Surround Sound System Reviews

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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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Dec 28, 2016  |  2 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,047 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Concentric mid/tweeter
Pinpoint imaging
App-driven, room- correcting sub
Minus
Extra power required
App required for sub control

THE VERDICT
Speaker designer extraordinaire Andrew Jones continues his work for German manufacturer Elac with some of the best monitor-class speakers we’ve ever heard plus a provocative, app-driven sub.

There are a lot of ways to put together a home theater system. Small speakers—or, as I call them, monitors—are among the best foundations for a multipurpose room that isn’t cavernous in size. The audio industry used to pump out so many potentially interesting passive monitors (not to mention towers) that we could barely review a fraction of them. But with the increasing emphasis today on soundbars and powered lifestyle speakers at the lower end of the market, it’s becoming increasingly hard to put together small-speaker configurations for surround sound.

Daniel Kumin  |  Dec 20, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,177

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Neutral balance with fine imaging
Very good center-channel performance, integration
Superb value
Minus
Towers may require substantial tilt-back

THE VERDICT
Emotiva’s new passive loudspeakers combine serious audio design and refinement with sufficient construction and finish quality to establish unprecedented value.

There’s been plenty of ink spilled, print and digital, in Sound & Vision and elsewhere, about Tennessee’s direct-to-consumer brand Emotiva and the disruptive pricing the company has brought to various audio categories. To date, this has been mostly focused on electronics, where power amps, preamps, pre/pros, and DACs have been offered up for surprisingly small sums that seem to belie their inherent engineering and build quality. Corner company founder Dan Laufman about how he does it, and he’ll enthusiastically share his prior life as an OEM for other audio brands (many of which you know well) and how he’s learned a few tricks about where and how to stretch raw material costs in the most meaningful ways.

Daniel Kumin  |  Sep 22, 2016  |  1 comments

Imagine X Speaker
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SubSeries 200 Sub
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,443 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Brilliant octave-to-octave balance for musical playback
Exceptional center-channel timbral match
Effective and adaptable Atmos module design
Minus
Short towers may require tilt/angle manipulation
Limited subwoofer extension
A bit expensive relative to some recent debuts

THE VERDICT
Though it’s got some stiff competition at and even below its price, the Imagine X series trickles the magic of PSB’s near-perfect tonal balance down to a more attainable price while adding the option of object-based surround sound.

It’s a fact that good loudspeakers sound more alike than different. After all, they’re trying to accomplish the same task: reproduce the recording presented to their inputs with as little change, whether reduction or addition, as possible.

PSB speakers are good loudspeakers. Thus, thanks to the transitive property we all learned in middle school, one PSB model should sound very much like another PSB model, with allowances made for size, price, and range. It follows that PSB’s new mini-tower in their Imagine X series, the X1T, should sound like the full-sized and vastly more expensive Imagine T3 (Sound & Vision, September 2015, and soundandvision.com).

Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 25, 2016  |  0 comments

LCR3 Speaker
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SB-900 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value

FS3 Soundbar
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,550 to $2,075 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Slim-profile passive soundbar, or...
Compact LCRs in front, with...
One sub or two
Minus
AVR required for passive bar
Inherent limits of 8-inch sub

THE VERDICT
Whether configured with a three-channel soundbar up front or compact LCRs all around, this system delivers deeply satisfying performance for the price, with plenty of listening comfort.

How should your 5.1-channel system handle the three channels in front? You might use the traditional approach of three separate speakers. Then again, you might simply use a passive soundbar with left, center, and right drivers. We’ve reviewed both kinds of systems—but until now, we haven’t reviewed both options at once. In this Test Report, that’s just what we’re going to do. We’ll start with Atlantic Technology’s new FS3 soundbar in the front and two voice-matched LCR3 satellites in the surround positions. Then we’ll swap out the soundbar for three more satellites to see what that brings to the table. To make it even more interesting, we’ll start with a single 8-inch SB-900 subwoofer, then contemplate the advantages of adding a second one.

Michael Trei  |  Aug 18, 2016  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
True surround sound without the wiring hassles
Quick and easy setup
Hi-res wireless audio transmission
Minus
No Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio decoding
Remote is difficult to use
Lots of wall-wart power supplies to plug in

THE VERDICT
By eliminating the hassle of running speaker cables for a 5.1-channel system, the CineHome HD delivers a true, fuss-free surround experience that no single-point soundbar can match. While its feature set is pretty basic, that simplicity will likely be a plus for its targeted customers.

Here at Sound & Vision, we like to think of ourselves as hard-core home theater enthusiasts, so it’s difficult for us to fathom why average people don’t want to jump through hoops to set up a complete 5.1-channel surround system. Sure, you’d need to find space for an A/V receiver and a pile of speakers—plus you’d have to hook up a bunch of wires and thumb through a stack of onscreen menus to get everything properly configured and adjusted—but that’s all part of the fun, right?

Daniel Kumin  |  Jul 27, 2016  |  3 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $7,194 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Spacious bipole sound
Seriously full-range with powered bass section
Astounding dynamics
Minus
Big and demanding of floor space
Reflective bipolar reproduction may not suit every room, taste

THE VERDICT
A big speaker with a sound to match, Definitive Technology’s latest, Atmos-onboard, powered-tower flagship delivers the impressive imaging depth and breadth we expect from bipoles. Its response is as full-range, and its dynamic abilities as unfettered, as anything I’ve heard from a one-piece system.

Definitive Technology’s monolithic bipolar towers —which launched the brand in 1990—have been around in one form or another almost as long as that thing in 2001: A Space Odyssey. With the fourth generation bowing recently, the Baltimore-area manufacturer set us up with a full suite: BP9080x fronts, CS9080 center, a pair of smallerbut-still-huge BP9060 towers for surrounds, and the A90 elevation speakers (Dolby Atmos-enabled and compatible with DTS:X) to go on top of those surrounds; the marquee BP9080x fronts have the same elevation componentry to bounce height-channel signals off the ceiling built right into their top 5 inches.

Daniel Kumin  |  Apr 14, 2016  |  0 comments

Cinema M6 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SUB 1X12 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $5,494 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very dynamically capable, with high power handling, high output
Solidly integrated front stage
Impressive subwoofer output and extension
Flexible “tripole” surround speakers
Minus
Slightly forward tonal balance (but perfect for behind-screen placement)
Pricey

THE VERDICT
Reference performance for movie playback, from some unusual speaker designs.

Complete the sentence with the most appropriate choice: “Yah, I sure do love those Swedish…”

A) meatballs.
B) supermodels.
C) interior designs.
D) loudspeakers.

If you chose D), congratulations, you’re a winner! Because while Swedish loudspeakers may not be a household word, or available at IKEAs everywhere (yet), the examples before us here just might be a winner in your home theater.

XTZ defines itself as much pan-Scandinavian as Swedish per se, but the company’s home base is in the blue-with-yellow-cross zone. The speakers themselves, like so many others today, are made in China, though XTZ points out that they employ high-quality drivers from fellow Scandinavian manufacturers such as SEAS and Scan-Speak, and the drivers are housed in unusually heavy, non-resonant cabinets. (XTZ offers a wide range of other speakers, as well as Dirac DSP and measurement systems, on its Website.)

Tom Norton  |  Apr 08, 2016  |  1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $13,080 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Open, airy highs
Clean, tight bass
Big, generous soundstage
Minus
Setup takes patience for best results
Treble can be unforgiving

THE VERDICT
Careful trial and error with placement, and perhaps the addition of a good subwoofer for movies with crushing bass will be needed for getting the best out of the DALI Rubicons. But the best this system offers is compelling.

DALI (Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries) isn’t new to this country, but it’s relatively new as overseas loudspeaker manufacturers go. The somewhat new Rubicon range sits near the top of the company’s U.S. product offerings, topped only by the Epicon series, which it is said to most closely share technology.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 24, 2016  |  3 comments

Diamond 220 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

WH-D10 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,546 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb sound for price
Bottom port cuts unwanted noise
Dressy cosmetics
Minus
Odd binding-post layout

THE VERDICT
The Wharfedale Diamond 220 speaker system looks and sounds far better than its modest price tag would suggest.

When a venerable audio brand leaves its founders behind, sometimes it loses its way. But sometimes it gets a whole new lease on life. That’s what happened when the International Audio Group (IAG, originally of Taiwan, now of mainland China) acquired a handful of British brands, including Wharfedale, Mission, and Quad. When I visited IAG’s design and manufacturing facility in Shenzhen a dozen years ago, I was surprised at how self-reliant it was. The resident speaker designer could have a custom part made and tested in 24 hours, rather than having to outsource it and wait for months, as Wharfedale’s British forebears had to do. Thus, he has the luxury of endless tweaking. Even so, Wharfedale hasn’t had a commanding presence in the U.S. market commensurate with the brand’s engineering resources and expertise. Will the new Diamond 200 series change that?

Michael Trei  |  Feb 25, 2016  |  0 comments

T50 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PSW108 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $690 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Big sound, small price
Efficient and easy to drive
Proper surround sound at a soundbar price
Minus
Black vinyl is the only finish

THE VERDICT
Polk’s T50 system is all about value with a capital V— delivering a real 5.1 experience including a powered subwoofer and floorstanding tower speakers at a soundbar price.

“What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.”—Thomas R. Marshall

American vice presidents aren’t usually remembered for much, but Woodrow Wilson’s VP Thomas R. Marshall will always be remembered for saying that America needed good cheap cigars. If you figure in a hundred years of inflation, Marshall’s five-cent cigar would still be well under a buck today, so clearly he was a man who wanted real value for the money. With that in mind, I reckon that if Marshall were alive today, he would be a huge fan of the Polk T Series speaker system.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Feb 10, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $7,750 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
New DSP for low-frequency tuning
Totally redesigned midrange drivers
Balanced crossover with polypropylene capacitors
Minus
Bright blue power LED on back of tower

THE VERDICT
With the hindsight of four years of product development, GoldenEar reboots their very first speaker with updated drivers, crossover, and low-frequency DSP—to quite stellar results.

Unfortunately, the first GoldenEar Technology Triton Two loudspeaker I ever saw didn’t work. It wasn’t the result of shoddy workmanship, chintzy materials, or some brutal, shipping-induced internal hemorrhage of crossovers and cables. Truth be told, the speaker wasn’t technically a Triton Two because, at the time (in early January during CES 2010), GoldenEar Technology didn’t officially exist. The tall, dark tower standing silently in front of me was a cosmetic mock-up of what would become the Triton Two— GoldenEar’s first speaker. In other words, this mute monolith, wrapped in black fabric, was merely a hollow shell of its future towerful self.

Daniel Kumin  |  Dec 23, 2015  |  0 comments

Debut F5 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

S10EQ Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,470 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb sonics, neutral tonal balance
Decently finished, simple look
Unapproachable value
Minus
Some off-axis center-channel tonal shift
Audible thump on sub’s auto turn-off

THE VERDICT
Elac’s Debut series reintroduces a near-forgotten brand with a design by a well-known name—Andrew Jones—and a value/performance factor to be reckoned with.

As longtime S&V readers have doubtless come to understand, I believe that cheap, as Gordon Gekko definitely did not say, is good. Any $10,000 pair of loudspeakers makes me vaguely uneasy, while a $50,000 pair leaves me ready to join the Che Guevara Brigade and start lining up oligarchs. So the arrival of a new family of cheap—err, high-value—serious loudspeakers from Elac U.S., designed by tech’lebrity engineer Andrew Jones, caused a certain amount of excitement hereabouts. (For more on Elac and Jones, see “Man on a Mission”.)

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