JVC SXXSW6000 5.1 Surround System (Only $50) Page 2

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SETUP

I connected the SXXSW6000 to my usual audio electronics: an Outlaw Model 990 surround-sound processor and an AudioControl Savoy seven-channel amplifier. (Just a pair of the XLR-tipped interconnect cables I used between the amp and the processor cost more than the whole JVC system.) As soon as I whipped out my RadioShack sound-pressure level meter to balance the channels, I knew I was facing a different kind of speaker system.

First, I had to turn the volume way up on the Outlaw to compensate for the ultra-low sensitivity of the satellite speakers. Later measurements revealed that the sats are about 7 decibels less sensitive than an average speaker, which means they need more than four times as much power to hit a given volume level. When I tried using the Outlaw's internal test tones to set the subwoofer to the same level as the satellites, the bass sounded way too wimpy. I often have to fine-tune the bass by a decibel or two, but in this case, I had to push it up 10 decibels to get a satisfying sound. (My measurements soon told me why.)

I expected that such a small, inexpensive subwoofer would need to be placed in the corner of the room, to take advantage of the bass reinforcement you get there. But the SXXSW6000's sub actually performed its best in the same place where larger subs usually sound best in my room - along the front wall just to the left of my right front speaker. JVC designed the satellites to be crossed over to the sub at 200 hertz. At that high frequency, you can easily detect the sub's position in the room by ear, which is distracting if the sub is in the corner. It's better to keep the sub pretty close to your TV and your center speaker.

PERFORMANCE

First, let's make this clear: This system is definitely worth $50. I'm amazed that JVC can get this thing built in China, ship it across the Pacific, and still find some profit for both the manufacturer and the dealer. The real question is whether or not a $50 system is worth buying at all - i.e., does it represent a significant improvement over the speakers built into your TV?

Also, I should point out that there's nothing inherently bad about such a simple system. Cambridge SoundWorks has offered systems with a small subwoofer and five single-driver satellites since the mid-1990s, and they sound pretty good - sometimes better than costlier, more complex designs. However, Cambridge's current system in this category, the Newton Theater MC55, costs $349, which is seven times the SXXSW6000's price.

After hearing just a few tracks of music, I quickly realized that the little satellite speakers have both surprising strengths and glaring weaknesses. The most surprising strength is voice reproduction. It doesn't mangle vocals and dialogue as you might expect, probably because unlike two-way satellites, there's no woofer/tweeter crossover smack in the middle of vocal range. Vocals sound fairly natural, although noticeably thin. There's no chestiness or bloating with male voices, and because there's not a lot of treble, there's also little to no sibilance.

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