Surround Sound System Reviews

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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.”

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Sep 20, 2012  |  0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
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.

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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 27, 2013  |  9 comments

Epic Midi 125 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
EP125 v3 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,786 (updated 1/28/15)
At A Glance: Distinctive cabinet shapes • Revealing voicing • Sold factory direct

Merriam-Webster.com defines a cabal as “the artifices and intrigues of a group of persons secretly united in a plot (as to overturn a government),” or “a group engaged in such artifices and intrigues.” For the past 30 years, Axiom Audio has been part of a Canadian cabal of loudspeaker manufacturers secretly united in a plot to overturn bad sound—ironically, with government support. The Ontario-based company is one of several brands that sprouted from Ottawa’s National Research Council facilities where Axiom founder and president Ian Colquhoun learned the art and science of speaker design under the legendary Dr. Floyd Toole.

Why do we say “secretly united”? Axiom is one of those well-kept secrets of the audio world, and that’s partly our fault. The company has been designing and manufacturing its products in Canada, right under our North American noses, yet this is the first review we’ve done on an Axiom product in about 20 years, despite the accolades the brand has attracted in the interim. So we’re playing catch-up with this review of Axiom’s Epic Midi 125 5.1-channel speaker package, which includes two monitors and a center in the front, dedicated diffuse surrounds, and a subwoofer. Let’s just say the secret is out.

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

802 Diamond Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value
 
W DB1 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
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  |  Apr 03, 2013  |  First Published: Apr 02, 2013  |  0 comments
M25 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

MSubwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $3,345 At A Glance: Leather-like enclosure finish • Beefy subwoofer • Easy-listening, aggression-free treble

The question “what speakers should I buy?” is increasingly giving way to the more provocative “why should I buy stand-alone speakers at all?” Loudspeakers have to argue for their very existence in a world where consumers are logging fewer listening hours with component systems. Instead, stylish music sources such as tablets and smartphones are driving listeners toward equally stylish all-in-one wireless/docking systems and headphones. Today, the poor old loudspeaker has to work harder to attract attention. It has to convince you to buy it—oh, and one of those pesky audio/video receivers to power it.

Michael Trei  |  Nov 21, 2018  |  2 comments
603 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
ASW610XP Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,399 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Engaging, transparent sound
Powerful, tuneful bass
Clean, contemporary look
Minus
Treble can overwhelm with some music
Center speaker tonal match could be better

THE VERDICT
The latest update to the Bowers & Wilkins 600 Series brings technological improvements trickled down from the company’s 700 and 800 Series speakers. This system delivers engaging, upfront sound and good value.

Maybe it’s because our country is still young, but Americans tend to think of the British as having lots of long-standing traditions. Is that impression still valid? These days, Jaguar Cars is owned by India’s Tata Motors. Mini Cooper, Rolls Royce, and Bentley are owned by German companies. Even Marmite, that most British of toast toppings, is half-owned by the Dutch. Following that trend, it should come as no surprise to learn that a quintessentially British hi-fi company like Bowers & Wilkins is owned by a Silicon Valley, California-based startup called EVA Automation. Engineering and design still takes place at the company’s headquarters in Worthing, England, even if most of the actual production now takes place in Asia.

Daniel Kumin  |  Sep 08, 2014  |  3 comments

Bowers & Wilkins CM6 S2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Bowers & Wilkins ASW10 CM S2 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE Price: $5,850 (CM6 S2, $1,000 each; CM Centre 2 S2, $1,250 each; CM1 S2, $550 each; ASW10 CM S2, $1,500)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Exceptional tonal balance
Superb sub/sat integration
Impressive bass extension from compact sub
Lovely design and finish

Minus
Expensive
No dipole/bipole surround option

THE VERDICT
Highly neutral and free of obvious coloration, invitingly listenable, and beautiful, the B&W CM S2s wear their substantial prices fairly.

B&W should need little introduction in these pages. The British loudspeaker-maker has been a force in serious audio repro practically since Noah’s flood (1965, actually), and here in the States have for two decades and more occupied an enviable market position straddling the highest of high-end to the almost-popularly-priced. So when a new generation of B&Ws take the stage, the audio world tends to pay attention, as we are doing here with the firm’s latest iteration of its next-most-affordable CM range. Named with typical British phlegm the CM S2, the new designs highlight a dozen or so interesting engineering refinements in driver, crossover, and cabinet designs (in particular a new “dual-dome” aluminum tweeter diaphragm claimed to push its resonance a half-octave or so higher, and thus extending its smooth reproducing range), but in typical B&W fashion show comparatively little in the way of visible changes.

Brent Butterworth  |  Sep 18, 2012  |  0 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.

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  |  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  |  Sep 26, 2014  |  0 comments

Mini T Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Mini T Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $8,881 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Outstanding sonics and dynamic ability
Impressive bass extension from Mini-T alone
Made in Canada, not overseas
Minus
Requires substantial
amplifier power for best performance
Classic boxy designs won’t thrill everyone

THE VERDICT
They’re big, boxy, and expensive, but these speakers are world-class performers, top to bottom.

Bryston’s new Mini T loudspeakers spoke to me early, even before I’d fully wrestled them out of their imposing, oversized packaging. And what they said was, “We were designed by guys who don’t give a hamster’s hindquarters for new-age cosmetics, ‘breakthrough’ transducers, or 21st-century styling: We’re old school!”

For the record, Bryston Ltd.—based in the small Canadian city of Peterborough, an hour or so east of Toronto—has for decades produced some of the world’s preeminent power amplifiers (also preamps, surround processors, and even the odd integrated amp), impeccable performers built to a standard of brick-house quality seldom bettered, and warrantied accordingly. If you wanted vast reserves of current, bulletproof design, road-ready ruggedness, and genuine craftsmanship, Bryston fit the bill.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 18, 2014  |  0 comments

Aero 2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Aero 9 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,446

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Flat BMR in lieu of tweeter
Clear sonic window into the midrange
Unusual dual-mono/bipole surrounds
Affordable price
Minus
Boxy vinyl-wrap enclosures

THE VERDICT
Cambridge Audio’s Aero reinvents the two-way loudspeaker in midrange-friendly fashion with excellent performance and value.

What if you needed two throats to speak? Sounds a bit cumbersome, right? But that’s how a two-way loudspeaker usually treats the human voice. Its drivers divide the midrange frequencies where the voice resides into two parts, sending higher frequencies to the tweeter and lower frequencies to the woofer. While the crossover varies from speaker to speaker, the frequencies that handle the voice usually get split right in the region where human ears are most sensitive to vocal timbre.

Of course, good speaker designers routinely surmount this obstacle to natural vocal sound, either by carefully tweaking their two-way designs or by going to three-way designs that dedicate a separate driver to midrange reproduction. But the three-way approach adds two more crossover sections, potentially leading to other troubled areas of reproduction.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 19, 2013  |  1 comments

Minx S325v2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
X300 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,449 At A Glance: Second-gen high-end compact satellites • Mix of flat and cone drivers • Incredible dispersion

Compact cube speakers are an intriguing subset of the satellite/subwoofer speaker genre. Though not invariably high performers, cubes have achieved iconic status, and some manufacturers have made a fortune marketing them to folks whose significant others look at the diminutive geometric forms and say, “Bingo. That’s what I want your speakers to look like. Now get those big tombstones out of our den.”

Cambridge Audio has tapped into the cube mystique with its Minx sat/sub sets. In fact, the Minx has done so well that it is now a separate division of the company. Part of the Minx suc- cess story is, believe it or not, performance. The first-generation Min 10 (single cube) and Min 20 (double cube) earned rave reviews all over the place, and the single- cube version found a coveted perch on our Top Picks list.

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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