Home Theater Systems Reviews

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Mark Fleischmann  |  Mar 22, 2007  |  First Published: Feb 22, 2007  |  0 comments
Multinational speakers meet American amps.

On the battlefield of speaker design, I am the triage nurse. I walk into speaker demo rooms at trade shows, my badge sometimes inadvertently turned inward, listen for a moment, and quietly mutter to myself, "This one's a keeper," or, "He's dead, Jim." Or occasionally just, "Hmmm," because good speakers may sound iffy under bad conditions, and I respect the potential buried within an ambiguous first take. But, if my instincts tell me to pursue a review, I whip out a business card and start making arrangements on the spot.

Chris Lewis  |  Apr 09, 2002  |  First Published: Apr 10, 2002  |  0 comments
Who says HTIBs have to sound bad?

I can still remember the first time I heard the phrase "high-end home-theater-in-a-box" uttered in public and the reaction it brought at a press conference. Half of the crowd simply laughed off the idea, and the other half began muttering about the demise of civilization, openly pondering the oxymoronic nature of what they had just heard. Admittedly, I counted myself in the former group. While I didn't take the announcement as confirmation that the apocalypse was upon us, I did chuckle, make a few sarcastic remarks to those around me, and begin setting an over/under in my mind for how long it would take for this piece of marketing magic to expire. After all, who was going to pay thousands of dollars for a system that came in a single package?

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 12, 2009  |  0 comments
Price: $1,200 At A Glance: DVD-processor console contains all amplification • Single cable connection • Doesn’t accept HD video or lossless audio from Blu-ray

Do You Believe in Magic?

Bar-type speaker systems like the Polk SurroundBar 360˚ are a logical response to the flat-paneling of modern homes. The form factor of a single horizontal speaker makes sense to use below the bottom edge of a flat screen (or perched atop a rear projector). But surround, by its nature, likes to spread itself around the room. And it does so for the same reason that pictures like to be big—to engulf the senses and take the viewer/listener to another place. But how can a single bar speaker spread itself around when it’s confined to a single enclosure? That’s the question Matthew Polk set out to answer with this product.

John Higgins  |  Dec 18, 2006  |  0 comments
  • $200
  • DVD, DVD+R/+RW, DVD-R/-RW, CD, CD-R/-RW, MP3, WMA, VCD, SVCD, and JPEG; HDMI with HD upconversion
  • Includes two front speakers, two surround speakers, one center-channel speaker, and one subwoofer
  • DVD/CD changer
RCA's RTD258 is full of surprises. There's a front-panel USB connection that you can use for most MP3 players, thumb drives, or digital cameras to play music or display pictures. There's also an included HDMI cable. What could this cable possibly be for, you might ask? Why, it's for the upconverting DVD player that has an HDMI output. If your television isn't as new as this system, you can connect the two with a component cable, although that is not included.
Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 05, 2009  |  0 comments
Price: $1,759 At A Glance: Integrated Blu-ray drive and amps • Skinny stand-mount front speakers, wall-mount surrounds • Basic HTIB sound in a convenient package

Do You Know the Way to Blu?

Audio manufacturers in the home theater sphere fall into two distinct groups. The most distinguished calling cards belong to the audio specialty brands. If you say you’re using B&W speakers with an Outlaw receiver, fellow audiophiles will immediately nod their heads. They know what you’re talking about, and they know you know what you’re talking about.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Dec 28, 2010  |  0 comments
Price: $850 At A Glance: AVR with integrated Blu-ray 3D player and slim speakers • Proprietary auto setup with musical test tones • Attention-getting array of fun network-enabled apps

The Start of Something Big

Samsung’s HT-C6930W 7.1-channel Blu-ray 3D Home Theater System, to quote the full official name, includes a speedy Blu-ray 3D drive, seven speakers, subwoofer, wireless connection for one pair of surrounds, and an auto setup system that replaces the customary bleeps and sweeps with musical test tones. It builds on Ethernet and Wi-Fi network connectivity with DLNA certification and a variety of apps.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 05, 2012  |  2 comments
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Price: $1,000 At A Glance: Hybrid switching/vacuum tube amplifier • Glass fiber speaker cones • Tilting drivers in towers for front-height channels

The vacuum tube has an honored place in the audio timeline. It preceded stereo, the LP, and of course everything digital. When tubes gave way to the solid-state transistor, consumer electronics began its steady march toward lighter weight, lower cost, reduced heat dissipation, and greater energy efficiency. Entire new product categories were born—such as the portable transistor radio, the distant forebear of today’s smartphones and iPods. Solid-state technology further democratized audio in the 1970s as Japan exported mass-market stereo receivers to music lovers on a budget. By the time home theater and surround sound got underway, tubes had long since been left behind by the mainstream. One by one, all the tubes winked out. Or did they?

John Higgins  |  Dec 22, 2006  |  0 comments
  • $400
  • XM ready
  • Optional module available for wireless surround channels
The HT-Q70 is a step up from the HT-Q45 that convergence editor Chris Chiarella reviewed in our September 2006 issue. While the looks of the ensemble are virtually identical, there are significant upgrades behind the scenes. The total power output has gone up to 1,000 watts (from 800 watts in the HT-Q45). More importantly, at least for the home theater aspect, the player is a five-disc-carousel DVD changer and sports upconversion and an HDMI output (up to 1080i). The player can read CD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD, DVD-R, and DVD-RW. On the front of the player is a USB port for utilizing Samsung's USB Host Play. This allows you to plug a portable digital device into the port and play back MPEG video, as well as MP3, DivX, WMA, JPEG, and photo files.
Chris Chiarella  |  Sep 18, 2006  |  0 comments
A portable media player on steroids, and its secret relationship with an HTIB.

I'll admit it. I'm a fan of satellite radio. The sound quality, the variety of programming, the lack of commercials, and even the bonuses like artist and song-title info on display are all enticing to me. And yet, a compelling satellite radio product hasn't landed on my desk in some time—or perhaps one did but was lost among all the press releases, UPS receipts, and slightly used napkins. As if to make up for the lull, Samsung hooked me up with two disparate new products that work great together, converging the freedom of a portable digital audio player with the convenience and versatility of a complete home theater in a box.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Oct 22, 2005  |  0 comments
Feed your hungry eyes and ears on an attractively entertaining meal of lean on-wall speakers and tender, choice electronics.

Whether by nature or nurture, I'm a speaker guy. I'm more captivated by speakers than any of the associated electronics in a home theater system. As a result of this singular infatuation, I've always believed, as a general rule of thumb, that you should allocate at least half of the total cost of the audio portion of your system to the speakers. I don't know why the math seems to work out that way, but, in my mind, it just does. So what am I to make of a system in which the Primare electronics cost twice as much as the Sequence/REL speaker package?

Chris Chiarella  |  Jan 26, 2007  |  0 comments
Welcome to the age of Audistry.

My office—cubicle, actually—is in Manhattan, so I get it: Despite your love of movies and music, some readers either don't want or just can't deal with a full array of five loudspeakers plus a subwoofer. Rather than settle for simple stereo (and I mean no disrespect to John Atkinson and his Stereophile crew down the hall), some overachieving sub/sat systems add often proprietary processing techniques to simulate sprawling surround sound. But what if newly released signal-processing algorithms offered so much control over the listening experience that they could turn a budget home-theater-in-a-box into a sound lab of sorts, allowing you to experiment with a previously impossible milieu of realistic audio illusions?

Chris Chiarella  |  Jul 20, 2005  |  0 comments
You'll be hearing things that aren't there, like surround channels.

The wheels of compliance grind slowly, but they do grind. With the ongoing mad rush to embrace DVD's audio and video potential, many consumers have expressed an interest in wireless surround speakers to simplify setup, while others—spoilsports, really—insist that they lack either the room or the desire for dedicated surrounds. As a result, we saw and heard more products than ever at this year's Consumer Electronics Show that put all of the gear up front while creating an illusion of surround, some more successfully than others. So expect to see more reviews in this burgeoning category from me and the gang. Even your run-of-the-mill home-theater-in-a-box requires a dollop of basic HT know-how to configure: running wires, connecting speaker cables, and, of course, allocating space for five loudspeakers and the subwoofer. Don't get me wrong: I've never viewed these steps as a chore, but, for some, it's just too much, and it's perpetuating the schism betwixt DVD wannabes and DVD gurus.

Chris Chiarella  |  Aug 30, 2005  |  First Published: Aug 31, 2005  |  0 comments
In a nasty world, Sonos makes wholehouse music distribution friendly.

Not to sound cynical, but, at this stage of the distributed audio game, "me too" products don't cut it anymore. What we want is something new, something different, something better. Luckily for Sonos, that's what their Digital Music System delivers. Much of the allure in these gray and silver boxes lies in the freedom they promise. It's not just a question of wired or wireless—although wireless is an option here, sort of, and it's mighty desirable. This system is also independent from the computer, so that you can connect it to a PC, a Mac, or even Linux—or directly to a network storage drive for even greater flexibility.

John Higgins  |  Dec 18, 2006  |  0 comments
  • $300
  • Portable audio-player input
  • Five-disc DVD/CD player
Sony's entry-level home-theater-in-a-box, the DAV-DX255, manages to fit a couple of surprises into its relatively low price point of $300. For one, it can hold five discs at a time that are slot loading instead of carousel loading. It can also play SACs. Yes, you read that right. This $300 system can play that beloved Sony-backed audiophile format—Super Audio Compact Disc. We could talk about the pluses and minuses of using a $300 system to listen to SACDs, but, no matter what, SACDs will sound better than regular CDs. To complement its ability to read SACDs, the player will also recognize a myriad of other formats, including burned DVDs, MP3s, and VCDs.
Darryl Wilkinson  |  Jun 05, 2007  |  First Published: Jun 06, 2007  |  0 comments
This Sony HTiB does the listening for you.

Sony may not have invented the Home Theater in a Box, but it's certainly gone a long way in perfecting the concept. Where most companies make just a couple of HTiBs, Sony has close to a dozen ranging from a cute "1000-Watt" system with a five-disc changer and bookshelf speakers costing $299 all the way up to a 780-Watt $1,999 package that includes floorstanding front speakers, wireless rear speakers, and a DVD/ CD/SACD player. With so many choices, we wondered, what could we get from Sony for five hundred bucks? They answered the question by sending us the DAV-HDX500 BRAVIA Theater System.