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HOME THEATER SYSTEM REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 05, 2012 2 comments
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
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Value
Price: $1,000 At A Glance: Hybrid switching/vacuum tube amplifier • Glass fiber speaker cones • Tilting drivers in towers for front-height channels

The vacuum tube has an honored place in the audio timeline. It preceded stereo, the LP, and of course everything digital. When tubes gave way to the solid-state transistor, consumer electronics began its steady march toward lighter weight, lower cost, reduced heat dissipation, and greater energy efficiency. Entire new product categories were born—such as the portable transistor radio, the distant forebear of today’s smartphones and iPods. Solid-state technology further democratized audio in the 1970s as Japan exported mass-market stereo receivers to music lovers on a budget. By the time home theater and surround sound got underway, tubes had long since been left behind by the mainstream. One by one, all the tubes winked out. Or did they?

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Sep 20, 2012 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $3,499 At A Glance: Automatic speaker discovery and channel assignment • Uncompressed 24-bit wireless digital audio • No AVR needed

Not long ago, FedEx deposited a 7.1channel HTIB from Aperion Audio outside my door. It’s not really fair to call it a home theater in a box because the system actually comes in seven boxes and sells for $3,499. But since it includes source switching and amplification, it technically qualifies as an HTIB, albeit a rather unusual one. Aperion Audio prefers the term preconfigured home theater system. Normally, setting up this sort of home theater package would entail speaker wires crisscrossing the floor accompanied by the requisite grumbling, stripping of wires, and fumbling with speaker terminals. In this case, though, the Aperion speakers—a pair of towers, a center channel, a subwoofer, and two pair of satellite speakers—come out of their boxes, get placed in their appropriate spots in the room, have each one’s power cord plugged into the nearest AC outlet…and that’s it.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 15, 2012 1 comments
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $600 At A Glance: Denon entry-level AVR • Boston Acoustics sat/sub set • Acceptable performance

Eliminating nonessentials sounds easier than it is. A year ago, I went through my clothes and filled six shopping bags with shirts and pants I knew I’d never wear again. Just a month ago, I repeated the exercise and darn if I didn’t fill another bag. If I’d exerted myself, I could have filled two. So I felt a certain respect as I cracked open the Denon DHT-1513BA carton and moved its contents to my rack and speaker stands—because I knew this system’s designers had made some tough decisions. They’re more hardheaded than a guy who decides to let his HD DVD promotional T-shirt survive another year.

Michael Fremer Posted: May 18, 2012 13 comments
Do you dream in surround sound? Since you’re reading this magazine, the answer is probably yes. Psychiatrists say dreaming is good for you. Thumb through any issue of Home Theater and you’re more likely than not to encounter components, systems, and lavish, dedicated rooms equipped with the latest 4K projectors and high-powered, surround-sound systems that most of us can only dream about.
Kim Wilson Posted: Jan 26, 2012 4 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $1,099 At A Glance: THX I/S Plus Certified • 3D compatible • Audyssey 2EQ auto calibration and room EQ • Network capable • Qdeo 4K upscaling

Home Theater in a Box (HTiB) systems generally cater to the extreme low end of the market, offering complete multichannel speaker and electronics packages (often including a DVD player) for as little as $300. The Onkyo HT-S9400THX is a cut above, offering a highly competent HTiB that is far beyond the all-in-one packages you can drop into a shopping cart at your local Target, though it does not include a disc player.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 28, 2010 0 comments
Price: $850 At A Glance: AVR with integrated Blu-ray 3D player and slim speakers • Proprietary auto setup with musical test tones • Attention-getting array of fun network-enabled apps

The Start of Something Big

Samsung’s HT-C6930W 7.1-channel Blu-ray 3D Home Theater System, to quote the full official name, includes a speedy Blu-ray 3D drive, seven speakers, subwoofer, wireless connection for one pair of surrounds, and an auto setup system that replaces the customary bleeps and sweeps with musical test tones. It builds on Ethernet and Wi-Fi network connectivity with DLNA certification and a variety of apps.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 13, 2010 0 comments
Price: $1,099 At A Glance: World’s first 3D THX I/S Plus–certified integrated system • Audyssey 2EQ, Dynamic EQ, Dynamic Volume

Certified to the Max

Once a year, I pack several Gucci suitcases with cash and FedEx them to the folks who develop licensed technologies for surround systems. Without these fine people, products would be festooned with fewer logos, toy critics like myself would have less to write about, and that in turn would hasten my journey down the slippery slope toward obsolescence, incontinence, and death. Each new licensed technology is a further stay of execution. It is in this spirit, much like a dog whose owner has been out all day, that I greet the Onkyo HT-S9300THX compact home theater system with THX I/S Plus, as well as auto setup, room correction, and low-volume listening modes licensed from Audyssey. This isn’t the first THX I/S Plus system, but it is the first one to combine I/S Plus and 3D capability.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 14, 2010 0 comments
Price: $2,500 At A Glance: Three-channel soundbar with coaxial drivers • Satellite surrounds, also with coaxial drivers • 10-inch wireless sub with distinctive round enclosure

Slim Bar, Wireless Sub

It goes without saying that the soundbar and satellite/subwoofer categories have grown in stature along with the overwhelming popularity of flat-panel displays. As those displays have become rigorously slimmer, their skinny bezels have provided less room for speakers—not just home-theater-worthy speakers, but even something adequate for watching the news. Thus, it’s created a desperate urgency for a flat-panel-friendly audio solution.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 14, 2010 0 comments
Price: $400 At A Glance: Wireless sub goes any place with a power outlet • Soundbar contains four full-range drivers • Dolby Digital, DPLII, and DTS 5.1 surround processing

One Less Cable

Do you become a different person when you walk into a different room? For many people, the answer is yes. They’ll endure the rigors of component matching and system setup to equip the family room with a big phat flat screen and an AVR-based surround system. But they don’t want to repeat the process in every bedroom. Outside the main system, it might be OK for the screen to be 720p instead of 1080p if it’ll save a few bucks (especially if you don’t wear glasses in bed). And it may be OK to substitute a no-hassle soundbar speaker for a discrete speaker system. But that doesn’t mean you should go without surround—we’re not going to extremes here.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 03, 2009 1 comments
Price: $650 At A Glance: A/V receiver, five slim speakers, and powered sub • Slightly rolled-off treble, but pleasing sound • Good remote, lousy supplied cable

Home Theater Comfort Food

On my first trip to London, when I was much younger, my first meal was a mediocre steak in a fifth-rate restaurant full of reveling Australian soccer fans. It was one of the most disappointing meals I’ve ever had. While Britain doesn’t exactly lead the world in cuisine, you can eat well there if you know what you’re doing. The reason I got stuck with a leathery, tasteless, uninspiring piece of meat was that I was jet-lagged and desperately hungry, I didn’t know my way around, and I couldn’t find anything better. HTIBs can be like that. People who might be better served by a higher-quality component system settle for a less fulfilling one because they don’t know their way around the labyrinthine world of A/V receivers and speaker systems. Mixing and matching surround gear can be too steep a hill to climb.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 27, 2009 0 comments
Price: $2,200 At A Glance: 5.1-channel decoding in a single soundbar • Decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS, not lossless • Strong bass even when subwoofer output is not used

5.1 Channels in One

Why shouldn’t respectability and innovation be on speaking terms? In loudspeakers, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Much of the recent audio innovation in home theater has come in products that are designed to complement flat-panel TVs. These products are morphing before our eyes—into soundbars, on-walls, and ever-smaller satellites. They are also moving beyond the standard five-speakers-and-sub configuration in their deployment of surround’s 5.1-channel array. This makes for a striking contrast when you look at the high-end speakers that grace audiophile short lists. These include a staid group of medium-density fiber-board boxes whose fundamentals, in many cases, haven’t changed in decades. Traditional speakers can sound great, but that’s not often enough to make people buy them.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 30, 2009 0 comments
Price: $500 At A Glance: Fits under flat panels that weigh 90 pounds or less • Five 2-inch drivers, one 5.25-inch woofer • Balanced sound with minimal surround

What’s in That Black Box?

What if you opened up your home-theater-in-a-box system only to find—another box? Would you suspect you had suddenly plunged into an unpublished chapter of Through the Looking Glass, a strange alternate universe where boxes contain boxes? Would you be afraid that inside the second box, there might be a third box? And inside the third, a fourth? Was dropping acid and going to the Museum of Modern Art in 1978 really such a good idea?

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 23, 2009 0 comments
Price: $1,099 At A Glance: THX Loudness Plus enhances sonic impact at low volumes • Audyssey 2EQ offers better than average auto setup and EQ • Faroudja DCDi video processing

Say Hello to THX I/S Plus

Why are home theater products littered with logos? Because manufacturers don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Rather than design its own loudness enhancement, auto-setup program, or video-processing chip, a company like Onkyo will license one of these goodies from THX, Audyssey, or Faroudja. Or in the case of the HT-S9100THX integrated system, it will use all three.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 12, 2009 0 comments
Price: $1,200 At A Glance: DVD-processor console contains all amplification • Single cable connection • Doesn’t accept HD video or lossless audio from Blu-ray

Do You Believe in Magic?

Bar-type speaker systems like the Polk SurroundBar 360˚ are a logical response to the flat-paneling of modern homes. The form factor of a single horizontal speaker makes sense to use below the bottom edge of a flat screen (or perched atop a rear projector). But surround, by its nature, likes to spread itself around the room. And it does so for the same reason that pictures like to be big—to engulf the senses and take the viewer/listener to another place. But how can a single bar speaker spread itself around when it’s confined to a single enclosure? That’s the question Matthew Polk set out to answer with this product.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 05, 2009 0 comments
Price: $1,759 At A Glance: Integrated Blu-ray drive and amps • Skinny stand-mount front speakers, wall-mount surrounds • Basic HTIB sound in a convenient package

Do You Know the Way to Blu?

Audio manufacturers in the home theater sphere fall into two distinct groups. The most distinguished calling cards belong to the audio specialty brands. If you say you’re using B&W speakers with an Outlaw receiver, fellow audiophiles will immediately nod their heads. They know what you’re talking about, and they know you know what you’re talking about.

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