Surround Sound System Reviews

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Thomas J. Norton  |  Oct 25, 2012  |  3 comments

802 Diamond Speakers
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W DB1 Subwoofer
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Price: $32,000 At A Glance: Clear, sparkling highs • Tight, extended bass • Broad, deep soundstage • Stunning fit and finish

If you’re unfamiliar with the British speaker company Bowers & Wilkins, perhaps that’s because it’s more commonly known simply as B&W. Founded in the mid-1960s by John Bowers and Roy Wilkins, it’s now one of the most respected loudspeaker manufacturers in the world, with products ranging from budget-priced to Olympic.

The 800 Diamond series is the third generation of Bowers & Wilkins’s most sophisticated range, with iconic looks that date back to the late 1990s. The 802 Diamond is one step down in price from the company’s current flagship, the $24,000/pair 800 Diamond. And while B&W’s lower-priced speakers, like most, are manufactured in China, the 800 is built in the company’s facilities in England.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 19, 2012  |  0 comments

DX-1 HCP Speaker
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DX-1 subwoofer
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Price: $799 At A Glance: Sweet but detailed mids • High-gloss finish • Great sats, OK sub

One of your best friends calls up to announce that she is about to wed someone rich and powerful. He owns a shipyard that manufactures exceptionally luxurious yachts. You’re happy for her, but you worry, too. Would living with such a strong personality, a guy with all that money and all that power, be good for her? Would it make her stronger or weaker? A few years later you run into her, and after a few hours of conversation, you conclude that she’s in great shape internally as well as externally. There’s a serenity beneath the tan. Her husband is affectionate and faithful, a child is on the way, and she’s never been happier.

Daniel Kumin  |  Oct 16, 2012  |  1 comments

Like so many British (and, for that matter, American) ür-audio brands, KEF — originally Kent Engineering & Foundry — had its roots in the post- WWII technology boom. In KEF’s case, it grew inside a Quonset hut on the grounds of the aforementioned foundry. A half-century down the road the Kentish maker is still there (in Kent, not in the metal shed!), still focused on its core competency (loudspeakers), and still producing wholly excellent designs.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Oct 12, 2012  |  0 comments

PSB Imagine T2 Speaker System
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PSB SubSeries 300 Subwoofer
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Price: $7,140 (updated 3/10/15)
At A Glance: Independent ported chambers for each woofer • Dual five-way gold-plated binding posts for biwiring or biamping • Five-way transitional design

Paul Barton is a nutcase. Oh, sure, he’s soft-spoken, ultra-smart, and intensely passionate about sound. (In the late 1960s, 11-year-old Barton started building speakers with his dad in their workshop because other speakers “didn’t sound natural.”) But that’s just a cover. I don’t know how else to explain the fact that Mr. Barton (the “P” and “B” of PSB Speakers—with his wife, Sue, providing the “S”) has spent so much of his life locked away in the anechoic chamber and testing/listening labs of Canada’s federally funded National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa, Ontario. In fact, according to PSB, although folks from other speaker companies (such as Paradigm, Energy, Mirage, Snell, and Aperion, to name a few) have traipsed through the NRC’s Acoustics and Signal Processing Department’s doors, since the late 1970s, Barton “has spent far longer in the chamber and lab than any other speaker designer.” So rather than skiing, hunting, fishing, playing hockey, and/or drinking beer all day like real Canadians do, Barton chose to play in an anechoic chamber. As I said, he’s a nutcase.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Sep 20, 2012  |  0 comments
Performance
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Ergonomics
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Price: $3,499 At A Glance: Automatic speaker discovery and channel assignment • Uncompressed 24-bit wireless digital audio • No AVR needed

Not long ago, FedEx deposited a 7.1channel HTIB from Aperion Audio outside my door. It’s not really fair to call it a home theater in a box because the system actually comes in seven boxes and sells for $3,499. But since it includes source switching and amplification, it technically qualifies as an HTIB, albeit a rather unusual one. Aperion Audio prefers the term preconfigured home theater system. Normally, setting up this sort of home theater package would entail speaker wires crisscrossing the floor accompanied by the requisite grumbling, stripping of wires, and fumbling with speaker terminals. In this case, though, the Aperion speakers—a pair of towers, a center channel, a subwoofer, and two pair of satellite speakers—come out of their boxes, get placed in their appropriate spots in the room, have each one’s power cord plugged into the nearest AC outlet…and that’s it.

Brent Butterworth  |  Sep 18, 2012  |  1 comments

As athletes such as Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant, and the whole New Orleans Saints defense have learned the hard way, even when you’re the best, it helps to be friendly. Big surround sound systems aren’t friendly to your décor or your pocketbook. Fortunately, in the last 2 years, we’ve seen major speaker companies put serious effort into designing compact 5.1 systems that deliver no-compromise performance. The Mini Theatre line from Bowers & Wilkins is the latest to make its way through my listening room.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Sep 14, 2012  |  0 comments

MilleniaOne Speakers
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MilleniaSub subwoofer
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Price: $2,648 At A Glance: Die-cast aluminum satellites • Flat-form-factor subwoofer • Remarkable transparency

Not often do I begin a review with an apology to readers. But I owe you one.

It’s taken me an unconscionably long time to get around to reviewing the Paradigm MilleniaOne satellite speaker system and MilleniaSub. The products made their retail debuts in November 2010. Since then they’ve languished on my to-do list despite the fact that Paradigm is one of my favorite speaker manufacturers. In fact, I never fail to cite my reference speakers, the Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4, in every A/V receiver review. Now that I’ve gotten an earful of the MilleniaOne and MilleniaSub, I’m kicking myself. I should have recommended these stellar satellites and innovative subwoofer to you a whole lot sooner, whether you’re in the market for a sat/sub set or not. This is the kind of high-performance sat/sub set that might make believers out of people who weren’t even interested in the product category to begin with.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Sep 04, 2012  |  0 comments

Performance
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Price: $7,197 At A Glance: Wide and deep soundstage • Clear, uncolored midrange • Superb fit and finish

The Wharfedale brand is one of the oldest and most widely respected in the loudspeaker business. Gilbert Briggs founded the company as the Wharfedale Wireless Works in Yorkshire, England, in 1932. While his name is less well known in the U.S. than, say, Saul Marantz, Avery Fisher, and James B. Lansing, Briggs was also clearly one of the founding fathers of the high-fidelity business that took off big time in the 1950s.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 10, 2012  |  2 comments

Performance
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Price: $6,800 At A Glance: Three-way with coaxial midrange/tweeter • Sub with dual side-firing drivers • Laser-like focus and well rounded

Kent, in the south of England, was best known for hop farming when Raymond Cooke left Wharfedale and founded KEF in 1961. The company was named after the industrial site on which it was founded: Kent Engineering & Foundry. KEF’s numerous distinguished alumni include Laurie Fincham, who now develops next-generation audio technologies for THX, and Andrew Jones, who designs world-beating loudspeakers at a variety of price points for Pioneer and TAD. KEF has earned a reputation for making both great speaker systems and great speaker drivers, some of which were instrumental in the legendary BBC-designed LS3/5A, which KEF and other manufacturers have marketed in various forms. Roving through a New York cocktail party celebrating KEF’s 50th anniversary last year, hobnobbing with the audio elite, I found that the drive units inspired as much nostalgia as the speakers in which they were used. (To read about KEF’s history in more detail—and in a handsome coffee-table book, no less—see KEF: 50 Years of Innovation in Sound by Ken Kessler and Dr. Andrew Watson.)

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 12, 2012  |  3 comments

Performance
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Price: $1,297 (with updated X Series models)
At A Glance: Dual orbs in front, single orbs behind • Full-range drivers in steel enclosures • Rod or pedestal stand

Spherical loudspeakers are perhaps too easily dismissed: “Oh look, it’s round. Cute gimmick. Next…” That box speakers are easy to build certainly doesn’t guarantee sound quality. In fact, designers of quality speakers are constantly rebelling against the limitations of rectangular enclosures. To curb cabinet resonance, designers build bracing into the box and stuff the interior with damping material. They curve the sides to stop standing waves from developing between parallel walls. But rather than tweak boxes, some do away with them altogether. So if you think the spherical steel shells of Orb Audio’s People’s Choice satellite speakers are mere gimmicks, think again.

Thomas J. Norton  |  May 30, 2012  |  2 comments

LSiM707 Surround Speaker System
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DSWmicroPRO3000 subwoofer
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Price: $9,900 (updated 3/10/15)
At A Glance: Excellent dynamic range • Solid imaging and depth • Could use more top-end air

Polk Audio has a proud history stretching back to the early 1970s. Its products have leaned more to the familiar and affordable rather than to the expensive and esoteric, but there have been exceptions. The SRT series, introduced in 1995, was a surround system with seven separate speakers encompassing 35 active drivers, including two subwoofers said to be capable of 120 decibels at 30 hertz. It corralled its fair share of buyers willing to pony up the $10,000 asking price.

Michael Fremer  |  May 18, 2012  |  12 comments
Do you dream in surround sound? Since you’re reading this magazine, the answer is probably yes. Psychiatrists say dreaming is good for you. Thumb through any issue of Home Theater and you’re more likely than not to encounter components, systems, and lavish, dedicated rooms equipped with the latest 4K projectors and high-powered, surround-sound systems that most of us can only dream about.
Darryl Wilkinson  |  May 16, 2012  |  4 comments

StudioMonitor 55 Speakers
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SuperCube 6000 subwoofer
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Price: $2,494 At A Glance: Top-mounted, passive radiator • Dual binding posts • Enhanced phase plug

Whether you think a decade is a long or a short period of time depends on your perspective. If you’re discussing cosmology with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the word “decade” probably won’t even make it into the conversation. If you’re Apple, you crank out more than 300 million iPods in that period of time. If you’re a momma elephant with a particularly frisky elephant husband who likes to party, you might be able to birth five elephant progeny. (Although the stretch marks will simply be impossible to get rid of after that third one, no matter what exercise club you sign up with.) At the Glenmorangie distillery in the Scottish Highlands, you’re trying to decide whether or not to bottle the batch of single-malt scotch that’s been aging in the barrels for the last decade or to wait another eight years and ship out cases of Glenmorangie 18 Years Old instead. But if you’re Definitive Technology, you take your sweet time and eventually come out with…wait for it…three (as in one more than two) totally redesigned monitor speakers.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 13, 2012  |  5 comments

Performance
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Price: $1,745 At A Glance: Sealed design controls bass • Satin-finish MDF enclosures • Factory-direct sales enhance value

Are you one of those people who can’t resist a supermarket circular? Do you trawl the Internet looking for coupon codes that can be pasted into online purchases? Loudspeaker pricing doesn’t often indulge us with the same feeling of satisfaction that we get from buying a jumbo jar of marinara sauce or a cashmere scarf at an extremely low price. But while researching this review last December, I couldn’t help noting that Emotiva’s factory-direct speakers offered some wiggle room to the timely shopper. The XRC-5.2 LCR speaker normally sold for $299/each—not a bad price to begin with—but was momentarily going for an introductory price of $239/each.

Brent Butterworth  |  Mar 21, 2012  |  0 comments

It seemed that audio companies had surrendered the home-theater-in-a-box concept to the TV manufacturers.

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