Hi Steve, Outstanding article on the Datasat RS20i hand a great review. With the upcoming updates with Dolby Atmos not yet implemented on this unit, do you know if will the update be hardware a addition or just a firmware/software update?? One more thing if I read this correctly, did you actually experience the immersive effects of Auro-3D with only DTS Master Audio movies??

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