Surround Sound System Reviews

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Daniel Kumin  |  Dec 20, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,177

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Neutral balance with fine imaging
Very good center-channel performance, integration
Superb value
Minus
Towers may require substantial tilt-back

THE VERDICT
Emotiva’s new passive loudspeakers combine serious audio design and refinement with sufficient construction and finish quality to establish unprecedented value.

There’s been plenty of ink spilled, print and digital, in Sound & Vision and elsewhere, about Tennessee’s direct-to-consumer brand Emotiva and the disruptive pricing the company has brought to various audio categories. To date, this has been mostly focused on electronics, where power amps, preamps, pre/pros, and DACs have been offered up for surprisingly small sums that seem to belie their inherent engineering and build quality. Corner company founder Dan Laufman about how he does it, and he’ll enthusiastically share his prior life as an OEM for other audio brands (many of which you know well) and how he’s learned a few tricks about where and how to stretch raw material costs in the most meaningful ways.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Dec 19, 2017  |  4 comments
PRICE $2,143 as reviewed

THE VERDICT
Emotiva’s BasX surround processor, five-channel amp, and speakers offer an affordable and high-performing starter system that puts you into audio separates without breaking the bank.

Surround separates are generally regarded as a step up from receivers. If you want the biggest and best, and have to ask their prices, you probably can’t afford them. But ask me the prices of Emotiva’s new BasX surround preamp/processor and multichannel amplifier, along with a set of compact speakers from the same series. The answers are $599, $499, and $1,045, totaling $2,143 for a 5.1-channel system of electronics and speakers. That would buy a midpriced receiver and a decent (but probably smaller) satellite/subwoofer set.

Steve Guttenberg  |  Dec 04, 2013  |  1 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,345

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Big sound with undistorted, low bass
Separate, built-in amplifiers for the woofer and tweeter
Controls for fine-tuning bass and treble
Rock-solid MDF cabinetry
Minus
Requires interconnects and power to each speaker

THE VERDICT
A remarkably dynamic system with solid bass, airy highs, and wide imaging—with no amplifiers needed.

At first I wasn’t sure about the prospects for reviewing Emotiva Pro’s new Stealth speakers, if only because they’re bona-fide studio monitors. But after conferring with Dan Laufman, the designer and CEO, I was eager to try them. Turns out the Stealths are easily domesticated, and since they’re internally biamplified—there’s one amp for the tweeter and another for the woofer—I didn’t need to use a receiver, power amp, or surround processor for this review.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 13, 2012  |  5 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
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.

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?

Rob Sabin  |  May 13, 2020  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Easy, app-driven automatic setup
Good audio quality via hi-res wireless WiSA platform
Simple and intuitive control app
Minus
Lack of A/V switching may be an issue for some systems
No included remote control or learning feature
No decoding or full-resolution transmission of DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD bitstreams

THE VERDICT
Enclave's THX-certified wireless system delivers highly dynamic and enjoyable surround sound in an easy-to-install and use package...though it comes at a price.

When I was a trade reporter many years ago, I wrote an article about the skyrocketing sales of packaged home theater audio systems. Inside each box was a rudimentary A/V receiver, five or six speakers (typically compact satellites in plastic cabinets), color-coded speaker cables, and graphic instructions to get things hooked up. The article's big takeaway was that the brands selling these (Sony, Panasonic, et. al. ) had discovered that many buyers either left the rear surround speakers in the box or wired them up and placed them on top of the front left- and right-channel speakers.

Brent Butterworth  |  Oct 01, 2013  |  5 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $800

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crazy-affordable prices
Great cosmetics for the money
Minus
Sounds a little unrefined

THE VERDICT
It’s not without flaws, but the $500/pair XL7F tower delivers a surprising value.

I actually did a double-take when I added up the price of Fluance’s XL7 speaker system. Two tower speakers for the price of a good pair of minimonitors. A center speaker for the price of a cheap Blu-ray player. A pair of minimonitors for the price of … well, an inexpensive pair of minimonitors. And the whole shebang for about what most Sound & Vision readers I know would spend for a decent subwoofer. Shipping’s free, too!

Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 02, 2017  |  0 comments

Dôme Flax 5.1 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Sub Air Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Flax cone woofer
Aluminum-magnesium inverted-dome tweeter
Wall-hugging sub
Minus
Limited bass from sats

THE VERDICT
Unique driver materials, overall quality of construction, and adroit voicing make the Focal Dôme Flax 5.1 one of the best-sounding compact sat/sub systems I’ve heard.

As the home theater milieu increasingly divides into Atmos and non-Atmos camps, the satellite/subwoofer category seems destined to remain part of the old guard, usually sold in a set of five little speakers and a sub or two. Is it possible for a satellite speaker to retain its merciful compactness if it’s also to include an Atmos-enabled upfiring driver? I’d love to review such a product, but right now it’s a figment of my imagination and hopes. Focal, the prodigious French speaker manufacturer, does now offer a 5.1.2-channel Atmos-capable sat/sub system that takes a different approach (see below), but you’ll be happy to know that plain ol’ 5.1 is still alive and supported by this and other fine speaker makers. Even now it remains the bedrock configuration of surround sound.

Daniel Kumin  |  Jan 03, 2018  |  0 comments

Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Cub Evo Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,299

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent sound quality
Great subwoofer/satellite integration
Plays louder, cleaner than some similarly sized systems
Atmos on board
Minus
Spring-loaded push connectors can be irritating
No prepackaged 5.1.4-channel option

THE VERDICT
A high-performing, moderately compact, one-carton speaker solution for serious home theater—with Atmos.

Focal, the French loudspeaker maker—the French loudspeaker maker (there are others, but really, name one)—is best known on these shores for the Utopia series of haute-highend ultra-towers, which, cresting at something like $185,000 for a pair, step well over what I think of as the Che Guevara line. (That’s the line across which, following the revolution, anyone owning a pair can count on a very long vacation at state expense in a re-education camp.)

Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 21, 2013  |  0 comments

Nucleus Micro SE Speak
Performance
Build Quality
Value
TR-1D Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,614

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Highly compact steel sphere enclosures
Transparent sound quality
Big soundstage with no restrictive sweet spot
Minus
On-wall or near-wall placement well advised
Tricky subwoofer mating
Likes a lot of power

THE VERDICT
A sub/sat system whose great strengths are its midrange clarity, wide dispersion, and décor-friendly form factor.

The interaction between speaker manufacturers and the public they serve has changed markedly since the days when I was a longhaired college kid buying my first speakers. Back then, design ideas flowed in one direction, from the top down, from the drawing board to the sales floor—and if you bought a speaker, you nearly always bought a box speaker. Now speaker-design imperatives flow in both directions. With a greater variety of beckoning form factors, speaker buyers influence the design process simply by choosing the products that fit into our lives.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 25, 2013  |  0 comments
CL-2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
 

CLS-10 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $2,888 At A Glance: 180-degree cylindrical tweeter • Stable, wide-open sound • Tilted sub driver

Shape is destiny for Anthony Gallo Acoustics. The company is best known for its spherical and cylindrical speaker enclosures, made of metal and tough as tanks. But the Classico Series is the first Gallo product to use a plain rectan-gular box—for consumers, the company says, who prefer a more traditional look. Though not as curvaceous as other Gallo lines, the Classico is still available in a beautiful Cherry veneer finish, along with the more staid Black Ash veneer of our review samples. Note that the speakers are sold only through the Gallo Website: roundsound.com. The more conventional construction and factory-direct approach make the Classico models among the most affordable Gallo speakers ever.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 18, 2013  |  2 comments

Aon 2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

ForceField 5 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $3,000 At A Glance: Broad dispersion • Good power handling • Powerful subwoofer

A review is more interesting when it tells a story. How should the story of the GoldenEar Aon 2 begin? There’s the technology angle: The Aon 2 is among the few speakers on the market with an unusual pleated tweeter design that uses a squeezing motion (as opposed to a piston motion) to generate the changes in air pressure that we hear as sound waves. Because the benefits—wide horizontal dispersion and vivid imaging—are easy to describe, that would be a good way to begin. And then there’s the human interest angle: GoldenEar is the third brand to be cofounded by Baltimore-based loudspeaker impresario Sandy Gross, whose genuine love for audio is balanced by his love for gourmet food, Expressionist canvases, and ancient statuary. The only thing wrong with these angles is that reviewers hither and yon have used them so often in the past. That leaves the musical angle. Here I believe I have a variant that might qualify as an exclusive.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Oct 24, 2013  |  3 comments

Triton Seven Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

ForceField 5 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE 3,594

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Deep bass extension from dual passive radiators Remarkably full midrange Rearward rake with non-parallel front and rear baffles
Minus
You’ll need to find a new home for your current speakers

THE VERDICT
The Triton Sevens provide rock-solid high-end performance for a mid-fi price.

It begins with a fairy tale (of sorts). Once upon a time (say, around 2013), a little company named GoldenEar made three bears—no, sorry, three tower speakers. The first speaker was tall and big with a deep, deep voice. But it was too big and too expensive for a hungry little girl roaming the forest—no, I mean, for some of the people shopping through a forest of tower speakers at the A/V store. The second tower was shorter and a bit smaller. Its voice was deep, too, but not quite as much as the papa tower’s voice. Sadly, it was also too big to fit comfortably in some people’s rooms, and still too big for some of their budgets. Then GoldenEar made a third tower speaker, even shorter and less expensive, and this speaker was… Well, that’s what we’re here to find out, isn’t it?

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.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Jan 27, 2012  |  0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
Price: $3,195 (updated 3/10/15)
At A Glance: Little brother to the Triton Two • Built-in, powered subwoofer • Folded-diaphragm tweeters

Those of us who are “the baby of the family” know the ever-living hell of growing up surrounded by older siblings. In addition to the incessant abuse—both mental (teasing, taunting, terrorizing) and physical (wedgies, wet willies, purple nurples)—there’s the oxygen-depleting cloud of expectation that swirls around your every step, especially if you’ve had a particularly zealous overachiever blazing the familial trail ahead of you. By the way, for those parents who aren’t aware of it, “Why can’t you be like your brother?” isn’t, in most cases, a terribly motivating exhortation. Unless, of course, said brother happens to be a ne’er-do-well who lives off the proceeds of an obscenely large trust fund, drinks absinthe with impunity, and eats fresh beignets heaped high with powdered sugar for breakfast (at noon) every day. (That’s my kind of role model! Bring it on, sibling rival…) Unfortunately, few of us are blessed with the kind of bottom-feeding low-life for an older brother or sister who makes you look like a shining star just for getting out of bed and watching cartoons in the morning. Instead, we’re doomed to a life of waking up knowing that the rest of the day is likely to be nothing but another disappointment to our parents, grandparents, and every ancestor who ever walked (even remotely) upright.

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