Surround Sound System Reviews

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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.

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.

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