Cambridge SoundWorks MegaTheater 505 HTIB

A home-theater-in-a-box means different things to different people. For some, it's the total DVD experience for dummies (or the slothful), in terms of both purchasing simplicity and ease of use. For others, it's a real bargain, compared with the cost of individual components plus the many necessary odds and ends. For Cambridge SoundWorks, it's about the speakers.

The MegaTheater 505 is the entry-level home theater system in Cambridge SoundWorks' new MegaTheater line, which features four models at four different price points—each built around identical core components: the BassCube 851 5.1-channel subwoofer-and-amplifier module and the AVS500 DVD player/tuner/preamp. (The BassCube 851 and the AVS500 are also available together in a speakerless bundle, with all of the necessary cables, for greater freedom in system configuration.) What defines each MegaTheater tier is the particular accompaniment of five satellites, all of which are commandeered from Cambridge's extensive Newton Series of high-performance loudspeakers. The highest tier is the $1,300 MegaTheater 530, which arrives with Cambridge's serious Home Theater speakers. The no-nonsense 505 takes a less-complicated approach, arriving with five matched MC50s, tiny cubes that you can place just about anywhere. You can even hang them directly on the wall with the included anchors, screws, and rubber feet. The MC50's 2.5-pound weight enhances its versatility; but, with its 3.5-inch driver and neodymium magnet, it's by no means flimsy.

If you're used to the look of a standard DVD player, you'll notice the AVS500's increased depth, despite its low-profile height and width. This hefty unit contains the necessary hardware for the playback of DVD, CD, CD-R/-RW, HDCD, MP3, and JPEG digital photos. It also houses an AM/FM tuner and decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS, as well as full volume control and switching for the many inputs and outputs. Since the AVS500 decodes internally, connections like the optical digital in and out are a convenience; for many applications, they're not even necessary. The AVS500 also puts out an S-video signal and either interlaced or progressive component video. Like most progressive-scan-capable DVD players, this one ships in interlaced mode. You can activate the progressive mode via the terrific, colorful icon/text-based onscreen menus. Two sets of inputs and outputs are located on the rear panel (all composite video with analog stereo). The front panel has a third set of connections, offering an unusual combination of composite video with stereo mini-jack inputs and outputs, plus a coaxial digital audio output. All of the front-panel controls except power and volume reside behind a flip-down door along the bottom edge. Despite the AVS500's sleek look, the chassis is designed so that future versions of the unit can accommodate internal power amplification and an additional power supply. Also for future exploitation is a nine-pin 5.1 output on the back panel, which will provide the ease and esthetics of a single-cable connection for an as-yet-undesigned sub-and-amp module.

The individual channels connect from the AVS500 to the BassCube 851 subwoofer/amplifier module via a color-coded, six-headed-RCA-to-three-headed-stereo mini-plug cable. The 8-inch, long-throw, downward-firing sub stands on 2-inch-high, cushioned feet that isolate it and provide the necessary air circulation. It's relatively compact in size, with a 150-watt output. The 450-watt B.A.S.H. (Balanced Amplifier Switching Hybrid) amp also supplies 60 watts to each of the five MC50s. The amp's present location inside the subwoofer allows for a more-substantial power supply and heatsink—and, therefore, superior quality and performance—but at a higher price than housing all of the amplification inside the DVD-player/tuner chassis. The B.A.S.H. amp, a digital hybrid, also works better than a true digital amp with a greater variety of speakers, a major factor in the MegaTheater line. A set of mini-plug cables (green/orange/black) that connect the BassCube 851 to a 5.1-channel computer sound card reveals the sub's roots as part of a high-end PC sound system. More RCA outs connect to the five speakers via included cables with bare-wire terminations that attach to clips on the MC50s. You get 5 meters each for the left/center/right speakers and 12 meters each for the surrounds. The comprehensive cable array even includes component video.

COMPANY INFO
Cambridge SoundWorks
MegaTheater 505 HTIB
$700
Dealer Locator Code CAB
(800) 945-HIFI
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