Surround Sensations

Home theater has been the best gift to audio manufacturers since Edison yelled into a horn. All of a sudden two-channel stereo systems are woefully old-fashioned. Speaker manufacturers especially have much to be thankful for - instead of two speakers per system, now they can sell at least six. What a deal!

Of course, opportunity breeds competition, and competition breeds combat. Every manufacturer, anxious to conquer as much of the enemy's homeland as possible, is furiously designing new speakers to capture surround sound customers. As a result, the marketplace is teeming with excellent home theater speakers. To help narrow down the possibilities, we selected complete higher-end systems from three highly regarded speaker brands: Infinity's Modulus system ($1,699), a mix-and-match grouping from Klipsch's Synergy series ($1,829), and a suite from Mission's m70 series ($1,450). Each brand's engineers used very different design tactics to achieve similar goals. It was my job to determine how each system fared.

Infinity Modulus The Modulus system is literally a home theater speaker system in a box. All six speakers, plus a room-optimization kit, are tucked into one carton scarcely bigger than those for the other two systems' subwoofers. The five two-way satellite speakers are about as different from a typical box speaker as you can get. They're strikingly small and sport a beautiful, award-winning industrial design.

All five magnetically shielded satellites are sculpted from a charcoal- or plantinum-colored plastic with a pleasingly soft, rubbery feel and have grille cloths surrounded by brushed-aluminum frames. The four MS-1 left/right satellites are attached to stands, also faced with brushed aluminum, that let you sit the speakers on shelves or mount them on a wall (using supplied wall brackets). A ball-and-socket connection gives a free range of motion.

The MCC-1 center speaker, curved across the top, is equally pleasing visually. To sim plify installation, Infinity offers an optional bracket that lies across the top of your TV set (underneath the center speaker's sturdy rubber feet) and lets you hang the left/right front satellites on either side; it fits sets from 30 to 55 inches. The center speaker uses the same drivers as the other satellites but has two midrange cones.

It's hard to make a squarish box look cool, but the Modulus MSW-1 subwoofer, finished in the same platinum or charcoal plastic used for the satellites, is one of the most stylish I've seen. The front holds a 12-inch driver, vented on the bottom of the cabinet, and a output-level knob on one corner. The input/output panel on the rear has switches to select line-level or speaker-level connections and 0 or 180° phase as well as on/off switches for power, the fixed (100-Hz) low-pass filter, and the RABOS (Room Adaptive Bass Optimization System) single-band parametric equalizer.

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