on February 13, 2006
Ok, to start off I'm not an audiophile. I have used and dived into tens, if not hundreds, of audio and video devices and systems. I get to know what I buy and don't stop at just getting a component to work.
So far, this system is performing well, but the sound quality I was expecting, expectations can jade ones experience if they are too high, was not quite there. Part of this is definitely related to the room of use, which is less than optimal for surround. However, I was hoping, based on reviews, that this system with its non-direct focus of sound would help null that out. I also, jsut recently got the system, so its hardly been tuned to its best performance. It far surpasses my fairly new TV's speakers, but that's not really hard to do, since most TV's have mediocre to poor speakers at best.
Overall, the sound is very good. The system installation is trivial. It has 2 optical and one coax digital inputs, which was perfect for my three digital sources; XBox 360, Showcenter 200 (HD video/audio client), and an HD digital cable box. There is an additional analog input (2 coax for left and right and a cable that will convert that to a 1/8" stereo plug for MP3/Computer/.... Also included is the currently non-usable USB port for firmware upgrades as well as playing digital audio from a computer; no new firmware is posted and the PC drivers for the digital audio does not appear to be ready. One final output port allows attachment of headphones or other audio recording device. As I mentioned in my title, that was absolutely perfect for me and my wife; now all our audio is through one "receiver" and can be heard through speakers or headphones. The rest of the plugs are for speakers; all standard RCA type jacks. The speaker wire was surprisingly thin. I would have thought that it would have been a little beefier. Then again, they are only putting 55W/channel front and 16W rear, so I suppose the thickness is relatively trivial at that relatively low wattage. They are upgradeable, since every cable is RCA on both ends. There is also a big expansion slot, but I've not seen any info about probable uses from the company. This could be a source of more inputs, output channels (7.1) although I doubt that, THX filtering maybe, all on an expansion card. The speakers are small and decorative, however, despite wall mounting holes built into the case, they strongly recommending that you not do that; despite all the demos they show at their site places the speakers on the wall (go figure). The reflective sound nature is deadened by position so close to the wall (they recommend 3 feet between speaker and wall) reducing the effectiveness of the surround effect and overall sound quality. Also on this note, placing them in a confining space like a low book shelf or audio/TV cabinet/stand shelf will have a tendancy to make the speakers sound muddy (which was my first experiece with them.) That makes the placement of the center channel speaker difficult; the best would be on top of a tall TV cabinet with the TV inside, if you have one, or on top of the TV, which is impossible for me since me DLP's case is too thin on top. The Sub wofer is good and somewhat adjustable. The included remote is adequate, but a multi-device remote becomes a big help when you start turning on and configuring three devices (TV, Video (DVD), and audio receiver.)
The display unit provide, also is the IR receiver, is intersting and provides a lot of info about what's currently being played. However, it's sometimes difficult to discern which features are really lit from across the room; there are 14 total, 7 on each side, and some turn from green to red to indicate an additional mode.
The only "problem" I've experienced is the unit, when powered of by the remote (power switch on the unit is left on), will sometimes not power back up again from the remote. When this happens, I need to turn the power switch of and then back on, and the system responds normally. They do state in the manual that you should power the unit off, via the switch on the back, when the unit will not be used for a while; just like a receiver or TV. I am a little concerned about this issue, which leads me to my next point.
I like the idea that this is upgradable with firmware via the USB port. New features, fixes (hopefully for the power on one), and performance improvements are just a download away. However (I say that alot), this also leads me to believe that companies are shipping products early, letting the end user debug problems, and fixing the most serious that effects the most users. A great business model for making money and cutting costs, but I feel that gone are the days of getting a reliable product that does what it claims to do and then using it. An example here is the PC digital audio. "The software is not ready yet" is the claim. Well then, why was it listed as a feature instead of a future enhancement. This current firmware fix fascination is leading to this kind of product development; shoot for the stars and if we reach orbit, that's good enough and they'll still buy it. Ok, off my soapbox.
To sum up, sound is very good but didn't blow me away, unit sets up in minutes, wish it an input or two more (1 digital and 2 analog preferrable for a total of 4 and 3) for future needs (again it met mine right now, but I'm out of inputs), upgrades are easy, and reliability is in question (it locks up and won't respond to power command from the remote; hopeful software fix). All in all I'm pleased (mostly because I got it at a great price), but I thought it was a little pricey for the sound that I'm experiencing. I recommend it, if you have some cash to throw around and a place to run all those wires (a common problem for almost all surround systems.) Hope that helps.