Surround Sound System Reviews

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Mark Henninger  |  Jul 26, 2023  |  3 comments

1961 Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

1961 1V Subwoofer
Performance
Build Quality
Value

PRICE $14,490 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Powerful, accurate sound
Relatively compact
Attractive
10-year warranty

Minus
Sub lacks an app
Only available in black or white

THE VERDICT
A perfect match for a flagship AVR, the 1961 9.4.4 system from Arendal performs great and looks fantastic.

The 1961 system from Arendal is one of the company’s three speaker series, the other two being the 1723 and 1723 S. 1961 is more compact and more affordable, but is otherwise consistent with Arendal’s design philosophy and aesthetics. This isn't what you'd call overpriced audio jewelry. It is modern and solidly built and aesthetically pleasing, but most importantly, it performs and offers great value.

Jim Wilson  |  Jun 08, 2023  |  2 comments

Motion Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value
BalancedForce 210 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $9,194 (as tested)
Motion F20 $1,749 (each)
Motion C10 $999 (each)
MotionB10 $599 (each)
BalancedForce 210 $3,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Incredible mids and highs
Elegant appearance
Exceptional build quality

Minus
Not inexpensive
Perfect Bass Kit not included with sub
MAP (Manufacturers Advertised Pricing) enforced

THE VERDICT
MartinLogan blends exquisite detail with razor-sharp imaging and rich bass, then combines those elements into stylish enclosures. The Motion speakers and BalancedForce subwoofer provide a very compelling option for the serious audiophile.

MartinLogan, you know the name. They've been around since 1983 so pretty much everyone has heard of them. Renowned for its statement electrostatic speakers, the company also offers a full line of traditional cabinet speakers, subwoofers, wireless systems, architectural speakers, soundbars, even discrete outdoor systems.

Jim Wilson  |  Mar 08, 2023  |  4 comments

1723 S Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

1723 Subwoofer 2S
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $7,996 (complete system)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Impeccable build quality
Small in size, large in sound
Stylish design, superb engineering
Minus
Could be considered pricey
Subwoofer app was a bit finicky

THE VERDICT
The complete package—the Arendal 1723 S speakers and 1723 Subwoofer 2S—looks great and sounds even better. If you want small size yet big sound, this is a system you should definitely consider.

Arendal, not a name many people know. Ask your friends about them and I'll bet most look at you with a bewildered stare. I first ran across the company around 3 years ago but at that time they weren't doing much in the US so I filed them away in the “check back at a later date” section of my product review list. I guess you can consider it a later date as I now have before me...

Mark Henninger  |  Jan 31, 2023  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $300

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Clear and detailed sound
Easy to set up and use
Supports Dolby Atmos, eARC
Pair two with an Apple TV 4K for a complete system
Minus
Needs an iOS device for setup
No optional subwoofer
Limited maximum volume

THE VERDICT
Apple's attractive and intelligent HomePod speaker arrives just in time to ride the spatial audio wave. It's a technologically advanced, high-fidelity, hyper-smart speaker that transforms into a full-blown surround-sound system when you add a second one.

The moment I first heard a pair of the new Apple HomePod speakers play spatial audio, I could not get one thought out of my mind: This is going to be more than good enough for 90+ percent of listeners. Of course there will still be a place in this world for large, powerful, multi-speaker systems.

Mark Henninger  |  Dec 07, 2022  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $799.99

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Compact
Clear and precise sound
Wall mountable
Tunable subwoofer EQ
Minus
4 ohms impedance
Low sensitivity

The Verdict
This 5.1 HTiB speaker system combined with a suitable AVR offers a high-performance yet compact alternative to soundbars. The concentric driver satellites provide pinpoint imaging that results in cohesive surround-sound envelopment. Even with stereo music you get a listening experience that defies expectations for a system this small in size and cost.

Home Theater in a Box Done Right
The classic HTiB—an all-in-one subwoofer/satellite speaker system—was long ago supplanted by soundbars as the go-to upgrade for TV audio. But a solid HTiB system, with the speakers properly placed and paired with the right AVR, is a great way to get superior surround-sound on a budget—so long as the components are high quality.

Mark Henninger  |  Nov 23, 2022  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $660

AT A GLANCE
Plus
High fidelity sound
Components sold separately
Easy setup
Built-in Roku 4K streaming
Cordless private listening mode
Minus
No Dolby Atmos support
Weak bass without the subwoofer

THE VERDICT
The top-of-the-line soundbar system from Roku is full of cool features and gives you a surround-sound listening experience that is better than competing systems of similar cost. But it lacks support for 3D immersive sound like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, and the Streambar Pro on its own is not nearly as impressive sounding as when it's part of a complete 5.1 system.

Soundbars have evolved from simple standalone add-on speakers for TVs into fully self-contained home entertainment systems able to deliver cinematic, immersive listening experiences. The catch is today's soundbar systems can get quite costly, often exceeding the price of the TV they might be connected to. With Roku's Streambar Pro, the cost of entry is only $179.99 for the soundbar itself, and you can expand the system from there. Granted, tricking it out with a subwoofer and four add-on wireless is almost four times the cost, but what you get is a very nice surround-sound solution that's easy to install, easy to use, and outperforms many similarly priced soundbars.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Oct 19, 2022  |  0 comments

System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Subwoofer
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE (with subwoofer): $8,610

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp, clear sound
Nice depth
Tight imaging
Excellent fit and finish
Minus
Needs a subwoofer for movies

THE VERDICT
Monitor Audio’s longstanding reputation of delivering great sound and solid value remains very much intact with the new Silver 7G speaker series.

I've reviewed many Monitor Audio speakers over the years. When I lived in California, I reviewed the Silver 10s. Later, after I moved east, I bought a pair of the Silver 10s (actually three of them—long story), and when Monitor released a proper three-way Silver Series center speaker, I acquired one of those, too. When other speakers aren't in-house for review, that Silver trio becomes the core of a Franken-system that includes surrounds, overhead Atmos speakers, and subwoofers from other brands.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Mar 23, 2022  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,100 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Clean-sounding dialogue
Silky detail
Big, open presentation
Minus
Limited deep bass (without sub)

THE VERDICT
Elac’s new Uni-Fi Reference series can hang with many far larger and pricier loudspeakers. Just add a subwoofer or two to this system for movies, and you’ll be good to go.

German speaker company Elac has had quite a run over the past few years, with designer Andrew Jones turning out new models on an annual basis after setting the audio world on its ears in 2016 with the Elac Debut. Following the Debut's launch, the company came out with the pricier Uni-Fi. A three-way bookshelf design, the Uni-Fi incorporated a coincident midrange-woofer that positions the tweeter at the apex of the midrange cone where the dust cap usually sits.

Daniel Kumin  |  Jan 12, 2022  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,410 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very accurate, natural tonal balance
Impressive bass extension
Remarkable center-channel off-axis consistency and timbral match with towers
Minus
Towers are sensitive to placement
Some non-linearities at loudest playback levels
Generic looks (grilles-on)

THE VERDICT
With its impressive accuracy and peerless price, this Monolith by Monoprice Encore System is the new speaker value champ.

The story of how Monoprice parlayed its success as a humble purveyor of computer peripherals into its current status as a direct-to- consumer A/V gear powerhouse will have to wait for another day, mostly because I don't know it. But I do know this much: the torrent of ultra-high-value speakers and electronics, desktop audio, and even pro audio designs that have bubbled up from the Monoprice spring over the past few years is all but unprecedented in my decades in the audio/video world.

Al Griffin  |  May 05, 2021  |  1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,195 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp, near full-range performance
R900 module delivers immersive sound
Impressive build quality for price
Excellent value
Minus
Revealing sound can be slightly bright with some sources

THE VERDICT
Packed with tech developed for Polk Audio’s flagship Legend series, this Reserve series speaker package delivers dynamic and immersive sound at a budget-friendly price.

Back in 2019, Polk Audio rolled out its Legend series speakers. For a brand known to maintain a laser-like focus on value, the Legends, with their finely constructed cabinets (featuring real wood veneer) and fully redesigned driver complement, not to mention an enhanced version of the company's SDA (Stereo Dimensional Array) technology in the line's flagship L800 tower, seemed an atypically cost-no- object offering.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Apr 28, 2021  |  1 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $5,296

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp detail and open-sounding midrange
Immersive 5.1 performance
Stylish and affordable
Minus
Cl center speaker has limited off-axis response

THE VERDICT
The name Sonus faber conjures up visions of exotic speakers priced at a level that will buy you a reasonably nice house in some places. But a full 5.1 package from the company's new Lumina line will cost you less than a modest patio upgrade.

Loudspeaker manufacturer Sonus faber was founded in the early 1980s by the late Franco Serblin in Vicenza, Italy. It's been known since then for offering superb sound with classic Italian attention to style, with products aimed at buyers for whom price was at most a secondary consideration. But in recent years the company has tested more affordable waters, particularly in its home theater offerings, with the latest addition to its lineup, the Lumina Collection, designed to appeal to a wider range of listeners with real-world budgets.

Daniel Kumin  |  Apr 07, 2021  |  1 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Solid headphone-surround
Impressive Dolby Atmos, DTS:X effects
Long battery life
Minus
Substantial vocal tonality shifts
Uneven bass presentation

THE VERDICT
JVC’s Exofield XP-EXT1 delivers an impressive rendering of effects in immersive soundtracks, but it comes up short as an all- around wireless home theater headphones solution.

True surround sound from headphones has been an audio holy grail for decades, but with the ever-increasing power and value of digital signal processing, we're now getting closer to drinking from that particular chalice. JVC's latest effort is the XP-EXT1 Personal Home Theater System, a set of wireless over-the-ear cans with a slim processor/transmitter that uses the company's Exofield DSP processing to digitally rejigger surround-encoded soundtracks, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, for your in-head listening pleasure.

Al Griffin  |  Feb 03, 2021  |  0 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,000 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Clean, well-balanced sound
Consistent off-axis performance
Subwoofer control app with Auto-EQ
Excellent value
Minus
Basic looks; black-only finish option

THE VERDICT
Despite its low-key exterior, Elac’s 5.1 Uni-Fi 2.0 system delivers the goods for movies/music and represents an excellent value.

Germany's Elac is a brand that has greatly expanded its presence in the hi-fi and home theater worlds over the past five or so years. While the company itself has been around for considerably longer, back in 2015 it brought on former KEF, Infinity, TAD, and Pioneer chief speaker engineer Andrew Jones to develop new product lines. First out of the gate for Jones was the Debut Series, followed by the Uni-Fi series, both affordable lines designed to pull fresh recruits into the audiophile ranks. New speakers arrived in quick succession, including the upscale but still affordable Adante passive and Navis powered models.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Jan 20, 2021  |  1 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE (as tested): $4,010

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Affordable price
Detailed overall sound
Good envelopment with Atmos soundtracks
Minus
Towers have limited deep bass
Ordinary cosmetics

THE VERDICT
Monitor Audio's Bronze 6G system is a remarkable testament to how much speaker you can get today for a reasonable price.

Britain-based Monitor Audio offers a wide range of loudspeakers at prices spanning from the bargain basement up to the penthouse that are cleverly named for a variety of metals: Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze. The company must have run out of suitable metallic names when its Monitor series was introduced a few years ago— Steel or Aluminum (or Aluminium!) clearly wouldn't do. But while that budget-priced series represents the entry point to the Monitor Audio's offerings, our saga here covers the next step up: Bronze 6G, the sixth generation of the Bronze line.

Rob Sabin  |  Aug 26, 2020  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,000 (system bundle, minus installation; $4,000 as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb sonics
WiSA wireless connection for surrounds and sub
Integrated Savant automation platform
Control via app or touchscreen remote
Minus
No Dolby Pro Logic or other stereo surround mode
No HDMI-ARC connectivity
No processing for lossless surround formats

THE VERDICT
Savant's smart soundbar may be a gateway to home automation, but it distinguishes itself first through its excellent sound quality.

Sound & Vision readers will know Savant as one of two upstarts that, along with Control 4, arrived in the early 2000s to challenge Crestron and AMX in the emerging home automation market. Today, some 15 years after its founding by tech entrepreneur/billionaire Bob Madonna, Savant continues to expand its Mac-based smarthome solution, and with some recent acquisitions, to broaden its market reach. Most notable is the high-profile purchase this year of GE Lighting.

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