Surround Sound System Reviews

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Daniel Kumin  |  Aug 16, 2018  |  1 comments

S 809 HCS Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

S 810 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,497 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Top-grade Atmos imaging and ambience reproduction
Connector-less elevation speaker hookup
Unusually good center-speaker tonal match
Minus
Minor upper-mid constriction
Minimal contribution from subwoofer

THE VERDICT
This Jamo Atmos-ready system provides impressive immersion and solid value, though bass-heads will want to investigate the company’s more capable subwoofer offerings.

Jamo, the Danish speaker firm whose name rhymes with—well, not “ham-oh,” and not “Hey Moe!,” and certainly not orange—but with, more or less, “ma-mo,” has been quietly busy upon our shores for several decades now. That quiet became a bit noisier after the firm's acquisition by Klipsch in 2005 (both now part of the VOXX corporate group founded by car-fi stalwart Audiovox).

Mark Fleischmann  |  May 30, 2018  |  2 comments

Q Series Q350 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

The Kube 12b Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,150 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Atmos add-ons
Coincident Uni-Q drivers
Sub has three placement EQ modes
Minus
Grilles not included
Not as dressy as other KEF products

THE VERDICT
KEF’s Q series combined with its new Kube subwoofer line brings the trademark Uni-Q driver array and a potent bottom end to a lower price point, with reliable performance and an Atmos add-on option.

One of the headlines I considered for this review was “What Becomes a Legend Most.” It’s a poignant song from Lou Reed’s New Sensations. Before that, it was an advertising slogan that sold mink coats in ads featuring Judy Garland, Lauren Bacall, and Marlene Dietrich, among others. Somehow, it fits KEF, the British speaker manufacturer responsible for numerous driver-related innovations, including the Uni-Q coincident array. KEF’s Muon and Blade towers have the fragrance of luxury about them.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 27, 2018  |  0 comments

Reference Theater Pack
Performance
Build Quality
Value

R-8SWi Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Klipsch’s classic horn-loaded sound at a budget price
Minus
Enclosure adds some coloration

THE VERDICT
This redesign of Klipsch’s bestselling sat/sub system makes some compromises from its predecessors—but still produces excellent sound.

Some people are just good at things. People like Rembrandt van Rijn, who could make a painted image gaze into your soul; or Meryl Streep, who can be Anna Wintour one moment and Julia Child the next; or Warren Buffett, who’s been known to make his shareholders a dollar or two; or Billie Holiday, who could sing like Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and fit a lifetime of hard loving into a single phrase.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 17, 2018  |  0 comments

Demand Series D11 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SuperCube 6000 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
PRICE 3,196

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Appealing neutral voicing
Laterally offset tweeter
Active 8-inch sub integrated in center speaker
Minus
D11 top radiators complicate placement of Atmos add-ons

THE VERDICT
The Demand Series lives up to Definitive Technology’s pedigree with satisfying, well-balanced sound that offers loads of resolution.

Nature abhors a vacuum, but wasting cabinet real estate is standard operating procedure among loudspeaker designers. With the notable exception of Atmos-enabled speakers and the occasional tweeter pod, the top panel of most speakers is a blank nothing. But does it have to be that way? Definitive Technology answered no, in effect, with its original Studio Monitor Series of bookshelf/stand-mount speakers (circa 2012) and does so again in this new update, the Demand Series.

Daniel Kumin  |  Jan 03, 2018  |  0 comments

Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Cub Evo Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,299

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent sound quality
Great subwoofer/satellite integration
Plays louder, cleaner than some similarly sized systems
Atmos on board
Minus
Spring-loaded push connectors can be irritating
No prepackaged 5.1.4-channel option

THE VERDICT
A high-performing, moderately compact, one-carton speaker solution for serious home theater—with Atmos.

Focal, the French loudspeaker maker—the French loudspeaker maker (there are others, but really, name one)—is best known on these shores for the Utopia series of haute-highend ultra-towers, which, cresting at something like $185,000 for a pair, step well over what I think of as the Che Guevara line. (That’s the line across which, following the revolution, anyone owning a pair can count on a very long vacation at state expense in a re-education camp.)

Mark Fleischmann  |  Dec 19, 2017  |  3 comments
PRICE $2,143 as reviewed

THE VERDICT
Emotiva’s BasX surround processor, five-channel amp, and speakers offer an affordable and high-performing starter system that puts you into audio separates without breaking the bank.

Surround separates are generally regarded as a step up from receivers. If you want the biggest and best, and have to ask their prices, you probably can’t afford them. But ask me the prices of Emotiva’s new BasX surround preamp/processor and multichannel amplifier, along with a set of compact speakers from the same series. The answers are $599, $499, and $1,045, totaling $2,143 for a 5.1-channel system of electronics and speakers. That would buy a midpriced receiver and a decent (but probably smaller) satellite/subwoofer set.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 19, 2017  |  3 comments

M16 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

B10 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,050 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
High transparency
Equalized subwoofer
Wall-hanging surrounds
Minus
Manual sub EQ requires expertise

THE VERDICT
Revel draws on Harman’s world-class engineering depth to produce immaculate high-end sound—this time, at an extremely reasonable price.

Audiophiles (myself included) often point out that high-end audio is stigmatized compared with other product categories. High-end cars, high-end wine, high-end watches: All attract aficionados who don’t mind paying a stiff premium to get the best of the best. And if an average onlooker ventures an opinion at all, it’s “nice watch!” But when a bleeding-edge speaker or amp takes the stage, the applause of the cognoscenti mixes with heckling from the peanut gallery. High-end audio has long been subject to that extra measure of skepticism.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 03, 2017  |  4 comments

3000 5.1 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

3070 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $900

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Sweet and smooth sats
Dual 6.5-inch sub
Minus
Deep sub juts out from wall

THE VERDICT
A sweet-sounding system, with a sub worthy of the satellites, the Q Acoustics 3000 is one of the best under-$1,000 5.1-channel setups I’ve heard.

Tube amps. Mono pressings. And now, 5.1? Has bedrock surround sound indeed joined the ranks of retro audio technologies? Surround receivers beyond the most entry level nearly always have more than five channels (though their uses vary), while Dolby Atmos and DTS:X have made seven (5.1.2) the new minimum system configuration. What happens when you go in the other direction? The flood of 5.1 speaker sets that I used to review in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has tapered to a trickle. I see fewer new ones at CES and CEDIA, and plain old stereo is dominant at the rest of the domestic and international audio shows. However, the British manufacturer Q Acoustics has been marketing 5.1-channel speaker sets since the company’s inception about a decade ago and continues to actively develop them. The brand’s latest entry is called the 3000 5.1 Home Theatre System.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Jul 28, 2017  |  9 comments

Persona 3F Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Persona SUB Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $31,000 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Beryllium tweeter and midrange drivers
Hand-polished, high-gloss finish
Slender, curved cabinets
Minus
Expensive
Heavy

THE VERDICT
Paradigm set out to create the best, state-of-the-Paradigm-art speakers the company has ever produced, bringing together top-notch cabinet construction and finishing capabilities and advanced driver technologies in hopes of achieving something greater than the sum of its already great parts. They’ve succeeded.

Paradigm, the Canadian loudspeaker company founded in 1982, has a long and respectable history of building excellent-sounding, great-looking speakers at relatively affordable prices—not outrageously expensive but not stupidly cheap, either. Somewhere along the way, though, somebody at Paradigm accidentally said out loud at a company meeting: “What if cost were, well, not no object, but at least less of an object? What if we combined all our best technologies and maybe threw in a bit of new stuff, too? Just how awesome of a speaker could we make? We should try that someday.” And thus the company’s latest and greatest-ever series of speakers was born.

Daniel Kumin  |  Jun 16, 2017  |  0 comments

Signature S60 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

PSW125 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,600 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent range and tonal balance
Dramatic looks
Good blend from unusually low-profile center
Minus
Sub doesn’t add much to the towers alone

THE VERDICT
With the Signature Series, Polk successfully practices its long-held ethos of delivering high performance at affordable cost in a new, smartly designed lineup.

Of the three or four speaker brands that pumped the vast majority of air throughout the hi-fi boom of the 1970s, only one—Polk Audio—is still doing what they’ve always done (design and make loudspeakers), where they’ve always done it (more or less), and with very much the same ethos (value/performance, with value in italics). OK, so Polks, like virtually all other mass-market speakers sold in the U.S. are now actually manufactured overseas. But they’re still conceived here according to the old Polk standards—industrially designed in San Diego out of the corporate headquarters and engineered in Polk’s original hometown in greater Baltimore.

Al Griffin  |  Apr 12, 2017  |  2 comments

ElectroMotion ESL X Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Dynamo 1500X Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $11,395 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent performance with music and movies
Perfect Bass Kit for sub eases setup
Compact electrostatic center speaker
Minus
Some timbral shift between center channel and towers
Towers and center require AC power

THE VERDICT
MartinLogan’s ESL X tower speakers deliver delicacy and detail—along with serious dynamics when paired with the Dynamo 1500X subwoofer. A new, more compact electrostatic center speaker sweetens the deal.

As a member of Generation X, I sometimes get paranoid about being target-marketed when I see a product name appended with an “X”—for instance, MartinLogan’s new ElectroMotion ESL X speaker. I, for one, would be an easy target: An eX-MartinLogan owner, I’m very familiar with the detailed, almost eerily present sound that the company’s hybrid electrostatic speakers deliver. Consider me a fan.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Mar 16, 2017  |  3 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $48,000 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Audyssey MultEQ XT Pro room equalization
Variable-axis soft-dome tweeters on surrounds
All speakers are biamped or triamped
Minus
Expensive
Status LEDs on amplifier are bright and can’t be dimmed
Requires professional installation

THE VERDICT
When it comes to the evolution of loudspeakers, Phase Technology has an enviable pedigree filled with innovation. The company’s newest dARTS speaker/amp package is a spectacular achievement that mitigates the effects of room acoustics and creates a highly theatrical, intensely musical experience that’s extremely rare.

One day last summer, I found myself grumbling more than usual as I stood staring at 550 pounds of speakers and amps that Phase Technology had shipped to my house. (Actually, because the gravel road I live on is very unfriendly to tractor-trailers, I had to drive to the depot, load a couple of pallets of heavy boxes into two vehicles, drive home, and then unload it all.) The gear makes up the top-of-the-line version of the company’s new, second-generation dARTS system.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Mar 10, 2017  |  2 comments

Verus II Grand Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Bravus II 12D Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $5,005 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Tight, detailed bass
Excellent tonal balance
Spacious, cohesive soundstage
Minus
Sub has limitations in very large rooms
Narrow tower can be unstable on carpet

THE VERDICT
With modest but significant improvements to their flagship speaker line, Aperion Audio has again hit the jackpot in offering the sort of value that’s rare in today’s increasingly pricey audio marketplace.

Six years ago, I reviewed the first version of Aperion Audio’s then new Verus Grand speaker line. While this was a considerable step up from the internet-direct manufacturer’s previous, well-regarded budget-priced models, it still offered incredible value. As I concluded at the time: “If [the Verus Grand] impresses you as much as [it] impressed me, you’ll ultimately be a winner.”

Daniel Kumin  |  Mar 02, 2017  |  0 comments

CG3 5.1 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Speedwoofer 10S Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,079 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Rigorously balanced sound
Plays surprisingly loud
Easy, excellent sub/sat blending
Minus
Sats can be a bit power-hungry in larger rooms

THE VERDICT
Given its low cost, solid dynamics, and impressive neutrality, it would be tough to find a better or more honest small speaker system for the price than RSL’s latest.

When it comes to loudspeakers, how big is big enough? How small is too small? What size is j-u-u-ust right? Speaker buyers have been asking these questions, and speaker makers have been answering them, ever since a certain Brand B shook the world years ago with micro-sized satellites employing 2.5-inch drivers that struggled to reach down to 200 hertz, mated with similarly challenged Lilliputian subs. Physics notwithstanding, buyers took to them in droves—and since then, the race to the bottom, cubicvolume-wise, has been on.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 02, 2017  |  0 comments

Dôme Flax 5.1 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Sub Air Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Flax cone woofer
Aluminum-magnesium inverted-dome tweeter
Wall-hugging sub
Minus
Limited bass from sats

THE VERDICT
Unique driver materials, overall quality of construction, and adroit voicing make the Focal Dôme Flax 5.1 one of the best-sounding compact sat/sub systems I’ve heard.

As the home theater milieu increasingly divides into Atmos and non-Atmos camps, the satellite/subwoofer category seems destined to remain part of the old guard, usually sold in a set of five little speakers and a sub or two. Is it possible for a satellite speaker to retain its merciful compactness if it’s also to include an Atmos-enabled upfiring driver? I’d love to review such a product, but right now it’s a figment of my imagination and hopes. Focal, the prodigious French speaker manufacturer, does now offer a 5.1.2-channel Atmos-capable sat/sub system that takes a different approach (see below), but you’ll be happy to know that plain ol’ 5.1 is still alive and supported by this and other fine speaker makers. Even now it remains the bedrock configuration of surround sound.

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