Surround Sound System Reviews

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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  |  Aug 03, 2017  |  4 comments

3000 5.1 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

3070 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $900

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Sweet and smooth sats
Dual 6.5-inch sub
Minus
Deep sub juts out from wall

THE VERDICT
A sweet-sounding system, with a sub worthy of the satellites, the Q Acoustics 3000 is one of the best under-$1,000 5.1-channel setups I’ve heard.

Tube amps. Mono pressings. And now, 5.1? Has bedrock surround sound indeed joined the ranks of retro audio technologies? Surround receivers beyond the most entry level nearly always have more than five channels (though their uses vary), while Dolby Atmos and DTS:X have made seven (5.1.2) the new minimum system configuration. What happens when you go in the other direction? The flood of 5.1 speaker sets that I used to review in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has tapered to a trickle. I see fewer new ones at CES and CEDIA, and plain old stereo is dominant at the rest of the domestic and international audio shows. However, the British manufacturer Q Acoustics has been marketing 5.1-channel speaker sets since the company’s inception about a decade ago and continues to actively develop them. The brand’s latest entry is called the 3000 5.1 Home Theatre System.

Daniel Kumin  |  Feb 06, 2019  |  0 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Rich, full-range sound
Fine imaging
Great-looking and nicely finished
Minus
Center-channel not a perfect timbral match with towers
Subwoofer output and extension does not fully complement towers

THE VERDICT
This highly affordable Q Acoustics 5.1 package offers big, warm, dynamic stereo sound from compact towers, and good movie sound with or without the included sub.

Q Acoustics is a relatively new British loudspeaker manufacturer who has made a goodly amount of noise in the value/performance speaker arena for a dozen years now. I count the firm among the 21st-century flowering of affordable-speaker-makers catalyzed by partnerships with Chinese manufacturing firms and ever-more powerful and widely accessible computer-modeling design processes. The result of this confluence has been a bounty of excellent designs in the most competitive price ranges, from new and old names alike, that in the aggregate make the home-theater dollar go further than ever before.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Oct 19, 2017  |  3 comments

M16 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

B10 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $4,050 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
High transparency
Equalized subwoofer
Wall-hanging surrounds
Minus
Manual sub EQ requires expertise

THE VERDICT
Revel draws on Harman’s world-class engineering depth to produce immaculate high-end sound—this time, at an extremely reasonable price.

Audiophiles (myself included) often point out that high-end audio is stigmatized compared with other product categories. High-end cars, high-end wine, high-end watches: All attract aficionados who don’t mind paying a stiff premium to get the best of the best. And if an average onlooker ventures an opinion at all, it’s “nice watch!” But when a bleeding-edge speaker or amp takes the stage, the applause of the cognoscenti mixes with heckling from the peanut gallery. High-end audio has long been subject to that extra measure of skepticism.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Jan 02, 2014  |  0 comments

Performa3 F208 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

B112 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $13,300 (with stands)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb overall performance
Impeccable fit and finish
Effective subwoofer EQ
Minus
Complex subwoofer EQ setup

THE VERDICT
While not inexpensive, the Performa3s can challenge anything out there on either music or movies, and likely come out in front.

Has it really been six years since I last reviewed a Revel speaker system? It has. That system, anchored at the front by the Ultima2 Studio2s, is still available—but combined with a five-star dinner for two, it will cost you around $40,000. Although I imagine its sales have met expectations, I suspect that system isn’t exactly flying out the doors at Fred’s High-Ende Audio Shoppe.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Jul 22, 2020  |  7 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Subwoofer
Performance
Build Quality
Features
Value
PRICE $20,500 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb overall performance
Impeccable fit and finish
Relatively compact
Minus
Pricey

THE VERDICT
It may be pricey, but this PerformaBe system offers sublime performance with both music and movies.

I've reviewed many Revel surround speaker packages over time, but it's been six years since my last Revel review, a system centered on the Performa F208 tower speaker. At around 13 grand, that system could still be considered an affordable option compared with a full surround package built around the company's flagship Ultima range. Now, with its PerformaBe line, Revel has a mid-price speaker offering to help bridge the gap.

Daniel Kumin  |  Mar 02, 2017  |  0 comments

CG3 5.1 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Speedwoofer 10S Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,079 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Rigorously balanced sound
Plays surprisingly loud
Easy, excellent sub/sat blending
Minus
Sats can be a bit power-hungry in larger rooms

THE VERDICT
Given its low cost, solid dynamics, and impressive neutrality, it would be tough to find a better or more honest small speaker system for the price than RSL’s latest.

When it comes to loudspeakers, how big is big enough? How small is too small? What size is j-u-u-ust right? Speaker buyers have been asking these questions, and speaker makers have been answering them, ever since a certain Brand B shook the world years ago with micro-sized satellites employing 2.5-inch drivers that struggled to reach down to 200 hertz, mated with similarly challenged Lilliputian subs. Physics notwithstanding, buyers took to them in droves—and since then, the race to the bottom, cubicvolume-wise, has been on.

Michael Trei  |  Jul 31, 2019  |  0 comments
Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,499 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Clean and tidy sound
Excellent tonal match between models
Superb high-gloss painted finish
Minus
Sound is a bit polite with some material
No wood finish option

THE VERDICT
This RSL CG5 system offers relaxed sound that's easy to like, impressive build quality, and great value.

Everybody loves a great comeback story. Whether it's Tiger Woods winning The Masters after a decade of disappointment, or Apple's return to global dominance after nearly going bust twenty years back, it's nice when someone or something can make a strong return.

Rob Sabin  |  Aug 26, 2020  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,000 (system bundle, minus installation; $4,000 as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb sonics
WiSA wireless connection for surrounds and sub
Integrated Savant automation platform
Control via app or touchscreen remote
Minus
No Dolby Pro Logic or other stereo surround mode
No HDMI-ARC connectivity
No processing for lossless surround formats

THE VERDICT
Savant's smart soundbar may be a gateway to home automation, but it distinguishes itself first through its excellent sound quality.

Sound & Vision readers will know Savant as one of two upstarts that, along with Control 4, arrived in the early 2000s to challenge Crestron and AMX in the emerging home automation market. Today, some 15 years after its founding by tech entrepreneur/billionaire Bob Madonna, Savant continues to expand its Mac-based smarthome solution, and with some recent acquisitions, to broaden its market reach. Most notable is the high-profile purchase this year of GE Lighting.

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.

Daniel Kumin  |  Oct 02, 2015  |  0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,447 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very honest, very capable reproduction
Unusual, and unusually attractive, cosmetics
Excellent center-channel off-axis consistency
Minus
Ever so slightly warm balance may not please more analytical listeners

THE VERDICT
Wide-range towers and solid tonal matching make for a system that will fulfill many, even without a subwoofer.

Italian technology doesn’t get a lot of respect. (There’s a version of the old joke where in heaven the police are British, the cooks French, and the engineers German; in hell the police are German, the cooks British, and the engineers— you guessed it—Italian.) But think only of Ferrari. Or Lamborghini. Better still, think of supercar maker Pagani, for which today’s examinee, Sonus Faber, provides premium audio systems.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Apr 28, 2021  |  0 comments

Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $5,296

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp detail and open-sounding midrange
Immersive 5.1 performance
Stylish and affordable
Minus
Cl center speaker has limited off-axis response

THE VERDICT
The name Sonus faber conjures up visions of exotic speakers priced at a level that will buy you a reasonably nice house in some places. But a full 5.1 package from the company's new Lumina line will cost you less than a modest patio upgrade.

Loudspeaker manufacturer Sonus faber was founded in the early 1980s by the late Franco Serblin in Vicenza, Italy. It's been known since then for offering superb sound with classic Italian attention to style, with products aimed at buyers for whom price was at most a secondary consideration. But in recent years the company has tested more affordable waters, particularly in its home theater offerings, with the latest addition to its lineup, the Lumina Collection, designed to appeal to a wider range of listeners with real-world budgets.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 05, 2013  |  0 comments

Venere 2.5 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
 
REL T-7 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $5,493 At A Glance: Shapely Italian styling • Exceptional soundstaging • Surprisingly affordable

Could this sleek, lacquer-finished, curvaceous new Sonus faber Venere loudspeaker have originated anywhere other than in Italy? Well, no and yes. With its soothing, elegant curves and glossy finish, Venere whispers “Italy,” but the scant $2,498/pair price tag of this 43pound, 3.5-foot floorstander shouts “China.”

In fact, this new Sonus faber speaker is truly an international product. It was designed in-house at Sonus faber’s Arcugnano factory near Venice, Italy—a building as stylish as the designs emanating therefrom—using bespoke drivers designed by Sonus faber.

The midwoofer and woofer cone material is curv, a proprietary self-reinforcing 100-percent polypropylene composite manufactured by Germanybased Propex, while the dome tweeter is of silk over which is applied a multi-layered Sonus-spec’d coating manufactured by DKM in Germany. Final driver production is done in China.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 08, 2013  |  7 comments

SS-NA5ES Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SA-NA9ES Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $19,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Scandinavian birch
enclosures
Triple tweeter array
Warm and fatigue-free
Minus
Not exactly cheap

THE VERDICT
A pricey speaker system that offers an edge to those who want the very best.

Sony has always had a sense of its own destiny that transcends any one of its multifaceted operations. To gamers, it is the guardian of the PlayStation franchise. Moviegoers know it as the owner of Sony Pictures, while music lovers know it as the home of Dylan, Springsteen, and Adele. Tech historians recall how Sony’s small transistor radios and Walkman cassette player, respectively from the 1950s and ’70s, paved the way for the iPod in the ’00s. Cutting-edge computer audiophiles are excited about the potential of Sony’s DSD file format to transform the nascent world of high-resolution music downloads.

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.

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