If you are into high-end home theatre, check out our Display and Audio Calibration Guides to maximise your experience.
Fundamental Audio (Melbourne, Australia) has kindly sent over the ToneWinner AT-300 along with the AD-7300PA+ 7-channel amplifier, which I reviewed recently. I would recommend you read that review‘s introduction for more information and any declarations of possible bias or conflicts of interest. In the interest of keeping this post on topic, I won’t repeat them here.
I tested the unit’s movie chops as opposed to music performance. I also focused purely on audio performance as opposed to video performance.
I would highly recommend visiting the dedicated AT-300 AVSForum thread for more information on other aspects of the processor.
I will include both the main features and specs for completeness:
- Supports Dolby Atmos, DolbyTrue HD & all the previous Dolby audio formats.
- Supports DTS:X, DTS-Master & all the previous HD audio formats.
- Support HDMI2.0 & HDCP2.2.
- Supports 4K/60Hz,RGB 4:4:4, 18GHz full bandwidth video signal
- Supports DolbyVision and HDR 10 video signal.
- Supports stacked OSD menu operation display.
- Supports 9.3.4 or 7.3.6 in total 16 channels Dolby Atmos decoding lineout output.
- Built-in auto room correction by Tone Winner
- Built-in Bluetooth audio receiver function.
- Built-in audio player function, support files playing from TF card & USB disk,
- Supports several lossless & compressed audio format files playing, such as FLAC,APE, WAV, MP3 & etc; support multi-layer folder management.
- Supports smart phone App control to be added in the future.
- Supports over 12 variations of speaker configuration from 2.0 channel to 7.3.6
- 6 HDMI inputs, 2 HDMI outputs, 2 coaxial inputs, 2 optical inputs & 3 analogue audio inputs.
- RS232 integrated controller, IR inputs and Trigger outputs.
- Supports HDMI ARC, eARC and CEC.
- Up to 1 second lip sync adjustment.
- Each channel has 7 to 11 band EQ adjustment.
- Latest ADI new dual core DSP.
|Rated Input Inpedance: 20kΩ (analog input)||Colour: black|
|Rated Output Inpedance: 1kΩ||Crosstalk: ≥80dB (analog direct)|
|Input level: ≥2VRMS (analog direct)||N.W.: 5kg|
|Gain: ≥14dB||Dimension: 431x100x326mm (W×H×D）|
|THD: ≤0.02%(1kHz, normal working）||Accessories: manual x1, power cord x1, certificate x1, remote control x1, HDMI 4K cable x1|
|Frequency: 10Hz-50kHz（+1/-3dB, analog direct）||Power Voltage: ~100V-~240V(50Hz-60Hz）|
|SNR: ≥98dB (A weighted, analog direct）||/|
I would like to highlight the following regarding the specs:
- THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) is excellent
- Crosstalk is excellent
- SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio) is good, but it isn’t state of the art. However, there’s specs and then there’s performance. I have seen AVR manufacturers quote over 100dB SNR and still had hiss from my speakers at full volume. I didn’t detect any hiss or other noise from my speakers at full volume with the AT-300. So I don’t think this is an issue. Now to put this into perspective what is state of the art: the Marantz AV10 has 110dB SNR, but it costs 5-6x the cost dependent on region so you do have to pay for it. Your average AVR will have between 98dB to 102dB but might completely destroy that number if the power amps are polluting the signal – such as when driving an external amp using pre-outs.
With regards to the features of the processor, you need to be aware of the following:
- There is no Dolby Pro Logic IIx decoding on board. This is a big confusing regarding “all previous Dolby audio formats” which simply means Dolby Digital and DD+ in the spec sheet. This isn’t a big issue, as Dolby Surround takes its place.
- Unfortunately, it looks like Dolby Surround only works for multi-channel PCM and Dolby audio format upmixing. It won’t work for DTS sources. The same is true for DTS Neural:X. It will only work for DTS sources. This is curious as licensing has been updated by both Dolby and DTS to remove this restriction. A future firmware update might remote this restriction so check the forums for more.
- The unit doesn’t have DTS:X Pro so DTS:X is pretty much limited to 11 channel processing (excluding subs) in spite of the unit’s 13 speaker channel-decoding capability. So ultimately, the only sound format that uses all 13 channels (plus the subs) is Dolby Atmos.
- For Dolby Surround upmixing to use front wides requires the latest Dolby Atmos code from Dolby which has not been ported to the processor in the AT-300. So if you are upmixing 2-channel, 5.1 or 7.1 content using the DSU up mixer, it may be better to install 6 ceiling speakers in a 7.3.6 configuration instead of using 9.3.4 with front wides. All 6 ceiling channels will be active for both Dolby Atmos sources and Dolby Surround upmixing.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s have a look at the rest of the unit.
Look & Feel
The look of the AT-300 is pretty standard . It doesn’t call attention to itself, but it also doesn’t feel super premium like the AD-7300PA+ did.
The only exception to this is the back of the unit, which has all the connections nicely laid out and feel premium. This is where the money went and I fully approve of this approach.
The unit does feel substantial enough due to the all metal chassis, but is relatively light at 5kgs and easy to move around.
I chose to use my own Rotel RMB-1077 power amp for testing as opposed to the AD-7300PA+ because I wanted 7 channels of equal amplification for my setup. You can check out my AD-7300PA+ review to understand why. Secondly, I know the RMB-1077 like the back of my hand so it was easier to pick out differences between my Marantz SR6013 and the ToneWinner.
Since the RMB-1077 supports only RCA inputs, I used those as opposed to XLR using 1.2m Amazon Basics RCA cables, which were rated as fully transparent by Audio Science Review. As this length, there would be little to no difference between RCA and XLR connections unless you were pulling them over the top of the amplifier or over power transformers. I made sure I didn’t do either of those.
I used only one of my REL Predator subwoofers for easier integration. It is more than enough to knock the plaster off the walls by itself. I have two for a more even sound across my whole listening space but I wasn’t too concerned about that for this review.
I decided to set the unit up in 7.1 configuration for the review in the interest of time. This allowed me to judge the overall sound quality without having to spend a lot of time calibrating it.
I was feeding the unit audio from my Lumagen Radiance processor, which rejects quite a lot of jitter. If you are using a high-end Blu Ray player, it will likely do the same. My Blu Ray players aren’t exactly high-end so I thought it’s best to feed the unit the cleanest signal possible that’s as free of jitter as possible. Ultimately, this is how I listen to my own audio system as well so it provides for a great comparison.
As you know, I have a huge interest in Room Correction technologies so I had to get my hands dirty with ToneWinner’s Auto EQ.
The distances and speaker levels were set correctly, except for the subwoofer which was a bit too hot. I believe this has been resolved with the latest firmware however. Ultimately, even Audyssey gets the sub levels incorrect at times so this isn’t a big deal. Just make sure to adjust them manually afterwards.
What’s great about the remote of the AT-300 is that there are volume adjustment buttons for the sub, surrounds and height speakers separately. I found this really handy.
With regards to the actual EQ of the individual speakers, in spite of the UI’s relative simplicity, I really liked the interface. It displays the before measurement, the calculated correction PEQ filters and the after measurements. It looks like it even re-adjusts the PEQ filters if the first after measurement isn’t to its liking. I thought this was pretty brilliant as even YPAO and Audyssey are doing things “in the dark” and won’t do an after measurement to confirm the results and re-adjust if necessary. Well done, ToneWinner!
Ok, so regarding the results, I think they need a bit more work on ToneWinner’s part. The issue I had was that ToneWinner uses VERY HIGH Qs for the PEQs above the Schroeder frequency. While this gets you a flatter frequency response, it is not ideal because it can cause the following issues:
- Introduce phase shifts and group delay which will affect the timing relationship between the different frequency bands. So you are trading good time-domain response for a flatter frequency response.
- The seat to seat consistency of the sound will be affected in the high frequencies. This is because you might be able to correct so precisely for one position, it might be totally off in the seat next to it or even 10cms apart.
- Correcting the speaker’s natural response with high Q filters can cause harshness or an overdriving of the speaker drivers
This is why Yamaha applies only low Q filters to gently equalise the sound stage as opposed to using the brute-force approach I can see here. Now, on the opposite end, we could say that Audyssey applies very precise filtering. However, Audyssey uses filters that don’t affect the phase or group delay of the frequency bands as they use minimum-phase filtering which PEQs are not.
Doing precise frequency-domain equalisation with PEQ filters cannot be done over the Schroeder frequency without causing time-domain issues. In addition, you can’t really correct phase issues with PEQ, unlike what Pioneer’s MCACC, Yamaha’s YPAO R.S.C., Dirac Live, and in a lesser way Audyssey is able to do.
To resolve these issues, I would recommend the following to ToneWinner:
- Use psychoacoustic smoothing to which would allow it to use lower Qs.
- Allow at least 3 mic positions to be measured and average those. This will also allow for only correcting issues that are consistent from seat to seat. This will provide a better overall soundstage in addition to less over-correction.
Ultimately, to get a great sound, you need to put the AT-300 into a system that
- Uses speakers with excellent time-domain response – especially around the crossover frequencies for the individual drivers
- Is placed in a well treated room so that you need only timbre matching as opposed to full room correction
In addition, you must understand how to manually calibrate a systems using PEQ. This is exactly why I have written the Getting Started with Manual Calibration and REW guide, which explains this in detail with examples.
So let’s talk about manually calibrating the AT-300 next.
You have 3 manual EQ slots in addition to the one Auto-EQ created. You also have the option to bypass it altogether.
The 3 EQ slots allow for the following:
- 11-band PEQ for front and centre speakers
- 7-band PEQ for surround and height speakers
- 5-band PEQ for the 3 subwoofers
The PEQs are highly configurable with exact frequencies and Qs. For comparison, YPAO uses 7-bands for all speakers and 4-bands for subwoofers. So the ToneWinner is better in this regard than the Yamaha (when not taking R.S.C (Reflected Sound Control) into consideration). When used according to best practices, the number of PEQ filters should be enough.
Manually calibrating the AT-300 does take time because ideally you want to take measurements of at least 3 mic positions, average the results and then develop a curve for the averaged results, as opposed to just the primary listening position. This will ensure that you don’t overcorrect issues and also that more seats will be good seat due to more consistency from seat to seat.
There is also a trade-off you have to strike between good imaging and flat frequency response across a wider area. You do this by choosing the correct microphone placement pattern. A closer pattern generally results in better imaging, a wider pattern generally results in a flatter frequency response across a wider area.
Another issue you need to tackle is the target curve. People have come up with all sorts of house curves but ultimately my preference is using Loudness Compensation principles based on Equal Loudness Curves to develop the correct target curve based on listening habits. This is a much more scientific way of doing it than just copy what others are doing and hope for the best. I have previously written about this extensively, so check out this article for more. This is really a requirement if you tend to listen below reference levels, as the tonal characteristic of the soundtrack will change based on volume.
I am going to create a product specifically for processors that don’t use popular room-correction solutions, but for now I would recommend the reader uses the calculator included with Dirac Live Perfection to come up with the ideal target curve and then implement that using REW. Dirac Live Perfection also includes a discussion around how to design mic patterns and some examples.
Additionally, I would recommend that any speaker that is situated behind you, whether surround speakers or height speakers, are increased in relative volume to the front speakers. The calculator mentioned earlier will recommend the range you need to try based on the content and volume you are listening at. This is required because any volume below reference will affect the perceptual front – back balance of the soundstage due to psychoacoustic reasons.
One of the improvements I could imagine ToneWinner doing in the next version of their processor is implementing Equal-Loudness Curves and surround envelopment compensation similar to what Dynamic EQ is doing. These could be static curves that are laid over the PEQ corrections. That could be a good first step, even if they aren’t adjusted dynamically but have to be manually selected.
In any case, I did a quick calibration for my preferred listening volume of -15dB, increased my surround volumes by 3dB (this is correct for movies at this volume for my particular setup).
With Auto EQ
The results weren’t as bad as I expected considering the high Qs used by ToneWinner. However, I could definitely hear that the auto-eq corrections resulted in a bit of edginess.
I had to lower the subwoofer volume by quite a bit as it was too hot. I also upped the surround speakers by 3dB for listening at -15dB on the volume dial. (Pushing the volume higher, I would have needed less correction for my setup.)
Overall I found the sound to be clean but definitely let down by the auto-EQ a bit.
With Manual EQ
However, once manually calibrated, the sound-stage opened up quite a bit and surround-steering was much more solid. In fact, I found it hard to fault the sound quality: it was clean and impactful. I would even maybe say that in capable hands, and a well-treated room, the AT-300 can sound a bit “cleaner” than an Audyssey-capable AVR.
Was it as good as the best I heard: such as a capable AVR or processor with Dirac Live or Yamaha’s latest-gen 64bit YPAO? I wouldn’t say that. But the AT-300 definitely can hold its own once it is put into a pre-treated space and calibrated by someone capable. And I guess therein lies the issue: you do need to know what you are doing, otherwise you will not get the best out of this processor.
Let’s discuss the value this processor brings compared to others on the market.
The AT-300 is about 2/3 the cost of the Denon – again region dependent. The Denon has a pre-amp mode which would bring it in line in terms of clarity from the pre-outs. In addition, for that extra money, you have a much more capable room correction solution and the option of Dirac Live once it’s available – for a cost of course.
What you don’t get with the Denon is 6 height speakers so if you need those, you’d have to move up to the Denon x6700h.
The x6700h also allows you to do 7.1.6 so the AT-300 has the advantage of a third subwoofer and the option to use front wides with Dolby Atmos, instead of a 3rd set of height speakers.
Of course, the x6700h is a bit more than double the price of the AT-300 so if you don’t need Audyssey, the AT-300 might be a good choice.
Denon’s flagship can use front wides along with 6 ceiling channels due to DTS:X Pro and the latest Dolby Surround upmixer which can extract front wides from all soundtracks. What’s more, you are not restricted on which up mixer to use with which format.
Of course the x8500h is 3x the price of the AT-300.
If you are happy with only 11 speaker channels (minus subs) then the Onkyo is a better value here, for not much more. Regardless of specs and a possibly slightly cleaner sound from a processor, the added benefit of Dirac Live is a big plus.
What’s more, you can calibrate the Onkyo manually as well and have THX Loudness Plus available which is a bonus for night-time listening.
However, the Onkyo stops at 11 channels so if you need 6 height speakers for example, the AT-300 becomes a better option.
This is the only consumer (as opposed to prosumer) processor at the moment that can do 15.4 channels of processing – compared to AT-300’s 13.3 channels of processing. It is 6x the price of the AT-300.
Of course, what you get with the Marantz is state of the art design, 110dB of SNR and the very latest version of processing from Dolby and DTS with Audyssey and optional Dirac Live for room correction.
The Arcam AV40 offers 15.1 channels of decoding, so you will need to add a miniDSP for more than 1 subwoofer. However, it offers the latest Dolby and DTS code, Auro 3D and Dirac Live upgradability.
Of course the Arcam is 4-5x the price of the AT-300.
Yamaha stops at 11.2 processing at the moment and costs a lot more while doing so.
Any other offerings that come close to the channel-count of the AT-300 are prosumer products and cost a lot more. There’s very little point in enumerating them.
The AT-300 is a processor with great sound quality and a lot of Atmos channels for a relatively budget price. The user interface and the auto-calibration needs some work and I hope that ToneWinner will keep working on those for its next iteration. But they aren’t the deal-breaker I was expecting them to be.
Ultimately, I would recommend the AT-300 for those that are
- Willing to spend some of the money they save on proper room treatment or already have a well-treated room
- Tend to listen at the louder end of the spectrum (preferably at -20dBs and above) as the ToneWinner lacks both loudness compensation or an advanced dynamic range compression solution
- Willing to do a manual calibration and are skilled at it or can get someone to do it for them.
For anyone else, I would recommend you wait for ToneWinner’s next offering or move up to an AVR or processor that has better automatic room correction, loudness compensation and dynamic range compression solutions as those are necessary for untreated rooms and when the listening volume is in the lower ranges.
Thank you for reading. If you are into high-end home theatre, don’t forget to check out our Display and Audio Calibration Guides to maximise your experience.