Home Theater Systems Reviews

Sort By:  Post Date TitlePublish Date
Mark Fleischmann  |  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  |  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  |  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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  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  |  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  |  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  |  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  |  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  |  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  |  Sep 10, 2007  |  First 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  |  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  |  Jun 05, 2007  |  First 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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  May 20, 2007  |  First 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.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  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  |  Mar 22, 2007  |  First 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.