Surround Sound System Reviews

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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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  May 14, 2015  |  8 comments

Prestige 15B Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Seismic 110 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $6,145

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Advanced driver designs
Fine-grained, transparent, dynamic playback
Compact but powerful subwoofer
Minus
Boxy, non-curved enclosures

THE VERDICT
Paradigm’s Prestige series speakers and Seismic 110 sub employ unusual driver design to achieve remarkable transparency and punch.

As I sat down to write this review of the Paradigm Prestige speaker system, I couldn’t get a seemingly unrelated subject—the Pono hate—out of my head. No joke, folks: I sat at the keyboard for hours mulling it over. What chance did I have to convince readers that a $6,145 speaker system is worth hearing when a $400 music player is greeted with language like “don’t buy” and “snake oil”?

OK, I know I’m preaching to the converted. You probably wouldn’t be reading Sound & Vision if you weren’t open to the idea that a well-designed speaker system has the power to bring you closer to music. That’s what the Paradigms did for me when I informally played a few recent additions to my high-resolution music library (more on them later). I felt as if a curtain had been lifted and music was in the room with me—not just recorded music, but music.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 24, 2015  |  0 comments

SoundSpot MT-3 Speaker System
Performance
Features
Value
SUB-8X Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,000 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
1mm-thick steel sphere Concentric drivers Superb imaging, soundfield
Minus
Predictably modest bass Satellites pricey

THE VERDICT
Morel’s MT-3 Music Theatre combines steel truncated-sphere enclosures, concentric drivers, and a unique grille pattern to create a visually striking and high-performing compact sat/sub set.

The advent of Dolby Atmos casts a shadow over existing 5.1- and 7.1-channel surround systems. Some home theater buffs want the new technology and want it now, while others may decide not to go all in. In between are those wondering whether to leave the door open for Atmos. And that brings us to the Morel MT-3 satellite/subwoofer set. The 5.1-channel configuration reviewed here does not support Atmos; at least, these satellites lack the up-firing drivers that constitute an “Atmos-enabled” speaker system. However, their base provides for wall-, ceiling-, or tabletop positioning with no additional hardware, and surface-mounting an extra pair (or two) of satellites on a ceiling would indeed bring this speaker system into Atmos territory with a 5.1.2 (or, better yet, 5.1.4) configuration.

John Sciacca  |  Mar 13, 2015  |  1 comments

W Studio Soundbar System
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
W9 Wireless Speaker
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
W7 Wireless Speaker
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
W Amp Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,295 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Stellar audio quality
Sleek-looking components

Minus
Android app is pretty basic
iOS app very limited
Doesn’t currently support true high-res listening

THE VERDICT
The speakers sound amazing and the W Studio soundbar is a home run even without its multiroom capabilities, but the limited Play-Fi app for streaming leaves Def Tech’s W system lagging behind the best multiroom systems.

For a while, audio manufacturers seemed resigned to give it the ol’ “lie back and think of England” routine when it came to accepting Sonos as the dominant force in the wireless audio world. Sure, they might not have liked it, but they weren’t offering any compelling alternatives of their own. And while there had been some challengers in the past, most fell well short of the Sonos benchmark and quickly faded.

This tide has changed lately, however, and the war for wireless audio is heating up. Multiple systems are now offering their spin on wireless music distribution and hoping to take a bite out of the Wi-Fi audio pie. And unlike past attempts, several of these new solutions are not only good, they’re great. Darryl Wilkinson recently reviewed two top rivals for Sonos’ throne, Bluesound (S&V, June 2014) and Denon’s HEOS (S&V, January 2015). Now, well-regarded speaker manufacturer Definitive Technology is throwing its hat into the ring by embracing Play-Fi in its new Wireless Collection.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 12, 2015  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos–enabled monitors
Laser-like focus from coaxial driver array
Minus
Just-average subwoofer performance

THE VERDICT
Andrew Jones’ excellent Atmos-enabled speakers are equally at home in a 5.1-channel footprint as they are transforming surround sound as we know it.

Dolby Atmos bids to change the landscape of surround sound at home. One thing it has already changed is my mind.

I am that 5.1 guy. I’ve spent much of my tech-writing career promoting the standard 5.1-channel speaker configuration and defending it against all comers. This has pitted me against two-channel loyalists who mistakenly believe there is no such thing as a surround audiophile. But I’ve also opposed what I deem to be useless additions to 5.1.

Daniel Kumin  |  Jan 29, 2015  |  3 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $5,693

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Awesome potential for clean loudness
Impressive tonal fidelity and finesse
No subwoofer required
Atmos!
Minus
Requires generous spacing and AC power
Connectivity is a bit complex

THE VERDICT
A one-stop, state-of-the-surround loudspeaker solution, especially apt for any who prefer not to accommodate a subwoofer—with the bonus of being Dolby Atmos enabled.

Definitive Technology’s BP-8060ST has remained a highlight of the Baltimore-area maker’s lineup for several years—a dog’s age in the new-and-improved, series-II world of high-end loudspeakers. The longevity suggests that Definitive considers this slim “power tower” a fully evolved design, and indeed it’s hard to argue the point.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 13, 2015  |  0 comments

Infinity Reference R162 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Infinity Reference SUB R12 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,100

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Detailed high frequencies
Proprietary drivers
Curved enclosure
Minus
Can be too revealing
More finishes needed

THE VERDICT
The new Infinity Reference series has superb top-end transient detail and a commendably subtle sub, turning even familiar material into a fresh experience.

“Attention to detail.” That was my mantra when I hired and trained people to write product descriptions for an e-commerce site. It’s a pretty good rule to live by in general, and I try my imperfect best to practice it myself, both personally and professionally. It came back to me when I pulled the grille off the Infinity R162, part of the big brand’s new Reference series. When I saw a tweeter waveguide unlike any I’d previously seen, I knew I was communing with a kindred spirit, a lover of detail—though one with access to far greater resources than I command as a mere reviewer. Infinity’s parent corporation, Harman International Industries, has the kind of facilities and personnel that many speaker companies can only dream of. Harman pays a whole lot of talented people to attend to detail.

Daniel Kumin  |  Dec 24, 2014  |  First Published: Dec 23, 2014  |  3 comments

Prime Satellite 5.1 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SB-1000 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Honest, accurate, full-range sound
Painless sub/sat blending
Cheap!
Minus
Won’t match ultimate volume level of larger, more costly systems

THE VERDICT
If your criterion is un-hyped reproduction, SVS’s Prime Satellite 5.1 system is as good as it gets for $1,000.

Good-sounding small speakers no longer impress me. After all, these days, pretty much anybody with a laptop and an Internet connection can design a small two-way that’s reasonably neutral. The tools are all online (many of them share/freeware), fine-performing drivers ranging from cheap ’n’ cheerful to exotic ’n’ expensive are readily available with complete Thiele-Small parameters, and MDF and veneer are plentiful down at Lowe’s. You don’t even need to know Ohm’s law; fluency in Windows or OSX and some basic woodworking skills are probably more useful.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 14, 2014  |  3 comments

Studio 230 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Studio SUB 250P Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,630

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Efficient, high output
Vocal clarity and defined soundfield
Affordable price
Minus
Thin, accentuated top end
Best at low-to-moderate volumes

THE VERDICT
Although their bright voicing may not be for everyone, the JBL Studio 2 speakers combine high efficiency with excellent detail retrieval.

What if the solution to room-interaction problems resided in your loudspeakers? Wouldn’t that be a great alternative to the ills of receiver-based room correction systems? Those are some potentially interesting questions posed by JBL’s Studio 2 series.

For starters, who needs room correction anyway? Well, when it’s hard to catch the dialogue, and imaging smears all over the place, the room correction program in your A/V receiver can mitigate those problems (depending on the receiver and the room). But quite often, it also introduces new artifacts and errors. For my own part, in my own room, I find that many room correction systems thin out the overall tonal balance and induce fatigue. That’s why some audiophiles shun room correction and choose to live with the acoustic character of their room, for better or worse—usually both.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 08, 2014  |  First Published: Nov 07, 2014  |  2 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,748

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Versatile with movies and music
Superb build quality
Addictively listenable
Minus
Needs sub reinforcement

THE VERDICT
Like David in a world of Goliaths, Silverline Audio’s Minuet Supreme Plus is the kind of small speaker that makes listening to music an addictive pleasure.

Every January, I find myself walking down a hotel corridor lined with audio exhibitors. Sounds like the dream sequence from an audiophile movie, doesn’t it? I’m talking, of course, about the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Pretty much every year, I pay a visit to Silverline Audio, and pretty much every year, the reward is sweet, involving sound. This year, that sound was coming from Silverline’s Minuet Supreme Plus. Remarkably, it was powered by one of those tiny Class T amps you can buy on Amazon for $30. Having reviewed the original Minuet in 2008—and having loved it—I was eager to hear what its successor would sound like in my system with a better amp.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Oct 28, 2014  |  2 comments

683 S2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
ASW 610XP Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,300 (as reviewed)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Soundstaging
Presence and immediacy
Tight bass (with subwoofer)
Minus
Top end a bit restrained
Limited subwoofer output
Pedestrian styling

THE VERDICT
It took some effort to get their best in my room, but these relatively affordable B&Ws ultimately came through with a big, immediate, and generous sound.

Bowers & Wilkins, aka B&W, has been in the loudspeaker game since the mid-1960s. I reviewed the company’s original 600 series for Stereophile Guide to Home Theater over six years ago, and I was impressed—even though I was listening to those speakers immediately after evaluating Revel’s high-end Ultima2 system. At less than 15 percent of the Revels’ price, the B&Ws couldn’t, of course, equal them. But they weren’t anywhere near embarrassed by the comparison. Now we have the 600 S2 models in house, ready to do battle. The Revels are no longer here, of course, so the 600 S2s will have to speak for themselves. We’re ready to see if they can.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 17, 2014  |  2 comments

Imagine XB Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
SubSeries 125 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,846

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Clarity and evenness
Compact, tuneful sub
Affordable price
Minus
Dynamic limits of small sub

THE VERDICT
PSB’s Imagine X series refreshes a popular speaker line with reliably excellent sound.

A small but growing number of my younger readers care more about headphones than loudspeakers—but might eventually want to own both. That’s why I’m about to use headphones as the starting point in a speaker review.

There are names that evoke loudspeakers: Bowers & Wilkins, GoldenEar, KEF, Klipsch, MartinLogan, Paradigm, Wilson, Definitive Technology. Then there are names that evoke headphones: AKG, Audeze, Beyer, Grado, Koss, Sennheiser, Stax. However, though several speaker manufacturers have dabbled in headphones, it’s hard to think of many brands known equally well in both categories.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 10, 2014  |  2 comments

Excite X14 Speaker System
Performance
Build Qaulity
Value

Sub 250 II Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $5,100

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Generous soundfield
Surprisingly strong bass
Gorgeous veneers
Minus
Expensive for small speakers

THE VERDICT
Dynaudio’s X14, part of the revised Excite line, earns its high-end price tag with sweet build quality and high performance, including a bottom end that is amazingly substantial for a small speaker.

The high end exists in the eye of the beholder. To some folks, a pair of mini-monitors selling for $1,500—or a 5.1-channel system at $5,100—may seem steeply priced. In fact, if you want lower-priced alternatives, you’ll find plenty among our Top Picks. But there always will be another kind of consumer who is fussy about what he or she brings into the living room. Vinyl-wrapped boxes won’t cut it; they want furniture-grade wood veneer. In the same discriminating spirit, the Danish manufacturer Dynaudio is equally fussy about materials, including drivers that the company designs and makes itself. In the recently overhauled Excite line, the result is a speaker that exceeds already high expectations in both appearance and sound. The X14 monitor and X24 center are my favorite kind of small speaker: the kind that sounds bigger than it looks.

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