BOOKSHELF SPEAKER REVIEWS

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Kim Wilson Posted: Aug 15, 2011 3 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $799 At A Glance: Exceptional sonic performance for the price • Coherent soundfield • Good fit for small rooms • Extreme volume can cause distortion • Lacks depth and punch of larger systems

The ProCinema 600 5.1 speaker system is small, compact, and unobtrusive, capable of blending into any environment. This sub-$1k system effortlessly provides a highly coherent surround field in a small room without degrading the sound quality, even at relatively high volumes. Using patented technology, the system delivers surprisingly good bass and midrange for a sat/sub system. Yes, it lacks the sheer depth, high impact, and fine details of more expensive systems with larger drivers and enclosures. But for basic home theaters in multi-purpose spaces, it not only gets the job done, it performs quite admirably for its size and cost.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 06, 2011 3 comments
Price: $1,398 At A Glance: Silk-dome tweeter with thermal protection • Race-car-inspired woven-fiberglass woofer • Sub’s passive radiators kill port noise

From Canada with Love

Canada has traditionally been a cornucopia of loudspeaker manufacturers. That isn’t exactly an accident. The Canadian government maintains a research facility in Ottawa with an anechoic (non-echoing) chamber that lures speaker designers like a garden lures honeybees. But Sinclair Audio’s roots are in Montreal, as is its Canadian distributor, Jam Industries, which began manufacturing, importing, and distributing musical instruments and other equipment in 1972 and expanded to include consumer electronics shortly thereafter. The company’s scope subsequently expanded to include lighting and audio equipment for concert, broadcast, and recording use. Sinclair is distributed in the U.S. by American Audio & Video. It’s sold via the same dealer network that handles Arcam, whose audio/video receivers and other products have attracted well-earned rave reviews in these pages.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 05, 2011 0 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $844 At A Glance: SuperZero 2.0 updates popular mini-monitor • Voiced to be more relaxed and forgiving • Sub packs 8-inch driver into 11-inch enclosure

Feel-Good Sensation

Consider the mini-monitor. It’s smaller than a monitor and bigger than a satellite.

If the mini-monitor in question is the NHT SuperZero 2.0, it doesn’t have much bass and therefore needs to be mated with a subwoofer. But in the surround arena, where subs are standard equipment, bass-shyness is not so much a weakness as a characteristic.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 09, 2011 12 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $528 At A Glance: Substantial and good-sounding monitors and center • Sub of modest size and power • Jaw-droppingly value packed for the price

Andrew Jones for All

Isn’t it preposterous for the Pioneer Corporation to assert itself as a loudspeaker manufacturer? After all, the company is best known in the home theater sphere as a maker of audio/video receivers. Those with just slightly longer memories recall Pioneer’s world-class KURO plasmas as some of the best HDTVs ever made. There was a time when the Laserdisc format, which Pioneer championed, was the signal source of choice among videophiles. Pioneer was also one of the Japanese audio brands that established the stereo receiver as a staple of dorm rooms (including mine) during the 1970s. But who thinks of Pioneer in connection with speakers?

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2011 0 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $800 At A Glance: Single-cube speaker with full-range driver • Polymer and extruded-aluminum enclosure • Wireless option

Surround Cubed

The cube speaker at the heart of Cambridge Audio’s Minx satellite/subwoofer set has become an enduring form factor for people who don’t like loudspeakers. Of course, in their zeal to get speakers off the floor, some speaker-haters poke holes in their walls for in-walls. But not everyone is willing to go to that extreme. And while in-wall and on-wall speakers have no footprint, they do have what you might call a wallprint. For folks who don’t like speakers, don’t like holes in their walls, and don’t like wallprints, but do like movies and music, the cube speaker—something the size of a Girl Scout’s fist—shapes up as the least invasive solution.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 01, 2011 0 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $1,200 At A Glance: Well-balanced performance • Kortec soft-dome tweeters, ceramic glass fiber woofer cones • Glossy side panels enhance appearance

Born and Reborn

Loudspeaker manufacturers are born and then, in some cases, reborn. Although rebirth doesn’t necessarily ensure continued creativity or even longevity, some speaker makers thrive in their new incarnations. That’s what happened to Boston Acoustics. It was born as an independent company in 1979, was reborn in 2006 as a speaker brand following acquisition by D&M Holdings (the same company that markets Denon and Marantz), and is now healthier than ever.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 16, 2011 1 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $1,019 At A Glance: Time Lens time-aligns tweeter and woofer • Acoustic Lens controls tweeter response • Wireless sub eliminates interconnect cable

Through a Lens, Blackly

Compact satellite/subwoofer sets were once surround’s entry-level configuration, a smart option for those who wanted to go beyond two-channel in a small room. More recently, they’ve ended up in the middle ranks of the home theater hierarchy—below monitor-class and floorstanding speakers but above the relatively new soundbar category and built-in HDTV speakers.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 05, 2011 1 comments
Price: $1,307 At A Glance: Horn-loaded tweeter draws on long Klipsch tradition • Tweeter surround allows more piston-like movement • High sensitivity suits any A/V receiver

Toot Your Horn

Surround sound is an indispensable part of home theater. But some people still have difficulty making the leap from two-channel to 5.1-channel-plus. One question that comes up is: Doesn’t going from two speakers to five or more place a strain on the amplifier? After all, an amp driven into clipping suffers from harshness and compression, and that’s never pleasant to listen to.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Feb 02, 2011 0 comments
Price: $4,798 as tested At A Glance: Tripole surround speakers • Push-pull dualdriver subwoofer design • Magnetically attached perforated metal grilles

Rikki Don’t Lose This Number

It’s a tragic tale with a happy ending—or maybe happy sequel is more accurate since the saga isn’t over yet. Read on because this is the story of a speaker company that helped shape home theater (and even music recording) into what it is today. Along the way, there’s a sad crash and (spoiler alert) a welcome resurrection.

For those of you who are relatively new to the home theater world (and by relatively I mean within the last 20 years), you probably take the idea of a satellite/subwoofer system for granted. What could be more ubiquitous than the sat/sub system with all the bazillions of HTIBs based on that concept in people’s homes? Very few of us would consider a home theater to be serious if it didn’t include a subwoofer (or multiple subwoofers) placed in the ideal spot for best bass performance. It took someone to be the first to popularize the idea that the requirements for reproducing the best bass response (both cabinet size and room location) are different than that needed for getting the best mid- and high-frequency performance. That someone was Ken Kreisel.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 04, 2010 0 comments
Price: $1,294 At A Glance: World-beating satellite with gloss enclosure • Matched drivers in satellite and center • Tall, slender sub with boundary compensation

Starting from Zero

Loudspeakers somehow have a more intimate relationship with their listeners than other audio components. They interact directly with the senses, causing changes in air pressure that the human body perceives—in this case, mainly through the ears and diaphragm. Listening to a system at reference level with a true subwoofer is a full-body experience that will induce physiological changes in the audience. So perhaps it’s fitting that whereas we buy HDTVs and A/V receivers from relatively few manufacturers, the speaker industry supports a couple dozen fairly well-known companies, even more lesser-knowns, and countless unknowns. Some people even build speakers in their basements as a hobby. NHT is one of the more pedigreed names. Unlike a lot of others, it has not only survived five changes in ownership, but it’s done so with one of its two founders in attendance.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 04, 2010 0 comments
Price: $4,925 At A Glance: Soft-dome tweeter and solid piston woofer • Absolute phase crossover keeps drivers in polarity • Wireless servo-controlled subwoofer

Set Your Phaser on Stunning

Whenever I hear a surround speaker demonstration that uses only movie content and ignores music, I always feel like something has been missed—or even deliberately hidden. As Phase Technology notes in the brochure for its Premier Collection speakers:

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 27, 2010 2 comments
Price: $14,500 At A Glance: Diamond-domed tweeter in tapered Nautilus tube housing • Center well matched to other speakers • Focused highs, controlled bass

The 800 Dynasty Continues

The world is full of B&Ws. Former and current users of the acronym include Bra & Wessels, the Swedish department store chain; Burmeister & Wain, the Danish shipyard; Boeing & Westervelt, the predecessor of Boeing; and the Black & White Audiovisual Festival of Portugal. The most notorious B&W would be Brown & Williamson, depraved tobacco pushers. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that B&W, the formidable British loudspeaker maker, has reverted to its original name—Bowers & Wilkins—even though John Bowers and Roy Wilkins are no longer in the picture.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 07, 2010 0 comments
Price: $999 At A Glance: Sleek, simple-looking satellites with removable pedestals • Small, sealed sub with 8-inch driver

Undercover Operative

When agents for the federal government’s most secretive intelligence agencies take up their sensitive duties, they are outfitted with trench coats and fedoras so that they can blend in with the general population. That’s what I thought of when I uncrated the Harman Kardon HKTS 30 satellite/subwoofer system. To look at these speakers, you’d hardly suspect that they form a package that retails for just a buck shy of a thousand dollars. The look is strictly utilitarian, like something you’d see packaged with a less costly system. Yet under the metal grilles there lurk some nice silk-dome tweeters. And the speaker terminals aren’t the flimsy plastic-tab wire clips you’ll find in the cheapest speakers. Instead, Harman Kardon opts for a sturdy all-metal terminal, a spring-loaded cylinder of a type often seen in better-quality sat/sub sets. Clearly, there’s more to this system than meets the eye.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 30, 2010 0 comments
Price: $1,410 At A Glance: Middle of Polk’s three main speaker lines • Cherry or black veneers at modest price • Remote-controlled subwoofer

From Baltimore with Love

Did you know that Baltimore was the second U.S. city to achieve a population of more than 100,000, after New York? It has given us great Americans as diverse as Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, and John Waters, who will probably never serve on the Supreme Court, although I’d love to see him try. Barry Levinson based four movies in Baltimore: Diner, Tin Men, Avalon, and Liberty Heights. Six Fortune 500 companies reside in greater Baltimore. The city’s best known university is Johns Hopkins, which educated Polk Audio’s three cofounders: Matthew Polk, Sandy Gross, and George Klopfer. All of them have since moved on, although Matthew Polk maintained an active design presence until recently. Polk Audio is currently owned by DEI Holdings, which also owns Definitive Technology and the Directed Electronics car technology empire. It remains a Baltimore stalwart as well as one of the few truly distinguished speaker brands available to megachain shoppers.

Michael Fremer Posted: Aug 30, 2010 0 comments
toppick.jpgPrice: $600 At A Glance: Dual powered subs go low • Single-box analog domain “virtual surround” • Ultra-clear vocal presentation

A Base With Good Bass

Despite the predictable claims that manufacturers make—and the breathless, indefensible hyperbolic shrieks made by computer geeks posing as audio reviewers—no one-box-solution soundbar can really replace a discrete 5.1-channel surround sound system. ZVOX founder and former Cambridge SoundWorks marketing executive Tom Hannaher knows that, and the ZVOX Website says it. Bravo.

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