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HOME THEATER SYSTEM REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 08, 2008 0 comments
Price: $500 At A Glance: Each speaker handles front and surround channels • Integrated DVD (not Blu-ray) player • Strong aesthetics and build quality

4.1 Channels from 2.1 Speakers

Manufacturers of home theater gear work within a rigid framework. That makes it easy for consumers to recognize product categories—speaker systems, receivers, separates—and investigate the trade-offs between performance and price. But these product categories can also be staid and boring because they rarely investigate alternative system architectures. To shake things up a little, you have to look into compact systems, including entry-level ones like the JVC TH-F3 DVD Digital Theater System (to use the official nomenclature).

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 27, 2008 0 comments
Price: $1,000 Highlights: HTIB with Blu-ray drive • Wireless surround speakers • Bamboo fiber speaker cones

Lady Sings the Blus

How do you define high end? Is it the gear that delivers the highest performance, sells for the highest price, or represents the most agile and innovative thinking? If that last criterion means anything, the Panasonic SC-BT100 is the very definition of a high-end home theater system—in a box. It includes a Blu-ray drive, makes daring use of bamboo fiber speaker diaphragms, and employs wireless technology to deliver signals to those two lonely surround speakers in the back of the room. Moving backward to the second criterion, price, the system sells for $1,000, on the moderate to high side by HTIB standards. And what about the first criterion, performance? Sorry, but you’ll have to read the review. Throw me a bone here—this is how I earn my living.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jul 27, 2008 0 comments
Taking the shortcut home.

Some people would call it cheating. Others might be less pejorative and consider it a shortcut. Either way, setting a rectangular box on top of your TV, plugging in an analog stereo RCA cable, finding an outlet for a single AC power cord, and pressing the power button isn’t what God intended when he gave us home theater. No, a real man’s home theater demands a separate processor and amplifiers, multiple speakers, many long runs of speaker wire, and an inconvenient place to put a subwoofer. It should take real work to set the whole thing up—and more than a sporting chance to wire something incorrectly.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 21, 2008 0 comments
Plant a seed, grow an iPod docking system.

My first impression of the mStation was that it had grown out of the ground. Having just uncrated it, I knew it hadn’t really sprung out of the carpet, of course. Yet somehow it seemed more like a young stand of trees than a floorstanding iPod docking system. If I waited long enough, would this self-contained trio of cylinders erupt in branches and leaves? No, and yet there was something organic about it. The pair of metal speaker tubes seemed to rise up from the base, while the subwoofer drum suspended between them seemed to levitate in midair. In addition to having a whiff of the arboreal, it also resembled a headless robot.

Kim Wilson Posted: Dec 03, 2007 0 comments
Is the age of the traditional loudspeaker almost over? Never before has there been so many alternatives to the typical monolith speaker, from in-walls that disappear into the décor to ultra-tiny speaker enclosures that sit on a shelf. A general aversion to complex and highly visible multichannel audio systems has left a good many consumers with only half the home theater experience. According to a September 2006 article from the Consumer Electronics Association, called "Home Theater Opportunities," 76% of all flat panel TV users are not using a separate audio system. As the article points out there are a good deal of opportunities for audio equipment manufacturers to develop alternate methods for delivering quality audio for high-definition TVs.
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 15, 2007 0 comments
Dr. Harman meets Dr. Bronner—all one!

Every day, I wash with Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. A soap-

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 10, 2007 Published: Aug 10, 2007 0 comments
CD and radio in a box—iPod out back.

More than half a century of audio evolution has produced this modest box. Its grandparents are the high-end radios of the 1950s. Its parents are of the CD generation, a 1980s format increasingly viewed as archaic by the latest generation of listeners. And it accommodates the iPod, although it keeps the latest audio revolution literally at arm's length, in a separate docking device that plugs into the back of the system. The retrofit brings an already successful product family closer to being up to date.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jun 30, 2007 0 comments
Multiple sweet spots from one sweet system.

It's hard to get too excited about most inexpensive HTiBs. That's not to say a system has to cost a lot to be a great value. In fact, there are plenty of one-box-fits-all systems that pack a lot of punch for what you pay. But there's usually so much emphasis on quantity of features that the quality often suffers. In some cases, the system is a hodgepodge of gear thrown together by a manufacturer that sees how popular HTiBs are with the general public and doesn't want to miss out on grabbing its share of the pie.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jun 05, 2007 Published: Jun 06, 2007 0 comments
This Sony HTiB does the listening for you.

Sony may not have invented the Home Theater in a Box, but it's certainly gone a long way in perfecting the concept. Where most companies make just a couple of HTiBs, Sony has close to a dozen ranging from a cute "1000-Watt" system with a five-disc changer and bookshelf speakers costing $299 all the way up to a 780-Watt $1,999 package that includes floorstanding front speakers, wireless rear speakers, and a DVD/ CD/SACD player. With so many choices, we wondered, what could we get from Sony for five hundred bucks? They answered the question by sending us the DAV-HDX500 BRAVIA Theater System.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: May 03, 2007 0 comments
An HTIB you can grow to love.

Denon has a long and venerable history in the audio/video industry, including much of the pioneering work in the field of digital audio. Fitting of that tradition, Denon was, for many years, a brand reserved solely for the audiophile (later followed by the videophile) who frequented the high-end shops. This was a no-nonsense era for Denon, and its designers and engineers eschewed flashy features and other niceties, such as easy-to-use menus.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 20, 2007 Published: Apr 20, 2007 0 comments
High-end sensibility in a box.

There are two ways to look at compact home theater—a.k.a. in-a-box—systems. The dominant, mass-market HTIBs are a step down in cost and performance for those who are content to pay less and get less. If the system comes with fewer distracting bells and whistles, so much the better. But there is another, less explored, higher-end vision for compact home theater. It uses compactness to pursue a vigorous uncluttering of the home theater experience while maintaining high performance. The aim is a kind of sleek austerity, not deprivation, and people who want it are willing to pay for it. They might even influence people around them—suggesting by example that a home theater system can be simple, elegant, and a treat for the ears. Perhaps that's what Naim Audio was thinking when they named this system the n-Vi. I'll spare you the puns.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 22, 2007 Published: Feb 22, 2007 0 comments
Multinational speakers meet American amps.

On the battlefield of speaker design, I am the triage nurse. I walk into speaker demo rooms at trade shows, my badge sometimes inadvertently turned inward, listen for a moment, and quietly mutter to myself, "This one's a keeper," or, "He's dead, Jim." Or occasionally just, "Hmmm," because good speakers may sound iffy under bad conditions, and I respect the potential buried within an ambiguous first take. But, if my instincts tell me to pursue a review, I whip out a business card and start making arrangements on the spot.

Chris Chiarella Posted: Jan 26, 2007 0 comments
Welcome to the age of Audistry.

My office—cubicle, actually—is in Manhattan, so I get it: Despite your love of movies and music, some readers either don't want or just can't deal with a full array of five loudspeakers plus a subwoofer. Rather than settle for simple stereo (and I mean no disrespect to John Atkinson and his Stereophile crew down the hall), some overachieving sub/sat systems add often proprietary processing techniques to simulate sprawling surround sound. But what if newly released signal-processing algorithms offered so much control over the listening experience that they could turn a budget home-theater-in-a-box into a sound lab of sorts, allowing you to experiment with a previously impossible milieu of realistic audio illusions?

John Higgins Posted: Dec 22, 2006 0 comments
  • $350
  • Attractive speakers and player have distinctive look
  • Wireless-surround-speaker ready with wireless adapter (sold separately)
The LG LH-T9654S does its best to differentiate itself aesthetically from a menagerie of cookie-cutter HTIBs. The attractively shaped speakers are glossy black soft-cornered triangles with silver linings. The subwoofer, as well, is very distinctive, with a cut-corner design. It's also glossy black with silver accents. The player continues the sleek design with its relatively bare front panel—it's limited to the disc tray, the LCD, and a headphone jack. The navigational CD buttons are located along the top of the player.
John Higgins Posted: Dec 22, 2006 0 comments
  • $500
  • XM ready with included XM Connect & Play antenna
  • Component setup, so upgrading is easy
  • Adjust the setup with Digital Cinema Auto Calibration and the included microphone
Sony's HT-7000DH is a component-style 5.1-channel home-theater-in-a-box. It includes a receiver (STR-K7000), a five-disc carousel DVD player (DVP-NC85H), four satellites, a center-channel speaker, and a subwoofer. The speakers have a black faux-wood finish. Aesthetically, there's nothing about them that stands out, so they should blend in easily among bookcases and shelving units. The DVD player upconverts over the HDMI connection to 720p or 1080i. It can read all DVD video formats, as well as VCD and JPEG. Being a Sony, it can also play SACDs. As for other audio formats, it is limited to CD, CD-R, CD-RW, and MP3 playback.

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