Surround Sound System Reviews

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Michael Trei  |  Apr 03, 2019  |  0 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,800 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Neutral balance
Close timbral matching between models
Excellent value
Minus
Pedestrian styling
Basic finish options

THE VERDICT
PSB's long-running Alpha Series has been a value leader for more than 25 years. Now in their third generation, these speakers sound equally good with music and movies, and the value quotient is stronger than ever.

I think of PSB's entry-level Alpha Series speakers as being the loudspeaker equivalent of the Toyota Corolla. The Alphas may not be the sexiest speakers around, but they do offer solid engineering, long-term reliability, and excellent performance at a very reasonable price. Speakers from PSB's now sadly discontinued flagship Synchrony line have served as my personal home theater reference for over a decade, so you could call me a bit of a fanboy. As you might expect, that means I'm also interested in seeing what the company can deliver when keeping costs down is part of the equation.

Michael Trei  |  Mar 20, 2019  |  0 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $996 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dynamic and lively sound
Good stereo and surround sound imaging
Minus
Requires careful setup for best performance
Basic black finish only

THE VERDICT
Klipsch’s R-41M speaker system amply demonstrates how a 5.1 surround package can outperform a same-priced soundbar. Enthusiastically recommended for both movies and music.

Putting together a home theater system on a limited budget can be a daunting task. That's why so many people instead take the easy route and buy a soundbar to handle audio. Sure, a one- or two-box (with subwoofer) solution is simple to shop for and a snap to hook up, but what about the sound quality? With soundbars, the amplifiers, speakers, and signal processing are all designed to work together in an integrated unit, so it's often possible to squeeze surprisingly big and powerful sound out of the bar's tiny drivers.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Mar 13, 2019  |  2 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $10,200 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Sweet, clean highs
Superb dialogue clarity
Detailed but not aggressive sound
Minus
Slightly limited treble diffusion
R3s make for pricey surrounds

THE VERDICT
With a sweet balance on music and potent, but not aggressive, manner with movies, KEF’s R-series system delivers all-around outstanding performance.

KEF'S R Series speakers have long occupied the middle range of the British manufacturer's offerings. While the previous R Series was starting to get a bit long in the tooth, I found the performance of those speakers to be superb, having reviewed the last generation R700 for Sound & Vision's sister publication Stereophile in 2014.

Daniel Kumin  |  Feb 06, 2019  |  0 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Rich, full-range sound
Fine imaging
Great-looking and nicely finished
Minus
Center-channel not a perfect timbral match with towers
Subwoofer output and extension does not fully complement towers

THE VERDICT
This highly affordable Q Acoustics 5.1 package offers big, warm, dynamic stereo sound from compact towers, and good movie sound with or without the included sub.

Q Acoustics is a relatively new British loudspeaker manufacturer who has made a goodly amount of noise in the value/performance speaker arena for a dozen years now. I count the firm among the 21st-century flowering of affordable-speaker-makers catalyzed by partnerships with Chinese manufacturing firms and ever-more powerful and widely accessible computer-modeling design processes. The result of this confluence has been a bounty of excellent designs in the most competitive price ranges, from new and old names alike, that in the aggregate make the home-theater dollar go further than ever before.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Jan 31, 2019  |  5 comments

Premier 700F Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Defiance X-12 subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,700 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp detail
Big, powerful sound
Minus
Tower unstable on thick carpet
Poorly designed grilles

THE VERDICT
The Premier range is far from the most expensive in Paradigm's speaker lineup, but the performance and build quality that it offers lets it compete with speakers twice the price.

The other day a friend who's neither a videophile nor an audiophile dropped by my home to watch a movie. A pair of loudspeakers I had just finished reviewing for Stereophile, our sister publication, were sitting in a corner, waiting to be packed up. When I told him their price—$6,000/pair—he appeared shocked. Even Paradigm's affordable new 700F speakers, then as now serving as the left/right channels in my system, are pricier than he would like were he to invest in a system of his own (unlikely!).

Michael Trei  |  Nov 21, 2018  |  5 comments
603 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
ASW610XP Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,399 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Engaging, transparent sound
Powerful, tuneful bass
Clean, contemporary look
Minus
Treble can overwhelm with some music
Center speaker tonal match could be better

THE VERDICT
The latest update to the Bowers & Wilkins 600 Series brings technological improvements trickled down from the company’s 700 and 800 Series speakers. This system delivers engaging, upfront sound and good value.

Maybe it’s because our country is still young, but Americans tend to think of the British as having lots of long-standing traditions. Is that impression still valid? These days, Jaguar Cars is owned by India’s Tata Motors. Mini Cooper, Rolls Royce, and Bentley are owned by German companies. Even Marmite, that most British of toast toppings, is half-owned by the Dutch. Following that trend, it should come as no surprise to learn that a quintessentially British hi-fi company like Bowers & Wilkins is owned by a Silicon Valley, California-based startup called EVA Automation. Engineering and design still takes place at the company’s headquarters in Worthing, England, even if most of the actual production now takes place in Asia.

Michael Trei  |  Oct 24, 2018  |  15 comments

Impact Monitor Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Brisance 12 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $5,350 (as reviewed)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Powerful, dynamic sound
Excellent value
Minus
No furniture-grade finish option
Large, bulky cabinets

THE VERDICT
Tekton’s Impact Monitor Theater system lives up to its name, with performance that reflects the unique priorities of its designer.

With A Phalanx of 38 drivers pointed directly at my ears, it was with some trepidation that I reached for the remote control to start listening with Tekton Design’s Impact Monitor Theater system. After all, I normally subscribe to the less-is-more approach to speaker design, where simpler usually means better. Tekton laughs at this type of thinking, however, throwing more drivers into its designs than there are plot twists in a David Lynch movie.

David Vaughn  |  Oct 03, 2018  |  6 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $10,595 (7-piece system as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very accurate sound
Excellent dynamics
Great for movies
Minus
Pricey
S150 speaker terminals don't accept standard banana plugs

THE VERDICT
M&K Sound's revamp of its long- standing THX certified line delivers audible improvements over the original speakers.

It was a sad day for home theater fans when M&K Sound exited the speaker-building business in 2007. Fortunately, a group of investors and former managers bought that company's assets and created a new venture called MK Sound. To celebrate the company's 40-year anniversary in 2013, the team decided to bring back the legendary M&K Sound company name, along with the original Miller&Kreisel brand.

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  |  4 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.

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