Surround Sound System Reviews

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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”.)

Michael Trei  |  Oct 22, 2015  |  4 comments

Motion 60XT Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Dynamo 1500X Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $6,695 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Powerful, punchy sound
Excellent sonic match among speakers
Fine upper-octave detail
Minus
Clunky interface for Perfect Bass Kit
Marketing not withstanding, they can’t image like ML’s dipole speakers

THE VERDICT
While they don’t have much in common with MartinLogan’s electrostatic offerings, the Motion XT speakers let you keep a foot in both the music and home theater camps with little compromise.

Coming up with a good slogan for your company can be tricky. You want something that tells people what you do, but you don’t want it to tie your hands as the company evolves. For years, Burger King ran commercials using the catchphrase “Have It Your Way,” but they had to drop it when they wanted to reduce the bottlenecks being caused at restaurant counters by custom orders. Now they’re back to being the “Home of the Whopper.” Of course, you could simply ignore the historical inaccuracy of your catchphrase, as the H.J. Heinz Company has done; after all, they probably have 5,700 varieties today, not just 57.

Daniel Kumin  |  Oct 02, 2015  |  0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,447 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very honest, very capable reproduction
Unusual, and unusually attractive, cosmetics
Excellent center-channel off-axis consistency
Minus
Ever so slightly warm balance may not please more analytical listeners

THE VERDICT
Wide-range towers and solid tonal matching make for a system that will fulfill many, even without a subwoofer.

Italian technology doesn’t get a lot of respect. (There’s a version of the old joke where in heaven the police are British, the cooks French, and the engineers German; in hell the police are German, the cooks British, and the engineers— you guessed it—Italian.) But think only of Ferrari. Or Lamborghini. Better still, think of supercar maker Pagani, for which today’s examinee, Sonus Faber, provides premium audio systems.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 17, 2015  |  0 comments

RP-150M Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
R-110SW Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,399 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Titanium-dome tweeters in 90x90 Tractrix horns
Tractrix-shaped rear ports
Wireless sub option
Minus
Sacrifices some warmth for analytic detail
Sub subdued

THE VERDICT
Klipsch’s Reference Premiere achieves high resolution at a low price, though it can be too revealing for some content.

Klipsch is built on concepts so fundamental that they have transcended changes in audio fashion and even ownership. Chief among them is the concept of horn-loading, promulgated by the legendary Paul W. Klipsch (1904–2002) and marketed by him, his family, and their successors. It enables reasonably priced speakers to play louder, and to many listeners sound clearer, with less power. Klipsch speakers also look like no one else’s, thanks to the tangerine/copper color of the woofers, another of the brand’s 20th-century traditions.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 25, 2015  |  0 comments

Mini A Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Model A Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,785

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Coordinated on- and off-axis response
Custom drivers
Strong dual-10-inch sub
Minus
Center not fully timbre-matched
Not much to look at
Sub crossover limited to two settings

THE VERDICT
The Bryston Mini A offers refined performance and—though it’s not obvious to the naked eye—serious build quality at a moderate price.

So many audio products start as marketing necessities. But how many start as personal quests? When Bryston’s James Tanner wanted to design a one-off “ultimate loudspeaker” for his own reference system, the resulting Mini T floorstanding tower impressed his colleagues so much that it squirreled its way into the upper-echelon marketing channels usually reserved for Bryston’s formidable preamps and amps (which, incidentally, include surround-friendly three-, five-, and eight-channel models).

Daniel Kumin  |  Aug 11, 2015  |  3 comments

Zensor 5 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

VTF-1 MK2 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,244 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Neutral balance
Excellent center-L/R tonal match
Superb “small”-sub output and extension
Minus
Zensor 5 mini-towers are rather short

THE VERDICT
Combining DALI’s fine-performing, high-value two-way line with one of the best inexpensive 10-inch subwoofers available creates an affordable system that competes well with the many contenders in its price class.

DALI is a company that has nothing to do with surrealist art or Tibetan Buddhism. The acronym is for Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries, which over some 30 years has grown from a home-market specialist to a respected international brand. Despite this success, I had never gotten up close and personal with any DALI designs (trade-show demos excepted) until they shipped us a representative selection of their new Zensor entry-level series. Since the Zensor-ship currently lacks a subwoofer, we tapped one of the best size- and price-appropriate designs we know, Hsu Research’s affordable VTF-1 MK2.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Aug 06, 2015  |  0 comments

InRoom Bronze LR-H Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

InWall Bronze/4 SlimSub
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $11,050

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos enabled
Natural, open character
Superb match with InWall Bronze/4 SlimSub
Minus
Atmos operation limits use in cabinets or behind a screen

THE VERDICT
Awesome for Atmos and awesome at most everything else.

Nine out of 11.4 people (approximately) reading this report are thinking, “Who the hell is Triad?” (Hopefully, fewer folks are asking, “What the hell is Atmos?” If you’re one of them, hang in there. I’ll get to Atmos in a bit.) To answer the original question, Triad is a Swiss Army Knife-like manufacturer of custom-installed speakers. That is, regardless of the particular application, Triad has a blade—er, speaker—designed and built for it (in the U.S. of A., by the way). You need in-room, in-ceiling, or in-wall speakers? Check. Invisible in-wall speakers? Ditto. OK, what kind of subwoofer do you want? The standard in-room or an in-wall design? Yes and yes. (Yawn.) Why not try something a little less common, like one of Triad’s on-wall, in-cabinet, or in-ceiling subwoofers? Then there’s Triad’s esoteric and rather sinister-looking FlexSub, which includes an expandable, flexible tube that channels the bass output from the hidden subwoofer cabinet to a remotely located grate or grille.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 29, 2015  |  5 comments

B652-AIR Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SUB-1000 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $299 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Super affordable
Pleated-diaphragm tweeter
Cinema-friendly voicing
Excellent finish quality
Minus
Lively cabinets
Wire-clip speaker terminals

THE VERDICT
If you want a home theater system and you want it now, these speakers will suit a draconian budget. Let a thousand starter systems bloom.

Late last year, a Florida man walked into Starbucks and ordered a Grande Latte with 99 extra shots of espresso and 17 pumps of vanilla syrup, mocha, and matcha powder. His tab was $83.75—more than a pair of Dayton Audio B652-AIR speakers. He was a big spender, of course, but if you ordered, say, a White Chocolate Mocha every day for two weeks at $4.65 per cup, you’d still spend more than the price per pair of these speakers.

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