All Systems Are Go!

Do I get letters? You bet I do! Everyone has a question for the Gear Guy. I get letters from people who want to buy high-definition TVs, minisystems, exotic speakers - you name it. I also get lots of eviction notices, subpoenas, and an occasional letter bomb. But that's another story. Our current batch is from folks with very different needs who are looking to buy complete audio/video systems. To help them out, I've pulled together three distinctly different rigs out of equipment that recently received a big thumbs up from Sound & Vision's reviewers. But enough of my gabbing - let's field our first question:

Dear Gear Guy, I'm a professional in my 20s, living in a small studio apartment in the big city. I have a CD boombox and a good 27-inch TV, but that's it. I'd like to get a DVD player and some decent speakers. But I just don't have the room for a full-size home theater, and I don't want to settle for a simple home-theater-in-a-box system. What's a space-challenged yuppie to do? Closet Man

Dear Closet Man, Welcome to life in the big city, pal. It's hard to get full sound in a small space. You need gear that's physically compact but avoids the drastic performance compromises that usually accompany lightweight electronics. The trick is to balance the performance of the different components - you don't want to have one awesome piece of gear that can't show its stuff just because the rest of the system is holding it back. This is particularly tricky with budget systems because there's no margin for error. Well, for $1,698 - before discounts - you can get a pretty nice rig. First, I'd recommend Sharp's $800 DV-A2000U (reviewed in April), which combines a DVD-Video player with a Dolby Digital receiver that delivers 40 watts to each of its five channels. The disc-loading tray slides right out the front of the receiver. Pop in a movie disc and you're in business. This integration means you don't have to have two separate components with their own power supplies, digital-to-analog (D/A) converters, and so on. And the single chassis takes up less space than two. If your TV can't handle the receiver's component-video output, you can use its S-video output.

The DV-A2000U isn't perfect, however. It lacks a DTS decoder (which won't be an issue for many people), digital audio inputs, and a six-channel analog audio input for jacking in a DVD-Audio or SACD player. But in his review, the always hard to please David Ranada said he was "perfectly satisfied with the DV-A2000U's sound and picture quality."

For your speakers, I'd recommend the JBL N Series home theater suite ($898, reviewed in January), which is made up of four identical N24 satellite speakers for the left/right front and surround positions, an N-Center speaker for the center channel, and the PB10 subwoofer. This 5.1-channel system is truly compact, and the ball-swivels on the N24s make them easy to wall-mount - you don't even need shelf space. The satellites blend well with the PB10 subwoofer, which has a 10-inch driver powered by a 150-watt amplifier. Overall, these JBL speakers should crank out more than enough sound for your small room. Daniel Kumin concluded his review by saying, "This JBL system's value for the money is obvious. Getting such well-balanced sound, with notable bass extension and no salient vices, from a package priced just under $900 is impressive."

  • Sharp DV-A2000U DVD-Video player and digital surround receiver ($800) | 800-237-4277
  • JBL N24 - satellite speakers N-Center - speaker, and PB10 - subwoofer ($898) | 800-336-4525