Making the Best Better
The tradition of mighty sound from compact gear continues with the Z-5500 Digital, with some important improvements as well. While we are still given natural-sounding bass from the subwoofer, its newer, bigger, 10-inch long-throw design with flared port goes lower than ever, to wonderful effect. The new real-time digital equalizer is more accurate than the old active analog EQ and on a more practical level, the number of inputs has also increased from four to six, thanks to a switch that allows the analog six-channel direct input to reconfigure to three pairs of separate analog stereo ins to accommodate a plethora of two-channel components. Digital optical and coaxial inputs (one each) handle DVD players, game consoles, and more. Also new is support for high-resolution 24-bit/96-kilohertz audio, be it from a PCM stream, the DTS 96/24 codec, sampling in 24/96, or internal processing. Dolby Digital, Pro-Logic II, and DTS hardware decoding return, as does THX certification, a rare distinction for "multimedia" audio solutions.
All five satellites have aluminum phase plug drivers, which pull double duty as both tweeter and midrange driver, extending into the high end while still giving great fidelity in the midrange, for noticeably deeper vocals. Multichannel soundstaging is seamless, with particularly detailed, responsive rears. The cloth speaker grills are removable, a welcome style option, while the rotating pedestal bases oblige any number of setups.
And at the heart of the system is the Digital SoundTouch control center in a far sleeker silver and black finish to manage every aspect, dominated by a clear LCD readout and a nice fat audiophile knob, as well as a wireless remote. If my review of the Z-680 was a rave, then I suppose my fondness for the Z-5500 Digital might require sedation.