Here is a reprint of a review I originally posted on AVSForum in April of 2004. It is the 5th and final part of an extensive review. Follow-up notes are added at the end.
I have found the P-965 to be a well built, well designed pre-pro. It may indeed be a "de-amped" receiver, but to me, that just means that the R-965 ought to be one heck of an A/V receiver. The feature list is extensive, as is the connectivity. The only serious ommission feature-wise is a distance setting for the subwoofers. Frankly, I thought this was a standard feature for surround audio, as this is the first receiver or pre-pro without this feature that I've seen. Best of all, it appears that Sherwood is taking the upgradability of the P-965 seriously, as the first download of new features is already in the works. (Note to Jeff at Sherwood: How about a software upgrade allowing for distance settings of the subwoofers?) Sherwood seems to take customer satisfaction very seriously, too, as one issue I contacted them on involving the remote is being resolved with no hassles.
My only real complaints are in the areas of ergonomics. The user-interface is anything but intuitive. While I am more than happy to get used to the P-965's functionality, the "plug-and-play" crowd may feel otherwise. I felt the manual leaves a lot to be desired, and should be reworked. I know the P-965 can do an aweful lot of things, but I am still having trouble getting it to do what I want, when I want (kinda like marriage ).
What really makes this pre-pro special is the sound. Audiophiles are going to have to let go of some prejudice for a brand like Sherwood-Newcastle. Yes, they make some inexpensive gear, most of it A/V receivers, but the P-965 can absolutely play with the big boys. I am pretty familiar with the sound of the Anthem AVM-20, although not in my system. Does the P-965 best the AVM-20 in sonics? Not IMO. Nor does it have as many user-adjustable parameters. However, at less than half the MSRP, the Sherwood aquits itself better than many would assume. The sound is open, airy, super-clean and super-detailed. My tin ears (with tinnitus, too) heard amazing details in selection after selection. Stuff like sheet music pages being turned and fingers tapping on instrument keys. This level of sound was apparent in Pure Analog mode, and to only a very small degree less when using the P-965's internal converters. This is strong praise. I still have to deal with harsh sound on some recordings, but I have come to accept that this is due not to my gear as much as the recording itself. With well recorded sources, the P-965 is revealing, pure and dynamic.
Is the P-965 the last pre-pro I'll ever buy? I doubt it. But I will probably upgrade most of the rest of my system before I upgrade from this pre-pro. The P-965 is my ticket to the upgrade train; the train that has many stops, but no end-of-the-line. It is the first upgrade since my speakers to make a night-and-day difference in my system, both on audio and video. Separate amps, a new CD player and cable upgrades failed to make serious improvement. Now, I realize that this was because everything was being jammed through an A/V receiver that was not up to the upgrades I was making. As a value, this is going to be tough to beat. I may someday try an outboard phono preamp, if a new pickup still leaves LPs sounding a bit too bright. If you're a vinyl fanatic and will use the P-965 as your main LP playback preamp, I'd recommend it. With all the inputs on the P-965, I won't have any trouble finding room for an outboard phono stage.
Now, I'll let you in on something that I felt I had to keep quiet about until recently, for my own protection (awaiting a refund). I was able to compare the P-965 with a Rotel RSP-1068 in my home. The "shoot-out" was brief, but informative. Keep an eye on the thread started by Will regarding this comparison for my notes. I was fully prepared to return whichever pre-pro I liked less, and I have kept the Sherwood. Details in that other thread soon.
So, in conclusion, I'll use a 5 star rating (1=lowest, 5=highest) for some key areas of the P-965:
It may not be easy to find a dealer to demo the P-965 for you, but IMO, it is very much worth the effort. I would not buy a pre-pro under $3K without first hearing the P-965.
FOLLOW-UP, April, 2006: I continue to be impressed by the P-965, especially with regard to its surround performance. I also continue to be frustrated by ergonomic issues, particularly the remote, which has never worked well, despite having the remote swapped out by Sherwood and having the P-965 checked out when it was sent in for the SNAP upgrade in October, 2005.
The SNAP upgrade, which includes numerous interim software and firmware upgrades, added many features to the P-965, like lip-synch adjustments, auto-set up calibration and room EQ (SNAP). Unfortunately, Sherwood's engineers have a strong inclination to the home install market, which prefers "set it, forget it" operation and not users who like to tinker, like me. As such, the auto-calibration and room EQ features are not user-adjustable. In my case, the P-965 is not able to properly identify speaker size or distance, and these settings cannot be overriden without reverting back to manual speaker distance and level settings. Also, the speaker size detection is not accurate, and any attempt to correct the P-965's speaker size detection means you have to shut off the room EQ.
This was a real blunder. With 7 channels of multi-band digital parametric EQ, the P-965 could have offered incredible flexibility and a great way to smooth out bumpy subwoofer response. However, with no visible indication of before and after readings from SNAP EQ function, one has no way of knowing if it's really working or making adjustments based on preference. In the end, although I have yet to try Sherwood's complicated work-around for these issues, I have not used the SNAP or auto-calibration features.
Another issue with the P-965 was possibly revealed when I attempted to upgrade my CD player, currently a Rotel RCD-02. I had never heard a big difference between the Rotel's analog outputs and the P-965's DACs when fed by the Rotel's digital output, despite the two having completely different DAC chipsets and the P-965's upsampling. I chalked that up to my inability to hear more of a difference. However, when I home-auditioned a Jolida 100A tube-output CD player, I could detect no difference between the Jolida and the Rotel, using their analog outputs. According to the Jolida dealer and many web posters, there should have been a very audible difference between the two players. I was able to return the Jolida, but the likely conclusion is that the Pure Analog mode of the P-965 is not purely, well, pure. I resolved to try an outboard 2-channel preamp to test my theory. I purchased a used Conrad-Johnson tube preamp, and the results I am getting when feeding it directly with the Rotel supports my theory (the C-J also sounds terrific). I will post a review of this preamp in the future, but in spite of the excellent support offered by Sherwood America via Jeff Hipps, I am a bit dissollusioned at this point.
I have no desire to replace the P-965 as a surround pre-pro, but for those who wish to build a combo HT/2-channel audio system, I must recommend either a pre-pro with better 2-channel pass-through performance, or integrate a 2-channel preamp for your 2-channel analog sources with your P-965.
I do not know how the ergonomics of the Sherwood OEM'd prepro Outlaw Audio sells compared to the P-965, but at a lower price, one should compare the two before buying.
If you want to read all 5 parts of my very in-depth review of the P-965, use this link to the thread: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=160581&page=11&pp=30
Huge headroom - the real world RMS per channel is much closer to 140 per channel, all channels driven simultaneously
Movies - Excellant
2 channel music - very good
DSP - very good - I actually use some
Build quality - Top notch, above its price point
Able to drive even the most demanding speakers comfortably
Brilliant value for money - to 'cheap' for our very brand consious audiofile cousins
I was shopping for a high-end home theater system that would do justice to 2-channel stereo and 7.1 surround sound for my home theater system. I demo'ed quite a few systems (Yamaha, Denon, Marantz, Pioneer, Onkyo, Anthem, etc.) before deciding on the Sherwood Newcastle P-965 processor and A-965 amplifier.
Since I'm running RBH Sound's T1 speaker system (4 ohms), I needed an amp that had plenty of power and punch. The A-965 amp gives me more clean power than I'll ever use. I could probably drown out the 747s at the local airport without any distortion.
The P-965 processor/preamp has an understated Titanium (silver) finish. Its simple elegance and lack of all of those pasted-on certifications (THX, DTS, DD, etc.) gives it a more sophisticated appearance. Eight buttons adorn the faceplate below a large, well laid out info screen. There are another 18 buttons located behind a fold-down door on the front panel. Unlike most processors, whose appearance is marred by front AV connections placed directly on the faceplate, the P-965 neatly conceals these inputs for plugging in video games, cameras, or other devices behind the fold-down door on the front panel giving this receiver a definite edge in the sleek appearance category.
Auto-setup using the supplied microphone will automatically EQ your room and set up the speakers to audio perfection or you can use the On-screen setup to configure your settings manually. Either way, setup is a breeze.
The P-965 comes with an excellent hand-held remote that’s as easy for both right-handers and left-hander to use (That’s important to me since I’m a leftie). The Sherwood RNC 510 Remote can learn commands and control 10 separate devices, ending the remote control clutter that most of us suffer from. It has a large easy to read LCD screen and a well-conceived hard button layout, which makes configuration, switching devices, and overall control a delight. Its much better than the remotes that come with the Denon, Sony, Yamaha, Onkyo, etc. In fact, even if you own one of these other brands, you probably ought to buy the RNC-510 from Sherwood ($249.00 separately).
The soundstage and channel separation for DVD movies is absolutely top-notch. The P-965 handled the DTS soundtrack from War of the Worlds (with Tom Cruise) with precision and power. The blast of the lighting strikes near the beginning of the movie nearly knocked me out of my chair. The roar of the alien ships bursting out of the ground had me lifting me feet off the floor, and I’ve never heard and felt the breaking of the plate glass store windows so intensely as when played through the P-965. Sherwood decided to forego the THX certifications in order to keep the price down but they didn’t skimp on the DACs (they’re the same ones used in the much more expensive Krell units). If this was a magazine review, I could say much more but since its only on a website, I’ll try not to elaborate too much.
Music listening is just as enjoyable. My RBH Sound T1 speakers (left, right, and center) sparkled in 2-channel mode. Rock, R&B, classical guitar and piano, flutes, horns, all sound as though your sitting front-row center at a distance of 10 feet from the musicians. I pushed my speakers hard with no noticeable distortion or amplifier fatigue. In fact, the harder I pushed it, the better. The digital surround processing is truly a joy to hear (especially through my four SE-66 RBH Surround Sound speakers. The P-965 and A-965 provided superb detail, a huge soundstage, and handled it easily and without effort, The Sherwood Newcastle P-965 has a clean, neutral character that allows the color and ambiance of each instrument to sound as natural as if you wear playing it yourself.
I’ve had a lot of equipment over the years, everything from high-end AVRs to mid-level separates. Frankly, I don’t know how Sherwood offers such great mid-level separates at a price point that just begins to approach high-end integrated receivers. I highly recommend the P-965 and A-965 (You’ll have to spend at least $2000 more to anything as good).
One of the most underrated and overlooked high end oieces on the market. Uses the same DACS and processor as Lexicon and Meridian. Music is superb with a huge and enveloping soundstage and wonderful accuracy and movies are truly woderful. Replaced the Krell Showcase and Parasound C1 in my system and was superior to both. Also eclipsed the Anthem AVM30 in every way. A truly stipendous and groundbreaking preamp.