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Audio Video April 2001






Leaders of the pack!
TAG McLaren AV32R Plus Pre/Processor
TAG McLaren 100x5R Five-Channel Power Amp

To motorsport enthusiasts, the TAG McLaren brand is synonymous with the Formula One racing, and with a level of excellence that has earned the marque numerous victories and world championships. But in high-end audio and home theatre terms, TAG McLaren is also a leading player…


Superbly engineered, tangibly superior components with a bespoke, crafted quality and reputation for advanced technology. Performance lives up to very high expectations, thanks to combination of finesse, clarity and control. Advanced software and full upgradeability protect substantial initial investment.
Sony DVD-S525 DVD player, M&K THX 150 surround sound speaker system, M&K MX-350 THX active subwoofer, Sony Wega television set, TAG McLaren Cinema Pack analogue interlinks, TAG McLaren digital interconnect, XLO S-Video interlinks, Tributaries speaker cable, Designs Unlimited speaker stands, Apollo Designs component stand.
Goldeneye (MGM)
Super Speedway (Imax Openwheel)
Sheryl Crow - Rockin' The Globe Live (Image Entertainment)
TAG McLaren AV32R Plus - R36 000
TAG McLaren 100x5R - R36 000
SUPPLIED BY Extraordinary AV (021) 552-0014

At the mere mention of the TAG McLaren brand, petrolheads and racing fans will sit up and take notice. And not surprisingly, considering that the brand has been one of the most successful in the cutting-edge world of Formula One racing.

Love or hate the team, the fans have never begrudged McLaren boss Ron Dennis and his drivers their ability to engineer exceptional racing machines. Indeed, one of the world's most evocative road cars - and one of the rarest - once wore the McLaren badge with pride.

Underlining the spirit of technical sophistication that is at the core of the company, TAG McLaren high-end audio and AV components have been establishing themselves in the esoteric category of one of the most competitive consumer industries in the world.

Also of interest is that TAG McLaren is very much a British company, while it's been acknowledged that the majority of high-enders have their origin in the United States.

That makes the AV32R Plus pre-amp/processor and its partnering 100x5R five-channel power amplifier something of a home theatre curiosity, and one that many seasoned audiophiles have approached with a measure of scepticism.

Unless one is irrevocably biased in favour of US marques, it doesn't take very long in the company of the TAG McLarens to realise that, at the very least, these are classy and even unique AV devices that deserve more than just incidental attention.

Let's start with the AV32R Plus - a slim and deceptively simple-looking pre-amplifier/processor. This latest-generation unit, not to be confused with the less sophisticated original, exudes the kind of oiled precision and do-not-touch exclusivity that only paid-up members of the esoteric audio club are able to muster.

Quite predictably, there is a lot more to the AV32R Plus than initial impressions may suggest. In fact, it's teeming with the kind of technology that could have qualified for science fiction not that long ago.

The TAG McLaren processor is fully compatible with all the current, conventional 5.1 surround sound formats: Dolby Digital AC-3 and Digital Theatre Sound (DTS), as well as the original Dolby Pro Logic and MPEG-2. It is also a fully THX Ultra-certified component .

But that's only the beginning of the AV32R Plus' AV format repertoire. While some may not even have heard of the likes of THX Surround EX 7.1, DTS ES 6.1 Matrix and ES 6.1 Discrete and DTS Neo:6, these are all formats that make provision for more than the current 5.1 channel standard.

Effectively, it means that the AV32R Plus is as future proof as they come. Not all the above formats will survive, but at least this unit is compatible with all of them. And should new formats appear - Dolby Pro Logic II is already being hailed as the latest great development in home theatre - software uploads will ensure continued relevance.

It also underlines one of the cornerstone philosophies behind the TAG McLaren - continuous upgradeability. For instance, the AV32R can accommodate a second digital signal processing (DSP) module, doubling processing power and associated quality standards. Various upgrade boards allow further update paths.

Ensuring the continued relevance of the AV32R through continuous upgrades is proof of TAG McLaren's attention to detail, and its commitment to customer satisfaction.

That's also why the construction is top-notch, with features such as gold-plated multi-layer PCBs, reference-quality circuit components (including high-end video components), a toroidal power transformer, and a vibration-resistant all-metal enclosure that incorporates Sorbothane membrane-fitted feet.

The unit is also endowed with the latest in technology. For instance, a proprietary T'L-link allows the AV32R and other TAG components to synchronise their clocks to the AV32R's master unit, allowing exceptionally low levels of digital noise and much reduced jitter.

A combination of surface-mounted digital and hard-wired analogue audio circuit components is aimed at extracting and maintaining optimum performance standards throughout the signal path.

Onboard D/A converters are true 96 kHz/24-bit delta-sigma designs, while the top-end Analog Devices ADSP 2106SL SHARC digital signal processor offers 32-bit, 66 MHz technology. Analogue-to-digital conversion is via a 96 kHz/20-bit delta-sigma ADC with 128-times oversampling.

Versatile connectivity is another TAG McLaren AV32R Plus virtue, although the audio inputs and outputs are restricted to single-ended RCA-type sockets. That's a pity, since the superior noise rejection properties of at least some balanced input/output sets would have certainly boosted appeal even further.

Video-wise, the choices are more varied, and include both the preferred S-Video and the RCA-terminated composite video options. Digital I/O sets offer both S/PDIF coaxial and Toslink EIAJ optical options, with the former clearly the preferred choice.

The AV32R Plus comes with a full-featured TAG McLaren system remote that's not only compatible with all the marque's components, but can also be programmed to operate other AV components. Other niceties include an upgrade module to allow automation functions such as motorised curtain and screen control.

A natural power amplifier partner for the AV32R Plus processor is TAG McLaren's own 100x5R multi-channel design. Effectively five identical monoblocks sharing the same chassis, the 100x5R's design is completely modular to ensure future upgradeability.

A combination of short signal paths, high-quality circuit components such as Vishay metal-film resistors and Wilma polypropylene capacitors are typical of a circuit layout that also features internal heatsinking and generous toroidal power supplies.

An onboard microprocessor controls the amplifier by monitoring each channel for overloading or other faults, controlling the start-up sequence, and allowing unused channels to be switched off, such as when listening to stereo sources, for instance.

Fully remote controlled, the power amp is rated at 100 watts RMS per channel into 8 ohms, can deliver up to 160 watts per channel into 4 ohms, and even 190 watts into 2 ohms for short periods. Signal-to-noise ratio is greater than 90 dB and THD comes to less than 0,002 percent.

The AV32R Plus and 100x5R were linked employing a TAG McLaren Cinema Pack, which comprises five RCA-terminated analogue interconnects, one for each channel. A TAG coaxial digital interlink linked the Sony DVD player to the processor.

In line with its upmarket status, a set of THX-certified M&K THX 150 home theatre speakers was used for this review, accompanied by a M&K MX-350 active subwoofer. The whole system was run to THX parameters.

For components that belong, as mentioned, in the esoteric league, initial set-up is simpler than most, thanks to TAG McLaren's belief that not too many users enjoy ploughing through complicated manuals.

Instead, the AV32R employs an onboard, intuitive set-up wizard - a set of step-by-step on-screen instructions that lead the user through all the key set-up parameters. It's a very effective way to get the system up and running, and means that the whole TAG McLaren set-up was fully operational within half an hour of initial switch-on.

Vital though is that the S-Video output with on-screen display is employed: the composite outputs offered as alternatives don't carry OSD information. For those who do prefer manuals, comprehensive literature is provided, however.

After all that, I'm sure your expectations regarding actual performance of the TAG McLaren kit are as high as mine were once the installation was complete. After some warm-up time, the serious listening commenced - and I must admit that I wasn't disappointed.

The first impressions were of an articulate, open and accessible sound that offered ample space for even the most complex of soundtracks, together with an almost uncanny ability to extract and project the tiniest particles of detail.

Indeed, it takes a system such as this one to underline just how important these fine strands of information are in providing the high levels of realism believable home theatre demands.

This detail was preserved in the broader context of the expansive staging, rock-solid imaging and utterly credible channel integration delivered by the TAG McLaren system.

It added the sonic cherry on top of a sound that demanded attention, and remained compelling without any of the listener fatigue that can so often spoil the sonic broth, especially when listening to a system over extended periods.

If detail was impressive, then the sheer muscle and control of the TAG McLaren kit was a wow, too. Frankly, the 100 watts RMS per channel promised by the 100x5R looked just that little anaemic on the spec sheet. But in reality, there was no shortage of oomph, even when taxing sound effects were played back loudly.

Thrust and control were joined by arguably some of the best Dolby Digital AC-3 and DTS decoding I've heard to date. Channel-to-channel integration and exceptional directional steering allowed a truly seamless rendition of the soundtrack, while the real muscle of the power amplifier was obvious in the way it effortlessly projected the kind of bass notes and effects that would have lesser designs gasping for breath…

Clearly, the THX Ultra certification of the TAG kit guarantees a certain minimum performance standard, but equally obvious is that this system not only meets the requirements, but easily exceeds them.

The TAG McLaren AV32R Plus and the 100x5R power amplifier are fine components that deserve to be considered in the esoteric context. That goes not only for their design, construction quality and ultimate performance, but also for their modular approach, which allows simple extension of the basic building blocks into complex multiroom systems.

Modularity also means that software upgrades and hardware add-on boards have been catered for from the outset, ensuring that the initial investment, although substantial, never has to go to waste. Yes, this is top-end AV kit that those in the market for the best should seriously consider.
Deon Schoeman

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