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The Authority in Entertainment Intelligence •




February 2010 Volume 17 No. 2







US $5.99/Canada $6.99

Definitive’s Mythos STS System is


f all the outstanding products reviewed by Sound & Vision in 2008, only one was selected as “Audio Product of the Year,” not merely “Speaker of the Year” but “Audio Product of the Year.” And that product is the Definitive Technology Mythos STS SuperTower multichannel speaker system.

Where’s the Subwoofer? Built right in! The Mythos STS's built-in powered subwoofers, advanced technologies and superior materials bring you sonic perfection.

Each STS features a built-in 300 Watt SuperCube™ powered subwoofer for soul-stirring bass impact, earth-shaking dynamics along with tight, detailed musicality. You’ll enjoy double the bass while saving floor space and enhancing the beauty of your room.

“…prepare to be amazed. The Mythos STS is one of the most exciting products that I have come across in a long time…unrivaled at its price point.” — Roger Kanno,

More Praise The Mythos STS SuperTowers earned’s 2008 Reviewer’s Choice Award for Aesthetics and Sound. Home Theater Magazine called the STS system “Crisp, Lush, Focused” and tagged it with a Top Pick award. The STS also won two Innovations Design and Engineering awards at CES 2009, one for High Performance Audio and the other for Home Theater Speakers. One industry award is an honor, five is a sweep. Yes, this system is that good.

“…in a class by themselves – rich fine detail, full-bodied mid-tones, and adjustable self-powered bass, in fact considering what you get, these are valuepriced speakers. " — Piero Gabucci, Secrets of Home Theater and High

Get the Whole Story There’s not enough room on this page to tell the whole story of this magnificent system. For all the details, including where to get a demonstration, visit the web address below today. &

“one of the best values going in high-end speakers” — Al Griffin, Sound & Vision

“…the Definitive Technology Mythos STS SuperTower just might be the best loudspeaker I've heard for $3000/pair.” —Wes Phillips, Stereophile

Mythos STS SuperTowers, Mythos Nine and Mythos Gem system: MSRP $4355.

The Mythos STS system is Sound & Vision Magazine’s 2009 Audio Product of the Year.

TEL 800. 228.7148 m & www. ww w.fa fant ntam amag ag.c .com om

February 2010 Volume 17 No. 2

ON THE COVER Special speaker issue. Our loudspeaker buyer’s guide, how to configure speakers, and more. Gear from B&W and VIZIO. Screen images courtesy of Universal.


on the web

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Loudspeakers Buyer’s Guide



Ask Home Theater Your how-to and technical home theater questions answered. by Scott Wilkinson

Loudspeakers Don’t underinvest in your surround system.

Curtain Call Almost Perfect by Michael J. Nelson


21 90

Speakers: Where Do I Put Them? Getting the most out of your sound. Configuring Speakers Optimizing your sound, one step at a time. Home Theater Design A style-conscious home theater brings this sunny California home to life.

www.storemag & ag

24 30 32 35

We understand if you get emotional. Ever seen an audio engineer weep? They’re a pretty tough bunch. But when the engineering is done, and they’ve spun the cold mechanical components of a loudspeaker into a warm fabric of thrilling, emotional sound, we pass the hankies and look the other way. At Polk Audio, we’ve not only mastered the mechanical process of building a loudspeaker, we’ve also mastered the tools required to take that process to the next level: our ears. Great design and engineering, and the latest scientific tools (like the sensitive microphones found in our specially designed binaural head testers), can take you far. But in the search for the sublime, only a skilled set of human ears can achieve the magic of lifelike sound. So our gifted audio engineers listen closely for even the most subtle of nuances and colorings. We adjust and tweak. It may be as subtle as manipulating cone material, or changing a crossover slope. Suddenly, merely good sound begins to have a real emotional impact. We’re committed to that impact. So we build loudspeakers that reveal the true dynamic realism of your music and movie audio. That’s the magic of the Polk Audio sound. Experience it today. We’ll bring the hankies, and we promise not to tell anyone you cried. If It Makes Sound, We Make It Sound Better For almost forty years, Polk Audio has surfed the edge of innovation to bring you excellent sound at a reasonable price. Our award-winning products are designed to fit both your life and your style: play your iPod by your bedside, frag zombies in your den, revel in the warmth of vinyl recordings in your living room or enjoy the cinema impact of digital technology in your home theater. We’re Polk Audio, The Speaker Specialists, and so much more. This is just the beginning of the Polk Audio story. Find out more! Join us on our Facebook page, see us on YouTube, or at Polk Audio is a DEI Holdings, Inc. Company. Polk Audio, Polk & The Speaker Specialists are registered trademarks of Polk Audio, Inc. Neumann is a registered trademark of the Georg Neumann GmbH in certain countries. Polk Audio uses Skip, the Neumann binaural head, to formulate and test speaker materials & designs. If it sounds good to Skip, it’ll sound even better to you.








Prologue The more things change... by Shane Buettner

Sony BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray Disc MegaChanger Dream machine? P42

Letters When Buyer’s Guide charts attack. AV News Video rental companies transition to streaming. Cinema Scope Inglourious Basterds, Public Enemies, Angels & Demons, and more of the hottest new titles on Blu-ray. Top Picks Not sure what to buy? Check out this exclusive listing of our reviewers’ recommended gear. Dealer Locator Before you run out to buy a product we’ve reviewed, find a quality dealer near you.

9 14 16 72 84 86

Sonics Amerigo Speaker System German brew, U.S. bottle.





B&W CM9 Speaker System Well centered.


VIZIO VF551XVT LCD HDTV LED for the masses.


Boston Acoustics Reflection RS 260 Speaker System Between VS and CS. P58



Paradigm Special Edition SE 1 Speaker System Seeing Red in a new way. P62 Sony STR-DN1000 A/V Receiver Slick but affordable.



42 54

on the web

VISIT THE “HOW WE TEST” link on our Website for a detailed explanation of our testing regimen and a list of our reference gear. &

They don’t make them like they used to. But we do. Did you know that some of today’s leading loudspeaker manufacturers don’t have audio engineers? Polk Audio is a company of professional audio engineers who love to make great sound. We still design, specify, and develop every component that goes into our loudspeakers, just as we did when our company first started. Back then, we had to build the machines that built the parts we wanted, so we could construct our loudspeakers from scratch. We’ve engineered the resonance out of cabinets, manipulated materials to make distortion-free cones, designed inert baskets and reshaped baffle geometries to produce more realistic dispersion patterns. We designed, and redesigned, and redesigned again, and today we hold over 65 patents for audio innovations. From napkin-sketched ideas, to fabricating our own unique high performance components, we build loudspeakers that go beyond machine-made sound to deliver the rich, realistic Polk Audio sound you love. Others may find it easier to make loudspeakers from kits or off-the-shelf parts. But that’s just not who we are. We are audio engineers who love audio, and we build the loudspeakers that we want to hear. We believe that you’ll be able to hear the difference, and that you’ll appreciate it. If It Makes Sound, We Make It Sound Better For almost forty years, Polk Audio has engineered high performance sound at a reasonable price. Our award-winning products are designed to fit both your life and your style: play your iPod by your bedside, frag zombies in your den, revel in the warmth of vinyl recordings in your living room or enjoy the cinema impact of digital technology in your home theater. We’re Polk Audio, The Speaker Specialists, and so much more. This is just the beginning of the Polk Audio story. Find out more! Join us on our Facebook page, see us on YouTube, or at Polk Audio is a DEI Holdings, Inc. Company. Polk Audio, Polk & The Speaker Specialists are registered trademarks of Polk Audio, Inc. Neumann is a registered trademark of the Georg Neumann GmbH in certain countries.. Polk Audio uses Skip, the Neumann binaural head, to formulate and test speaker materials & designs. If it sounds good to Skip, it’ll sound even better to you. &

When You Want To BUY THE BEST From The Best!






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The More Things Change…

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category as much as any other category in consumer electronics. CUSTOMER SERVICE AND SUBSCRIPTIONS: hometheater@emailcustomerservice. com, call (800) 264-9872 (international calls: 386-447-6383), or write to: P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. Please include your full name, address, and phone number on any inquiries.

Winter/Spring 2009

On most for details. — see page 81

Bill Crutchfield puts the focus back on sound, pg. 3

Four ways to add great sound to your TV, pg. 28



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The more some things stay the same. he most common complaints that consumers have with electronics of all kinds center around the speed of transition and the ever-shorter life span of consumer electronics before they become obsolete. One of the biggest challenges Home Theater faces is getting as many hot ticket component reviews in print as early as possible. In some categories, the product life cycles in the market are so short that it’s a very tight window with the natural lag between completing reviews and getting the magazine into readers’ hands. Consumers feel the urgency too. Moore’s Law has been co-opted from the semiconductor world and is now a cultural marker for how long it takes an electronic product or component to double its performance at half the original cost. Whether it’s a computer, a cell phone, a new A/V receiver, or a flat-panel HDTV, how many people do you know who want to wait a few months before they jump in and buy to see if a new model is released that will be newer, cheaper, or both? Then there’s the focus of this issue: the loudspeaker. If the pace of information in consumer electronics is now a superhighway that’s been pumped up on performance-enhancing drugs, loudspeakers might represent a nice rest stop or vista point where you can slow down, take some time, and know that today’s smart purchase will provide enjoyment for years to come with little if any fear of near-term obsolescence. For instance, if there’s a new killer app or physical interface coming that will render your speakers obsolete the way the advent of HDMI and Blu-ray have obviated component video and DVI in a few short years, we’re not aware of it! Lossless audio has become reality in just the last two to three years with Blu-ray. Your disc player and TV might not have been ready for that transition, but your speakers have been ready for lossless as long as you’ve owned them. And some sort of mechanical failure aside, they’ll serve you for years to come. The new speaker system reviews in this issue illustrate that globalization has impacted the loudspeaker category as much as any other category in consumer electronics. Many manufacturers, even stalwart high-end brands, have gone east, at least for their cabinets, if not for production and assembly. Drivers and other critical components are sourced from China or Europe. As a result, terrific performance in loudspeakers is more accessible to more people than ever before. While some aspects of this might cause some consternation with the more patriotic among us, The speaker reviews in no one wants to pay more for their speaker fix than this issue illustrate that necessary. That being said, it still costs more to manufacture and purchase truly great speakers than it globalization has imdoes ones that are very, very good. That part is the same pacted the loudspeaker as it ever was…

enjoy electronics

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FEBRUARY 2010 Volume 17/Number 2 Senior Vice President/Group Publisher: Al Crolius Publisher: Keith Pray, 212-915-4157, Associate Publisher: Ed DiBenedetto, 212-915-4153,

Show off your theater with a professionally produced customized introduction DVD. Complete with your theater’s name on the marquee, visually stunning graphics, entertaining trivia and a dazzling DolbyŽ digital sound track. A introduction DVD is the ultimate home theater accessory! ase Intro NEW! Space Ch

Flying Dvd Intro

Editor-in-Chief: Shane Buettner Executive Editor: Claire Lloyd Senior Editor, Technical Editor, Video: Thomas J. Norton Audio Editor: Mark Fleischmann Technical Editor, Audio: Mark J. Peterson Consulting Technical Editor: Kris Deering Editor-at-Large: Darryl Wilkinson Contributors: Michael Fremer, Corey Gunnestad, John Higgins, Fred Kaplan, Fred Manteghian, Michael J. Nelson, Debbie Stampfli, David Vaughn, Scott Wilkinson, Kim Wilson, Josh Zyber Art Director: Heather Dickson Web Monkey: Jon Iverson Contributing Designer: Robbie Destocki Contributing Photographers: Randall Cordero, Paul Dimalanta, Mike Finkelstein, Raphael Berrios Digital Sales Director: Jonathan Banner, 212-915-4155, Western Account Manager: Keith Pray, 212-915-4157, National Retailers: Laura LoVecchio, LoVecchio Associates, 718-745-5025, Custom Installer/Retailer Locator: Helene Stoner, 505-474-4156, FAX 505-473-1641, Sales Coordinator: Rosemarie Torcivia, 212-915-4160, Marketing Director: Shawn Higgins Group Creative Services Director: Peter Cooper Marketing Coordinator: Heather Stein Group Operations Director: Amy Diamond Managing Editor/Production: April Trestick Ad Coordinator: Sherrie Corsun OFFICERS OF SOURCE INTERLINK COMPANIES, INC. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer: Gregory Mays President and Chief Operating Officer: James R. Gillis President, Source Interlink Distribution: Alan Tuchman Chief Financial Officer: Marc Fierman General Counsel: Cynthia L. Beauchamp

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SOURCE INTERLINK MEDIA, LLC Chief Operating Officer: Chris Argentieri Senior Vice President, Chief Creative Officer: Alan Alpanian Senior Vice President, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer: Brad Gerber Senior Vice President, Business Development: Jacqueline Blum Senior Vice President, Manufacturing and Production: Kevin Mullan Vice President, Finance: Colleen Artell DIGITAL President, Digital Media: Greg Goff Senior Vice President, Digital: John Cobb

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CONSUMER MARKETING, SOURCE INTERLINK MEDIA, LLC Senior Vice President, Single Copy: Rich Baron Vice President, Circulation Planning and Operations: Arlene Perez CONSUMER MARKETING, ENTHUSIAST MEDIA SUBSCRIPTION COMPANY, INC. Vice President, Consumer Marketing: Tom Slater



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REPRINTS: WRIGHT’S REPRINTS (877) 652-5295 Subscription Customer Service: E-mail, call (800) 264-9872 (international calls: 386-447-6383), or write to Home Theater, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. Please include full name, address, and phone number on any inquiries. Back Issues: Log onto or write to Source Interlink Media Back Issues, 2900 Amber Lane, Corona, CA 92882. $7 each, plus $3 shipping/handling, check or money order. Please specify which magazine and issue date. If this is not specified, your check/money order will be returned to you. Allow 3–4 weeks for delivery.


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GOOD THINGS. SMALL PACKAGE. Long committed to the art of perfecting the deep bass performance of audio systems, REL Acoustics Ltd. announces it’s most recent creation, T-Series™. Finally, true REL sub-bass performance becomes affordable. Crafted from exceptional materials, T’s beauty is more than skin deep. The perimeter rail defines its shape and ensures sufficient elevation to properly release very low frequency pressure waves – with devastating results. The T-Series ULT™ (Ultra-Long Throw) bass engines necessitate a bold, hemispherical, domed grille which is curved to contain the driver’s extraordinary excursion. The three-model T-Series range provides one tailor-made for your system. Audition one soon at your local REL specialist. T- 3 $ 5 9 8 . 0 0 , T- 2 $ 7 9 8 . 0 0 ( t o p ) , T- 1 $ 9 9 8 . 0 0


For more information about the REL Acoustics T-Series Sub-Bass Systems go to: Exclusive North American Importers of REL Acoustics Sub-Bass Systems . 2431 Fifth St. Berkeley . CA 94710 . Tel:510.843.4500 . Fax:510.843.7120 & &

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HOME THEATER surprised that no high-end players were featured as Top Picks, and there was no explanation of why not. You previously gave a pretty glowing review of the Denon DVDA1UDCI, with a 4.5-star rating performance rating. Why did this or other high-end players not make the grade as Top Picks? WE WELCOME QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS. E-mail them to Please note: Be sure to check the FAQ page on our Website ( to see if we’ve already answered any questions you might have. Questions about the features and functions of a particular product are best directed to the manufacturer. Questions about what product you should buy are best directed to a dealer who knows all the details of your system, your preferences, and your personal habits. All submissions are considered the exclusive property of Home Theater magazine and Source Interlink Media. Due to the volume of mail that we receive, we regret that we cannot respond to every letter.

Attack of the HDTV Charts Thanks, guys! You saved me thousands of dollars. After I went blind trying to read the fine print on your Flat Panel HDTV Buyer’s Guide, I realized when I got to Best Buy that I couldn’t tell the difference between a Pioneer KURO and a microwave oven, whether it was set on Vivid or not. So I decided to keep the TV that I have now. However, I did take advantage of the great deal they had on Fisher-Price Close-N-Play audio systems. xo, Peter B. Salinas, CA

Our Buyer’s Guide charts are a dilemma. Presenting the growing amount of relevant info while making it readable are the balls we have in the air for that particular juggling act. The people who want to see everything in the market want that level of detail. We had hoped our inclusion of our Top Picks, with larger pictures and expanded treatment of the components we’ve reviewed and recommend would help. And I’ll see your little hug, little kiss, and raise you a big hug, big kiss—XO.—SCB

Stop Worrying and Love the Black Bars First I just want to say I really can’t wait every month for your magazine to arrive in the mail! I have an issue, and I’m not sure if there is anything I can do about it. I have a Pioneer Elite KURO PRO-111FD plasma, which was the best purchase I ever made, thanks to your reviews. I connected it to an OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray Disc player and a Yamaha RX-V765 A/V receiver. My question is about the black bars on the top and bottom of the screen when I watch BD movies. I switch between different screen sizes, but it doesn’t matter; I can’t get rid of those bars and fill the entire screen. Is there a solution to get rid of the bars? I talked to my dealer where I purchased the TV, and he told me that this is the way most of the directors/ producers of the movies want them to be seen. I know I should just enjoy the picture, but it’s still confusing why I can’t get rid of them. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Keep up the great work, and I will definitely renew my subscription!

This is a question that will probably exist as long as we have 16:9/1.78:1 displays as a standard, and it’s a good question to revisit from time to time. Indeed, many feature films are presented in aspect ratios that are wider than our HDTVs’ native 1.78:1. The most prominent widescreen format is the 2.35:1/2.40:1 widescreen or scope aspect ratio. When filmmakers compose their films to be viewed theatrically in a wide aspect ratio, they more often than not choose to present them the same way on home video as it’s most representative of their artistic vision. Personally, this is how I want to watch films at home. While there are black bars, the imagery is truest to the artistic integrity of the movie. It reminds me immediately that I’m watching a movie at home, and not just watching TV. The only way to eliminate the appearance of black bars while watching films wider than 1.78:1 on our current HDTVs is to crop (remove) parts of the image and/or alter the geometry of the image in order to zoom in on a segment of the screen. Pioneer’s Zoom mode is a prime example. When you select the Zoom screen size on playback of a 2.35:1 movie, the black bars disappear, but the people on the screen are noticeably skinnier than they are in real life. That’s not an acceptable choice to me. Personally, I want to see all the information the filmmaker intended when I watch a movie, not just most of the information larger on the screen. So my advice is to stop worrying about the black bars and revel in the fact that you’re seeing every bit of the film, as the director intended.—SCB

Wither High-End Blu-ray Players? I just received my November issue of Home Theater and was stoked that it featured a special Blu-ray article. However, I was

D. Lewis Cochrane, AL

I’m glad you asked this question, as it provides an opportunity to offer some additional 411 about this product category and our ratings. There are two ways to look at this. One, that high-end players have not offered enough across the board to make the grade. And two, that players in our Entry Level and Midrange price categories are making life hard for the High End products by offering superb performance and value. This last one is really the crux of that matter, as my review of the Denon DVDA1UDCI exemplifies. The Denon’s performance was astounding, beyond reproach. But much of its superior performance is tied to its analog audio outputs, which fewer people will make use of (although I’m admittedly one of them). It’s slow to load Java-intensive Blu-rays compared with the Top Pick Entry Level and Midrange players, and it offers nothing in the way of the innovative streaming and networking features that the Entry Level and Midrange players offer. I felt that in spite of its superlative performance, its ergonomics and value ratings at its price were too low to warrant an unqualified Top Pick. To make Top Pick, all the ratings matter, not just performance. Many current Top Pick players between $200 and $500 offer full audio decoding and interactivity, built-in Wi-Fi, innovative networking/streaming features, and superb video processing and image quality, even on the large front-projection systems we test them with. Surprisingly, not all of the High End players we’ve tested have met the challenge and passed all of our video processing tests, and virtually none of them have incorporated built-in Wi-Fi or streaming/networking features. It also surprises us that the major CE companies aren’t adopting some of these features in their (often much) more expensive players. For example, the high-end Sony BDP-CX7000ES MegaChanger reviewed in this issue (page 42) doesn’t offer the streaming feature set of Sony’s own BDP-N460, a $250 Network Blu-ray player. While the MegaChanger has a lot of strengths, which we praise in the review, we

Harper Woods, MI

14 FEBRUARY 2010 &

couldn’t overlook our surprise and disappointment at the exclusion of meaningful features that Sony includes in its lower-priced players. In a mostly HDMI world, the high-priced players have some catching up to do to provide enough value to justify their prices.—SCB

The Fourth Digit As an avid reader of your magazine, I have to admit to being most partial to your reviews of front projectors. I know this is probably a small portion of your readers, but to me, it’s the only true home theater experience. Even the largest typical plasmas and LCDs don’t immerse me in the movie the same way that a 100-inch or larger screen can do. As for my question, I’m wondering how you have begun measuring black levels as low as you are on the units from companies like Sony, Epson, and JVC projectors. It was my understanding that the LS-100 light meter you use only has three-digit resolution, so where did the fourth digit come from? Are you using something else to measure these black levels, such as a colorimeter capable of such resolution? Are you amplifying the light at that level by zooming in or using a material with gain, and then extrapolating the black level? I’m sure you mentioned this somewhere in your magazine, but I can’t find it. Matt

First of all, keep in mind that the actual black-level value shown in our reviews applies only to a screen with a specific size and gain. However, all of my projector reviews in the past ten years have been made on the same 78-inchwide, Stewart Studiotek 130 screen (gain 1.3) and at very nearly the same throw distance, so the results should be directly comparable. While this is a smaller screen than many readers might choose, it provides something of a worst-case scenario for black levels. Both the peak white levels and the black level will be lower on a bigger screen, but to an equal degree. Everything else being equal, including the projector settings, the reductions in both the peak white and absolute black readings will be directly proportional to the relative areas of the two screens. But their ratio—the projector’s measured full-on/ full-off contrast ratio—should be the same regardless of screen size. The Minolta LS-100 light meter we use is something of an industry standard. It’s rated down to a minimum resolution of 0.001 foot-lamberts, although clearly even a minor error at that level can have a big effect on the measured full-on/full-off contrast ratio since it’s in the denominator of the calculation. When the black levels of projectors were invariably 0.003 ft-L and above, we weren’t too concerned about this. But when they sometimes extend to 0.001 ft-L or below, it’s a concern. And even assuming perfect meter accuracy, a reading of 0.001 ft-L could mean an actual value of slightly below or slightly above that number, since the meter rounds off the result to the nearest three decimal places. The difference between a black level of 0.0007 ft-L and 0.0014 ft-L can be significant. If

it’s not significant in the subjective visible result (that will, after all, be…um, subjective), then at least it will be to manufacturers who sweat blood to get to the lowest blacks and buyers who are searching for the state of the art in black levels. The technique described below is applicable only to projectors. It will become obvious why it is not applicable to one-piece displays such as flat-panel plasmas or LCDs. To minimize the meter issues described above, we first measure the peak white and black levels off the screen. If the black level, taken over several readings, is a consistent 0.002 ft-L or above, that’s the reading we use. If it’s less, we then position a smaller screen close enough to the projector to produce an image that’s approximately 18 inches wide. (The small screen is actually a small sample of the same Stewart Studiotek 130 material used for the big screen.) Without changing the picture or zoom settings on the projector, we take another set of peak white and video black readings, this time on the small screen. Because these numbers will both increase proportionally on the small screen, the readings will be dramatically higher than on the big screen. Most significantly, the small screen black level will be well above the meter’s 0.001 ft-L minimum sensitivity. This greatly reduces the potential for meter error. We now calculate the full-on/full-off contrast ratio using the readings from the small screen. With this number and the peak white level on the large screen we can calculate the black level we would measure on the large screen if we had a meter with minimum sensitivity well below 0.001 ft-L. Here’s a real example from our recent review of the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 6500 UB LCD projector (August 2009). It shows how our published result for black level can sometimes extend to more than three decimal places. With the dynamic iris engaged and in the low lamp setting, the peak white level on the big screen measured 14.15 ft-L and the black 0.001 ft-L, for a full-on/full-off contrast ratio of 14,150:1. However, on the small screen, the corresponding readings were 146.6 ft-L and 0.014 ft-L, for a full-on/full-off contrast ratio of 10,471:1. Taking the latter as the more precise peak contrast ratio (since it uses a black level measurement well within the meter’s comfortable accuracy range), together with the 14.15-ft-L peak white reading on the big screen, gives a bigscreen black level of 0.0014 ft-L. This indicates that the 0.001-ft-L black level reading on the big-screen included a rounding-down error that made the result look slightly better than it actually was—although 0.0014 ft-L is still an excellent result.—TJN

Correction In our January 2010 issue, we forgot to place a Top Pick ticket on one of our speaker reviews that earned the designation. It was the Paradigm Millenia 20 Hybrid Speaker System. We sincerely apologize for the oversight.

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Netflix and Blockbuster Shift to Streaming


etflix and Blockbuster are busy cutting deals to ensure that their video rental businesses will remain healthy as consumers shift from discs to video streaming and on-demand delivery. Ironically, the Blu-ray player is one of the most promising vehicles for streaming. That’s why Best Buy’s house-brand BD players now support Netflix. There are two key distinctions between the Insignia NSWBRDVD advanced Blu-ray player ($200) and the Insignia NS-BRDVD3 connected Blu-ray player ($150). The advanced model has Wi-Fi connectivity, while the connected one depends on Ethernet for its broadband connection. Also, the advanced player is the only one that decodes

DTS-HD Master Audio at full resolution. (The connected player decodes and outputs DTS-HD Master Audio as lowerresolution DTS core.) Both models are BD-Live compatible and ENERGY STAR certified. A firmware upgrade may be needed to activate the Netflix feature. Netflix is also finding its way into Sony’s PlayStation 3 gaming console. This allows Sony to catch up with Microsoft, whose Xbox has offered Netflix streaming for

the past year. To activate Netflix, you’ll need to load a special Blu-ray Disc into the console. The disc itself is free, but you’ll have to pay a minimum of $8.99 per month for a Netflix membership. Nintendo’s Wii may also hop onto the Netflix bandwagon. Other Netflix vehicles include Samsung Blu-ray players, TiVo DVRs, Roku digital video players, and TV models by LG, Sony, and VIZIO. You can also stream Netflix on PCs and Macs. Meanwhile, Blockbuster— which has already ceded its former number-one status in disc rentals to Netflix—is following Netflix into TiVo DVRs. Why stream from Blockbuster On Demand instead of Netflix? Well, Blockbuster doesn’t charge a monthly membership fee.

Instead, you can just rent individual titles for $3.99 (for the hot new stuff ) or $2.99 (catalog). If you happen to be visiting your local brick-and-mortar Blockbuster, you can buy a TiVo there. Eligible models are the TiVo Series2, Series3, HD, and HD XL. An array of Samsung products also support Blockbuster streaming, including several HDTVs, three Blu-ray players, and four compact systems with integrated Blu-ray drives. Rental pricing is the same as above, but you can also buy movies priced between $7.99 and $19.99 each. You can access rented or purchased titles via Samsung’s

16 FEBRUARY 2010 &

Internet@TV feature or by hitting a button on the Blu-ray or HTIB remote. Samsung BD players will also be sold in Blockbuster stores. In related Samsung news, the company’s HDTVs will support Amazon Video On Demand through the Internet@TV feature. The Amazon catalog contains more than 50,000 titles—although only 2,000 are in HD. Pricing averages around $3.99 for hot titles, but there are also 99-cent specials and even some free material. Eligible models include Samsung’s LCD and plasma HDTVs in Series 650 and up, and LED-backlit LCDs in Series 7 and up. These also support Blockbuster. The next step in streaming’s evolution would be access rights across many platforms. Pay one price, and you could access the title via the Web, cable on demand, or any portable device. Disney’s Keychest will probably become the first such scheme to reach fruition. A competing approach—the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE)—is being developed by Sony Pictures, several other studios, Comcast, and Intel. Video streaming seems like it’s about to win new users on a grand scale. But what would happen to that trend if Internet service providers suddenly decided to charge more to users of high-bandwidth video services? That’s exactly what cable and telecom ISPs are threatening to do if the federal government imposes Net neutrality regulations. Since high-def programming at a high data rate requires much more bandwidth than typical standarddef YouTube fodder, rumors of Blu-ray’s demise may be premature.

picture simulated

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LG PROMISES 40-INCH OLED TV BY 2012 While other manufacturers have scaled back their plans—and promises—for next-generation OLED flat-panel display technology, LG is going full-steam ahead. At press time, a 15-inch model was due in late 2009, rising to 20-plus inches in 2010, 30-plus inches in 2011, and 40-plus inches in 2012. However, these sets will be pricey, so LG’s secondary goal is to bring prices down. The company predicts that OLED will become more affordable than conventional LCD by 2016. OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode and promises better picture quality than current liquid crystal displays (LCDs).

OLED CHARGES AHEAD What’s in Pioneer’s Pro Blu-ray Player? The Pioneer BDP-V6000 Blu-ray player ($999) is the company’s first pro-level model. So what’s in it for you, the consumer-level user? It has an RS-232C control port, enhanced search options, no region-code limits, 30/25/24-fps playback, a

pro interface to facilitate setup and playlist operation, power-on start, tray lock, front-panel key lock, and no manufacturer power-on logo. The product is designed for use in universities, kiosks, museums, trade shows, and video walls.

This Just In ... NBC Universal might get swallowed up by Comcast. This would give the cable operator a major motion picture studio and dozens of TV and cable networks...

Blu-ray Player Pricing has dropped a lot, but it needs to drop further, says a Retrevo study. The study points to a magic $150 point cited by 34 percent of respondents. Consumers need effective demos—nearly half of those surveyed had never seen a movie on Blu-ray...

Wal-Mart is reducing its amount of retail space for DVDs and Blu-ray Discs as part of an effort to emphasize bestselling products and de-emphasize others. Redbox kiosks placed near store entrances will take up some of the slack...

Most Slingbox Owners, 70 percent of them, use the

product strictly as a home networking device. However, the point of Slingbox devices is to access your home video feed from a broadband connection anywhere in the world...

Despite drops in TV pricing, shoppers have other things on their minds. In an NPD Group survey of 3,000 consumers, 77 percent cited screen size as a key consideration, with about a quarter of them seeking screens that were 50 inches and up. Another 71 percent considered higher resolution to be important. Prices are falling rapidly, with the average price of 50- to 52-inch sets down from $1,941 to $1,409 in the first nine months of 2009, and the average price of 40- to 42-inch sets down from $1,150 to $838. The real

significance of lower prices is that they’re helping consumers get more of what they want: a big, sharp picture.

is already Blu-ray compatible, but what about Xbox? Here’s Steve Ballmer’s cryptic response: “Well, I don’t know if we need to put Bluray in there. You’ll be able to get Blu-ray drives as accessories”...

Rovi and its Connected Platform will access video, music, and photos stored on Windows 7 PCs. Rovi is also popping up in Onkyo A/V receivers and Samsung products...

Heads Rolled at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) as the studios uneasily eyed their downloadable future. Three key staffers were fired from antipiracy operations. The new folks will avoid using the term “antipiracy” in favor of the new buzz phase, “content protection”...

Verizon and AT&T, via FiOS and U-verse, are the most highly regarded content providers in the nation, according to J.D. Power and Associates. However, satellite and cable operators are racking up improved customer satisfaction rankings as well, thanks to reduced outages and shorter tech-support holding times...

New York Shoppers

will make its U.S. debut this year. The DVR-capable TV uses the same Cell microprocessor that animates the Sony PlayStation 3...

are excited about the 24-hour Best Buy opening in Union Square (on the former site of a Circuit City store). Best Buy promises a “vibrant atmosphere around the clock” with “energized service day or night”...

3-D Video

Thiel Audio,

Toshiba’s Cell TV


Windows 7

is three to four years away, says Panasonic. Several manufacturers have shown 3-D products at trade shows, but the lack of a standard— and multiple standard-setting bodies—make the short-term forecast partly cloudy...

Hitachi showed a Full Parallax 3-D TV at a recent Japanese trade show. The demo unit was only 10 inches, but it operated without those annoying glasses...

18 FEBRUARY 2010 &

in the wake of Jim Thiel’s passing, will continue to apply his “advanced driver, crossover, and cabinet designs to future products,” says president Kathy Gornik. “We are very fortunate that Jim carefully documented all of his research and design parameters”...

Watch your TV... We'll watch your TV's back. Your home theater is your passion. You’ve spent thousands of dollars on equipment and countless hours on research and installation… How are you protecting this investment? Power fluctuations are a leading cause of equipment malfunction. Unfortunately, the demands on our antiquated power grid increase daily, meaning that the threat of damage from bad power is here to stay. With APC AV Power Solutions, you can eliminate bad power as a source of AV signal degradation by filtering out noise and regulating the voltage. Some advanced models even offer battery backup power to reduce interruptions when the power goes out. The new S20 provides multiple options for managing the unit and monitoring environmental conditions, which can reduce service calls and improve the performance of your system. The S20 is also easily integrated and managed with Crestron, AMX, and any other whole-home automation network or vendor. Designed to maximize your home theater experience, APC AV Power Solutions boast the engineering expertise to guarantee protection of your investment against the dangers of unstable power. More than 30 million customers already trust us to protect their PCs from power problems. You can trust us to protect your home theater. Go to for more information.

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BY Scott Wilkinson

Should I Go Blu? WE WELCOME QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS. If thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s one thing Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve learned in 20 years as a home theater journalist, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s that people have questionsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;lots of questions. This is no big surprise, since using the average home theater is far more complicated than TV watching used to be, and itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been getting more and more frustrating ever since VCRs started blinking â&#x20AC;&#x153;12:00.â&#x20AC;? To address this ongoing need, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be answering readersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; how-to and technically oriented questions in this column. Questions regarding the magazineâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s content will continue to be addressed in â&#x20AC;&#x153;HT Lettersâ&#x20AC;? and should still be sent to But if you have a how-to or technical home-theater question, please send it to me at

Blu-ray Shy Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d like your thoughts on Toshibaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s XDE DVD players. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m hesitant to fully adopt Blu-ray; Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve had a PS3 from the beginning but no standalone player. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m thinking of replacing my worn-out upconverting DVD player with an XDE model, but Toshiba is quick to point out that it doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t output or produce native HD content. Seeing how fiberoptic Internet speeds of 100 Mbps are within reach, should one really look at Blu-ray with all the trappings that come with it? Gregory Nils Johnson

I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t recommend Toshibaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s XDE DVD players because the quality of their upconversion is poor. This is especially odd because the companyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s SRT upconversion technology in some of its LCD TVs is outstanding. However, even that is no match for real HD content. Why are you hesitant to adopt Blu-ray? You have a PS3, so you can play Blu-ray Discs no problem. Blu-rayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s picture quality is way better than any upconverting DVD player. As for online content delivery, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not a big fan yet. From what Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve seen, the picture quality is not great due to high compression. If you want the best picture quality you can get from commercial media, Blu-ray is it. [P.S., Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m jealous. 100 Mbps fiberoptic isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t within view, let alone within reach where I live!â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Ed.] Generous Offer I currently have a B&K AVR 507S2 A/V receiver. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a great A/V receiver, but it doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have HDMI, DTS-HD Master Audio, or Dolby TrueHD. When I purchased this A/V receiver, I was told I could upgrade when possible. Now B&K says this isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t possible and is willing to give me a $1,000 credit toward a new B&K

AVR. What can I do to get these features? Or do I have to buy a new receiver? Kevin Bussey

Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no way to upgrade your current receiver to add HDMI or, by extension, advanced audio decoding, because it would require that you change the hardware configuration. A $1,000 credit toward a new B&K receiver is generous, and the current 7.1-channel AVR 707 and 5.1-channel AVR 705 do have HDMI, but they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t currently decode DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD. (B&K

says it will add this capability in a firmware update in early 2010.) These AVRs have multichannel analog inputs and can accept PCM via HDMI, so you can get highresolution audio from a Blu-ray player into the AVR in either of those ways. However, to do this, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll need a player that has multichannel analog outs and/or can decode DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD to multichannel PCM. Most current Blu-ray players can do this PCM conversion, but not all of them offer multichannel analog outputs. On the other hand, the AVR 707 lists for nearly $4,800 and the AVR 705 for $4,500, so even with $1,000 off, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d still be spending well over $3,000. There are plenty of great AVRs that cost a lot less than that and provide all the advanced audio decoders. On the third hand, if you really like your AVRâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sound, B&Kâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s current models probably sound similar, and if you


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Televisions Have Evolved. Has Your Furniture?

ASK HOME THEATER don’t mind spending the extra dough, I see no reason not to go for it. Too Bright! My retailer recommends obtaining at least 40 foot-lamberts in a home theater setup to get that pop in the picture. However, other sources say the cinema standard is 16 ft-L. Projectors such as those from JVC, Sony, and Optoma don’t have the light output to produce 40 ft-L even on a modest 100-inch screen. You need an expensive projector with a 2,000-lumen output to achieve this goal. What’s the optimal foot-lambert value to shoot for? Raghu Pulluru

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With front projectors, 40 ft-L is ridiculous. The cinema standard is 16 ft-L, and that’s what I strive for in a home theater as well. Of course, this assumes a completely dark room, which is required for any front-projection system. Even with flat panels, 40 ft-L is too bright, at least in a dark room. THX recommends 30 ft-L for LCDs and plasmas, again in a dark room. If you have unavoidable room light, the panel can be brighter. Too Loud! The sound level of TV commercials is outrageous! My normal volume setting is 25, but when commercials come on, I have to lower the level to 3 or 4 (or mute). Are there any TVs or HTIB systems that automatically adjust the sound level to combat this problem? David Hicks

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I know of three systems that do exactly what you want: Audyssey Dynamic Volume, Dolby Volume, and SRS TruVolume. All are OEM systems—that is, they are licensed to manufacturers who integrate them into their products. Many Denon, Integra, and Onkyo AVRs provide Audyssey Dynamic Volume. You can find Dolby Volume in a growing number of A/V receivers and surround processors, including the Harman/Kardon AVR 7550HD, Arcam FMJ AVR600, and AudioControl Concert AVR-1 receivers, as well as Toshiba’s REGZA ZV650 series of LCD HDTVs. SRS TruVolume is available in nearly all Samsung and VIZIO TVs as well as VIZIO soundbars. I know of no HTIBs that provide any of these features. SRS is about to introduce an outboard volume leveler called MyVolume that connects between a cable or satellite receiver and the TV. Three versions are planned—HDMI, analog, and SCART (a European connection). All three can handle only two-channel audio. If multichannel audio arrives via HDMI, it passes through the device without processing. A multichannel version of the algorithm is finished, but it won’t be implemented in these first products.

Keystone Kops I am building a dedicated home theater, and I have completed most of the design work. One of the last details is the projector position. I have a 100-inch 16:9 screen and a Panasonic PT-AE3000U projector. I’ve read that it’s better to shift the image optically rather than use keystone correction, so I’m considering having the projector mounted lower from the ceiling. How important is it to reduce or eliminate keystone versus image shifting? Should I position the projector so that keystone is zero? Also, how important is the distance between the screen and the projector? Currently, the plan is within the recommended range of 10 to 19 feet for a 100-inch screen. Charles Ballaro

First, let me clear up any confusion about the function of keystone and image shifting. Keystone is a setting found in most projectors that compensates for non-perpendicular placement. If the axis of the projector’s light path isn’t perpendicular to the screen, the image won’t be rectangular—one side will be taller than the other and/or the top or bottom will be wider than the other. Keystone correction compensates for this by digitally processing the image to form a rectangle. By contrast, optical image shifting (sometimes called lens shifting) simply moves the entire image up, down, right, or left to align it with the screen. This lets you place the projector off center with respect to the screen and still align the image with the screen. In this case, if the light path is perpendicular to the screen, no keystone correction is required. You should avoid keystone correction at all costs. The digital processing it employs reduces resolution and can introduce ugly artifacts. You should mount the projector so that its light path is perpendicular to the screen. Then you can use lens shift to align the image with the screen. As for the distance between the projector and the screen, which is called the throw distance, it’s better to place the projector as far as possible from the screen. This allows the light to pass through a smaller area in the center of the lens, which results in less potential for chromatic aberration. D Is an Excellent Grade I’m thinking about purchasing the Rotel RSP-1570 surround processor, and I’ve noticed that all the company’s latest amplifiers (and the flagship RSX-1560 A/V receiver) use Class D technology. Is this a move we’re likely to see from other manufacturers given how well the energyefficiency story plays in our increasingly green world? Does the technology sacrifice any performance?

22 FEBRUARY 2010

ww &

Steve Skaff

I suspect we will indeed see more Class D amps exactly because they generally are far more energy efficient than other technologies. For those who aren’t familiar with this type of amplifier, it’s quite different than traditional power amps, which strive to increase the amplitude of the analog input signal without changing the shape of the waveform. A Class D amp converts the input signal into a train of very high-frequency pulses of constant amplitude but varying width, a process called pulse-width modulation (PWM). The varying pulse width represents the input signal’s waveform. (PWM isn’t the only modulation technique that Class D amps use, but it would be impractical to explain the others here.) The pulses can then by their on-off nature be efficiently amplified, filtered to recover the original wave shape, and an analog signal is then output at a higher power than the input signal. This process can be very efficient—typically in the 90-percent range—whereas conventional power amps are normally less than 50-percent efficient, dissipating most of their power as heat. Thus, Class D amps can be built much smaller and lighter, and they run much cooler than conventional amps. This is why the amps in many if not most modern subwoofers are now class D. Some people say that Class D amps sacrifice sound quality, which is true if they’re not designed or implemented well. But recent advancements have overcome this problem. For example, the Pioneer Elite SC AVRs use Bang & Olufsen’s ICEpower Class D technology, and they sound great to me and many other reviewers. Of course, it all depends on how the amp is designed and built. Manufacturers have less experience with Class D than other technologies, so it’s certainly possible to find Class D amps that sound like crap. In the Long Run I have a 25-foot HDMI cable that runs from my Onkyo TX-SR576 A/V receiver to an LCD TV. However, it only delivers audio and no video to the TV. The manufacturer told me that the receiver’s HDMI output is limited to 15 feet. I know there’s no problem with the HDMI cable because it works when I connect the output from my AT&T U-verse box directly to the TV. Is it possible to boost the HDMI output from the Onkyo receiver? If not, how do I find information about the output on other A/V receivers in order to find a model that delivers a signal that can reach 25 feet? Jim Fanucchi

Unfortunately, I don’t know of a way to determine whether a particular AVR will drive an HDMI cable of a given length. Twenty-five feet is generally considered too long for an HDMI connection to work reliably

from many devices, although I have a 10-meter Ultralink HDMI cable that seems to work fine with most of my equipment. And your cable works with the AT&T box, so it’s capable of conveying HDMI over that distance. One solution is an HDMI booster or extender from companies like Gefen, Key Digital, and DVIGear, but they generally cost more than $100—sometimes a lot more. Most of these products use Cat-5 or fiberoptic cable for very long runs. Another option is the PureLink HDC Fiber Optic HDMI Cable System, which uses fiberoptic cable to send HDMI up to 100 feet; the 33-foot length is $550. [Still another option is an HDMI cable with a built-in amplifier, which introduces no additional HDMI handshakes. In my theater, I use the amplified Silver Serpent Reference from with great results. It’s available in runs from 26 to 49 feet, with a price range of $150 to $220.—Ed.]

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Digital All the Way I own a Panasonic PT-AE3000U projector, and I just upgraded my A/V receiver to a Pioneer Elite SC-05 for DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD, and PCM decoding. I prefer to have the receiver do the decoding or have my Panasonic DMP-BD55 Blu-ray player decode to PCM and send it via HDMI to the SC-05. In my tests, the sound quality is certainly better this way than it is using the 7.1-channel analog outs on the DMP-BD55 to the 7.1-channel ins on my older receiver. I assume that’s because the analog inputs bypass any speaker, EQ, or processing settings. I’ve heard that running video signals through the receiver can degrade the video quality. If I use the SC-05’s HDMI switching capability, will I notice any video degradation? If I want optimal sound quality, I don’t see any way around using the SC-05 as an HDMI switch because I would only get lossy Dolby Digital or DTS if I ran the HDMI signal directly to the projector and used the player’s coaxial digital output to the SC-05 for audio.

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The analog inputs of most receivers are, as you state, simple bypass inputs, which eliminates bass management, equalization, etc. Many Blu-ray players do offer bass management for their analog outputs, but it’s usually less flexible than you’ll get from your A/V receiver. Some receivers do, in fact, degrade the HDMI video that passes through them, but the SC-05 isn’t one of them, so no worries there. You are correct that the only way to hear the advanced codecs in all their glory via HDMI is to send them as bitstreams or decoded PCM from the player to the receiver. That’s certainly how I’d go in your case.

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Loudspeakers Don’t Underinvest in Your Surround System

BY Mark Fleischmann

• Revel Ultima2 Salon2 Speaker System

• Definitive Technology Mythos

STS SuperTower Speaker System

• Infinity Classia C336 Speaker System


ome theater has transformed loudspeakers in nearly the same way it transformed TV. As screens have gotten bigger, the stereo soundstage has expanded into a surround soundfield. Wall-mounted HDTVs can now mate with in-wall, on-wall, or soundbar speakers. Even the higher performance of HDTV finds an analog in lossless surround for movies and music. Despite these advances, loudspeakers remain unpopular with some people. They have practically become home theater deal breakers. Consumers who are captivated by 1080p plasmas and LCDs routinely underinvest in surround sound. Some people will only connect a pair of speakers, while others dispense with outboard audio systems

altogether and rely on built-in TV speakers. Yet audio is half of home theater. Without a good speaker system and amplification, you lose much of what filmmakers intended you to hear, like surround effects and bass extension. You can pretty much kiss your relationship with music goodbye too. Why aren’t more people breaking down the doors of A/V specialty retailers? Many of them still think of speakers as bulky, décorunfriendly, expensive objects. They may not know that the market is swarming with speaker packages that are svelte, attractive, and reasonably priced. People know that today’s TVs are different. But they’re not so sure about speakers. If you’d rather watch movies on a 60-inch plasma than on a 2-inch iPod screen, you’d

rather hear them in full-bodied surround than through TV speakers. You may even be a surround buff and not know it. The question is what kind of speakers you need. Floorstanding Speakers

The largest speakers typically fit into surround systems as a vestige of the old stereo pair. Floorstanders, also called towers, may have little low-frequency extension or a lot. Some even incorporate powered subwoofers. However, it’s crucial to note that you don’t need floorstanders to put together a great surround system. If the primordial memory of floor-hogging speakers has put you off surround, dismiss that old stereotype from your mind. There are plenty of compact

24 FEBRUARY 2010 &


DCM proves that a good ear matters more than fancy materials when you’re designing a budget speaker set. These speakers have a pleasant and versatile midrange with modest bass and high-frequency extension. Reviewed November 2007 HSU Research HB-1 Speaker System, $1,124 as reviewed

Manufacturers who know what they’re doing can achieve greater transparency by using pricier materials and more elaborately constructed enclosures. But the HB-1’s sheer clarity, and the well-organized manner in which it communicates, makes nearly all similarly priced—and quite a few higherpriced—products look like underachievers. Reviewed March 2007

JBL ES20 Speaker System, $1,746 as reviewed

The JBL ES20 system delivers a refined top end that is nearly impossible to find elsewhere in this price range. How much of that is attributable to the super-tweeter may remain one of life’s mysteries. This is an excellent way to get a starter system started. Reviewed September 2008 JBL Control NOW AW Speaker System, $2,034 as reviewed

This is an inspired response to marketing imperatives for a go-anywhere speaker. It has an uncanny way of knitting the soundfield into a seamless whole without any speaker calling attention to itself. These speakers will fulfill their destiny in a variety of multizone audio applications. Reviewed February 2009 Paradigm Special Edition SE 1 Speaker System, $2,344 as reviewed

Replaced with HB-1 Mk 2 Speaker System, $1,124

PSB Alpha B1 Speaker System, $1,336 as reviewed

The Alpha B1 offers greater detail than the older Alpha monitor. But it still retains the original’s generous and musically adept soundstage. It’s a classic champagne-performance, beer-budget speaker system. Reviewed February 2007 Mordaunt-Short Alumni Speaker System, $1,470 as reviewed

Mordaunt-Short puts its 40 years of longevity to good use in this modestly priced sat/sub set. This company knows what music lovers want, and it delivers with these beautiful, well-made, and terrific-sounding speakers. Reviewed March 2008

The Paradigm SE 1 and SE SUB don’t just sound like far more expensive products—they also look like ‘em. The Special Edition belongs on anyone’s short list of affordable, highperformance speakers. Reviewed February 2010 Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 Speaker System, $2,495 as reviewed

Paradigm’s fourth-generation revamp of its reference speaker uses better materials and deploys them more creatively than in the past. This system is recommended for the discerning listener with a limited budget. Reviewed March 2007 Replaced with Reference Studio 20 v.5 Speaker System, $2,499

for good blending, while still optimizing placement for low-bass smoothness and extension. This can be challenging. Sat/ sub sets range widely in price and performance. Consumers often confuse them with the low-end speakers that come with budget in-a-box systems, but the best sat/ sub sets can be great performers. Whether you wall-mount them or place them on skinny stands, they are one of the best ways to add a stealthy surround system to a flatpanel HDTV. Center Speakers

Horizontal dedicated centers are a throwback to the days when bulky TVs ruled the roost. Their persistence in the market is rooted in the popular misconception that only a horizontal speaker can serve in the center position. The people who design and market them know better. Dedicated centers usually have a left-to-right woofer-tweeter-woofer driver array that’s prone to horizontal lobing. Lobing is the result of closely spaced drivers’ propensity to sum and cancel each other, which causes uneven response from seat to seat around the room. Better center speakers mitigate the problem with a vertically stacked midrange and tweeter or different crossover points for the individual woofers. When a woofer-tweeter-woofer speaker operates vertically, what had been undesirable lobing can be seen as a possibly desirable limiting of vertical dispersion, which can reduce ceiling and floor reflections. The best center speakers duplicate the sonic characteristics of your front left and right speakers. An exact duplicate, placed with the same orientation, works especially well. Dipole/Bipole Surround Speakers

Dipole/bipole surround speakers involve one or more drivers that are mounted on opposite sides of the enclosure. The speakers place the listener in a diffuse field, which prevents surround effects from calling attention to themselves. In dipole designs, front output and rear output are out of phase with each other, while they’re in phase in bipole operation. Some switchable models can operate as dipole, bipole, or monopole (meaningful output from a single direction only). Soundbar Speakers

including center and surround. My reference system uses five identically matched monitors with limited but significant bass response and (sometimes) a sub.

speaker systems that provide excellent performance. Monitor Speakers

This recording studio term is, somewhat arbitrarily, our official name for stand-mount speakers. They’re also known as bookshelf speakers, although a shelf is an acoustically undesirable place for any ambitious juggernaut of song. Again, low-frequency response varies. Monitor speakers can serve in any position,

Satellite/Subwoofer Sets

Even smaller than monitors, compact satellites partly or wholly depend on their subwoofers for bass response. As more of the upper bass range is assigned to the sub, it becomes more localizable. The sub should sit as close to the center speaker as possible

This rapidly emerging product category provides a one-speaker stereo or surround sound solution (or two, with external sub). Well, maybe it’s more of a faux-surround solution. Implementations range from low end to bleeding edge. Most include some kind of surround simulation or processing, which is typically of limited effectiveness. This might be the right surround solution for a bedroom system or summer cabin—but for your main system, you can get better performance from a well-matched speaker package and A/V receiver. 25 &

LOUDSPEAKERS BUYER’S GUIDE LOUDSPEAKERS MIDRANGE Focal Dôme Speaker System, $2,599 as reviewed

The Dôme sound is strong, with top-to-bottom consistency that’s rare in a sat/sub set. These speakers make the case for their category so convincingly that you may just decide that your system doesn’t need bigger ones after all. Reviewed January 2010

Dynaudio Focus 110 Speaker System, $4,750 as reviewed

Definitive Technology Mythos STS SuperTower Speaker System, $4,355 as reviewed

These towers are well made, cunningly engineered, and elegant. When you combine them with the Mythos Nine, they are excellent storytellers, especially with the parts of a story that require credible reproduction of the human voice. Reviewed March 2009

Dynaudio delivers one of the strongest compact systems in the Focus 110. If you have a large music library, you’ll be surprised what treasures these speakers will unearth. Reviewed September 2007

Infinity Classia C336 Speaker System, $4,494 as reviewed Boston Acoustics Reflection RS 260 Speaker System, $2,900 as reviewed

The RS system’s custom-designed woofers and tweeter produce a polite top end with a fully fleshed-out midrange. With the VPS 1000 sub dispersing its low frequencies, it can sound like there are two subs in the room. At this price, you couldn’t get better value for your money. Reviewed February 2010 Atlantic Technology System 4400 Speaker System, $3,350 as reviewed

Atlantic Technology’s System 4400 lends itself to superlatives. The price/performance ratio couldn’t be more favorable: This package is a stellar performer as well as a pretty unbeatable value. You could have a lot of fun with these speakers. You might even be moved. Reviewed December 2009 Boston Acoustics VS 240 Speaker System, $3,700 as reviewed

With this system, Boston Acoustics proves its reputation as one of the world’s best speaker makers for a new generation. The sheer originality that went into shaping this product makes us a little dizzy. You’ll want to hear what these speakers can do. Reviewed January 2009 Acoustic Energy Radiance 1 Speaker System, $4,200

With the Radiance line, Acoustic Energy lives up to its 20-year reputation for making fabulous loudspeakers. If you find your current speakers harsh, but you don’t want to give up extended frequency response, you may love the Radiance 1. Reviewed September 2009

The wellbalanced performance of these great-looking and well-made speakers will provide standout performance in all cinematic and musical applications. Infinity also deserves special commendation for its equalized R.A.B.O.S. sub, which will mitigate the bass irregularities that plague most rooms. Reviewed April 2009

Canton Ergo 620 Speaker System, $5,550 as reviewed

With the Ergo 620 system Canton gets the niceties right, like the look and feel, the quality of parts and workmanship, and the sheer dedication it takes to produce products of this quality—a dedication that is apparent in every detail. We loved ‘em. Reviewed January 2010

PSB G-Design Speaker System, $4,696 as reviewed

The G-Design series delivers finesse and impact that completely engulfs the room and elevates your listening experience. It’s no wonder PSB wins so many awards. Reviewed October 2007 PSB Imagine T Speaker System, $4,749 as reviewed

This PSB system is sweet and clean with music, and it’s capable of surprisingly forceful impact and wide dynamic range with film. Plus, it includes a subwoofer that is far more impressive than its price would suggest. The Imagines satisfied our audiophile itch and provided plenty of home theater thrills. Reviewed May 2009

Sonus faber Toy/REL T1 Speaker System, $6,044 as reviewed

The Sonus faber Toy speakers and REL T1 subwoofer make up this relatively small, attractive, unobtrusive-looking, and well-balanced system. It delivers nuance and delicacy with musical sources and head- and gut-throbbing punishment with effects-heavy movies. It’s a highly recommended system that proved difficult to return. Reviewed May 2009 Usher Be-718 Speaker System, $6,988 as reviewed

The Usher Be718 earns its high-end price point with its beauty, performance, and unerring competence. This is a brilliant product that we warmly and enthusiastically recommend. Reviewed May 2008

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On-Wall Speakers


In-wall speakers don’t need to be an acoustic compromise. Better ones include a back box or enclosure that prevents the wall cavity from turning into a resonating chamber. A few include features like flat-panel diaphragms or pivoting tweeters. Placement is crucial, so leave the installation to a professional custom installer with a thorough knowledge of acoustics.

Many speakers have keyhole mounts or threaded inserts, and some manufacturers design speakers expressly for on-wall use. They range in size, have shallow enclosures, and sound best when resting against the wall. Wall interaction (even when it’s deliberate) is problematic. You may prefer in-wall or other speaker types over on-wall designs.

The “point one” in a 5.1- or 7.1-channel array is a dedicated bass speaker. Nearly all subs come with internal amplification. You should note that amp specs given as “continuous” or RMS are less likely to be inflated than those given as “peak.” A few models have user-adjustable equalization that’s designed to overcome bass bloat. For more even, powerful bass, you can use more than one sub. Build Quality

LOUDSPEAKERS HIGH END Atlantic Technology 8200e Speaker System, $7,530 as reviewed

The 8200e communicates weight and scale at hushed, late-night volume levels. That sort of sonic dexterity is what we always want but don’t always get. This time, we have the best of both for an MSRP of less than $8,000 for the complete 5.1-channel speaker system. Reviewed July 2007 Thiel SCS4 Speaker System, $8,350 as reviewed

The SCS4 produces spacious soundstaging with supurb depth, width, and height independent of the speakers themselves. The Thiels sound so natural, it’s as if the speakers aren’t there at all. Reviewed April 2008 Sonics Amerigo Speaker System, $10,095 as reviewed

If music is an important part of your home theater viewing and/or listening experience, this is an easy-to-recommend system. Proceed with caution, however. Once you hear a truly high-performance system like the Sonics Amerigo, you might not want to settle for anything less. Reviewed February 2010 PSB Synchrony One Speaker System, $10,700 as reviewed

These speakers sound warm but not muddy, and clear but not brittle or harsh. The Synchrony One is yet another excellent speaker system from a company and designer that really knows what it’s doing. Reviewed December 2007

Paradigm Reference Signature S8 Speaker System, $15,195 as reviewed

The Reference Signature S8 system delivers dynamics with aplomb, and the seamless imaging from speaker to speaker is a testament to its design. The Signature series sounds effortless at any playback level and provides breathtaking imaging and incredible dynamics. Reviewed January 2009 Pioneer S-2EX Speaker System, $17,500 as reviewed

Pioneer ranks among the top of speaker manufacturers with its EX speakers. It earns its stripes with smoothness, spatial definition, and an ease of listening that is both comforting and addictive. Reviewed February 2007 Monitor Audio Platinum PL300 Speaker System, $25,650 as reviewed

We’d never recommend that anyone buy speakers sound unheard. But we do recommend a serious audition of the Platinums if you’re shopping for the best. Even if you’re only able to audition the PL300s alone in a two-channel setup and like what you hear as much as we did, you’ll be in heaven with the full surround package. Reviewed October 2009 Revel Ultima2 Salon2 Speaker System, $45,993 as reviewed

The Revel Ultima2’s sound is warm, extended, and vibrant. It reveals the complexity of the human voice as perfectly as the mechanical gyrations of a grand piano. Whether listening to vinyl in stereo, or watching the latest action movie on Blu-ray, the experience is always rewarding. Reviewed July 2009

Most manufacturers make speaker enclosures beyond a certain size out of MDF. Whether it’s covered with vinyl or veneer is more a question of appearance than sound. Don’t be ashamed about wanting attractive fit and finish. Along with size, it might be a deal-making or -breaking distinction. Smaller speakers are often made from plastic, which has its own inherent characteristics to try to manage. To prevent sound waves from enlivening resonances in the enclosures, good designers use a variety of design techniques, including internal bracing, thicker materials, or multiple layers of MDF and other materials. Designers may also ditch the rectangular solid for a curved surface, which helps prevent internal standing waves from developing. Most speakers use two or more drivers with an internal crossover. A two-way speaker includes a tweeter and a woofer, while a three-way adds a midrange driver and an extra crossover. Driver diaphragms may be made from a variety of materials, each with its own merits. Drivers may use domes (most tweeters), cones (woofers), or flat diaphragms. Tweeters are often recessed into waveguides that affect dispersion. A shallow waveguide allows wide dispersion; a deep one reduces side-wall and ceiling interaction. Horned speakers often reduce dispersion even further and are usually very efficient— they’ll potentially enable your system to play louder. All other things being equal, larger woofers produce lower bass. However, size is not the sole determinant of bass extension. Cabinet volume plays a role. So does the surround, which holds the outer edges of the driver, as well as the magnet, which propels it, not to mention the designer’s intention. Ports may enhance bass response at a certain frequency: make sure they’re never blocked by placement (although you may plug them to reduce bass at that frequency). If you want a sub-less system, scan our measurement charts for rolloff curves. Room acoustics and placement can strongly influence bass response. If possible, assess these things before you buy. Read speaker manuals, often available online, to find how far from the wall you should place the product. 27 &


Pioneer Elite EX Series S-IW691L In-Wall Speaker System, $10,197 as reviewed

IN-WALL/ON-WALL SPEAKERS Atlantic Technology IWCB-626 In-Wall Speakers, $875/each

The Atlantic Technology IWCB626 ranks high on our in-wall list of favorites. It reproduces stereo and multichannel music with a sound quality that’s more comparable to a freestanding model than a typical in-wall speaker. Reviewed September 2007 Sonance VP89 In-Wall Speakers, $2,850/pair

The Pioneer Elite EX SIW691L speaker achieves uncommon results. You can cram all of the available technology into a speaker, but the real test is listening in real-world conditions. In this case, the Pioneer in-wall speakers aced the exam. Reviewed June 2009

This is one of the best-sounding single-cabinet systems we’ve heard to date. It sounds just as good when you watch action-packed Hollywood blockbusters as it does with more intimate twochannel music. If you can’t deal with a full speaker setup, this is the soundbar for you. Reviewed August 2008


Sonance’s Visual Performance series in-walls are a good choice for a multiroom audio system or as a complement to a flat-screen display. We loved their crisp, clean, detailed sound with both music and movies. The included clamps and tabs make them a breeze to install. Reviewed September 2008 Paradigm Millennia Speaker System, $4,444 as reviewed

This speaker is at its best right where it counts, in the musically sensitive midrange, and the sub takes up the slack in the bass department. These are among the few wall-huggers that sound not just good but great. Reviewed November 2007 Paradigm Millenia 20 Hybrid Speaker System, $5,281 as reviewed

The Hybrids sound great and are a slick visual match for the latest ultra-thin HDTV. We would be hard-pressed to recommend a better-looking, better-sounding, and more affordable speaker system to match an ultra-thin HDTV. Reviewed January 2010


We measure and chart frequency response. Peaks and notches indicate the natural response of the drivers, effects of cabinet diffraction, crossover-related anomalies, and other quirks. A tolerance of +/–1 decibel is remarkably tight, while a tolerance of +/–6 dB is less so. We also measure sensitivity, which indicates how many decibels of sound pressure a speaker musters in free air with a 2.38-volt signal from 500 hertz to 2 kilohertz, measured from a distance of 1 meter. While 2.38 volts may sound like an

VIZIO VSB210WS High Definition Sound Bar Speaker System, $350

If you want to spend $350 to improve over built-in TV speakers and you don’t want to buy an A/V receiver, this soundbar and sub combo gets a lot of mileage out of that modest investment. It may be the ideal solution for a bedroom—or a bunch of bedrooms. Reviewed July 2009 ZVOX Z-Base 550 Single-Cabinet Surround System, $400

All in all, we were impressed by this system. If you’re tired of your TV speakers and want the simplest possible solution with the best sound we’ve heard under those circumstances, this is your ticket. Reviewed April 2009

Denon DHT-FS3 Soundbar, $1,199

When you consider the whole package of price, aesthetics, setup, and features, the DHT-FS3 strikes a nice balance among all of the elements that the general consumer will appreciate. Reviewed April 2008 Polk SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater Soundbar, $1,200

It’s safe to say that Polk Audio’s SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater is the most original and effective approach to one-speaker bar systems we’ve experienced. It boldly goes where no soundbar speaker has gone before. Reviewed January 2009 Phase Technology Teatro PC-3.0 Speaker System, $2,400 as reviewed

ZVOX 425 Soundbar, $600

If you’re looking for something simple and automatic to hang on the wall with a flat-panel TV, or you have to recommend a system to a relative or friend who will call you for help whenever he or she can’t figure out how to operate the system, this one should be on your short list. Reviewed July 2008

odd number, it’s equivalent to 1 watt into an idealized 8-ohm speaker. In an average room with speakers rated at 86 dB or higher, most A/V receivers can produce a satisfying volume level. When you specify in-room efficiency, room reflections and boundary gain boost the speaker’s output, which increases the rating by 2 or 3 dB for the same speaker. If you have a big room, you don’t necessarily need bigger speakers. Instead, you need speakers that are optimized for a balance of sensitivity and output capability, and often more potent amplifiers, as well.

It impressed us that the Teatro can produce a front soundstage as refined, intelligible, and just plain great-sounding as any other bar out there. It even competes effectively with high-quality conventional speaker packages in that respect. This is one bar a guy could like walking into. Reviewed May 2009

Impedance affects how a speaker interacts with the amplifier it is connected to. A lower number means the amp will have a tougher load to drive. Although manufacturers typically give a single number for nominal impedance, it varies according to frequency. The listed nominal impedance is, for the most part, a rough guide. An impedance of 6 to 8 ohms should be compatible with almost any receiver. An impedance rating of 4 ohms or lower calls for an appropriately rated receiver or power amp, especially if you run the speakers full range.

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LOUDSPEAKERS BUYER’S GUIDE Accessories and Connectivity

If you don’t mind placing your compact speakers a few feet out from the wall, you should invest in stands. Even a cheap particleboard stand serves the crucial function of keeping the tweeters at ear level. You can fill some stands with sand to make them more acoustically inert. Spikes or cones help couple the stand to the floor. This option helps level the speaker and gives it a stable, less resonant foundation, but it does little to stop transmitting bass frequencies to your downstairs neighbors. Manufacturers usually use binding posts as the speaker terminals. Carefully inspect the construction quality of speakers with spring-loaded wire clips since these signalstranglers break easily. Although binding posts vary in construction, most accept bare wire tips, hook-like spade lugs, banana plugs, or pin connectors. Bare wire is the most direct connection. The only drawback is that exposed copper corrodes over time. You can always restrip it, but gold connectors resist corrosion. A speaker may have an extra pair of binding posts, which enable biwiring or biamplification. Biwiring gives the low and mid/high sections each a direct path to the same amp channel, resulting in improved damping and other subtle improvements. You can achieve more robust dynamics with biamping, in which a separate amp channel serves each driver. This puts you in rack-fullof-amps territory. However, some receivers

do re-route the back-surround (sixth and seventh) channels, if unused, to biamplify the front left and right speakers. Speakers that have dual terminals usually come with detachable bridges, so you’re not obligated to use this feature. The amount of vital current-carrying material (e.g., copper or silver) and construction quality can vary widely among speaker cables. Make sure anything you buy is at least 16-gauge or lower (lower means thicker) for short runs. I recommend using 12-gauge or lower for long runs. Listening

You need only two crucial qualifications for listening. One is your physical ability to hear. And the other is your perception of what you hear. Never leave home without them. Having established that, be confident in your listening ability. Human hearing varies. Not only do individuals hear differently, but training and experience influence how we perceive what we hear. Really, you are the sole authority on what satisfies you. The most common listening mistake is to ignore the midrange in favor of splashy highs and powerful lows. Then you’ll end up with a sizzle-and-boom system. The most important stuff lies in the middle, where your hearing acuity is concentrated. Is the midrange peaky or recessed? Do voices sound natural, or do they sound nasal, congested, shrill, tubby, or veiled? Does dialogue sound consistently intelligible?

Listen for spatial character. The best speakers—even in just a stereo pair—can produce a convincing left-to-right soundstage, with front-to-back depth as well. Surround sound adds depth, which turns the soundstage into a soundfield. The soundfield should feel wide and deep and extend beyond the outer limits of the speakers. If panning sounds uneven, left to right or front to back, the speakers are not well matched. The wider the dynamics, the better. When a good amp drives good speakers, the sound doesn’t compress or break up at powerful peak moments. Great speakers work equally well at low-level resolution. They make a whisper audible and generate a palpable soundfield, even at low volumes. A great pianist once observed that the best pianos create a convincing pianissimo. The same is true of speakers. Part of listening involves feeling, a process that involves both conscious and subconscious thought. Trust your instincts. They may be a step or two ahead of what you’re consciously pondering. Watch out for fatigue and boredom. Either one can be a serious warning sign. More so than many other products, you must extensively audition speakers before you commit. You should either bring a lot of familiar material to the listening room or be certain that you’re getting a moneyback guarantee. Believe in your hearing, and the rest will follow.

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Speakers: Where Do I Put Them? Getting the Most Out of Your Sound

BY Darryl Wilkinson

• Paradigm SUB 25 Subwoofer

• B&W CM9

• Klipsch P-27S Surround

Speaker System

• Revel Ultima Studio2 Floorstander


everal years ago, I set up my current home theater room. While it wasn’t scheduled to be equipped with multitiered stadium seating, faux Art Deco design, or a popcorn machine, I did have the luxury of setting it up strictly for movie and music listening. It didn’t need to be compromised to serve any other purpose. Even before I started to set up my projector, I began by finding the best place for the speakers. But there was one important limitation: The speakers had to be far enough apart that I could place my 78-inch-wide projection screen between them. Not at all coincidentally, the choice of screen size was partially influenced by the spacing that good two-channel music listening requires. Of course, not all of you will have this luxury. But the placement of the speakers and the placement of the listener affects the sound you’ll hear. While necessity may require that you set up the speakers close to walls, they will nearly always sound better if you position them at least

a couple of feet away from the front wall and a similar (but not identical) distance from the side walls. (This does not apply to in-wall and on-wall speakers, which I won’t address here.) A few years back, home theater designer Russ Herschelmann wrote several columns on this

subject, which can be found at Without going into the depth of detail that Herschelmann presented, here are a few suggestions that are inspired by his articles: General Placement Tips

• The rules of thirds and fifths are

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often good starting places to determine speaker and listener placement. Position the speakers away from your walls at a distance that’s a multiple of thirds or fifths of the room’s dimension in that direction. For example, if a room is 20 feet long and 15 feet wide, locate the left and right front

speakers 4 feet (one fifth) from the wall behind them and 3 feet out (one fifth) from the left and right side walls. Then, locate the main listening seat 4 feet from the wall behind the listener (12 feet from the plane of the front speakers) or 8 feet from the wall (8 feet from the front speakers). • Try displacing the center speaker just a bit from the center of the room dimension. That is, instead of locating it 7.5 feet from each side wall of a 15-foot-wide room, locate it 7 feet from one wall and 8 feet from the other. Yes, this will slightly disturb the setup’s symmetry, but it could result in smoother response from the center speaker. • If at all possible, avoid locating the main listening seats up against a wall. Because of a well-known room effect (standing waves), low frequencies are emphasized near a wall. This listening position will seriously compromise any attempt at smooth, well-balanced bass. Front Speakers

• Sure, you will have a centerchannel speaker, but don’t use this as an excuse to put the left and right speakers 15 feet apart. To provide the best combination of stereo spread, imaging precision, and coherence with the picture, a good rule of thumb is to position the left and right front speakers so

that the distance between the two speakers is equal to or preferably a little less than the distance from each speaker to the listener. For instance, if your speakers are 7 feet apart, a distance of 8 to 9 feet from each speaker to the listener is excellent. You should avoid setting the speakers farther apart than the distance from each speaker to the listening position. • I recommend that you place the speakers at least 7 feet apart for any listening position that will be 10 to 12 feet from the screen of a one-piece television and no more than 10 feet apart. For a front-projection setup, you should position them no more than a foot or so to the left and right sides of the screen. • Many people sit too far from their TVs and speakers. For a 7-to-9-foot speaker spacing, I recommend that you sit at least 8 to 12 feet from the speakers. If you sit too close, the sound from each of the speakers’ drivers may not gel properly into a coherent whole. If you sit too far away, you’ll hear too much of the room. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll hear an amorphous blob of sound rather than a welldefined soundstage. • Compact speakers are often referred to as bookshelf models, but that designation is misleading. Most serious bookshelf speakers

aren’t designed to be used in a bookshelf at all. Instead, they work best when you place them upright on good (extra-cost) stands and place them a couple of feet or more away from any nearby walls, including the wall behind them. • Set up the speakers so that their drivers are aligned vertically. This will provide the smoothest off-axis response. Horizontal center speakers are an exception, but this arrangement can compromise the performance. The horizontal driver configuration in most center speakers is driven by aesthetic and marketing considerations, not the best sonic performance. • Many audiophiles like to set up their two-channel systems with the left and right speakers aimed straight ahead. Some (but not all) two-channel setups sound better this way. This is fine for a single listener, but it can be a disaster for several people watching a movie. If you’re seated in front of the left speaker, it will fire right at you. On the other hand, you’ll be so far off axis of the right speaker that you’ll rarely be aware of it. For a more uniformly distributed soundstage, try to aim the left and right speakers directly at a centrally located listening seat, or even at a point in space a couple of feet in front of it. You won’t achieve perfect

performance everywhere, but your family and friends will thank you anyway. • If there’s a deep, big-screen TV between the left and right front speakers, try to move the speakers out far enough so that their front baffles are further forward than the plane of the TV screen. This shouldn’t be difficult if you follow the recommendations above in regards to keeping the speakers away from the walls. If you keep the speakers as far away as possible from a TV, this will minimize acoustic reflections from the screen. • If you’re using a CRT TV, make sure your front speakers are magnetically shielded. For a modern digital television, such shielding is irrelevant. Surround Speakers

• Make sure you put your surrounds along the side or rear of your room. In particular, if you have a small HTIB system, don’t be tempted to forget the surrounds. The ambience and sense of space that properly positioned surrounds can provide can be even more impressive in an otherwise modest speaker setup than in a state-of-the-art system. • Place dipole surrounds directly to the sides of the main listening seats. For other types of surrounds, 110 to 120 degrees back from the front is recommended as the best location for a 5.1-channel system. But don’t be bound by convention. If your room is fairly narrow, you may find that side or near-side mounting makes the surrounds too prominent. Try moving them further back. Subwoofers

• I could fill an entire book with advice on subwoofer placement. Suffice it to say, you can’t just plunk a subwoofer down anywhere and expect to get the best from it. Experiment. Try different locations and live with each of them for a while. Listen for smooth, uniform response and good low-frequency extension without boom or one-note bass. Some rooms will resist a good result more than others, but after a time, you should be able to arrive at a satisfactory setup in nearly any room. 31 &

Configuring Speakers Optimizing your sound, one step at a time. BY Thomas J. Norton


etting all the pieces for that new system into your room is just the first step to home theater bliss. You’ll need to set up the A/V receiver’s inputs, position the speakers, and configure the AVR’s speaker adjustments for balanced sound before you get to movie time. I’ll frequently refer to your AVR, but the steps will be identical for a separates system with a surround processor and power amp. Configuring the system isn’t as complicated as many owner’s manuals make it seem. Most AVRs guide you through the operation through their onscreen setup menus by breaking the process down into organized, manageable steps. The process is basically the same for all systems: connect and set up the sources, connect and position the speakers, and set the A/V receiver’s speaker configuration controls. A growing number of A/V receivers also add automated setup and sophisticated room equalization to their list of features.

Source Setup In some A/V receivers, source setup is intuitive. You connect your DVD player to the DVD input, your TV to the TV input, your satellite box to the SAT input, and so on. However, some receivers may not label their inputs as DVD, SAT, TV, AUX, etc., but rather AUX 1, AUX 2, Digital 1, Digital 2, Component 1, Component 2, HDMI, etc. These receivers will ask you to designate which source you have connected to each of these inputs. For example, you might connect your satellite receiver to Component 1 and your Blu-ray player to HDMI. In most cases, the receiver will then let you rename these inputs so that its front-panel window will read Blu-ray and SAT instead of HDMI and Component 1. For analog video sources (composite, S-video, and component), you’ll not only find video jacks but also a choice of audio inputs, either analog or digital (optical or coaxial). Make sure that you assign the audio and video to the same input selection

in the menu, or you may find that when you select the input, you get audio but no video—or vice versa. If you want to listen to the new high-resolution lossless audio soundtracks that are found on most Blu-ray Discs—Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and multichannel PCM—you must use either multichannel analog connections from the player to the receiver (six separate analog leads) or an HDMI link. The old optical and coaxial digital inputs can only carry two-channel (stereo) PCM digital or multichannel as old school (lossy compressed) Dolby Digital and DTS. Some Blu-ray players offer multichannel analog audio outputs. But HDMI is the way to go if you want the best high-resolution audio and video, not to mention the easiest connection. HDMI can carry both audio and video from the source to the receiver on a single lead. You simply connect an HDMI cable between each source and the receiver, assign the

sources to the connected input when you set up the receiver (as in the above example, Blu-ray to HDMI), and you’re good to go. But with older sources, such as an old cable box that lacks an HDMI output, you’ll have to use separate audio and video connections. Some audiophiles argue that a two-channel CD coaxial (not optical) digital link sounds better than HDMI, but that’s a controversial discussion for another time.

Speaker Setup I’ll assume that you’ve properly positioned your speakers. (See Darryl Wilkinson’s “Speakers: Where Do I Put Them?” feature on page 30.) That means the left and right front speakers flank the screen symmetrically and are far enough apart to produce good separation but close enough together that there’s a center image and no hole in the middle when you listen to two-channel stereo. The surrounds will be positioned behind the listener. The recommended surround

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location (for a 5.1-channel setup) is generally 110 degrees from the center speaker (to the left and right and just slightly behind the main listening area). However, in some rooms, you may need to position them further to the rear. You should locate the subwoofer in the position that produces the deepest, tightest, most well-defined bass possible. If you haven’t determined this location yet—and most newbies have not—the process can involve a lot of trial and error. For your first try, choose a promising location; a common recommendation is between the center and right front speaker. If this doesn’t work as well as you’d like, move the sub around the room (with appropriate readjustment of the level, distance, and other setup controls in your AVR each time) until you find the best spot. Selecting the optimum location for the subwoofer is an art. Books have been written about it (well, many thousands of words at least). Many of you will be perfectly happy with the first

location you try. The location is usually influenced by practical room considerations, not to mention the demands of your in-house interior decorator! Others will fuss for weeks for that last ounce of bass magic. That’s up to you.

Speaker Configuration Once the speakers are in position, you’ll need to set up the system to account for a number of factors, including the distance of each speaker from the listener, how much bass you want each speaker to carry, how you want to redirect the bass, and what each channel’s playback level is. For this discussion, we assume that you’ll perform these adjustments in your AVR. Many disc players, both DVD and Blu-ray, also offer setup for these parameters. Most often, these only affect a player’s analog audio outputs. If you must use a multichannel analog connection from player to receiver, configuring the player may be the only way to dial in the settings for that source. Most receivers’ multichannel analog inputs offer little more than level adjustments. But for all other inputs, the receiver’s setup is by far the best way to go. In fact, most of you are unlikely to use the multichannel analog inputs at all. Most subwoofers have their own internal crossover networks to roll off the bass to the sub above a selected frequency. However, since you’ll use the receiver’s setup menus for this, you should set the subwoofer to bypass its own crossover. Some subs might also have a separate, unfiltered input for this purpose. If the sub doesn’t let you bypass its own crossover network, you should set it to the highest possible frequency so that it doesn’t interfere with the receiver’s crossover. Many receivers use the designations “large” and “small” for each speaker in their setup

menus. Selecting large allows the speaker to operate full range. Small redirects the speaker’s bass below the crossover frequency. If you have a subwoofer, the bass for the speakers designated as small is redirected to the subwoofer. If not, it’s redirected to the speakers that you’ve designated as large—most often these are the left and right front speakers. Some receivers complicate this by offering the option to redirect bass to both the subwoofer and the large speakers. We don’t recommend this option, since it often leads to muddled, overblown bass. Most (but not all) A/V receivers offer a range of crossover frequencies. When in doubt, 80 hertz—the frequency that THX often uses—is always a good place to start. It works well with most speakers. In fact, just because some of your speakers are full range, with very good bass response, doesn’t necessarily mean that you must designate them as large, or even that this will be the best choice if you have a subwoofer. You can select small for those bass-capable speakers as well and let the subwoofer handle all the deep bass—a setup that many of us prefer. Even speakers that offer more than sufficient bass for music can be overloaded with the bass from action soundtracks played back at high levels.

Distance, Levels, and Equalization The distance adjustments simply tell the receiver how far away the main seating position is from each speaker. This ensures that the sound from each speaker arrives at the listening position at the same time. Measure the distance from your favorite seat to each speaker and enter these values into the menu. All AVRs provide a test signal that circulates from channel to channel, along with controls to match the levels of each channel. You can either level-match by ear or with a sound pressure level (SPL) meter. Setup by ear is a quick and dirty option that can work reasonably well, but an SPL meter is far more accurate. There are a number of sources for these devices. RadioShack offers both analog and digital SPL meters for under $50. We

make odd choices for the generally recomsize of the individual mend the analog speakers in the system. An version—it’s only auto system might classify slightly cheaper but your L/R speakers, easier to use. Hint: capable of flat response Set the meter’s only down to perhaps 60 response to slow Hz, as large. But it has operation and no way to know that C-weighting. these speakers will Most A/V receivers overload easily with a now offer some form high-level, 30-Hz of automated, onboard signal. It might do the setup and equalizaRadioShack Analog Display tion, together with Sound Pressure Level Meter same with the center channel or the a microphone. The surrounds. While the auto setup effectiveness of this feature varfunction can be a blessing, it’s no ies from receiver to receiver, particularly in the low frequencies miracle. A little intelligent oversight is needed. If you want to where room compensation is drive all of your main speakers as most needed. Some receivers use small, just go into the menus after their own proprietary algorithms, the auto calibration is finished while others use third-party techand change the settings as you see nologies. Of the latter, the best fit. The same applies if you want known and most widely used is the surround levels a little higher Audyssey MultEQ. or if you want the subwoofer level There’s no guarantee that you’ll a little lower. All of the receivers like the results of auto equalizawe know of let you adjust tion, but if your receiver has this feature, you’ll at least want to try it the individual channel levels even after an out. The actual setup will vary automated calibration. from receiver to receiver, but the procedure is (usually) clearly There’s More? described in the owner’s manual and easily defeatable if you don’t There’s a wide range of care for the result. additional features on Many receivers also offer many receivers. Just a few manual equalization controls. But of these are the ability to unless you know what you’re choose different doing and have the right test tools, crossover frequensetting equalization by ear, cies for each particularly in a multichannel channel, various system, is a recipe for sonic forms of garbage. The auto system will dynamic almost always do a better job. volume and dynamic Audyssey Set-Up Mic Automatic Audio equalization, Calibration cross-converting all video sources to a single HDMI or component Some form of automatic audio output, built-in video processing, calibration is now almost universal in A/V receivers. All you different setups for multichannel and two-channel operation, need to do is set up the included different ways of treating the LFE microphone at the main listening seat, engage the auto setup feature, channel (the .1 channel in a and go make yourself a sandwich. 5.1- or 7.1-channel system), and The receiver generates a set of test multiple zones of operation. These features vary signifitones that determine all of the cantly from one design to another, important speaker calibration but they are rarely crucial to the settings: size, delays, levels, and, sometimes equalization as well. In basic setup. They sometimes clutter up the setup menus, but receivers that combine auto equalization with auto calibration, you can usually ignore them until you become familiar with your you can generally defeat the A/V receiver’s basic operation. equalization after setup, if you When you’re ready, feel free to prefer, while leaving the other experiment with one or more of calibration settings intact. The these advanced features, knowing only thing left for you to do is that you can always defeat them make the popcorn. later and go back to your first, Well, almost the only thing. trusted setup. These automatic systems often 33 &

Bass How deep is your love?

Pushing 3,000 watts of continuous power (7,500 watts Dynamic Peak) SUB 25 unleashes room-pounding bass accurate to a gruelling 9 Hz! In an average listening room, it can reproduce an incredible 125 dB without audible distortion. And there's the rub … the 'average' listening room. Even when the world's finest subwoofer is perfectly positioned, room dimensions, dead spots, archways, even furniture can turn the room into an additional instrument playing alongside musicians or movie scores with unwanted coloration and resonance. Bass sounds boomy with poor definition. You have the perfect sub, in a less than perfect room.

© Paradigm Electronics Inc.

You can pad the walls, trap the corners, remove the furniture, or you can let Paradigm's optional Perfect Bass Kit (PBK™) tackle the problem. Based on research conducted by the National Research Council, PBK™ analyzes the sub's response in your room, then sets about perfecting that response through scientific calculation!

Signature SUB 25 & Paradigm's Perfect Bass Kit™ The only solution for perfect bass

Optional Paradigm Perfect Bass Kit for real digital room correction

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PALISADES PARADISE pg.36 Technology serving design. &



www. ww w. stor st orem or emag em ags. ag s. com co m & www. ww w.fa w. fant fa ntam nt amag am ag.c ag .com .c om

DESIGN BY Kim Wilson PHOTOS Mark Schafer and Marc Stewart


omeowners love the convenience that technology provides, but many prefer to keep its presence at a minimum. Such was the case for this beautiful Southern California home in the upscale

Pacific Palisades area. “This project had a good-sized budget of $100,000 to provide wholehouse distribution of audio, video, phone, and data,” said Mark Schafer, president of Los Angeles–based Custom LA. “Still, we encountered a few challenges, such as the family room, where the client wanted a completely invisible home theater in a wide-open space.” The client’s request for a home theater that would be out of sight when not in use required a special lift and cabinet in the family room. Custom LA worked closely with the cabinetmaker, Design Support, Inc., to create a contemporary piece of furniture that could house a large Samsung 63-inch flat-panel HDTV, Artison Portrait LCR loudspeakers, a Sunfire True Sub Super Junior 8-inch powered subwoofer, Marantz five-disc CD changer, and a Samsung Blu-ray player. The team installed additional surround speakers in the ceiling. The result is decidedly retro. It hearkens back to the days of console TVs, where all the componentry was in a single decorative cabinet. The master bedroom also has a cabinet at the foot of the bed, which is designed to conceal a 40-inch LCD HDTV on a lift. A two-zone Marantz SR8002 A/V receiver with HD switching feeds both the master bedroom and the main theater in the family room. The Marantz receiver, along with an Apple TV, a dedicated DIRECTV H21 HD receiver (for XM Radio), and a Parasound Ztuner (for AM/FM) are located in the main equipment rack located in the garage. The rest of the rooms have dedicated DIRECTV receivers and distributed audio via a Sonance C4630 SE home audio system. The guest room has its own small system, which includes an LG 32-inch TV/DVD and a DIRECTV receiver, which is connected to its own auto switching amp.

COVERT OPERATION There’s more to this room than meets the eye. The non-traditional family room features a custom cabinet that holds a Samsung 63-inch flat panel, Artison loudspeakers, a Marantz five-disc CD changer, and more.

Home Theater Design February 2010 / 37

www. ww stor st orem or emag em & ag



An RTI system controls all of the equipment. The family room was

While the home is technically a remodel, 70 percent of the house was

outfitted with a T4 universal controller that has a 6.4-inch screen and was

reconstructed under the supervision of contractor Bill Morris and designed

programmed to operate both the local and wholehouse systems.

by Steven Reiman Designs. The whole project took close to a year and a

Individual T2-C handheld universal controllers (for local control) are located

half to complete. From the beginning, it was a conscious design decision to

in the master bedroom, the offices, the sitting room, and the gym. Two

have a fully integrated wholehouse A/V system, plus a dedicated home

RK3 in-wall universal controllers (with 3.5-inch screens) were installed in

theater. In spite of all the systems that are throughout the house, very little

the bar and kitchen. All of the remotes are attached to a single RTI XP-8

is actually visible at first glance.

remote control processor installed in the main rack, along with the

“We were extremely lucky to work with people that had a great sense

Sonance six-zone wholehouse audio system and a Vantage lighting

of design and shared our attention to detail,” concluded Schafer. “Our


systems are always designed with ease of use as a top priority, and we’re only satisfied when the customer loves it. The ability to install a system like this is a privilege.”

CONTACT Custom LA, Inc., (323) 876-3130,

SLIP AWAY When not in use, the flat panel in the bedroom (right) hides in its own lift cabinet. Even out in the open, the streamlined display on the kitchen counter (above) blends organically into its surroundings.

KIM WILSON, HTD EDITOR Home Theater Design is dedicated to helping you navigate the specialty A/V waters, including working with custom installers, retailers, designers, builders, and more. We go beyond the dedicated theater, and show you how to integrate the newest technology into your entire home.

READERS, WE NEED YOUR HELP! Are you a do-it-yourselfer or custom installer with a great theater to share with our readers? We’d love to hear from you. Please send your stories and photos to

38 Home Theater Design February 2010 / &

Modify. Elegant Audio/Video Furniture that Displays Your TV 3 Different Ways

Triple Play™ FP4858HG Universal Flat Panel Audio/Video System with Swivel TV Mounting

Display Option 1: Mounted on Wall with Included Wall Mount.

Display Option 3: Placed on Stand. Display Option 2: Mounted on Swivel Pole.

Bell’O International Corp. 732-972-1333 Audio/Video Furniture

Home Theater Seating &

TV Wall Mounts

A/V Cables & Accessories



Starring Salamander’s signature styles, featuring the highest quality construction that delivers enduring value and a memorable performance of ultimate comfort. Now in Green. As seen in HTSA’s first “Guiltless Green Home Theater” Introducing Earth-friendly leathers which are tanned

See the many Salamander

using a new environmentally responsible process that

Seating options along with

eliminates the use of bad actors like toxic chemicals.

our entertainment cabinets and mounts and Design Your Own at or call 888-892-9919.



FLAT-PANEL MOUNTS & www.fantamag ag.c .com



on the web

VISIT THE “HOW WE TEST” link on our Website for a detailed explanation of our testing regimen and a list of our reference gear.



Home Theater’s test bench uses state-of-the-art instruments, and our testing regimen is the most rigorous in the industry. Our strict methodology ensures that the gear we review can meet the highest standards of performance, a must for a component to earn recognition as a Top Pick winner.


•• •• •• •• ••

Audio Precision System Two 2532 Dual Domain Fluke 189 multimeter Leader LT-446 HDTV test generator Leader LV5700A waveform monitor LG OS-9020A oscilloscope LinearX loudspeaker measurement system Minolta LS-100 luminance meter Photo Research PR-650 SpectraScan colorimeter Staco variable transformer 3PN2210B (22-amp) TecLab TWS-1510 test benches


Sony BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray Disc MegaChanger Dream machine?


Sonics Amerigo Speaker System German brew, U.S. bottle.



RATINGS HT’s product ratings are specific to the product category and the price range of the component under review. Each component’s ratings are specific only to its price range: Entry Level, Midrange, or High End. For guidance, each product’s price range is designated in the Preview, on this page, and at the top of its review.



B&W CM9 Speaker System Well centered.


VIZIO VF551XVT LCD HDTV LED for the masses.


Boston Acoustics Reflection RS 260 Speaker System Between VS and CS.




Paradigm Special Edition SE 1 Speaker System Seeing Red in a new way. P62 Sony STR-DN1000 A/V Receiver Slick but affordable.

62 42

54 & om


HIGH END BY David Vaughn

Sony BDP-CX7000ES Blu-ray Disc MegaChanger

PRICE: $1,900 AT A GLANCE: Solid build quality Admirable Blu-ray and DVD playback Middling HD video processing Average load times

Dream Machine?


ony’s foray into the U.S. electronics market began more than 50 years ago when cofounder Akio Morita came to New York to sell a $30 miniature transistor radio. At the time, he attracted the interest of Bulova, a watchmaker with a vast retail network. Bulova offered to buy 100,000 units under one condition—Sony would have to original equipment manufacture (O.E.M.) the radios, and they would be branded and marketed under Bulova’s name. Amazingly, Morita went against his board of directors’ advice and turned down the deal. His 50-year goal was to make the Sony name as popular as Bulova’s. Through the strength of his vision, Sony is now one of the most recognized brands in the world. Within Sony’s brand is the Elevated Standard (ES) line, the premium end of the company’s portfolio of products. Over the years, the ES line of equipment has included outstanding DVD players, AVRs, and early in 2009, two Blu-ray Disc players. Late in the third quarter, Sony filled a hole in the Blu-ray market by releasing its second multidisc changer, the $1,900 BDPCX7000ES MegaChanger. (The first, Sony’s $3,500 HES-V1000 Home Entertainment server is no longer available.)

chassis has the standard frontpanel display, but the majority of the height is there to house the carousel for the discs. Each of the 400 slots is numbered. Slot 1 is reserved for rentals, and a convenient Rental Slot button on the front panel queues up the appropriate slot. Other buttons on the front panel include the usual suspects (Play, Eject, etc.), plus it has a knob to select discs or search for a chapter/track/scene while in Direct Search mode. It also has a Disc Load button, which reads the

disc information and then accesses the Gracenote database for disc information. The finishing touch on the front panel is a retractable door that hides all 400 discs. The rear panel includes one HDMI 1.3a output with support for 48-bit Deep Color and x.v. Color (not currently supported by either DVD or Blu-ray). It also includes an Ethernet port (required for Profile 2.0 players), a component output, 7.1-channel analog outputs, and more, including a recessed USB port to add the required 1 gigabyte of memory

Look at the Size of That Thing

To say the BDP-CX7000ES is the biggest Blu-ray player I’ve ever seen would be an understatement. This baby is massive at nearly 10 inches tall. Granted, in order to store 400 of your favorite Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, or CDs, you’ll need something larger than your typical player. While it’s large, it certainly isn’t ugly. The top of the 42 FEBRUARY 2010 &


(not included) for BD-Live features. I’m surprised a player in this price class doesn’t have the onboard memory that’s required for BD-Live, something that many lower-cost players include. The player internally decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio and outputs them

• The Sony is one of the tallest BD

players around, at about 10 inches.

over HDMI as PCM or analog from the 7.1-channel output. For newer AVRs and surround processors with onboard decoding, the player can send raw bitstreams from its HDMI 1.3a output. However, you lose secondary audio with PiP as well as the clicks and beeps in Blu-ray Disc menus.

User Interface and Setup

Setup and navigation through the menus is a breeze. Sony incorporates the Xross Media Bar (XMB) user interface that the PS3 and PlayStation Portable (PSP) made popular. The XMB includes four icons (Settings, Photo, Music, and Video) with subheadings under each. A nice upgrade is the inclusion of thumbnails with cover art for inserted discs. However, they are so small that they’re barely legible on my 76.5-inchwide screen. The included non-backlit remote isn’t that great, and it’s nearly impossible to use in a dark room. The buttons are of various sizes, but the layout has one fatal flaw—one of the largest buttons on the remote is the Home key, which is located directly below Enter. With one press of this key, the player exits the movie and brings you back to the XMB. On more than one occasion, my thumb grazed it, which caused me to utter an expletive or two while I waited for the movie to restart. With the glacial loading of BD-Java-intensive discs, I wish there was an additional step that asked whether you really want to exit the movie. When I first started the player, I was greeted with an Easy Setup option, which sets the player’s language, connection type (HDMI for my testing), resolution, aspect ratio, HDMI control

(not tested), and permission for Internet access. Finally, it has a Quick Start Mode, which puts the player in a suspend mode versus a complete power off. While this uses more electricity, it speeds up the start time by 50 percent (25 seconds versus 50). Additional setup options are available under Settings on the XMB for both video and audio. The easy setup covers most of the basics, but the video section offers additional options. It can force 1080p/24 output, set the HDMI color space, or turn off the Super Bit Mapping feature (defaults to On). Unfortunately, there isn’t a Source Direct option for the video output as there is on other Blu-ray players. This feature is a must if you use an external video processor so the player can output the native resolution on the disc to have any video processing take place in the external scaler. Audio settings include speaker settings if you’re using the analog outputs (Size, Distance, Level), BD Audio settings (internal or external decoding), and settings for the digital audio outputs (optical/ coaxial). Next up is disc loading, which is time consuming. If you load a single disc, it takes the player about 45 seconds to access Gracenote’s online database to download the box art and title information (based upon the metadata stored on the disc). I loaded 100 discs of various media (20 CDs, 30 DVDs, 50 Blu-ray Discs), and the download took just over an hour. While the database correctly identified every CD and DVD, it didn’t find various Blu-rays, such as Warner’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark: Blu-ray Edition. Additionally, Star Trek VIII: First Contact and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl weren’t labeled in English, although the cover art was correct. You can manually edit each disc to correct any errors, but with the phonestyle keyboard, it isn’t very userfriendly. An input for a USB keyboard would be a nice upgrade. Overall, though, I was impressed with the database’s accuracy.

Features SONY BDP-CX7000ES BLU-RAY DISC MEGACHANGER BD-LIVE: Yes (storage not included) BONUSVIEW: Yes FIRMWARE VERSION: 15.1.006 AUDIO DECODING: DOLBY: TrueHD, Digital Plus DTS: DTS-HD Master Audio HDMI VIDEO RESOLUTIONS: 1080p/24, 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p, 480i COMPATIBLE PLAYBACK FORMATS: BD-Video, DVD, DVD-R/-RW, CD, CD-R/-RW, JPEG, MP3 (Up to 320 kbps) DIMENSIONS (W X H X D, INCHES): 17 x 9.5 x 21.9 WEIGHT (POUNDS): 31.3 PRICE: $1,900

Once the player is loaded, managing your library is very intuitive. There are various search options, and music and movie/ video discs are separated under different headings in the XMB. You can scroll through them by slot number, name, or release year. There’s also a Group Content mode, which organizes discs by category (Title, Genre, Cast, and Director). When you sort your discs by one of these groups, the Sony lays them out alphabetically, and it’s lightning-fast to scroll through and locate the appropriate disc. If you’re in the mood for a Western or comedy, you can sort by genre and discover how many films are classified that way in your collection. When I searched by Director, I found 10 movies directed by Clint Eastwood—each and every one damn entertaining too! In the past, Sony has included daisy-chaining capabilities for connecting multiple changers, which would be a great convenience if you have a massive collection. Regrettably, this feature hasn’t ported its way onto the MegaChanger. Two potential downsides to this changer are the lack of media streaming capabilities and WiFi. Wi-Fi and streaming from Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, or from a home server have begun to surface in relatively inexpensive players from several manufacturers, including Sony.

3:2 HD

2:2 HD


3:2 SD

2:2 SD
















Photos by Cordero Studios


HIGH END SONY BDP-CX7000ES BLU-RAY DISC MEGACHANGER Firmware updates are available over the Ethernet port, which you can configure to search manually or automatically upon startup. In the time I’ve had the player, there hasn’t been an update, so I can’t determine how well it works or how long an update takes.

for good measure, I spent the majority of my evaluation time with both features disabled. Living With the Beast

One of the biggest complaints about Blu-ray players is their user experience and disc compatibility. I lived with the MegaChanger for more than a month, and it played Video Performance everything I threw at it. While it’s The MegaChanger let me run no speed demon, it’s not a sloth through my battery of test discs without leaving the comfort of my either. Java-intensive discs are slow—as they are with most couch. First up in my tests was players—but only the occasional 1080i deinterlacing, and the disc seemed to trip up the player. results weren’t great. While it For example, disc one of Lost: The passed the motion adaptive tests Complete Fifth Season (important for took 86 seconds to AVCHD material), it load, versus 50 in an failed both 3:2 and 2:2 OPPO BDP-83. I don’t tests. Granted, there know how much of aren’t a lot of 1080i this time was related discs on the market— to the carousel in fact, in the U.S., spinning around to they’re mostly relegated find the appropriate to concert discs. slot, so it’s nearly However, for a player impossible to in this price class, high determine the exact expectations for video starting point. processing are a given. Non-Java titles loaded It does pass both above in just under a minute, white and below black, which is satisfactory. and it resolves the full Once you’re at the luma and chroma main menu, navigadetail from 1080p tion is speedy, and the content. remote commands On standardreact instantly. definition material, Toward the end of the player failed 2:2 my evaluation period, content but passed J.J. Abrams’ reboot of both 3:2 source and Star Trek arrived in the edge-adaptive tests mail, and I couldn’t with ease. The opening wait to take it for a sequence of Star Trek: spin. The Gracenote Insurrection (DVD) server didn’t have this was jaggie free, as was title in its database, but the coliseum flyover in I had the disc two Gladiator. The Sony’s weeks before street scaling performance date, so I’m not (480i to 1080p) is very surprised. I compared good; it nearly equals the Sony’s 1080p/24 the best Blu-ray players video output with my on the market. Its layer reference OPPO change on DVDs is Sony’s non-backlit BDP-83, and I couldn’t also very fast. The remote isn’t one of detect any difference player offers a variety the best. Its poor of video enhancements, placement of the Home in picture or sound and Enter keys can be quality. Both were including an HD very frustrating. excellent. The picture is Reality Enhancer, very natural and revealing. Every which applies some artificial facial pore was visible, and the sharpening to the picture, as well intricate weave in the Starfleet as Super Bit Mapping, which uniforms was clearly visible. upconverts the standard 8-bit Decoding the audio in the player video signals from Blu-ray and revealed no shortcomings with DVD to 14-bit. The first the action-oriented Dolby enhancement adds some ringing TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. It to sharp edges, and the second features an active surround didn’t seem to do any harm. Still,


OUTPUTS: VIDEO: HDMI 1.3a (1), component video (1), S-video (1), composite video (1) AUDIO: Optical digital (1), coaxial digital (1), 7.1 analog (1), stereo analog (1) ADDITIONAL: Ethernet (1), USB (1), IR Input (1), RS-232 (1) soundstage, window-rattling bass, and plenty of shipboard ambient sounds. Animated Blu-ray titles look just as impressive; Pixar’s Up and Monsters, Inc. delivered flawless picture quality. Vibrant colors leapt off the screen, whether it was the rainbow of balloons whisking Carl and Russell off to South America or the impressive detail in Sulley’s fur. You’d be hardpressed to find anything that looks better. The BD-Live performance works fine—once you spring for a USB flash drive. The usual assortment of goodies downloaded without any hassles. I’ve been very disappointed with BD-Live up to this point, but some new features are making their way onto the market. These include Fox’s BD-Live Lookup and Sony’s MovieIQ, which access IMDb for information as well as community screenings that will allow large numbers of people to watch a movie at the same time and chat online during the movie. Maybe this will help keep these people out of the local Cineplex. Wrap Up

Sony is currently the only manufacturer of Blu-ray Disc changers on the market, so if you’re in need of one, your options are limited to the ES model or the lower-priced BDP-CX960 ($800). Compared with many current video server products, many of which start at

44 FEBRUARY 2010 &

$5,000 and go up dramatically from there, this MegaChanger is a bargain. And those other products can’t store Blu-ray Disc content on their hard drives—you have to put discs into the tray one at a time just like a standard player. Granted, these other systems bring different capabilities to the table, but none offer the convenience of storing and managing your Blu-ray collection. Living with the BDPCX7000ES the past month has given me a new perspective on the convenience of a disc changer. Although I can personally live without it, I enjoyed having a good portion of my library accessible from one player, and I can see people getting hooked on the experience. If you don’t care about the storage and are willing to leave the comfort of your couch to change discs, better video processing is available in other players. But if you’re looking at this MegaChanger, that’s probably not you. The BDP-CX7000ES offers Blu-ray performance at 1080p/24 that’s on par with the best we’ve seen and very solid DVD upconversion, which makes it attractive if you’re looking for large-capacity storage and management and don’t want to spend media server money. Sony • (877) 865-SONY • Dealer Locator Code SNY

Like other Supermodels, our TV has a tendency to make the competition jealous.

Dominique Piek, international swimsuit supermodel

The New REGZA® LED TV. It’s the most advanced, most beautiful TV we’ve ever produced. Beautifully designed from the inside out, our premium SV670 Cinema Series ®, the flagship of our LCD TV lineup, includes FocaLight™ LED Backlight with Local Dimming for breathtakingly deep contrast, and ClearScan 240™ for an all-new level of picture clarity when watching fast-motion sports or movies. It also includes the REGZA Engine with PixelPure ® 5G 14-bit processing for a smoother, more natural picture from HD sources, and Resolution+™ technology to create enhanced detail from non-HD sources so everything you watch will feel like HD. Providing the perfect combination of function and stylish appeal, all of this is now wrapped in our stunning Deep Lagoon™ Design. The new REGZA Supermodel LED TV – once you see it, you’ll find it hard to watch anything else.

SEE US AT BOOTH #12114 AT THE 2010 INTERNATIONAL CES Model shown 55SV670U. Effect of Resolution+™ enhancements may vary depending upon the input signal and content quality. ClearScan 240™ Hz achieves 240 scenes per second by combining 120 Hz chassis technology with advanced backlight scanning. ©2009 Toshiba America Consumer Products, L.L.C. All rights reserved. &

HIGH END BY Michael Fremer

Sonics Amerigo Speaker System

PRICE: $10,095 AT A GLANCE: Bodacious, well-controlled bass Clean, effervescent high frequencies Room-filling, three-dimensional spaciousness even in two-channel mode

German Brew, U.S. Bottle if you visit the Website of his longtime American distributor Immedia (immediasound. com). As the dollar slid relative to the Euro and domestic prices soared, Gerhard and Allen Perkins, owner of partner company Spiral Groove, decided to move worldwide production to America. The drivers are made in Scandinavia, the crossovers in Germany, and the plugs in Australia. The Chinese-manufactured cabinets are assembled in the U.S. This saves shipping costs—at least for American dealers and buyers— and reduces exchange-rate disadvantages. However, it remained to be seen if the high quality and workmanship of the European cabinetry could be maintained. Do You Need “Audiophile Quality” Loudspeakers in a Home Theater?

During the days of compressed audio, you didn’t necessarily need expensive speakers designed for high-performance audio use. Unless you were setting up a home theater that would also serve as a serious music-listening venue, you wouldn’t need speakers that were capable of ultra-high resolution, timbral accuracy, pinpoint imaging, and microdynamic excellence. Once the compressed audio glaze is applied to the picture, who cares? These days, we have uncompressed high-resolution audio formats on Blu-ray, both movies and music discs like the192kHz/24-bit Neil Young Archives Vol. 1. These can rival the sound quality of vinyl, so the more accurate the loudspeaker, the better. Glaze, hardness, and crispy edges are no longer sonic soundtrack givens.

The Sonics Amerigo

The Amerigo was originally designed as a near full-range speaker for use in two-channel systems. The reasonably compact, three-way bass-reflex design appears to be equally attractive in a surround sound system, assuming you don’t place the rear-ported speaker against a wall. The handsome floorstander is slightly more than 3 feet tall. It’s made of birch plywood that Sonics claims is more expensive and better sounding than MDF. It features a gently angled front baffle that contains the midrange driver and tweeter, which is said to give it a “degree of time alignment.” An integral matte black stand mirrors the cabinet’s shape. And metal posts do away with the usual baffle holes, which gives the speaker a neat look, whether or not you choose to use the grilles that attach to them. The cabinet is superbly finished, with softly radiused corners. It also features other elegant design details that are intended to produce a furnituregrade aesthetic. However, with its wide front baffles and mostly parallel surfaces, this speaker is on


the boxy side compared with some more elegantly turned designs. My review samples were finished in satiny book-matched Zebra-wood. (Other veneer options are also available.)


any home theater enthusiasts may be unfamiliar with the name, but among audiophiles during the 1990s, veteran German audio designer Joachim Gerhard achieved near-legend status throughout the world for his extensive and remarkably varied line of high-performance loudspeakers marketed under the Audio Physic brand. Gerhard was equally adept at designing compact, two-way speakers and narrow-baffled, conventional, coned threeway speakers that incorporated side-firing woofers. He also designed more exotic products, including one that used the unusual flat, star-shaped, “bending motion” Manger driver. Regardless of their design concept, Gerhard’s speakers excelled at creating an enormous, free-floating, three-dimensional soundstage that seemed to exist independently of the physical enclosures that produced the sound. A pair of relatively small Audio Physic Virgo IIs I once owned had an almost supernatural ability to simply disappear, leaving a room-sized, threedimensional picture populated by reach-out-and-touch-you solid images. One visitor exclaimed that it was “like looking at a Viewmaster.” (Younger readers: Google “Viewmaster.”) Unfortunately, a serious illness forced Gerhard to the designing sidelines, and he eventually sold his company. A few years ago, he returned to designing and marketing loudspeakers through his new company, Sonics by Joachim Gerhard. Again, the designs are varied in shape, size, and technology, as you’ll see

46 FEBRUARY 2010 &

• The Sonics cabinets are

made of birch plywood and feature an elegant furniturequality finish.


Features SPEAKER:



Three-way Two-way, center 0.75, aluminum/magnesium dome 0.75, aluminum/magnesium dome 4.5, ceramic coated metal cone 4.5, ceramic metal cone 7, ceramic coated metal cone None 7 4 Macassar Ebony, Zebrawood, Bird’s-Eye Maple, Black 12 x 40 x 14 19 x 7 x 10 53 26.5 $5,500/pair $1,995

The modestly sized A-Center is a classic midrange/tweeter/ midrange (MTM) arrangement. It uses the same tweeter as the Amerigo, flanked by a pair of 4.5-inch ceramic-coated metalcone midrange drivers fitted with bullet-shaped phase plugs in a rear-ported cabinet. The compact Anima surround features a single woofer and the same tweeter mounted vertically on a gently sloping baffle, also in a rearported cabinet. Sonics didn’t supply a subwoofer. At review time, the A400W that’s currently in development wasn’t ready. A Sonics spokesperson was confident that I wouldn’t need a sub given the Amerigo’s prodigious bass output. That claim surprised me given the listed low-frequency spec of –6 dB at 35 hertz.

ANIMA Two-way, monitor 0.75, aluminum/magnesium dome 4.5, ceramic metal cone None 8 10 x 16 x 10.5 16.5 $2,600/pair

Amerigos to be scandalously priced. Even in Home Theater, a magazine dedicated to high performance, they are expensive. But from an audiophile perspective, they are bargain priced for how they look, how they’re built and finished, and especially for how they sound—at least when driven by high-quality separates. If you’ve never heard a truly high-performance loudspeaker system, nothing I say will

We currently live in a plastic speaker world, where more than a few hundred dollars for anything that produces sound is expensive in the opinions of the computer geeks who have taken over the mainstream media’s consumer electronics journalism. If it attaches to a computer, they’re qualified to review it, whether or not they know anything about images, video, or sound. At $5,500 per pair, the compugeeks would consider the

High-Performance Sound for Sure

If the review sample is typical of what the company will manufacture in America, the cabinet quality will be at least as good as what Gerhard’s previous company got from the Danish Hornslet factory, which is about as good as speaker cabinetry gets. Of course, if you hide your speakers behind a scrim or use them in a darkened, dedicated home theater environment, some of your money will be wasted. The driver compliment consists of a custom-built 7-inch longthrow SEAS woofer. It features a ceramic-coated light metal cone and magnesium basket in a rear-ported cabinet. It also has a 4.5-inch midrange driver that’s similar in construction to the woofer. There’s also a 0.75-inch aluminum-magnesium dome, ferrofluid-cooled, ring-radiator tweeter that features an unusually large textile surround that’s said to improve both damping and output. Both the midrange and the tweeter are enclosed within a subcabinet inside the main unit. The tweeter’s offset placement allows tweeter out or tweeter in flexibility. Tweeter out delivers a wider soundstage, while tweeter in is useful if you need to place the speakers close to sidewalls. Efficiency is moderate at a claimed 87 decibels, but with a nominal impedance of 7 ohms, the Amerigo should be a relatively easy load to drive.


• The Amerigo floor• The A-Center features two 4.5-inch

ceramic-coated metal-cone midrange drivers for seamless performance.

stander produced beefy, tuneful bass response without the addition of a subwoofer. &

convince you of their worth until you experience such a system. The Lexicon RV-8 is a finesounding A/V receiver, yet driven by it, the Amerigo system merely hinted at what was possible. When I replaced it with an Integra DHC-9.9 surround processor and a Parasound A51 five-channel amplifier, the system revealed its true potential. Compared with some of Gerhard’s more Eurocentric designs, the Amerigo produces fuller, more robust, and more generous low frequencies, perhaps sacrificing a touch of bass-attack detail in the successful quest for greater richness. The Lexicon left a slightly hollow, metallic aftertaste and produced less than the full weight, particularly in the lower midrange. You can’t skimp on amplifier quality and expect to get all that this system can provide. Bass response was beefy, prodigious, exceedingly tuneful (pitch perfect), and well controlled. In my room, with roomgain taken into account, the Amerigos extended down into what sounded like the truly deep bass region, with a visceral impact that made me jump during the sound effects intended to elicit that response. Aside from some organ pedals and perhaps a Sensurround earthquake, I didn’t feel I missed much of anything in terms of extension and explosiveness. This is partly because when there’s not supposed to be any bass, you won’t hear any. The speaker doesn’t let you know it’s coming until it’s there and it disappears just as quickly. When you hear a speaker that responds in the low frequencies and delivers palpable dynamic range without a hint of compression in the subterranean region—and can do so with ease


HT Labs Measures

and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +0.93/–4.23 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. The –3-dB point is at 42 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 34 Hz. Impedance SONICS AMERIGO SPEAKER SYSTEM reaches a minimum of 6.34 ohms at 97 Hz and a phase angle of L/R Sensitivity: Visit our Website –55.99 degrees at 30 Hz. 88 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz for a detailed explanation of our The A-Center’s listeningtesting regimen, plus a list of our window response measures Center Sensitivity: reference gear. +1.23/–1.16 dB from 200 Hz 93 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz to 10 kHz. An average of axial on the and +/–15-degree horizontal Surround Sensitivity: web responses measures 88 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz +1.14/–2.18 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 70 Hz, his graph shows the and the –6-dB point is at 58 Hz. quasi-anechoic (employing Impedance reaches a minimum of close-miking of all woofers) 3.85 ohms at 4.0 kHz and a phase frequency response of the angle of –40.71 degrees at 111 Hz. Amerigo L/R (purple trace), A-Center The Anima’s listening-window center channel (green trace), and response measures +2.25/–5.99 dB Anima surround (red trace). All passive from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB loudspeakers were measured with point is at 72 Hz, and the –6-dB grilles at a distance of 1 meter with a point is at 60 Hz. Impedance 2.83-volt input and scaled for display reaches a minimum of 4.26 ohms at purposes. 3.4 kHz and a phase angle of –41.71 The Amerigo’s listening-window degrees at 111 Hz.—MJP response (a five-point average of axial




even when you crank it up—you’ll begin to understand what the extra cash and good design get you. Those ultra-long-throw foamy surround fart boxes just can’t produce this level of lowfrequency tonal and textural sophistication, no matter what the specs say. Of course, if you only plan to use the bottom octaves for explosions and footfalls made by mechanical robots, it might not really matter. Gerhard’s design delivers. When you crank the system up, it maintains its musical and spatial composure. It masterfully handles the midrange-tweeter transition.

You won’t hear a hint of mechanicalness as one driver transitions to the other. Instead, you’ll hear an enormous, spacious, and utterly natural presentation, even in two-channel mode. This is a system that sounds equally open and uncongested at very low listening levels, which isn’t surprising given its exceptional microdynamic performance. The center channel was equally impressive. It avoided the slightest hint of chestiness or congestion on male voices and shrillness and sibilance on female ones (except for Sunday Night Football’s Andrea Kremer, who has a shrill,

sibilant voice on the sidelines). If the center has any flaws reproducing the human voice (aside from off-axis suckouts that might be measurable but weren’t audible in the context of my listening room), it was a slight reticence in the midrange area. This produced a slightly astringent, less than generous expression of vocal textures and individual timbre. But that’s just an attempt to find something not to like about this high-performance system. In any case, despite Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, mixers tend to process voices in order to improve intelligibility. Speaking of football, I had my sister over to watch a Giants game on my big Stewart Cabaret projection screen lit by a JVC DLA-HD750 projector. Even though she was sitting just 3 feet from one of the Anima surrounds, the crowd surround audio blended perfectly with the front channels. It produced a sonic image that made her point at the living-room window 15 feet away and ask, “What is that noise out there?” When I explained that it was produced by the phantom sideline stands resulting from the seamless front/surround blend, this awed her almost as much as the picture did. If you set this system up properly, you’ll rarely be able to localize the sound’s point of emanation. Instead, you’ll experience the vast, three-dimensional sound bubble that home theater writers like to talk about. But in this case, the sound bubble will be on steroids. The depth presentation extends well beyond the typical front-wall boundaries that lesser speakers produce. And the level of front/surround coherence exceeds everything else I’ve heard, with the possible exception of the mbl Radialstrahler 116 and an ambitious Aerial Acoustics system I reviewed for some years ago. Of course, Aerial’s Michael Kelly is easily in the same near-legend category

48 FEBRUARY 2010 &

as Gerhard. (Older car audio enthusiasts: Kelly designed ADS’s PowerPlate speakers, among other classics.) I watched a variety of demo material, including the thoughtful, touching, and dialogue-driven Accidental Tourist. (This was at my wife’s insistence because it stars a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and we have two. One of them dutifully watched the movie with us and barked at the dog whenever it was on screen.) I also demoed the atmospheric and uplifting (despite the down ending) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, as well as Criterion’s superb Blu-ray edition of The Complete Monterey Pop Festival featuring the Eddie Kramer remix. There’s no doubt about one thing: If you watch a lot of music videos, a system like the Amerigo will bring you a level of musical pleasure you might not have thought possible—particularly if you’ve never experienced true high-performance audio. Even on the talky movies, the system’s transparency, low-level resolution, and microdynamic sophistication added to a truly immersive experience. Conclusion

Yes, $10,000 is a significant chunk of change to drop on a surround sound system that requires the finest electronics to draw out its full potential. But if music is an important part of your home theater viewing and/or listening experience, this is an easy-to-recommend system. Many will feel that they simply must have that .1/LFE channel, so feel free to add your favorite subwoofer. However, you should proceed with caution. Once you hear a truly high-performance system like the Sonics Amerigo, you might not want to settle for anything less. Sonics by Joachim Gerhard/Immedia • (510) 559 2050 • Dealer Locator Code SNC &

MIDRANGE BY Thomas J. Norton

B&W CM9 Speaker System

PRICE: $7,250 AT A GLANCE: Clean highs, neutral mids Mid- and upper-bass prominent Small but potent subwoofer

Well Centered


hese days, most major speaker manufacturers know how to produce a good speaker. But only a few manage to hit all the marks simultaneously: great engineering, great sound, and fair pricing. British speaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins has long been a leader in that hunt. While the research, development, and design for B&W speakers remains firmly entrenched in Worthing, England, the company has now followed most speaker manufacturers by moving much of its production to China. Only the flagship 800 Series speakers are still manufactured in the U.K. While I have mixed feelings about the industry-wide stampede to Far East production, I can’t deny that it has significantly increased the value quotient of audio (and video) gear. In 2008, I reviewed a system that featured the B&W 683 floorstanding speakers for UltimateAVmag. com. Despite the fact that this speaker is the top model in the company’s least expensive line of freestanding designs, and it turned in a set of middling measurements, the 683’s sound blew me away. I used them in my reference system for months after I’d completed that review. I only moved them when a new speaker system under review demanded the space.

B&W’s CM9, the newest model in its CM line, continues many of the 683’s basic design elements, including a similar midrange and tweeter. It also adds superior fit and finish. The complete surround package is enhanced by a new, better-integrated center channel design than the 600 series offers. Top Tech

The speaker system here, which B&W dubs the CM9 Theatre, includes the CM9 floorstanders for the left and right front, the CM Centre 2, a pair of CM5s for the surrounds, and the ASW 10CM subwoofer. Beginning at the bass end, the ASW 10CM sub’s 10-inch paper/ Kevlar-coned driver takes up almost the entire front baffle of the compact cabinet. A 500-watt Class D amp provides the needed horsepower, and at 42 pounds, the sub is relatively easy to schlep around in order to find the optimum placement. It includes the usual subwoofer inputs and controls: line- and speaker-level in, low-pass adjustment from 25 to 140 hertz, low-pass filter defeat, and 0and 180-degree phase settings. A three-step Bass Extension control sets the low-frequency limit (the rated –6-decibel point) to 18 Hz, 23 Hz, or 28 Hz. Why would you

choose less than maximum extension? You’d do this to increase perceived maximum volume before reaching an unacceptable level of distortion, in most cases. When reproducing content with truly deep bass, with less bottom-end extension, less driver excursion is needed for a given level, and the less you demand of a speaker, the easier its job. However, I bit the bullet and risked a little extra distortion (playing loud enough wasn’t an issue in my room). I did all of my listening in the max extension setting. In addition, a two-position EQ switch contours the response for either in-corner or out-of-corner placement. I used the ASW 10CM near the front wall and away from the room corners. Normally, B&W would recommend the new ASW 12CM sub for this top-drawer CM system, but that larger CM sub was released too late in the review period to be included here. B&W says that although the two speakers’ specs are roughly the same, the slightly larger ASW 12CM is claimed to be capable of 2 to 3 dB more clean output at low frequencies.


The full-range CM9 speakers have a number of common features. They all employ B&W’s woven Kevlar cones, which the company has been using and continually refining since it first introduced them in the DM6 in 1976. The 6.5-inch woofers in the CM9 employ composite paper and Kevlar cones. The cones in the CM9, the midrange driver in the CM Centre 2, and the woofer cone in the CM5 are all Kevlar. If you’re familiar with B&W’s recent speakers, you’ll recognize the CM9’s 6-inch FST midrange driver. It’s the direct descendant of the midrange that B&W first developed for its flagship 800 Series speakers. It’s still used in that line and in a number of other B&W models—all the way down to the 683. Since midrange frequencies don’t require much cone excursion, the FST cone has no surround. Instead, a ring of foam simply terminates it and keeps it centered. The foam ring is

• The rear of the

tweeter is loaded into a tube to dampen the rear wave.

50 FEBRUARY 2010 &

The ASW 10CM subwoofer has a three-step bass extension control.


Features SPEAKER:





Three-way, tower 1, aluminum dome 6, FST woven Kevlar 6.5, paper/Kevlar (2) 8 30–200 Rosenut, Wengé, Gloss Black 7.9 x 40.4 x 14.6 (including grille and plinth) 58.5 $3,000/pair

Three-way, center 1, aluminum dome 4, FST woven Kevlar 6.5, paper/Kevlar (2) 8 30–200 Rosenut, Wengé, Gloss Black 23.2 x 8.6 x 11.9 (including grille and terminals) 41.1 $1,250

Two-way, surround 1, aluminum dome N/A 6.5, woven Kevlar 8 30–120 Rosenut, Wengé, Gloss Black 7.8 x 13.4 x 11.9 (including grille and terminals) 19.6 $1,500/pair

said to match the mechanical impedance of the cone better than a conventional surround. The intent is that the foam largely absorbs any bending waves that travel up the cone. This ostensibly prevents the waves from reflecting back down the cone where they can produce distortion. The new kid in town here is a smaller, 4-inch FST driver in the CM Centre 2. This smaller midrange facilitates a domestically acceptable center speaker designed the way I like it—as a true three-way design.

• The CM9 floorstander shares its

6.5-inch paper/Kevlar cone woofers with those in the CM Centre 2.

While the optimum centerchannel speaker is always identical to the front left and right models, this isn’t always practical. The next best approach employs a vertically oriented midrange and tweeter that are flanked by one or more woofers. This usually, but not always, results in a more uniform response as the listener moves to the left or right and away from the center axis. The tweeter that B&W uses in all of the CM speakers is another trickledown descendant of the 800 Series designs. No, it doesn’t have the diamond dome that graces several 800 Series models (you wish!), but the rear of its aluminum dome is loaded into a tube to better dampen the rear wave and keep it from reflecting back and reradiating through the diaphragm. The crossovers in the CM models are said to be the simplest B&W has

ever used. This is made possible by the drive units’ inherently linear mechanical design. For example, the high-pass filter to the tweeter is just a single high-quality capacitor. A First Listen: Music

I began my evaluation, as I usually do, with two-channel music and just the CM9s driven full range. The speakers were located a minimum of 3 feet from any nearby walls. I listened for hours without fatigue. Still, I was less than satisfied in a couple of respects. First, while the top end was by no means soft or obviously rolled off, it lacked the open airiness that can help recorded music come fully to life. Also, the mid and upper bass region was too prominent. This resulted in a balance that was pleasing and easy to listen to, but it didn’t tickle my audiophile fancy nearly as much as the less expensive B&W 683s did. Further down the review road, I blocked the CM9s’ ports with the foam plugs that B&W provides. This somewhat reduced the speakers’ extreme bottom-end reach, and it tightened up the bass to the point where the high end came back into perspective. The speaker no longer sounded too polite and forgiving. I still missed that last bit of sparkle that enhanced the 683’s overall balance, but I’d returned them by that time, so they weren’t available for a direct comparison. Nevertheless, the CM9s sounded considerably more alive and real than before. What

happened here? Balance. Just as a rolled-off bottom end can make even a flat top end sound bright, an uptick in the bottom end, particularly through the midbass and upper bass, can make the top end sound recessed—even if it’s reasonably flat with respect to the midrange. The CM9’s top end was now clean and delicately detailed, and the FST midrange was exceptionally natural and uncolored. Imaging was precise, but I’m fortunate since most speakers image well in my setup. It provided as much depth as the program material required. The bass was also surprisingly extended. On music, I only felt the need for a subwoofer on the most difficult material that features an organ or synthesizer. However, through the midbass, the CM9 was a bit richer than life for my taste. But when I added the B&W ASW 10CM subwoofer to the mix, with the main speakers now rolled off below 80 Hz, that sealed the deal. The sound was now firmly in the “wow” range. While I still couldn’t completely eliminate a bit of excessive upper bass (often as much the fault of the room as the speaker), and I would have liked just a bit more air at the very top end, those criticisms became minor. In any case, they may be unique to either my expectations or my room. Movies

If a speaker can do right by music, it almost invariably does the business on movies too. Of course, this is provided that the added pieces (subwoofer, center channel, and surrounds) handle their jobs without mucking up the total sound. And it also assumes that the system has enough inherent grunt (a technical term for clean output capability) to handle many soundtracks’ high dynamic range demands. True, the ASW 10CM subwoofer doesn’t go as low and loud as larger designs on challenging, bass-heavy passages. If you must rock a big room with powerful, high-intensity bass, I’d recommend a larger sub. It’s in refinement and clarity that the B&W sub excels. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t convincing on high-demand material. The cannon fire on Master and Commander: The Far 51 &

MIDRANGE B&W CM9 SPEAKER SYSTEM Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 49 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 3.41 ohms at 116 Hz and a phase angle of –68.80 degrees at 66 Hz. The CM Centre 2’s listeningwindow response measures +1.64/ B&W CM9 SPEAKER SYSTEM –4.66 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. An average of axial and L/R Sensitivity: Visit our Website for a detailed +/–15-degree horizontal 92.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz explanation of our responses measures testing regimen, plus a list of our +1.96/–4.85 dB from 200 Hz Center Sensitivity: reference gear. to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is 92 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz at 63 Hz, and the –6-dB point on the is at 52 Hz. Impedance Surround Sensitivity: web reaches a minimum of 3.44 91.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz ohms at 131 Hz and a phase angle of –68.36 degrees at 85 Hz. his graph shows the The CM5’s listening-window quasi-anechoic (employing response measures +1.07/–3.32 dB close-miking of all woofers) from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB frequency response of the point is at 70 Hz, and the –6-dB CM9 L/R (purple trace), ASW 10CM point is at 54 Hz. Impedance subwoofer (blue trace), CM Centre 2 reaches a minimum of 4.39 ohms at center channel (green trace), and CM5 17.2 kHz and a phase angle of surround (red trace). All passive –49.17 degrees at 98 Hz. loudspeakers were measured with The ASW 10CM’s close-miked grilles at a distance of 1 meter with a response with the Bass Extension 2.83-volt input and scaled for display and EQ switches set to position A, purposes. normalized to the level at 80 Hz, The CM9’s listening-window indicates that the lower –3-dB point response (a five-point average of axial is at 20 Hz and the –6-dB point is at and +/–15-degree horizontal and 16 Hz. The upper –3-dB point is at vertical responses) measures 146 Hz with the Low-Pass Filter +0.83/–5.12 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. The –3-dB point is at 60 switch set to Off.—MJP


HT Labs Measures



Side of the World is definitely jump-worthy on the B&W sub, and the big sandstorm plane crash scene from Flight of the Phoenix (2004) will curl your eyelashes. The CM Centre 2 also does its work seamlessly. Dialogue is clear, and it doesn’t degrade appreciably at sensible off-axis listening positions. Midrange coloration is low. If the center can be said to have a character, it would again be a bit too much warmth in the

upper bass. (This clearly isn’t helped by the center’s woofers being positioned 17 inches off the floor, as required by the location of my projection screen). The CM Centre 2 also has a rather laidback quality through the midrange. But these shortcomings were swamped by program material variations. The surrounds didn’t call attention to themselves unless the source demanded it.

ASW 10CM SUBWOOFER ENCLOSURE TYPE: Sealed WOOFER (SIZE IN INCHES, TYPE): 10, paper/Kevlar cone RATED POWER (WATTS): 500 CONNECTIONS: Speakerlevel in, line in, 12-volt trigger CROSSOVER BYPASS: In/ Out AVAILABLE FINISHES: Rosenut, Wengé, Gloss Black DIMENSIONS (W X H X D, INCHES): 12.8 x 12.8 x 14.3 WEIGHT (POUNDS): 42.3 PRICE: $1,500

The B&Ws provided me with a consistent, enjoyable performance. They never disappointed me, whether the source was two-channel music, action-heavy films, or multichannel music from video sources, such as Legends of Jazz (LRS Media), Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Opus Arte), or the musical Company. But if they have a special strength, it’s in how they handle multichannel orchestral soundtrack scores. Their inherent warmth and uniformity across the front soundstage, plus their wellmatched timbral balance, never failed to impress me on this type of material. I can tolerate wide variations in how a speaker system handles a movie’s sound effects (not that I had to with the B&Ws!). After all, how many of us really know what the shattering of a plate-glass window or an exploding gasoline truck sounds like? But if a speaker system doesn’t get the music right, it takes me right out of the film. The B&Ws got it right. As good as the CM9 system sounded without help, it benefited even further in my room from carefully applied DSP equalization. I hasten to add that I made all of the above observations— music and movies—without EQ. But when I applied the Audyssey MultEQ system in my Integra surround processor, the bass tightened up. I was no longer occasionally distracted by too much warmth, the dynamics had additional drive and impact, and the top end had more detail and air—all without trading off any of the system’s inherent strengths. Conclusions

Some home theater speaker packages strive for maximum output at the expense of naturalness. Others add a biting edge to everything for excitement that’s not in the program material. They produce boom instead of bass, or they sacrifice natural music reproduction on the altar of

52 FEBRUARY 2010 &

overhyped, explosive sound effects. None of these things describe this B&W system. The key word for the CM9 Theatre is balance. It’s not the highest-end system B&W makes—otherwise why would there be the 800 Series? But it does offer a balance of strengths on both music and movies, at a price that isn’t outrageous. And it’s a pleasure to live with over the long haul. Bowers and Wilkins • (800) 370-3740 • Dealer Locator Code B&W

Sounds bigger and more powerful than any other self-powered sound bar.


New Low Save $50-$100 Prices! /N$-OST$-ODELS

ZVOX IncrediBase 575 Uses High-Performance Speakers, Dual Powered Subwoofers and 133 Watt Amp To Deliver Stunning Sound, 35Hz Bass From A Single Cabinet Prepare to change your mind about sound bars and all-in-one home theaters. Because you’ve never heard one like this. Nothing else even comes close. The new ZVOX IncrediBase 575 uses dual 6.5" powered subwoofers, five 3.25" high-performance speakers, a 133-watt amplifier and our criticallyacclaimed PhaseCue™ virtual surround system to create theater-quality sound in your home. Voices are strong and clear. Music is natural and realistic. Movie sound effects literally surround you. Bass is accurate down to 35Hz with window-rattling output. If you want truly stunning home theater sound, but you don’t want a complex, multi-speaker system, this is it. $699.99. Order direct from our factory or visit a dealer near you. Other ZVOX single-cabinet home theater systems from $199.99-$599.99.


MIDRANGE BY Scott Wilkinson


PRICE: $2,200 AT A GLANCE: Superb video processing Improved menu operation and calibration controls So-so black level and shadow detail on real-world material

LED for the Masses


t the 2009 CES, VIZIO took the wraps off of its first LCD HDTV with LED backlighting and local dimming, which consumers have been eagerly waiting for ever since. At $2,200, the VF551XVT is the least expensive 55-inch local-dimming LCD available, which makes it mighty attractive to cash-strapped TV shoppers. How well does it fulfill the promise of LED backlighting? Read on to find out...

contrast and deeper blacks than fluorescent backlights can manage. Most fluorescent backlights can change their brightness according to the overall brightness of the image, but this affects the entire screen. Local dimming does have some drawbacks. Chief among them is the fact that there are only a couple thousand LEDs grouped into about 100 zones. (These are

only rough estimates; most manufacturers don’t reveal the number of LEDs and zones they use.) When you consider that there are more than 2 million pixels in an LCD panel, it’s clear that the backlight can’t match the resolution of the picture itself. As a result, some types of images, such as white credits over a black background, can exhibit halos around the bright objects.

Photos by Cordero Studios/Screen image courtesy of Universal


When the VF551XVT was unveiled at CES in January 2009, the soundbar below the screen was bright red, which I complained about at the time. In the production version, it’s bright silver, which isn’t any better. I really wish VIZIO had gone with black, which would be far less distracting. The most important feature is LED backlighting with local dimming. If you’re unfamiliar with this feature, the backlight behind the LCD imaging panel is composed of many white LEDs rather than fluorescent lights as in conventional LCD TVs. (A few such TVs use red, green, and blue LEDs, but like most manufacturers, VIZIO uses white ones.) The LEDs are combined into groups or zones, each of which can independently dim or brighten behind different sections of the image. In essence, the LEDs form a very low-resolution version of the high-resolution image in the LCD panel. For example, if the onscreen image has a bright object on a dark background, the LEDs behind the object brighten while the LEDs behind the dark areas dim. This results in much greater 54 FEBRUARY 2010 &

Another feature that VIZIO touts is 240-hertz operation. However, in this case, the TV flashes frames on the screen 120 times per second, and the backlight pulses on and off in a particular pattern to simulate a refresh rate of 240 Hz. In conjunction with VIZIO’s frameinterpolation algorithm, this is designed to reduce the motion blur that has plagued LCD


HDTVs since their introduction. It also reduces the judder—a slight herky-jerky quality in any onscreen movement—that is often associated with film-based video sources. Frame interpolation creates new frames and inserts them between the actual frames in a video signal. It calculates where moving objects should be in those new frames to smooth out the motion and sharpen the image. However, this process can introduce artifacts of its own. The VF551XVT provides two controls—Smooth Motion and Real Cinema—that determine the amount and type of interpolation, respectively. It lets you balance the increased sharpness with any

artifacts that might intrude. In addition, frame interpolation gives the image a video-like look, which some viewers hate. I’m not one of them. Of course, I recognize it, but it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as blurry objects in motion. For viewers who find this intolerable, you can always disable it. A side-mounted USB port lets you attach a storage device and play many different types of stored media files. Video-wise, the VF551XVT can play H.264/AVC, MPEG-4 ASP, MPEG-2, and several forms of WMV, including VC-1. The TV can support resolutions up to 1920 by 1080 in all of these formats except MPEG-4 ASP, which is limited to 1280 by 720. The audio that accompanies the video can be AAC, WMA-7/8, or AC3 (Dolby Digital), depending on the video format. The VIZIO can also play MP3 audio files and display JPEG photos from the USB device. Thankfully, the calibration controls include two sets of red, green, and blue parameters—one for high brightness and one for low brightness. Previous VIZIO LCD HDTVs only offered one set of these controls, which made calibration less accurate. There’s still no color management system (CMS), which would let a trained technician alter the primary (red, green, blue) and secondary (yellow, magenta, cyan) colors to conform with the HD color specification. Fortunately, this wasn’t a big problem here, since the set’s color gamut was very close to correct out of the box (see HT Labs Measures). Two audio features from SRS are intended to enhance this TV’s sound. TruSurround HD is said to create a simulated surround experience, while TruVolume tames the sometimes wildly disparate volume levels between programs and commercials and even between channels. Another welcome audio feature is Lip Sync, which lets you delay the audio so it synchronizes with the video. Adjustable Lip Sync compensation is widespread in A/V receivers, but it’s rare for an HDTV’s onboard sound. One of the nicest features of all VIZIO HDTVs is the company’s free one-year, in-home warranty. In addition, for all LCD HDTVs that measure 30 inches and larger,

the company’s Zero Bright-Pixel Defect Guarantee replaces the entire TV if even one pixel sticks on. VIZIO also offers free lifetime technical support by e-mail or phone. Such dedication to customer service is rare and laudable in today’s consumer marketplace. User Interface

The universal remote is the same as the one VIZIO included with several of its previous models. It’s relatively large, with a nicely rubberized underbelly. It can also control up to four devices including the TV. The buttons are well separated but rather small and mostly the same size and shape. The remote is backlit, and the labels are on the buttons themselves, so you can identify them in the dark when the backlight is on. However, a few buttons have multiple functions, and the secondary labels are on the body of the remote with no illumination. Unlike virtually all other TV remotes, this one has dedicated input-selection buttons—sort of. Actually, each type of input has its own button. For example, the HDMI button cycles through the five HDMI inputs when you press it repeatedly. Still, this is far better than the usual single button that cycles through all inputs or calls up an onscreen list. I don’t like the VIZIO’s menu system much. The first level only has the major categories. You can’t see the parameters in the selected category except the picture and audio preset modes, and then you can only see them when the category is highlighted. The basic controls are in the second level, but again, you can only see the value that is highlighted. On the plus side, I’m happy to report that when you adjust a picture control, it drops to the bottom of the screen and the rest of the menu disappears. This way, you can see the image you’re trying to tweak. This is a big improvement over previous models that kept the menu on the screen during adjustments. Setup and Testing

Setting the VF551XVT’s basic picture controls was no problem. The Movie mode proved to be the closest to accurate, although the TV still required a full gray-scale


While the VF551XVT isn’t ultra-thin at 5 inches deep, it does bring LED local dimming to a new price point.

calibration. Below black and above white were clearly visible from all sources, which made it easy to set the Brightness and Contrast controls—especially since the menu disappears when you make these adjustments. Interestingly, a full black field didn’t look all that deep, even though the black level measured quite low, and it was brighter in the corners than in the center. When I looked at the Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray Edition test disc at 1080i, the deinterlacing content originally captured as progressive

Features VIZIO VF551XVT LCD HDTV TYPE: LCD SCREEN SIZE (DIAGONAL, INCHES): 55 NATIVE RESOLUTION: 1920 by 1080 HD TUNER(S): OTA, QAM BACKLIGHT: LED RATED HALF LIFE: 40,000 hours WALL MOUNT OR STAND INCLUDED?: Stand DIMENSIONS (W X H X D, INCHES): 51.5 x 33.9 x 5 (without stand); 51.5 x 35.9 x 13.5 (with stand) WEIGHT (POUNDS): 78.0 (without stand); 90.3 (with stand) PRICE: $2,200 55 &

MIDRANGE appeared slightly pasty. The Before Calibration gray-scale measurements were taken in the Movie mode with the color temperature set to Normal (there is no Warm setting) and all automatic functions disabled. As the colortracking chart shows, the gray scale was biased toward green. As mentioned in the main text, the VF551XVT has two sets of RGB controls instead of one set as in previous models. Calibrating the low end of the brightness range was fairly easy, although I got different results if a control was on the screen. This meant I had to enter the menu, make an adjustment, and exit the menu before taking each measurement. VIZIO VF551XVT LCD HDTV The high end was more problematic, particularly at 60 IRE and 100 IRE. Getting one of these brightness levels correct made the FULL-ON/FULL-OFF other one worse, so I opted for a CONTRAST RATIO: 13,250:1 compromise somewhere in the middle. The end result wasn’t as flat For the picture settings used in this as I would like, but it was certainly review, go to much better than the Before All the measurements here were Calibration measurements. taken through an HDMI input with the Displaying a full black field did not set adjusted for the most accurate cause the LEDs to drop to 0, but they picture in a darkened room. seemed to do just that in some Visit our Website for a detailed cases between movie scenes explanation of our s you can see and while waiting for a disc to testing regimen, plus a list of our in the CIE chart load. I measured a black level reference gear. above, the VIZIO of 0.002 foot-lamberts using a VF551XVT’s color full black field, which is on the excellent. However, as I gamut was close to perfect. web mentioned in the main text, This is a very good thing, since the set doesn’t provide a color this didn’t seem to translate to management system. Even so, colors deep blacks on real-world material for in real-world material often looked a some reason.—SW bit muted or dull, and fleshtones

HT Labs Measures

0.002 26.5




Color-tracking charts were generated in Datacolor ColorFacts.

3:2 HD

2:2 HD













but stored as interlaced looked superb. This was especially true of 3:2 film-based material. The 2:2 video material exhibited occasional moments of moiré, but it

was otherwise very stable. With material that was originally captured or created as interlaced, jaggies on the rotating bar were nearly invisible. But the circle

background’s black level appeared higher than a full black field. Also, as the text faded out, the black level suddenly dropped and then jumped back up when the next label appeared. INPUTS: VIDEO: HDMI 1.3 (5), In some intermittent component video (2), S-video cases, the white text (1), composite video (2), PC disappeared entirely as the VGA (D-sub) (1) AUDIO: Stereo screen went to black, then analog (3) ADDITIONAL: RF it reappeared. I suspect (1), USB (1) OUTPUTS: AUDIO: this could be due to the Stereo analog (1), optical digital (1) LED backlight getting incorrect info about which zones to turn off. But I don’t know for sure, and I composed of 1-pixel alternating didn’t see this on any of black and white lines was full of the real-world material I watched. macroblocking artifacts when Smooth Motion (frame interpola- Real-World Performance As usual, I started my tion) was enabled. real-world tests with I saw some ringing chapter 8 of Mission: (white halos) around Impossible III on the rigging of the Blu-ray at 1080i. I sailing ship at the saw almost no moiré previously determined in the pan across the Sharpness setting, so I staircase—in fact, it reduced it to 1, even was the best I’ve seen though there was still this shot look in a a bit of ringing. (A very long time. Sharpness setting of 0 Shadow detail in the softened the image catacombs wasn’t that noticeably.) Mixed film great, and the black and video text crawls level seemed fairly looked fine. The film high. For example, content looked slightly the letterbox bars jerky, but there were were clearly visible in no jaggies or artifacts a darkened room. in pans across images Detail was excellent, with fine detail. and color was very To test frame good, except that the interpolation, I always fleshtones looked turn to an unpublished slightly pasty. Blu-ray test disc called Next, I cued up FPD Benchmark. The Stargate: Continuum VIZIO’s Smooth on Blu-ray at 1080p. Motion function The black of space in certainly sharpened the opening shot motion detail, but as wasn’t particularly with many framedeep, and there were interpolating LCDs, it far fewer stars visible caused some smudging than on most artifacts in a moving plasmas. Granted, resolution pattern. All The buttons on VIZIO’s this isn’t just a the other tests are clips universal remote are well problem with the of real-world material, spaced but mostly of the same size and shape. The VIZIO—every LCD and they looked fine. Smooth Motion clearly unit is fortunately backlit. I’ve seen obscures many of the stars in this shot. gives the image a I did see some halos around the video-like look, but I saw little white letters that appear over the difference between its settings. star field. On FPD Benchmark, a static Color was good overall, but white label on a black background fleshtones were still on the pasty preceded each section and side. Shadow detail also wasn’t individual test, and I saw some great as the Achilles steams across problems here. For one thing, the


56 FEBRUARY 2010 &

VIZIO VF551XVT LCD HDTV and the calibration controls are more complete than in previous models. Even though I measured an excellent black level with a full-screen black field, the blacks in real-world images don’t appear all that deep, and shadow detail is marginal in most cases. Colors are pretty good overall, but they’re slightly muted, and fleshtones are a bit pasty. As I was reviewing the VIZIO, Tom Norton was reviewing the Samsung UN55B8500, a 55-inch LEDbacklit LCD with local dimming, which I watched for a while at his house. The Samsung looked quite a bit better than the VIZIO—deeper blacks, better color—but it costs more than twice as much. And I have to say that the VF551XVT looks a lot better than

previous VIZIO LCD HDTVs. If money’s tight but you want a big LCD with LED local dimming and you can live with the VIZIO’s limitations, the VF551XVT certainly deserves your consideration. VIZIO • (888) 849-4623 • Dealer Locator Code VIZ

Total Control at Your Fingertips Access your entire music library—your iPod, CDs or even Satellite Radio—and control the volume from any room in your home. CSA makes it possible with these state-of-the-art touchpads. Stop by our showroom to learn how easy it is for us to install these tools and all the other home theater products that we offer. Before you invest in any component visit us and discover the best brands and an attentive, knowledgeable staff that loves music (and movies!) as much as you do!

198 Bellevue Avenue • Upper Montclair, NJ 07043 973-744-0600 • &

Screen image courtesy of Universal

the Atlantic and in the Russian Switching to DVD, I looked at Stargate facility. Detail was Star Wars: Episode VI and excellent in facial textures on the found that the letterbox bars and the Achilles captain’s weren’t as black as I’d like. web nubby sweater. Heck, they weren’t even as For additional The opening sequence of details, black as the shots of space! plus a list of Cars on Blu-ray was very Shadow detail in Darth the settings used for this review, see revealing of the VIZIO’s the online version. Vader’s shuttle cockpit was LED backlight. In this surprisingly good, but it sequence, the screen is completely wasn’t in Jabba the Hutt’s dim lair. black except for momentary Detail was good, but the colors bursts of imagery, and the LED looked a bit dull. There were no backlight immediately dropped to frame-interpolation artifacts as near 0 during the blackouts and Vader’s shuttle first approaches just as quickly jumped to the the Death Star. appropriate illumination for the Moulin Rouge on DVD yielded picture bursts. Only after the last similar results. Shadow detail in blackout, when Lightning Christian’s apartment wasn’t great, McQueen’s truck door starts to but detail was very good. The slowly open, did I see the black colors were muted, which helped level obviously jump. tame this movie’s riotous palette. Also, this is the first movie Conclusion where I saw a difference in All in all, the VF551XVT is a the Smooth Motion (framemixed bag. On the plus side, it interpolation) settings. When I provides some of the best video set it to High, it looked best in processing I’ve ever seen. Its a pan across a big sign in the middle of the racetrack, but it also frame interpolation also works very well—at least if, like me, you caused some smudging in the don’t object to the video-like array of bright blue lights behind McQueen as he’s being profiled in appearance it imparts. Likewise, detail is generally superb. The a picture inset. There was no menu system now disappears smudging in the Medium setting, when you adjust a picture control, so that’s where I left it.


MIDRANGE BY Mark Fleischmann

Boston Acoustics Reflection RS 260 Speaker System

PRICE: $2,900 AT A GLANCE: Gloss finish and rounded edges enrich rectangular appearance Custom-designed woofers and tweeter A polite top end with fully fleshed-out midrange

Between VS and CS


n this brutal economy, it takes more than a good resume to keep you afloat. Boston Acoustics has a legendary audiophile pedigree that dates from its birth in 1979 as an independent brand. In this environment, it probably matters more that Boston is part of the D&M Holdings family, along with Snell Acoustics, McIntosh, Denon, Marantz, and Escient. This positioning has already borne fruit with pairings of Denon A/V receivers and Boston speaker packages, including the distinctive bell-shaped VS Series speakers, which I showered with welldeserved superlatives when I reviewed them last year. You really can’t go wrong with a set of VS speakers and one of Denon’s upper-end A/V receivers. When Boston Acoustics started operating under the aegis of D&M, it didn’t emphasize its audiophile roots at first. Its re-emergence as an audiophile brand came with the VS Series. Now Boston is building on that experience with the new Reflection Series. It’s a bit more affordable than the VS, but it’s still a step up from the Classic Series. The largest VS monitor sells for $700, while the largest RS monitor is $400, and the largest CS monitor is $129. So the RS series occupies the middle ground.

$400/each; and the RS 230, with one 3.5-inch woofer, $250/each. The floorstander and center with quadruple 4-inch woofers presumably would complement each other well, as would the two 3.5-inch models, although Boston says the entire series is timbrematched. In any case, this review takes on a fully matched set of the 6.5-inch RS 260 plus the RPS 1000 subwoofer ($900). This is a favorite configuration of mine because it ensures seamless panning from side to side and front to back. Unlike the VS Series, the RS doesn’t go in for unusual cabinet shapes. The RS 260 has the proportions and size of a classic monitor. (That’s our term— Boston uses the old-fashioned “bookshelf.”) Rounded edges give it a deluxe appearance, an effect that the lustrous Gloss Black finish heightens. The speakers are packed in soft drawstring bags,

loves and they come with white gloves so your fingerprints won’t mar the shiny surfaces. In the back is a slot-shaped port whose main function, as with all ports, is to contribute to the bass response. However, as a probably unintentional side benefit, its shape and location make it a convenient carrying handle. I could pick up two speakers at once without the slightest awkwardness. Like many manufacturers, Boston Acoustics likes to turn product features into fancy proper nouns. In some cases, this pride is justified by a concentration on fundamentals. For instance, rather than buy off-the-shelf parts, the company designed the RS drivers and had them manufactured at a licensed Asian factory. The woofer is Fiber Ceramic Copolymer Material (FCCM), a composite of fiber and ceramic materials impregnated in a proprietary copolymer. The woofers in both


the monitor and the sub benefit from Deep Channel Design (DCD), which improves the woofers’ excursion. In other words, they can move back and forth further. The Extended Wide Bandwidth (EWB) tweeter is made of impregnated woven fiber, which is shaped to increase the highfrequency extension. Its dimpled central diaphragm termination and rear-chamber venting allow for a laundry list of desirable attributes. I can summarize most of these attributes by saying the tweeter behaves well under stress. In practice, I heard an unusual and desirable smoothness that was about as far from a ringy metal driver as you can get.

Boston Rolls Its Own

The Reflection Series includes, from top to bottom: the RS 334, a floorstander with quadruple 4-inch woofers, $700/each; the RS 244C, a center speaker also with quadruple 4-inch woofers, $500; the RS 260, reviewed here, a two-way design with a 6.5-inch woofer, $400/each; the RS 223 LCR, with dual 3.5-inch woofers,

For this review, Mark used his favorite configuration of five indentically matched speakers for a seamless soundfield.

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BOSTON ACOUSTICS REFLECTION RS 260 SPEAKER SYSTEM and Bellari VP530 tubed phono preamp.

Features SPEAKER:

RS 260


Two-way, monitor 1, impregnated woven fiber dome 6.5, FCCM cone 8 10–200 Gloss Black Lacquer 7.88 x 12.63 x 9.69 18 $400/each

decibels to +4 dB and goosed the sub’s volume dial from one-third of its range to more than half. I know that will raise doubts. Banish them. With adjustments, the sub was a monster. I spent a long Sunday rewatching the second season of Mad Men on Blu-ray. Each episode begins with a DTS-HD Master Audio logo that’s accompanied by a ridiculously loud synthesized whooshand-tinkle that sweeps from the lowest frequencies to the highest. As such, it’s pretty good audio demo material. It demonstrated the sub’s ability to play loud and deep, and it showed off its confident crossover to the speakers at 80 hertz. It scared the pants off me every time. Setup was easy, thanks to the RS 260’s use of standard five-way binding posts (a double set for biwiring or biamping, with plastic hex nuts). Associated gear included the Rotel RSX-1550 A/V receiver, Panasonic DMP-BD35 Blu-ray player, Luxman PD-289 turntable, Shure V97xE phono cartridge,

Knowing, in DTS-HD Master Audio, stars Nicolas Cage as a scientist following the trail of a psychic child who has foreknowledge of a series of deadly catastrophes. I can’t describe them in much detail without depriving the story of its succession of violent surprises. Suffice it to say the allchannel surround mayhem breaks out repeatedly to complement the scary visuals. The speakers and sub stood up well to the onslaught of high-volume effects, with excellent discipline, avoidance of brightness, and avoidance of bass bloat. They made an excellent first impression and achieved a high comfort level that never diminished in the remainder of the listening sessions. Wanted, also in DTS-HD Master Audio, harrows charismatic James McAvoy (the beleaguered doctor in The Last King of Scotland) with one of the most preposterous plots in movie history. It involves a thousandyear-old gang of assassins whose day jobs are to work the looms in a linen factory. Standard loud effects include all the ballistics you’d expect in a gun-crazy assassin movie along with a standard car chase. Again, the speakers stood up well to the blitz and required only modest volume adjustments to balance the dialogue and effects. The most

FCCM reappears in the RPS 1000 subwoofer. It has a 10-inch driver in the front with two 8-inch passive radiators (one on each side). Driving them is a 500-watt (RMS) amp. Boston uses what it calls Bass Trac technology to dynamically match the amp’s bass extension to the combined characteristics of the amp and woofer. Despite all this firepower, and the sub’s commendable discipline, I found its bass output to be a little reticent at first. My usual placement—near the front center speaker—may have been inappropriate for this particular sub. The manual recommends corner placement, which would provide an inherent bass boost, often at the expense of smoothness. However, to maintain a stable frame of reference, I keep all subs in the same place. My usual default settings were wrong for this sub, and here I made some necessary concessions. I raised the low-frequency effects level in the surround processor from the customary –4

Knowing, Shooting, Singing

Boston’s RPS 1000 subwoofer uses a 10-inch cone driver, plus a pair of 8-inch passive radiators. &

interesting bits were the swirling melanges of sound that depict the young assassin’s high adrenaline level, which gives him preternatural powers to fire bullets around people and objects. Soul Men was my lone Dolby TrueHD selection. Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac team up as a pair of washed-up background singers who make a classic road trip across the U.S. to appear at the memorial celebration of an ex-colleague at New York’s Apollo Theater. Unfortunately, this soundtrack is dynamically wishy-washy, even by the modest standards of movie comedy. Thus, the interesting musical numbers failed to pop out of the mix. This underplayed the emotional high points promised by the live-music-venue scenes and the general quality of musicianship (which includes, behind the scenes, Stanley Clarke on bass and George Duke on keyboards). The speakers weren’t responsible for this shortcoming in the demo material. However, the performances carried this movie. Mac, in his final film appearance, was at his best, and the always-compelling Jackson can actually sing. This was also the last film appearance of Isaac Hayes, who is in a brief cameo toward the end. Ravishing Cello, L.A. Sheen, Folkie Starkness

The movie sessions demonstrated the speakers’ handling of loud



HT Labs Measures

window response (a five-point average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +1.86/–2.97 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. An average of axial and +/–15-degree BOSTON ACOUSTICS REFLECTION horizontal responses RS 260 SPEAKER SYSTEM Visit our Website measures +2.15/–2.58 dB for a detailed explanation of our from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The Satellite Sensitivity: testing regimen, 90.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz plus a list of our –3-dB point is at 66 Hz, and reference gear. the –6-dB point is at 55 Hz. Impedance reaches a his graph shows the on the minimum of 4.48 ohms at quasi-anechoic web 174 Hz and a phase angle of (employing close-mik–41.63 degrees at 98 Hz. ing of all woofers) The RPS 1000’s frequency response of the RS close-miked response, 260 satellite (purple trace) normalized to the level at and RPS 1000 subwoofer 80 Hz, indicates that the (blue trace). The passive lower –3-dB point is at 41 loudspeaker was measured Hz and the –6-dB point is with its grille at a distance at 26 Hz. The upper –3-dB of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt point is at 119 Hz using the input. LFE input.—MJP The RS 260’s listening-



material. They displayed a polite top end that made loud effects easier to take, yet the tweeter didn’t roll off enough to starve the dialogue. This sense of the Reflection Series’ basic competence became a deeper respect for their musical character as the audio-only demos got underway. Chandos Records did a beautiful job of recording Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Sonatas with Christian Poltéra on cello and Kathryn Stott on piano. However, the CD does throw a curveball by tightly focusing the cello while diffusing the piano. This makes the cello the emotional center of attention, as it should be. But in the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode, it also threw too much of the piano into the surround channels, so I quickly cut back to

stereo. This left the cello tightly bound to the speakers, while the piano floated around them. It was impressive that the RS 260 was capable of this mixture of focus and diffusion. It was even more impressive that it worked in two channels. I’ve never heard a more fully fleshed-out cello sound— with emphasis on the warm, voluptuous sound of the instrument’s body, although the bowing was also fully audible. Bravo to both Chandos and Boston. I moved around the sofa a bit, but there was nothing beamy about the presentation. When I pulled off the magnetic grilles, I noted that the tweeter wasn’t mounted in any kind of waveguide. Randy Newman’s Little Criminals is one of the best pieces

RPS 1000 SUBWOOFER ENCLOSURE TYPE: Passive radiator WOOFER (SIZE IN INCHES, TYPE): 10, FCCM cone PASSIVE RADIATOR (SIZE IN INCHES, TYPE): 8, FCCM cone (2) RATED POWER (WATTS): 500 RMS, 1000 peak CONNECTIONS: Speaker-level in/out, line-level stereo RCA in, LFE RCA in CROSSOVER BYPASS: LFE AVAILABLE FINISHES: Gloss Black Lacquer DIMENSIONS (W X H X D, INCHES): 13.25 x 13.63 x 16.81 WEIGHT (POUNDS): 48.4 PRICE: $900

of vinyl I own. It documents the provocative master songwriter’s move toward a mainstream rock sound, abetted by L.A.’s best producers and session musicians. It also features prominent backing vocals by the Eagles on several songs. This album couldn’t have been better played, orchestrated, or recorded. And it translates beautifully to DPLII. Initially, I used the LP to tune the sub’s drum sound. I also goosed the master volume to compensate for both the muted highs of the tubed phono preamp and the speakers’ gentle top end. When the adjustments were complete, I enjoyed lush, golden, richly rewarding textures inhabiting a soundfield that comfortably dominated the room. Newman’s close-miked orchestral arrangements were major beneficiaries, somehow nudged out of the recording studio where they were undoubtedly recorded and into some ideal concert hall of the imagination. Listening to this album through this combination of components was pure pleasure. Moonshine is one of the more elaborately arranged albums of Bert Jansch, the legendary acoustic guitarist who mixes traditional, blues, Middle Eastern, and other elements into a distinctive brew. I bought my impeccable white-label reviewcopy LP for $3.49 decades ago. Some other critic’s lack of taste was my gain. The production by Jansch’s Pentangle colleague, bassist Danny Thompson, favored the voice over all other instruments. This is an odd choice, since Jansch is best known as a guitarist, and the album is graced by a flute consort, fiddles, harp, and other niceties. It also has virtually no reverb, which gives the album a stark, airless feel characteristic of its 1973-era recording. Drums on the opening track were strong enough to make me back off the sub volume. After that, the main

60 FEBRUARY 2010 &

challenge for the speakers was to pull the reticent guitar out of the mix. A more aggressive tweeter might have done a better job of this, but I greatly preferred the RS 260’s overall rounded tonal balance. It merely told the truth about this technically flawed but musically rich album. I started this review by noting that the higher-end VS Series has been used in packages with Denon A/V receivers. Just before I completed the review, I asked if the RS would be marketed the same way. I couldn’t get a firm yes, but D&M didn’t rule out the prospect. I’m guessing a lot of consumers would love to get speakers of this caliber with a decent A/V receiver at an affordable price. Boston Acoustics’ Reflection Series unerringly does just about everything right. The RS 260’s voicing satisfies the different but overlapping needs of action movies and serious music. It’s also compatible with the midpriced A/V receivers that will probably run it in most systems. This speaker is made to be lived with. The RPS 1000 sub is commendably free from one-note puffery. The longer I listened to it, the more I came to respect it. I especially liked the way it dispersed bass in my room. It was like having two subs in the room. In general, the RS fills the gap between the VS and the lowpriced CS, leaning toward the former’s world-class performance. At this price, you couldn’t get better value for your money. * Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater ( Boston Acoustics • (254) 523-0535 • Dealer Locator Code BST


3D TV - IT’S A GAME CHANGER! 2010 is the year that consumers will see another revolution in television, and unlike anything in the past, it’s not simply about improvement. It’s not just better sound, better resolution or flatter screens. It’s about reality – television that is finally “real” – providing a true immersive experience. Many consumers have experienced 3D in theaters, primarily with their children using flimsy colored glasses. While these experiences have been exciting and entertaining, they are barely the tip of the iceberg in what the future has to offer for 3D. 3D is much more than great animated children’s movies and trick effects that startle and impress the audience.


3D changes the game because it opens an entirely new world of experiences, because the new 3D television standard captures and reproduces images just like the human eye, without the limitations found in today’s great Full HD 2D technology. We humans have a marvelous vision system, with two eyes, slightly separated, which allows the brain to see both a left and right image, and then creates a “composite image” in our brain that has depth (the third dimension). But for more than 50 years, we have also watched flat images on television and at the theatre, which our brains have also processed, without the sense of depth. The new Full HD 3D TV standard, created by Panasonic and being adopted as part of a new Bluray Disc standard is a breakthrough in technology and the human experience. In 2010, you will be able to visit your local retailer and experience a line-up of Full HD 3D televisions and Blu-ray Disc players to suit your lifestyle and needs. This new Full HD 3D standard is based on the same principle as the human eye – two Full HD 1080p cameras, slightly separated just like the human eye; simultaneously record the left and right images. These two 1080p images are stored on a new type of Blu-ray Disc, and played back in the home. Using a new HDMI standard (1.4) to connect to a Full HD 3D television, both the right and left images are displayed sequentially very fast. In order for your brain to process these two images, active shutter LCD glasses, which are synchronized with the television alternately blank your left and right eyes, so your brain sees a left, then a right image. The images are displayed so fast that they are just a natural, comfortable viewing experience, and your brain creates a normal 3D composite image. Because these new 3D Blu-ray Disc players can play standard DVD’s, Blu-ray Discs as well as Full HD 3D Blu-ray Discs, a more intelligent connection between the player and the television is necessary – which is the new HDMI 1.4. HDMI 1.4 has technology that allows the player to “tell” the television that the new signal is 2D or 3D, and then the television will automatically switch on the correct processing circuits. This new HDMI standard

should be completed by the end of 2009, and products should be available in mid-2010 with this new circuit. In order for this new standard to be created, Panasonic’s Hollywood Laboratory facility cooperated with leading studios, and developed a range of new technologies and processes. The lab, which has been a leader in helping studios author their 2D Blu-ray Discs (so the discs could be duplicated and made available in stores), created the authoring process for the new 3D standard as well. At Panasonic, new high-performance signal processing chips were created, and a new higher-speed Plasma television technology was created. Combined with the new Blue-ray Disc standard that Panasonic created and proposed, a new paradigm in home entertainment has been created. This standard has been supported by the major studios and consumer electronics companies, and 2010 will be the year for consumers to migrate to this new technology. Simply put, watching the new Full HD 3D television system is like actually attending the football game, or looking out the window. All the resolution of Full 1080P HD for each eye, combined with the natural left and right images which allow for depth perception, make this an amazing experience. Unlike the 3D experiences that most of us have experienced, it’s sharp, clear and incredibly immersive. And it’s not just children’s animated content that is driving this revolution – it’s the full range of theatrical releases, live sporting events, computer games, documentaries, and all the content you can imagine, the way your were meant to watch it – in three dimensions. But this is just the beginning. While remote medical imaging, remote surgery and imaging are in their infancy, they are missing the third dimension. Remote controlled aircraft, video conferencing, live news – so many of today’s experiences and technologies will be dramatically changed as 3D becomes available. In the market today, there are a variety of products marketed as 3D. There are differences between these products and the new Full HD 3D standard, so consumers will need to be armed with the right information in order to make the right choices. A quick checklist will help you understand the products you are looking at – does it have an HDMI 1.4 connection? Does it provide Full HD 3D, or lesser resolution? Does the display technology provide a good image? Fortunately, some simple questions and a review of specifications will help, along with your actual experience – because seeing is believing. Panasonic is focused on driving this new technology paradigm, and we think you will be thrilled with the experience. We invite you to visit a quality retailer for a Full HD 3D demonstration in the coming months! &

ENTRY LEVEL BY Mark Fleischmann

Paradigm Special Edition SE 1 Speaker System

PRICE: $2,344 AT A GLANCE: Between Studio and Monitor Series PBK-1 Perfect Bass Kit finetunes sub’s low-frequency response Five stand-mounts plus subwoofer

Seeing Red in a New Way


first became interested in Paradigm speakers on the recommendation of a working musician. He was a trumpeter, and he owned a pair of Paradigm Titans. This was 20 years ago, but even today, the Titan is one of the best budget speakers in captivity. Like all Paradigm speakers, it’s gone through one generation after another, acquiring better drivers and improved parts along the way. I completed the circle by donating my pair of vintage Titans to another musician, who loved them. I’ve since stepped up to the Studio Series, which in one form or another has been my reference speaker system for almost a decade. They provide an unimpeachable foundation for reviews of A/V receivers. When people ask me to tout a speaker, I don’t want to have a long and intricate conversation about my ever-expanding frame of reference. I just tell people what I use: the Studio 20. On the rare occasions when I hear back from such people, they’re happy campers. Whenever Paradigm announces a new speaker line, I pay attention. I know it will continue a long train of thought that I share with the company. I inspect it the way some people search the faces of their infant grandchildren for the nose or cheekbones of other loved ones. The SE 1 is certainly a beautiful and well-behaved child. It didn’t make a mess of the place, and it spoke in a pleasing and somehow familiar voice.

Paradigm Reference family includes the flat-panel-friendly Millenia Series, the high-end Studio Series, and the bleedingedge Signature Series. The plain old Paradigm line includes the satellite- and slimline-oriented Cinema Series, the more conventionally shaped budget champion Monitor Series, and the new Special Edition Series. My reference speakers hail from the Studio Series, but the subject of this review is the slightly less costly Special Edition Series. This review system uses a set of five identical SE 1 monitors with an SE SUB. Special Edition is an elite club with only four members. It

includes the SE 1, a two-way monitor ($329); the SE CENTER, a three-way horizontal center ($549); the SE 3, a 2.5-way floorstanding speaker; and the SE SUB. All are clad in Rosenut veneer or a Black Gloss finish. I was struck by the beauty of the Rosenut—no matter how house-proud you are, you’d be pleased to have these speakers in your home. The rounded edges made them seem not only pretty, but somehow less prepossessing than their 11-inch height and 6.5-inch width would suggest. There was a tactile component to my pleasure, too. I felt like I was touching something refined.


Beneath the SE 1’s magnetic grille is a 1-inch tweeter made of ferrofluid-cooled G-PAL or gold-anodized pure aluminum. Compared with conventional aluminum, G-PAL claims to have improved rigidity and damping, and this tweeter has a reduced curvature radius for better dispersion. The 5.5-inch backported woofer is made of satin-anodized pure aluminum (S-PAL), which also claims

The SE SUB features the same striking Rosenut veneer as the SE 1’s, with rounded edges for an aesthetically pleasing look.

Plain Old Paradigm

Paradigm breaks its model lines into two distinct families. The 62 FEBRUARY 2010 &


Features SPEAKER:

SE 1


Two-way, monitor 1, G-PAL dome 5.5, S-PAL cone 8 15–120 Rosenut, Black Gloss 6.5 x 11 x 8.5 12.9 $329/each

improved rigidity. It’s topped with a gold-anodized phase plug, which controls driver response. (According to my company contact, Paradigm made these driver choices late in the design cycle, so you may see conflicting information in printed or online literature—including the manual.) The terminals are plastic-nut, gold-plated binding posts. The SE SUB is a simple 11-inch sealed cube that contains a 10-inch down-firing plastic-coned woofer powered by 300 watts RMS. Connectivity is minimal, with just a pair of stereo line-level inputs. Far more potentially revolutionary is the back panel’s mini-USB input, which functions with Paradigm’s PBK-1 Perfect Bass Kit ($299). This is Paradigm’s

solution for the problem of room-induced unevenness in bass response. Nearly all rooms have an unfortunate tendency to either bloat or understate bass—and they often have both, in different areas. Bloating is the most annoying symptom, and it’s most noticeable at the room’s resonant frequency. Square rooms, and those whose dimensions are multiples of one another, tend to have an exceptionally noticeable resonant frequency. The PBK-1 measures this frequency hump and corrects it with equalization. If it’s done right, the EQ should even out bass response in a way that’s impossible with simple sub-volume or crossover adjustments (although getting

those settings right is also important). Adjusting the volume on a bloat-prone sub is like using an ax; equalizing the sub is like using a scalpel. The Perfect Bass Kit includes a microphone, a heavy-duty stand, two long USB cables, and a software disc. Ignore the disc and download the latest software from; at press time, the newest version was 1.04. The program runs in Windows XP, Vista, 7 (in emulator mode), or Mac (through Boot Camp running XP). Set up the microphone on its stand, install the software, set the sub’s volume control at the 50-percent mark, then run one USB cable from the sub to your PC, and the other from your PC to the microphone. The program runs quickly; it issues test tones from the sub, measures them with the microphone, shows the results as a graph on your PC, and then makes the appropriate adjustments. It measures at least five, and up to ten listening positions. When I first tried the program, it aborted repeatedly. I upgraded to the latest software, and that solved the problem. The only

other snag was that my Manhattan listening room’s high level of ambient noise threw off the program. It repeatedly ordered me to raise the sub’s volume control. I raised the sub volume from 50 percent to 75 percent, then to 100 percent. After that, the process was over quickly, and I had a sub that transcended my room’s usual standing wave. I could summarize the result as less output; but it was higher-quality output, without the usual overlay of bloat. This required me to run the sub at a higher level than I’d used before equalization. But it had enough gain, running at 75 to 100 percent of its volume control’s range, with the surround processor’s LFE level set between 0 and +4 decibels. I usually tweaked it for each piece of demo material, since I’ve found that living with well balanced bass is more challenging, in a good way, than tuning my system to minimize bloat. Associated gear included the Rotel RSX-1550 A/V receiver, Panasonic DMP-BD35 Blu-ray player, Integra DPS-10.5 universal player, Luxman PD-289 turntable, Shure V97xE cartridge, and Bellari VP530 tube phono preamp. All movies were on Blu-ray Disc. None of the music, I’m glad to add, was on CD. Barcelona Bound

Simply put, these speakers mastered the frequency spectrum, from top to bottom. This allowed the source material to express itself to the maximum extent. In retrospect, my notes indicate how readily I forgot about the speakers and hungrily absorbed information about movies and music. Vicky Cristina Barcelona, in high-resolution PCM, represents a breakthrough for Woody Allen. To the best of my knowledge, it’s his first multichannel soundtrack—as long as you define multichannel as

• Despite their small

stature, the SE 1 monitors have a refined and regal appearance. 63 &



HT Labs Measures

response (a five-point average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +2.34/–2.63 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. An average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal PARADIGM SE 1 SPEAKER responses measures +2.52/–2.13 dB SYSTEM Satellite Sensitivity: from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The Visit our Website for a detailed 89.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz –3-dB point is at 61 Hz, and explanation of our the –6-dB point is at 55 Hz. testing regimen, plus a list of our his graph shows the Impedance reaches a reference gear. quasi-anechoic minimum of 4.17 ohms at (employing close232 Hz and a phase angle of on the –55.52 degrees at 106 Hz. miking of all woofers) web frequency response of the SE 1 The SE SUB’s close-miked satellite (purple trace) and SE SUB response, normalized to the level subwoofer (blue trace). The passive at 80 Hz, indicates that the lower loudspeaker was measured with its –3-dB point is at 26 Hz and the grille at a distance of 1 meter with a –6-dB point is at 24 Hz. The upper 2.83-volt input. –3-dB point is at 218 Hz using the The SE1’s listening-window LFE input.—MJP



SE SUB SUBWOOFER ENCLOSURE TYPE: Sealed WOOFER (SIZE IN INCHES, TYPE): 10, carbonaramid-fiber polypropylene cone RATED POWER (WATTS): 300 RMS, 900 peak CONNECTIONS: Line-level in, stereo RCA CROSSOVER BYPASS: LFE AVAILABLE FINISHES: Rosenut, Black Gloss DIMENSIONS (W X H X D, INCHES): 11 x 11.44 x 11 WEIGHT (POUNDS): 14.1 PRICE: $699

high-volume excitement, but the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack was inhibited, the strings were hard, explosions didn’t have much bass—and none of this was the fault of the speakers. As sometimes happens in my potluck demos, the source material wasn’t worthy of the equipment. At no point during any of the demos did the SE 1 prompt my trigger finger to make a major master volume adjustment. I spent the first three minutes of each movie getting the right level, then I left it alone. This was a rare event in my reviewing career, and it indicated the comfort level that these speakers achieved. Lossless Red

King Crimson’s Red, the 1974 progressive rock landmark, has received a re-release that sets new standards in both questing and quality. Inside the two-disc set are both a ripping-friendly CD and a DVD-Audio disc that contains the original five-track album, four bonus tracks, and a four-track video that was originally filmed three-channel. The opening music and a brief scene set aboard a plane filled the front three channels. The remainder of the movie reverts to Allen’s longtime preference of mono, even when two characters speak to each other on opposite sides of the frame. The challenge for the Paradigms was to reproduce believable dialogue in this warm and unpredictable story of romantic entanglements among three women and one man. Mission accomplished. I felt as if I were listening to people, not speakers. Working in Britain and Europe has rejuvenated this quintessential New York filmmaker, and I’m glad to note that his next three projects will be filmed overseas. Woody, please try 5.1. Without a Paddle, in Dolby TrueHD, got my personal seal of approval for the appropriate choice of dynamic range in a

comedy/adventure movie. The story concerns three buddies who live the dream of a departed friend by searching for treasure in a Northwestern wilderness (actually shot in New Zealand). It starts out with a relatively narrow range, but it steps up the volume when the action starts. The music popped from the soundtrack to good effect and includes some of my favorite songs, including Joey Ramone’s cover of “What a Wonderful World” and “Ooh La La” by the Faces (with vocal by Ronnie Wood, not Rod Stewart). No Way Back is a 1996 Russell Crowe vehicle. He’s a tough cop whose young son gets caught up in a web of kidnapping and murder. There’s plenty of

64 FEBRUARY 2010 &

for French television. The main audio content is provided in MLP lossless 5.1 at 48 kilohertz and 24 bits; MLP lossless 2.0 at 96/24; DTS 5.1 at 48/24; and LPCM at 48/24. I’ve sampled all of the content informally, but the main attraction was the original masterpiece in lossless surround. The mixing engineer was Steven Wilson, the prime mover in Porcupine Tree and an impressive musician in his own right. As the title track demonstrated, Wilson has used the surround medium in a fearless and probing manner. The ascending leadguitar figure that opens “Red” appeared only in the surrounds. As the instrumental piece moved into its first verse, the pile-driving rhythm-guitar part shifted to both the center and the surrounds, generating an immersive triangular soundfield. Throughout the album, Wilson judiciously distributes elements in various locations throughout the soundfield. His choices aren’t always predictable, but once I let go of the idea that surrounds are only for ambience, there was a rightness to all of his decisions. He gently unpeeled parts that were formerly buried, which offered fresh insights to this well-loved album. I won’t throw out my Atlantic vinyl, but it may be shelf-bound for a long time. Oh, yes—the speakers. They supported high-volume prog-metal listening without breaking a sweat. Robert Fripp’s multitracked Gibson Les Paul churned out an array of gorgeous fuzztones. Bill Bruford’s chattering drum kit benefited from the unpeeling process, and the highresolution medium did justice to the exquisite high frequencies of the bells he used in quieter moments. At the center of it all was John

string section. It was well defined but sweet, not acerbic, and I could more easily hear the violas and the cellos layered in between the violins and basses. Lucid, elegant sonorities hinted at hidden emotional depths. This is how Schubert must have intended this music to be heard. Jean-Pierre Rampal Plays Scott Joplin: I trust the title explains itself. The flutist was joined by drums, tuba, and a keyboardist who switched between blandtextured piano and funkier harpsichord. With both the flute and the harpsichord competing for high-frequency space, I was glad to be listening to vinyl through a tubed phono preamp, which caressed the instruments with a golden glow. Paradigm’s gold-anodized aluminum-domed tweeters made their contribution by balancing this tubey subjectivity with tight imaging. As I switched between stereo and the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode, the main benefit of going from 2.1 to 5.1 channels was that the soundfield lifted slightly from the speakers, whereas stereo was always speaker-bound and therefore somehow earthbound.

Rampal earned his pay by injecting the familiar “Maple Leaf Rag,” in a flute/ piano duet, with the kind of rumbato only a virtuoso can muster. How does Paradigm produce such wellrounded performance at $329 per speaker? It’s partly an earnest company policy to produce products that perform well on and off axis, and it’s partly a trickle-down process that enables modestly priced products to use drivers developed for far more costly products. What the Perfect Bass Kit can do for your system is well worth the $329 asking price. But what surprised me was the beauty of the Rosenut veneer cabinetry. The SE 1 and SE SUB don’t just sound like far more expensive products—they also look like ’em. The Special Edition belongs on anyone’s short list of affordable yet high-performing speakers. &

Wetton, whose perpetually creative and powerful bass lines traveled through the floor right into the soles of my feet. This isn’t a sensation I would normally get, when a sub is turned down in level in an attempt to tame my room’s resonant bass bloat would starve the system of truly deep low-frequency response. Bass lines emerged refreshingly well proportioned. However, listening to them was a more cerebral experience than I’d expected, even with elevated volume settings in both the sub and the surround processor. I wondered what Paradigm’s Perfect Bass Kit might do for a 12- or 15-inch sub. Forgive the verbiage, but the new Red is a major milestone in my listening life. I moved on to PentaTone’s multichannel SACD of Schubert’s Symphonies No. 4 (Tragic) and No. 5 by the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, led from the violin chair by Gordan Nikolic. Freshly made DSD recordings always make me feel like a thin scrim of noise has been lifted from the signal. This one offered a remarkable sense of ease and relaxation at the top end of the

• Paradigm’s PBK-1 kit can tame

both bloated and understated bass.

* Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater ( Paradigm • (905) 564-1994 • Dealer Locator Code PDM

ENTRY LEVEL BY Mark Fleischmann

Sony STR-DN1000 A/V Receiver

PRICE: $400 AT A GLANCE: Flagship of Sony’s standard receiver line Strong aesthetics and user interface, well-designed remote Compatible with Sony wireless speakers using optional card

Slick but Affordable


he process of getting music into, and out of, an A/V receiver is changing. An increasing number of receivers come with Ethernet jacks to pull music out of a network-connected PC. Against this background, Sony—thinking for itself, as always—has built a totally different form of networking into the STR-DN1000 A/V receiver. Instead of an Ethernet jack, Sony’s AVR can accept an optional transmitter card that communicates with wireless speakers. It can also simultaneously accept optional adapters that offer Bluetooth or Wi-Fi capability. Together, these triple-threat wireless options rethink the nature of audio networking. Sony has effectively made the A/V receiver—not the PC, the router, or a separate server—the central device in a multiroom audio system. Why is this better than a computer-centric approach? For starters, you don’t need to have a PC sucking up power 24 hours a day to access your library of music files. In fact, under Sony’s scheme, even the AVR doesn’t have to be fully powered up when routing music to the wireless speakers.

this modest set of front-panel controls will work OK if you keep the A/V receiver accessible in a high rack slot. Otherwise, you’ll depend more on the remote control. Fortunately, the remote is a good one. It has a ribbed pattern on the rounded bottom that provides traction as well as a modest tactile stimulus. It’s Sony’s way of saying, “We’re special, and so are you.” The buttons are well differentiated by size, shape, color, and labeling. Special emphasis goes to the 17 input-select buttons. They’re in light gray, which makes them stand out. The transport keys include an oversized Play button and a small Pause button located right beneath it. The volume and channel rockers are reasonably large. Backlighting appears only on the four mode-shift buttons on the top, including the ones that shift between amp and TV functions. Some users might prefer backlighting for all of the keys. Otherwise, this is a pretty

well-thought-out remote, and I used it with pleasure. On the back panel are four HDMI inputs and one output. When you add the component video jacks, you’ve got a grand total of seven HD-capable inputs and enough outputs for two displays. The absence of S-video is increasingly common in AVRs that are in this price range. Sony provides composite video connection for legacy sources. For video processing, Sony has licensed Faroudja’s DCDi. The wireless transmitter card I used in this review—see below—is the EZW-T100 ($50). It’s not the only multiroom audio option. A DMPORT jack can accept one of the following: TDM-BT1 Bluetooth adapter ($80), TDM-NC1 Wi-Fi client ($200), TDM-IP10 iPod dock ($60), or TDM-IP50 iPod/iPhone dock ($100). Sirius satellite radio is supported. The only thing that unnerved me was the absence of a multichannel analog input. My old universal disc player and a

Slick Dude

This is one slick-looking A/V receiver. A shiny dark plastic panel takes up most of the front. It includes a small white fluorescent display and a volume knob on the right. Next to the volume knob is a slender horizontal rocker switch for input selection. It’s nearly invisible, and I never used it. A flip-down panel at the bottom provides access to a few buttons that select soundfield modes. Although it’s on the small side, 66 FEBRUARY 2010 &


stack of new SACDs gathered dust during this review. I had to limit my audio demos to CDs, vinyl, and iPod. Initially, I treated the STR-DN1000 as I would any other A/V receiver. I set it up manually, ignored the proprietary auto-setup program, and put it through its paces with my reference speakers, saving the wireless-speaker experience for later. Manual setup was slightly complicated by the fact that the test tones and channel adjustments are on different menus. Sony clearly expects the consumer to take advantage of the auto setup mode. Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v4 speakers run full range, a Panasonic DMP-BD35 Blu-ray player, Luxman PD-289 turntable,


• The slick-looking Sony is in

The receiver performed about average for a budget model. It had modest bass, a midrange that did well with vocals, and highs that were well developed but slightly grainy. It had no trouble running my speakers, typically driving them to movie-worthy levels using well under half of the volume control’s range. Race to Witch Mountain, in DTS-HD Master Audio, is a Disney vehicle that features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a tough but warmhearted Vegas cab driver who protects two alien children from some scary characters. As a spaceship whooshed from the surround channels to the front channels, I wondered how long it would be before something whooshed from the front channels to the surround

channels. As it turned out, just a few minutes later, and the whooshing vehicle was a helicopter. Despite a fair amount of stuff blowing up, I was surprised at how little I needed to adjust the volume to keep the dialogue

SONY STR-DN1000 A/V RECEIVER AUDIO DECODING: DOLBY: TrueHD, Digital 5.1, EX, Pro Logic IIx DTS: DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS, ES, 96/24, Neo:6 OTHER: Three Cinema Studio modes, five DSP modes, Portable Audio Enhancer, Headphone 2CH (downmix), Headphone Direct (analog) THX CERTIFICATION: No NUMBER OF AMP CHANNELS: 7 RATED POWER (WATTS PER CHANNEL): 100 into 8 ohms, two channels driven SPECIFIED FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 10 Hz to 70 kHz, +0.5/–2 dB VIDEO PROCESSING: Faroudja, up to 1080i AUTO SETUP/ROOM EQ: Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) DIMENSIONS (W X H X D, INCHES): 17 x 6.25 x 12.88 WEIGHT (POUNDS): 19 PRICE: $400

• The STR-DN1000 has the

unique ability to work with Sony’s wireless speakers.


3:2 HD

2:2 HD


3:2 SD

2:2 SD




























VIDEO TEST BENCH The Sony STR-DN1000 does not shows. The resolution tests were borderline as to the Visit our Website for a detailed perform any deinterlacing or upconversion on HDMI inputs. resolution results themselves but failed because the burst explanation of It simply passes the input resolution through to the output. these video tests. test patterns were not stable; instead of being rock solid Where it can upconvert—such as from its component input as they should be, they flickered. While the Video Clipping to its HDMI outputs as in our analog tests—it upconverts to test earned a passing grade, the above-white test clipped on the sooner than it should and did not pass the full range of a maximum of 1080i. Therefore, the Digital and Analog web HD and SD 3:2, 2:2, and MA deinterlacing tests are not white levels in the test pattern. And the Video Scaling result applicable here, and neither is the Digital scaling test. The had the most severe moiré we’ve yet seen on this test. Digital Video Clipping and Resolution tests shown here were all But there was another issue apart from the basic performance performed with 1080p HDMI in and out, to check the passthrough of the Sony AVR’s cross-conversion feature. When I tried to pass a quality of the digital video circuitry. 1080i signal through the component-to-HDMI route (component The Analog SD Scaling test was performed with 480p 1080i into the receiver, HDMI 1080i out), the HDMI lock-on would component in and 1080i HDMI out, and the Analog Video Clipping not hold. It would work for a couple of minutes, then the source and Resolution tests with 1080i component in and 1080i HDMI would disappear and be replaced by a full white field, or a full out. The 1080p display we used for the test (a Sony VPL-HW15 color field, or a full white field with vertical stripes! I could always projector) passed all of our 1080i HDMI input tests (as fed directly re-establish the image by unplugging and replugging the HDMI from the source, an OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray player); the quality of connection from the receiver to the display, but it would continue its 1080i-to-1080p deinterlacing was not a limiting factor in the to break lock every two minutes or so. results. I can recommend the HDMI-to-HDMI switching in the STRThe Sony receiver’s digital performance—within the design DN1000—it’s superb. But if our sample was typical, I would limits described above—was excellent. Our tests showed that it not plan on using the AVR’s component-in-to-HDMI-out crosspassed a 1080p source without visible compromise. conversion.—TJN But its analog performance was another story, as the chart &

Photos by Cordero Studios

The Rock, Beyoncé, and a Fine Romance

a class of its own, with a shiny dark plastic panel in front.


Shure V97xE phono cartridge, and Bellari VP530 tubed phono preamp. All movie selections were on Blu-ray Disc and had various lossless soundtracks.

audible and effects under control. That doesn’t mean the tonal balance was particularly warm or forgiving—it wasn’t. But the A/V receiver’s tonal balance was such that it let me run it at a low volume overall without missing any dialogue. Obsessed, in Dolby TrueHD, is largely a vehicle for Beyoncé, who plays her part in this Fatal Attraction–like scenario with aplomb—especially in the actionpacked finale. Until that point, the plot mainly focuses on the husband, well played by the charismatic Idris Elba, who is pursued by an increasingly determined stalker. Well-recorded piano and strings fret around the edges and take on more tragic overtones as the story progresses. The Sony handled these elements well. In an


HT Labs Measures


his graph shows that the STR-DN1000’s left channel, from CD input to speaker output with two channels driving 8-ohm loads, reaches 0.1 percent distortion at 112.4 watts and SONY STR-DN1000 A/V RECEIVER 1 percent distortion at 127.9 watts. Into 4 ohms, the amplifier reaches 0.1 percent distortion at 144.2 watts and 1 percent distortion at 167.0 watts. THD+N from the CD input to the speaker output was less than Five channels driven continuously into 0.010 percent at 1 kilohertz when driving 2.83 volts into an 8-ohm load. 8-ohm loads: Crosstalk at 1 kHz driving 2.83 volts 0.1% distortion at 58.9 watts into an 8-ohm load was –92.18 1% distortion at 69.3 watts decibels left to right and Visit our Website for a detailed –86.60 dB right to left. The Seven channels driven explanation of our signal-to-noise ratio with 2.83 continuously into 8-ohm loads: testing regimen, plus a list of our volts driving an 8-ohm load 0.1% distortion at 55.3 reference gear. from 10 Hz to 24 kHz with “A” watts weighting was –107.74 dBrA. 1% distortion at 64.9 watts on the From the Dolby Digital web input to the loudspeaker Analog frequency response in output, the left channel measures Analog Direct mode: –0.07 dB at 20 hertz and –0.34 dB at –0.06 dB at 10 Hz 20 kHz. The center channel measures –0.01 dB at 20 Hz –0.07 dB at 20 Hz and –0.34 dB at 20 +0.04 dB at 20 kHz kHz, and the left surround channel –2.57 dB at 50 kHz measures –0.07 dB at 20 Hz and –0.36 dB at 20 kHz. From the Dolby Digital Analog frequency response with input to the line-level output, the LFE stereo signal processing: channel is +0.00 dB at 20 Hz when –0.31 dB at 10 Hz referenced to the level at 40 Hz and –0.10 dB at 20 Hz reaches the upper 3-dB down point at –0.66 dB at 20 kHz 105 Hz and the upper 6-dB down –58.70 dB at 50 kHz point at 111 Hz.—MJP


office-party scene, the bass line should have pounded a little harder. However, I later discovered that the receiver’s dynamic range control was set to Auto, which I defeated. Last Chance Harvey, in Dolby TrueHD, may shock younger viewers with its insistence that people who are considerably older

than Beyoncé have feelings and emotions too. Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman play this autumnal romance at perfect pitch, neither low-key nor overwrought. However, the score is a bit more placid than the performances. Only when a bit of rockabilly breaks out along the Thames does the music hint at


INPUTS: VIDEO: HDMI 1.3 (4), component video (3), composite video (4) AUDIO: Coaxial digital (1), optical digital (3), stereo analog (6), DMPORT (1) ADDITIONAL: Sirius (1), AM (1), FM (1) OUTPUTS: VIDEO: HDMI 1.3 (1), component video (1), composite video (2) AUDIO: Stereo analog (2), subwoofer (1)

what the characters are really feeling. The Sony handled everything gracefully.

receiver models lately as an all-purpose surround rechanneling mode. In any case, when I needed Dolby Pro Illogic stereo-to-surround As movies gave way to transformation, I music, I made an concentrated on the interesting discovery. Neo:6 Music mode, as The STR-DN1000 opposed to Neural and apparently doesn’t the usual DSP junk include the Dolby Pro modes. When I’ve Logic II/IIx Music directly compared the mode—only the Movie DPLII and DTS Neo:6 mode. Since I typically Music modes in the use both stereo and past, I’ve found that DPLII Music during DPLII better preserves audio-only demos, this the feel of the original came as a surprise. I’ve stereo mix, while reviewed HTIB systems Neo:6 provides a without DPLII, but this wetter effect, with is the first time I’ve more reverb. done without its Music Nonetheless, I mode in a mainstream haven’t used Neo:6 in a A/V receiver from a long time, and I major manufacturer. approached it with an Was Sony trying to save open mind. It did well a penny by not in the Camerata Köln’s licensing the full DPLII CD of Bach’s Trio suite? Or was this a Sonatas. This chamber conscious attempt to group is dominated by drive listeners to other two flutists and various modes? stringed instruments. Alternatives in this As many historically product include DTS conscious groups do Neo:6, present in both these days, they play its Movie and Music with little or no Sony’s AVR remote modes, and what is vibrato, in an effort is well thought out, identified as the to leave behind the with an intuitive layout, backlit mode-shift Neural-THX mode, conventions of a buttons, and 17 inputalthough Neural was Romantic-era perselect buttons. recently acquired by formance. This can DTS. At a recent trade show, I lead to thin-sounding recordings. asked the DTS people how they However, in this CPO release, the plan to position Neo:6 versus engineers of Deutschlandfunk did Neural. They said Neo:6 would be an excellent job of lacquering the for high-end applications, while soundstage with just the right Neural would be for low-bit-rate amount of reverb. It worked well uses. Until now, Neural’s primary in stereo and even better in use has been in XM satellite radio, Neo:6—the latter added reverb, but it has spread to several A/V but not to excess.

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“ Breathtaking ... simply extraordinary!” – Darryl Wilkinson, Home Theater

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ENTRY LEVEL SONY STR-DN1000 A/V RECEIVER Art Blakey’s Jazz it has an auxiliary input Messengers with to connect to the analog Thelonious Monk, on output of an external vinyl, documents the device. It also has a small collaboration of two jazz backlit liquid crystal greats and focuses on display that unfortuBlakey’s band and Monk’s nately remains lit even compositions. It was when the unit is in recorded with little standby mode. reverb. Nonetheless, The smaller AIRNeo:6 shoved a lot of the SA5R can be purchased bandleader’s drum kit as a single speaker into the surround ($150) or as part of the speakers, presumably ALT-SA34R package because it was thickened ($350), which includes with out-of-phase sound. two speakers and a very DPLII probably would nice-looking full-size have done the same. The remote. The AIR-SA5R only alternative was measures 3.2 by 6.5 by stereo. Spatially, it placed 2.5 inches and has a the tenor sax in front, single 1.54-inch driver. It Monk’s stimulating piano has a few tiny LEDs, but slightly behind, and no LCD, and a limited Blakey’s drums—despite number of controls. In their prominence in the lieu of a wall-wart cord, mix—further behind. A it has two prongs on the memorable trumpet solo back that plug right into by Bill Hardman cona power outlet. As a jured a strong center thoughtful touch, there Sony’s compatible image even with just two is a velcro patch above ALT-SA34R wireless speaker package speakers. the plug that keeps the comes with an This Year’s Model is unit from falling from additional full-size Elvis Costello’s second LP the outlet under its own remote. and his first with the weight. The built-in plug Attractions. What a difference limits placement, but you can a first-class band makes. Nick always connect it to an extension Lowe’s production achieves a big, cord, as I did. open sound. The powerful Both units (and the ALTrhythm section always grabs me SA34R’s remote) have shiny front by the throat no matter what panels that echo the look of the equipment I use. The bass and A/V receiver. They have controls drums were strong enough to for power, volume, ID, and punch through the AVR’s slightly channel. The ID toggle has three lightweight low-frequency presen- settings, so each wireless receiving tation. Costello’s outrage at the device can communicate with that manipulative mass media in many separate transmitters. The “Radio Radio” is evergreen and channel change is intended to transcends mere politics: “They avoid interference with other say you’d better listen to the voice household appliances in the of reason, but they don’t give you 2.4-gigahertz band. Data transany choice because they think that mission is 16-bit, 48 kHz, 11 it’s treason.” Mbps. For some reason, the larger speaker comes with a detachable Adventure With Wireless receiver card that plugs into the Speakers back. The smaller one has no The STR-DN1000 AVR can work detachable card, but it works with either of two wireless speakjust fine without it ers. The AIR-SA50R measures 10 (presumably the reception inches wide by 5 high by 4 deep. capability is built in). It sells for $250, but as with the Setup wasn’t quite other products below, you may hassle free. My first review find a better price at sonystyle. sample of the A/V receiver com. It is a single unit with two worked well in its 2.54-inch internal drivers, touchconventional AVR sensitive controls on the front, functions, but it didn’t and a wall-wart power supply. In transmit to the wireless addition to its wireless capability, speakers, presumably due to

shipping damage. This can happen to any manufacturer’s product. If you were put in the back of a truck in California and got bounced up and down a few thousand times on the way to New York, you wouldn’t be too perky either. With the second AVR sample installed, the next hurdle was a quirky design limitation. The STR-DN1000 will transmit signals from an external source component to the wireless speakers only if the source is plugged into the A/V receiver’s analog inputs or into an external iPod dock that’s connected to the receiver’s proprietary DMPORT jack. As the manual explains, “The sound cannot be output if the components are connected to the coaxial, optical, or HDMI jacks on this receiver.” I didn’t learn this from the manual but from a reader review on After two hours on hold with tech support, Boston-Dog was irked to discover the analog-related limitation: “You cannot play audio from digital components, such as everything that anyone has in their homes today.” However, he added, “It streams FM stations very nicely.” I wish all my technical problems could be solved by readers. Once I understood this, the setup was fairly straightforward. First, I connected my Blu-ray player to the AVR, using the player’s previously never-used stereo analog outputs. Then, I connected my second-gen iPod nano through the dock. I navigated all the way to the bottom of the A/V receiver’s GUI to Settings, then all the way to the bottom of that submenu to S-AIR, and I activated the pairing function. I then ran to the wireless speakers sitting on my desk—one of each type—and stuck a paper clip into a small hole labeled Pairing. This got one speaker to work,

70 FEBRUARY 2010 &

then the other. I carried them into an adjacent bedroom and repeated the process. The speakers successfully communicated with the receiver through thick plaster walls. Only when I carried them one additional room farther away—obstructed by steel girders, plumbing, kitchen cabinets, and more plaster—did the pairing process fail. Still, I was able to enjoy music that I streamed from the STRDN1000 to my bedroom. This came in handy at bedtime, when I always unwind to some kind of gentle music as the industrialstrength elephant tranquilizers kick in. It was pretty cool that the AVR continued to transmit even when it was in standby mode. The larger of the two wireless speakers, which had the sound quality of a good table radio, also had a sleep function. When used with a long play list or an FM stream, it can shut itself off in increments of up to 120 minutes. The Sony STR-DN1000 has some pluses that are absent in competing budget receivers. Although I haven’t said much about the PlayStation-derived Xross Media Bar GUI, it made the A/V receiver a pleasure to use. But its greatest contribution may be the idea that music is best managed through an AVR, and not through a PC. With three wireless options to choose from—the wireless speakers I tried, and the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi adapters I didn’t try—the AVR offers something for every multiroom audio listener. * Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater ( Sony • (877) 865-SONY • Dealer Locator Code SNY

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The Basterdized History of WWII I love going to the movies and saying, “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this!” Pulp Fiction was like that. It was big, daring, violently imaginative, and completely fearless in breaking the rules. In spite of the small-ish scale of the fictional corner of World War II Quentin Tarantino has created in Inglourious Basterds, it feels larger than life, bigger than the war itself. Before thinking that’s disrespectful, realize that this movie isn’t really about WWII. It’s about Tarantino’s love of movies and “men on a mission” war movies in particular. On one level, Basterds is an exploitative and brutal Jewish revenge fantasy. The Third Reich gets what it had coming to it, and then some, by baseball bat, fire, dynamite, and machine guns (those last three all at the same time!). But classifications aren’t that simple with a war movie whose major set BLU-RAY pieces are 15-minute dialogue expositions Universal, 2009 built on some of the most intricate cat-and- STUDIO: ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 mouse word games cinema’s ever seen. AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Tarantino lights a fuse with his characters’ LENGTH: 153 mins. words and makes it excruciating fun as it DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino winds down to the inevitable powder keg STARRING: Brad Pitt, Mélanie explosion. Sure, Tarantino the director Laurent, Christoph Waltz


loves Tarantino the writer. And guess what? So do I! And so does the extraordinary ensemble of acting talent that brings Basterds roaring to life on the screen. Many performances here are destined for cinema legend, from Brad Pitt’s Nazi-hating Lt. Aldo Raine (pronounce that as “gnattsy,” and all is clear) to Mélanie Laurent’s Shoshanna. (Tarantino’s camera loves Shosanna more than any character since Jackie Brown. It admired the hell out of and respected Beatrix Kiddo as a warrior, but it caresses Shoshanna.) All of the European actors here eat up their screen time, but Christoph Waltz stands the tallest as the vicious and ruthlessly intelligent Col. Hans Landa of the SS. Hans’ pipe is the one that says “bad motherf$@%*&#” on it for sure.

The image is gorgeous, with great detail and clarity, and a very fine layer of grain. The image always looks natural and film-like, with terrific depth. Fleshtones look spot on, and there is an abundance of intense, sensual color. But unlike so many movies, it looks like beautiful photography, not a post-production construct. Tarantino shoots on film, and that’s what this looks like. The sound isn’t far behind, and it’s fairly aggressive, with effective surround ambience and lots of low-level, granular sounds, especially when people are eating. With Tarantino films, the eclectic music choices are a big part of the sound experience. Here, it’s a mixed bag in the sense that some of the songs sound hideous, which is probably on purpose. Other than that, the dialogue is crystal clear, and the gunfire supplies jump-inducing dynamics. For someone who loves talking (and talking and talking) about movies, Tarantino’s relative snubbing of supplements on his own home video presentations has always surprised me. Basterds is loaded by that standard. In addition to three deleted/alternate scenes, there’s an outstanding 30-minute interview with Tarantino and Pitt, two boisterous interviews with actor Rod Taylor, and a handful of other amusing featurettes. Not only is the movie within the movie Nation’s Pride included, so is a phony making-of featurette with its director, star actor, and producer Joseph Goebbels. A Digital Copy is included, as well as Universal’s iPhone app. Inglourious Basterds is glorious on Blu-ray, one of the best releases of the year. ● Shane Buettner

QUOTE: “We ain’t in the prisoner-takin’ business, we in the killin’-Nazi business. And cousin, business is a-boomin’.”

72 FEBRUARY 2010 &






Reviews in High Definition

Inglourious Basterds











’m sure we all remember Christian Bale’s infamous verbal tirade against cinematographer Shane Hurlbut from the set of Terminator Salvation. That sound bite probably generated more publicity than the movie itself. Ironically, that recording could practically be an outtake from the film. Bale spends the entire movie in full-on screaming mode. Scene after scene, he barks out orders or shouts at robots. It’s an annoying, one-note performance from an actor who is capable of better. In this fourth Terminator picture, Bale takes over as the adult John Connor, leader of the human resistance. Yet Connor’s not even the lead in this entry. That would be Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright, a death row inmate who signs his body over to science, then wakes up 15 years later to find that the world has ended. Salvation is the first Terminator without any time travel. Almost the entire movie takes place after Judgment Day, but before Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous T-800 model cyborg has been developed. For a big-budget sci-fi action flick, Salvation is proficient at what it needs to do. The film has plenty of explosions, expensive VFX, and robotic mayhem. The script is coherent, and it doesn’t insult its audience as badly as some of 2009’s other summer blockbusters. At the same time, it’s a rather generic and derivative post-apocalyptic adventure. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or innovative here. The Blu-ray offers both the theatrical cut and a director’s cut on separate discs. The difference comes down to only three minutes. The DC has more violence, and actress Moon Bloodgood flashes some sideboob. The 2.40:1 transfer captures the movie’s bleached colors and gritty textures extremely well. The image has excellent definition of details such as skin pores and hairs, especially during closeups. Meanwhile, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack digs deep, with thunderous bass and sharp mechanical sound effects. Disc one offers BD-Live access for community screenings and custom commentaries. In the Maximum Movie Mode (only on the theatrical cut), director McG steps in front of the picture to walk viewers through the film’s production via PiP video clips and pop-up trivia. BLU-RAY Beyond that, there are only two making-of Warner Brothers, 2009 featurettes. The third disc is a Digital Copy. STUDIO: ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 Salvation falls at about the same level as AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Terminator 3. It’s not the disaster that it LENGTH: Theatrical Cut: 114 mins.; could have been, but it’s also nowhere near Cut: 117 mins. as good as the first two movies in the series. Director’s DIRECTOR: McG That’s both a relief and a waste of potential. STARRING: Christian Bale, Sam ● Joshua Zyber


istrict 9 is fresh, exhilarating sci-fi, built on inventive ideas and not just special effects. It’s centered on familiar sociopolitical issues but set in a near distant future, with the relentless pace and action of a chase movie. In the first act you think you’re in a Paul Verhoeven corporate satire, and then it’s like David Cronenberg shows up to throw in some interspecies bio-transformation. The movie is shot documentary style, blending newsstyle multimedia footage with the principle action. The effect is riveting, and the movie never takes its foot off the gas pedal. Newcomer Sharlto Copley gives one of the most organic performances I’ve seen under outlandish circumstances. There are swarms of CG creatures (“prawns”) shot in daylight, which leaves nowhere to hide if the effects aren’t up to snuff. No worry. The effects are convincing, multi-layered, and always in service of the narrative. Some suspension of disbelief is required, but I went along more than willingly. This wild ride is worth taking. The digital photography is stylized to look bright and flat like HDTV broadcast material, but it’s still obviously high in resolution. Even the nighttime photography is clean and noise free, which isn’t always the case with digital. The blending of the 4k original digital photography with the CG is strikingly seamless. This isn’t meant to look pretty, but this is a strong high-def presentation nevertheless. The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless audio track is exceptional in every way. There’s aggressive activity in all channels throughout, with powerful, explosive bass and very wide dynamic swings. The dialogue is always in balance, which is a help with the characters’ accents, and the spatial imaging is excellent all over the soundfield. This is special. It’s ripping good demo material from start to finish. District 9 is a fully loaded BD that, like its subject, is an immersive world of its own. But it arrived too late on deadline to experience but a few of its features. In addition to a director’s commentary, there are several terrific making-of featurettes. There are 23 minutes of deleted scenes that don’t play well by themselves, an interactive satellite map and technology schematics, a BDLive-powered Movie IQ onscreen trivia feature, a Digital Copy, and lots more. BLU-RAY District 9 is marketed primarily on STUDIO: Sony, 2009 producer Peter Jackson’s name, but I’ll be ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 looking for the next project attached to AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 writer/director Neill Blomkamp. My bet is LENGTH: 112 mins. that one will be marketed as “from the DIRECTOR: Neill Blomkamp director of District 9.” Don’t miss District 9 STARRING: Sharlto Copley, Many on Blu-ray. ● Shane Buettner Prawns

Worthington, Moon Bloodgood






ANGELS & DEMONS Criterion Collection



his is a relentlessly nerve-racking movie about the Camorra, an organized-crime gang in Naples, Italy, and the largest, most powerful gang in all of Europe. The film delves into its pervasive impact on local life and its far-flung reach into the global economy. Based on journalist Roberto Saviano’s bestselling nonfiction novel (which exposed the gang’s tentacles so thoroughly that the author has lived under constant police protection since the book came out in 2006), the film faithfully weaves in and out of five of Saviano’s story lines. It develops characters, reveals their linkages, and pieces together a seamless mosaic of a system’s inescapable corruption. Director Matteo Garrone shoots in the neutral style of Italian neorealists (he has cited Roberto Rosselini’s post-war Paisà as a key influence). This intensifies the film’s sense of dread—but also its humanity and its spots of gallows humor. There is none of the honor or grandeur of, say, the Godfather series and little of the glamour of Goodfellas. Still, as in The Sopranos, several of the characters emulate their cinematic counterparts, especially—in one of the saddest plot lines—two rowdy teenage boys who think they can be like Al Pacino in Scarface and meet their doom in the process. Garrone deliberately shot the film in several different styles, to match its various rhythms. Some scenes are underlit, others overexposed. Criterion’s Blu-ray transfer captures the contrasts with close fidelity. (I saw the film at New York’s IFC Center when it came out.) Throughout the film, facial details are stunning, and the colors are rich. Garrone is a former painter, and he clearly has a keen sense of color-balancing and composition. The film’s characters all have wonderful, evocative faces. The sound is excellent, covering the dynamic range from whispers to explosions, although there’s not much coming from the surround channels. The special features include an interview with Garrone, most of the major actors, and Saviano, who provides enlightening (if sometimes overly elaborate) context. The film was shot, as much as possible, in the stories’ actual locations, and a making-of featurette confirms press stories that Garrone occasionally relied on advice from actual gang members. Some of them were happy to tell him where he was going right BLU-RAY STUDIO: Criterion Collection, 2008 and wrong in his depictions of their ASPECT RATIO: 2.35:1 tradecraft. A few even chose to play AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Surround (Italian themselves in the movie. You may be confused in the film’s first 15 with English subtitles) LENGTH: 137 mins. minutes, but stick with it. This is gritty, DIRECTOR: Matteo Garrone riveting storytelling. ● Fred Kaplan STARRING: Toni Servillo, Gianfelice



Sony Pictures

he one recurring thought that many people have when reading a Dan Brown novel is, “This would make a great movie!” And they’re right. Unfortunately, no one has done that yet. The standard rule with adaptations is that the film rarely measures up to the book it’s based on, and this is the case with Angels & Demons. Much like The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons tries to cram too much information into too little film time. Even at two hours and 20 minutes, the film feels rushed. The story is predicated upon the ancient grudge match of religion versus science between the Catholic church and a secret society called the Illuminati. The stage is set thusly: The Pope is dead, and the Vatican is in conclave. Four Preferiti Cardinals have been abducted, and a highly powerful incendiary device of nuclear magnitude is hidden somewhere in Vatican City. The plot’s ticking-clock element helps to drive the narrative forward at a rapid pace, but it operates under the presumption that today’s audiences will find lengthy exposition and back story boring. To counter this problem, the camera is constantly moving, and important plot points are hurriedly discussed while in transit to the next big set piece. However, the filmmakers succeed admirably in re-creating the many interiors and exteriors of key places around Rome. When actual location shooting proved to be impossible, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, various churches, and even St. Peter’s Square were all re-created via intricate sets and green-screen visual effects. The HD picture is marvelous, with only minimal soft blur. The daylit exteriors of Rome and the warmly lit interiors of the Vatican look sharp and detailed. The 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a top-of-the-line mix that you’d expect from a film of this scope and magnitude. This three-disc edition contains two versions of the film: the original theatrical cut and a new extended version that runs a whopping eight minutes longer. Extras include a series of short vignettes that cover various aspects of the production and an interactive section called “The Path of Illumination.” It offers further insight into the production and historical background BLU-RAY as you track Robert Langdon’s path through STUDIO: Sony Pictures, 2009 Rome. It also includes the cineChat and ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 movieIQ features along with a bonus third AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 disc that contains a Digital Copy of the film LENGTH: Theatrical Cut: 138 mins.; for download. ● Corey Gunnestad


Extended Cut: 146 mins. DIRECTOR: Ron Howard STARRING: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard



74 FEBRUARY 2010 &


PUBLIC ENEMIES 20th Century Fox



ur intrepid museum guard, Larry Daley, has moved on. While he’s now a rich and famous inventor and pitchman, he misses those exciting Jurassic nights in New York’s Museum of Natural History. Sadly, he learns that the museum is going high-tech and is shipping all of its old exhibits to the Smithsonian Institution for deep storage. The magic Egyptian tablet from the first Night at the Museum has also made its way to Washington, where it’s not only bringing our heroes back to life each night, but wreaking havoc on the Smithsonian’s inhabitants as well. When Larry gets an emergency phone call from his miniature buddy Jedediah Smith (don’t ask), he hustles to Washington to help. Hilarity ensues. Or at least chuckles ensue. I wasn’t rolling on the floor laughing, but I did find this film more entertaining than the original. Yes, a few of the clearly improvised gags run on too long and slow down the story. But there are some very clever bits involving paintings, cupids, cell phones, a balloon dog, and more. A terrific cast is topped by Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart and Hank Azaria as would-be Pharaoh Kahmunrah. This is a solid if unspectacular Blu-ray transfer. Black levels and contrast are good. The picture quality isn’t obviously soft, but there is a lack of fine detail, such as in facial textures. However, what I see as other shortcomings were apparently creative choices made for the theatrical release. Comparing the scenes in the film with the corresponding HD deleted scenes provides an eye-opening demonstration of the sort of manipulation possible in post-processing. The deleted scenes appear closer to the source photography; to me, the colors in the final cut look a bit pushed. Still, that was an artistic decision, like it or not, and it doesn’t detract from the picture quality. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack doesn’t have many of the aggressive action cues that often earn high audio grades from reviewers. There’s deep bass, but it’s sparingly used. The surround action is subtle. But overall it’s superbly clean, with clear dialogue and a beautifully recorded Alan Silvestri score that’s a major plus in the film. This three-disc set includes a DVD of the BLU-RAY 20th Century Fox, 2009 movie, a Digital Copy, and the HD Blu-ray STUDIO: ASPECT RATIO: 2.35:1 with the movie and extra features. The AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 features are excellent, including two LENGTH: 105 mins commentary tracks, deleted scenes, an DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy alternate ending, and making-of features STARRING: Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, that include a day in the trenches with Hank Azaria, Christopher Guest, Alain Chabat, and Robin Williams director Shawn Levy. ● Thomas J. Norton PICTURE SOUND EXTRAS INTERACTIVITY




ichael Mann’s Public Enemies is curiously dour and uninvolving. Mann exhaustively researches his projects, and he’s a notorious slave to realism. I think this movie suffers for it. I’d prefer more romance and legend if this is the cold, academic truth of the events of John Dillinger’s 13-month crime spree. Watching the supplements, my impression is that Mann believed that the heavily researched personalities and back story behind the scenes would become apparent to the audience by osmosis during viewing. But Public Enemies moves from scene to scene without making much of a point of any of it—or developing its characters fully in spite of the 140-minute run time. It’s exciting in bursts, but it’s also emotionally flat and monotone considering the wealth of talent involved on both sides of the camera. Some people thought Mann’s digital photography for 2007’s Miami Vice was too soft and grainy. No one will say that of Public Enemies. It’s startlingly sharp and loaded with pristine detail to the point that it looks very much like what it is—digital video. It’s impressive, but it’s never film-like in any way. That’s an observation, not a criticism. In most respects, this is a video reference; only some nighttime scenes appear noisy and soft. The sound design is a disaster. It sounds like a lot of location sound was used, apparently including lapel mics for some dialogue-driven scenes. I had to crank the volume to try to understand the dialogue (which didn’t help). Then when the gunfire opened up, I had to jump for the remote to get the volume back down. While this is an awful, annoying experience, that’s on the filmmakers’ failed experimentation with sound design, not the DTS-HD Master Audio track on this BD. The melancholy score sounds fantastic, and some of the shootouts are spectacular. Universal continues to define what the Bonus View PiP should be with its interactive U-Control. There’s a strong commentary by Mann and a handful of meaningful featurettes, including some historical material that’s more interesting than the movie itself. The interviews with Mann, Johnny Depp, and Christian Bale are, well, arresting. Other extras include a BLU-RAY second disc with a Digital Copy and iPhone STUDIO: Universal, 2009 and iPod touch access to bonus features. ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 While I didn’t care for the picture, AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Universal’s attention to detail is a showcase LENGTH: 140 mins. for everything that’s great about Blu-ray for DIRECTOR: Michael Mann people who love movies. And because of STARRING: Johnny Depp, Christian the talent here, and the terrific extras, I’d Bale, Marion Cotillard encourage at least a rental. ● Shane Buettner PICTURE SOUND EXTRAS INTERACTIVITY 75 &







he small-town farming community of Bethel, New York, is about to get some visitors… 500,000 of them. The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival is looking for a nice quiet place to put down stakes for a few days. For three days in 1969, a few hundred acres of open pasture became the center of the universe, and the face of modern music was changed forever. Elliot Tiber is the residing president of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce. In an effort to revitalize the town’s economy and generate tourist dollars for his parents’ run-down motel, he invites the Woodstock Music Festival to come and play. Once the word gets out, hundreds of thousands of hippies descend on his sleepy little town, much to the consternation of the local townsfolk. The real charm of this film comes in the notable supporting performances that are peppered throughout. British thespian Imelda Staunton plays Elliot’s brash New Yorker mom, who rants and raves and storms through the scenery like Martin Scorsese’s mother after eight cans of Red Bull. Liev Schreiber steals the movie in his opening scene alone as a pistol-packing transvestite who applies for the job of head of security. It’s disappointing that we don’t get to see any of the festival itself depicted, but that isn’t what the film’s about. Director Ang Lee employs the same split-screen imagery that he so drastically overused in that unholy debacle of his, Hulk. I wish I could say that the effect isn’t quite as annoying as it was then, but it is. Overall, it’s a decent and solid picture. I’ve often wondered if movies could accurately re-create the hallucinogenic effects of an acid trip on film, and unless I drop a tab of the stuff myself, I may never know. But I will say that Elliot’s acid trip looks especially psychedelic in HD. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio does an excellent job of showcasing Danny Elfman’s bluesy score, which fills in nicely for the absence of original music from the era. Extras include an audio commentary by Lee and writer/producer James Schamus, deleted scenes, and two production featurettes. The BD-Live application allows for exclusive online content, and My Scenes enables easy access to your favorite scenes. Taking Woodstock is a tender coming-ofBLU-RAY age story amid the frenzied climate of STUDIO: Universal, 2009 music, drugs, and free love. I would like to ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 see this movie again, but next time through AUDIO FORMAT: the lens of Oliver Stone. Now, that would be DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 LENGTH: 121 mins. far out, man. ● Corey Gunnestad DIRECTOR: Ang Lee STARRING: Demetri Martin, Liev Schreiber, Imelda Staunton





his movie is misleading from the get-go. When you look at the slipcase, you see that it’s a Judd Apatow film called Funny People starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, so you naturally figure, nonstop laughs, right? Wrong. Funny People is not funny. It’s a behind-the-curtain look at comedians going through their daily rigors, most of whom are shallow, vacuous assholes. And therein lies the humor—supposedly. Sandler plays George Simmons, a prominent comedic actor who gets a wake-up call when he’s diagnosed with a rare blood disease. Simmons has isolated and alienated himself from practically everyone he knows and now lives alone in his Beverly Hills mansion. Staring his mortality in the face, he starts to re-evaluate his life choices. Simmons opts to hit the standup circuit, but his routines are so acidic, it makes Lenny Bruce look like Florence Henderson. Rogen plays Ira, an aspiring standup comedian in need of guidance and a decent-paying gig. When Simmons offers him a job to write jokes and be his personal assistant, he naturally jumps at the chance. At first, Ira can’t believe his luck, but the luster soon wears off as he becomes disenchanted with the antics of his ribald employer. Sandler has done dramatic work before, but he’s almost unrecognizable as an angry dying man who’s still trying to be funny. He plays the role of the self-absorbed prick so well, you wonder how much of his performance he channeled through personal experience. The picture is very sharp, but it still lacks the depth and clarity of the best transfers. Only in certain nighttime scenes can any pixilated grain be detected. The 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio track performs admirably for a film of dramatic scope. Disc one contains two versions of the movie, the theatrical cut and an unrated cut with only seven minutes of extra footage. There’s also an audio commentary from Apatow, Sandler, and Rogen, gag reels, diaries, and Line-o-Rama. Disc two is packed with deleted scenes, alternate scenes, extended scenes, documentaries, music segments, unedited standup routines, fake sitcom episodes, fake movie clips, prank calls, and archival footage of Sandler BLU-RAY and Rogen early in their careers. For STUDIO: Universal, 2009 interactivity, there’s the new Pocket Blu ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 iPhone application, U-Control feature, and AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 BD-Live. LENGTH: Theatrical Cut: 146 mins.; Don’t come to this movie looking for Unrated Cut: 153 mins. belly laughs; you won’t find any. It’s also DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow hard to say what you’ll come away with at STARRING: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Eric Bana the end of it. ● Corey Gunnestad PICTURE SOUND EXTRAS INTERACTIVITY

76 FEBRUARY 2010 &

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EXTRACT Criterion Collection



aris, Texas is a great film, as intriguing and unlikely as its title. It’s a road movie about recovering the past rather than discovering the future, a character study in which the character’s story isn’t unveiled until the end, in a 20-minute scene—a tense, gradually revelatory conversation between the protagonist (played by Harry Dean Stanton) and his estranged ex-wife (a blonde-dyed Nastassja Kinski)—that takes place in a shady peepshow gallery in a dingy Texas town. The scene seems more like a one-act play than the climax of any movie I can think of, yet it’s as breathtaking and cinematic as the vast Southwestern desert landscapes along the way. Playwright Sam Shepard wrote the script, and film dialogue has rarely been crisper or more convincing. German director Wim Wenders, who had been trying to grasp and visualize America in his previous few movies, finally hit a nerve here; this is his clear, daring masterpiece. Stanton, who had never played a lead role before this, is riveting from start to finish. Kinski is heartbreaking and plumbs deeper territory than her character on paper might have suggested was possible. The whole cast is tone-perfect, like a first-rate ensemble company. The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray transfer is (as usual) gorgeous. It captures the full, wide range of Wenders’ visual marvels—the San Fernando suburbs’ claustrophobia, the desert grandeur, the small-town mystery and menace—in bold color, sharp focus, and palpable depth. The surround sound isn’t as enveloping as it might have been, especially in the scenes of wide, open spaces, but the dialogue is very clear, the ambience (to the extent it exists) is crisp, and Ry Cooder’s background music (the liveliest twangy movie score since The Third Man) is of audiophile quality. Wenders supplies the audio commentary track, and it’s everything that this sort of thing ought to be, full of fascinating details about how the movie was written, cast, scouted, scored, and shot—especially shot. He lays out a film-school’s worth of information about the lenses, lighting, and other techniques that he and his longtime D.P., Robby Müller, employed to achieve various complex effects. BLU-RAY Paris, Texas won the Grand Prize at Criterion Collection, 1984 Cannes when it came out, but it bombed in STUDIO: ASPECT RATIO: 1.78:1 America, critically and at the box office. AUDIO FORMAT: Although it’s now widely hailed as a classic, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 LENGTH: 147 mins. it is a risky film that may take a few DIRECTOR: Wim Wenders viewings to absorb completely. With a STARRING: Harry Dean Stanton, Blu-ray that looks this good, that shouldn’t Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell be a burden. ● Fred Kaplan





xtract isn’t the closet classic that Mike Judge’s earlier film Office Space was, but it’s a worthy comedy that deserved more run than it got in its 2009 theatrical release. Extract works a lot in misdirection, at first setting up like a con-job flick and then turning into something else entirely. Jason Bateman plays the proprietor of a small factory that makes, guess what, extract for various foodstuff. He’s weighed down with responsibility, not getting any from his wife, and he wants to sell out to the big conglomerate and start over. As his head is turned by the new hottie at his factory, his druggy bartender buddy (a very funny turn by a barely recognizable Ben Affleck) accidentally hops him up on horse tranquilizers and gets him to embark on a cheating scheme that’s so preposterous it could have been lifted from an episode of Three’s Company. That makes this movie sound sillier than it is. Aside from that absurd plot point this is an informed piece of comedy. Judge again smartly captures the characters of the workplace and their habits. As someone in the supplements notes, Judge’s knack is in creating characters just like people you actually know, only funnier. Perhaps the most interesting difference between this film and Office Space is that Extract squarely takes the side of management. There’s a take-this-job-and-shove-it vibe, but instead of oppressed workers kissing off the unbearable boss, it’s the everresponsible and reasonable Bateman who’s fed up with babysitting his doltish employees. Is this a new way of viewing the world from Judge, or is he simply an equal-opportunity satirist? Maybe his next film will tell us. Perhaps this is an homage to movies from the ’70s, as suggested by some of the country-funky music selections. The photography style is very flat and drab. Detail is fine, and it’s obviously HD, but the artistic choices here are purposely unflattering, and they lack the extra dimensionality that separates the best HD. The DTS-HD Master Audio isn’t much of a surround system workout, nor should it be. Dialogue is clear, and the music choices are inspired and fun to listen to. The extras are spare, with five minutes of extended/deleted scenes and a ten-minute BLU-RAY making-of featurette that proves why STUDIO: Miramax, 2009 self-serving producers should be banned ASPECT RATIO: 1.78:1 from such supplements. (The talent AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 interviews are good though, which saves LENGTH: 92 mins. this from being a complete waste.) Extract DIRECTOR: Mike Judge deserves an audience; make sure to at least STARRING: Jason Bateman, JK give this one a rental. ● Shane Buettner Simmons, Ben Affleck PICTURE SOUND EXTRAS INTERACTIVITY

78 FEBRUARY 2010 &



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Warner Brothers

Sony Pictures



ow does one sum up a movie like Gone with the Wind? The word “daunting” seems appropriate. Everything about the film exists on a scale almost beyond belief—the epic sweep of its story, the enormous expense and magnitude of its production, its staggering length, its extraordinary success, and its reputation as one of the greatest classics from Hollywood’s Golden Era. The 70th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is packaged in a deluxe boxed set. Disc two has more than eight hours of documentaries, featurettes, vintage footage, and even a 1980 TV movie starring Tony Curtis as producer David O. Selznick. As if that weren’t enough, disc three holds an additional six-hour documentary about the heyday of MGM Studios. Warner has meticulously restored the three-strip Technicolor photography from a new 8k scan. Dirt and age defects have been cleared away. Detail and textures are better resolved than any previous video edition. The ornate sets and costumes are easier than ever to appreciate. Colors are undoubtedly more accurate as well. For a film from 1939, the whole thing looks terrific. The audio reveals its age more than the video. Hiss and pops have been removed, but the music is brittle, and the bottom end is very shallow. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 remix is tastefully done and mostly faithful to its monaural origins. Surround use is very limited. Even 70 years after its release, Gone with BLU-RAY the Wind remains a STUDIO: Warner Brothers, 1939 movie that belongs in ASPECT RATIO: 1.37:1 the collection of every AUDIO FORMAT: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 1.0 film lover. Frankly, LENGTH: 233 mins. you should give a DIRECTOR: Victor Fleming damn. ● Joshua Zyber STARRING: Clark Gable, Vivien

fter his breakthrough success with the rollicking Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie followed up quickly with another “lad” movie along the same lines. Snatch has a similar quirky sensibility, stylized visuals, and twisty convoluted plot. This time, the story involves a diamond heist and an illegal underground boxing circuit. Brad Pitt steals the show as a scheming Gypsy brawler with an unintelligible accent. The plot continually circles around and doubles back on itself in unpredictable and very entertaining ways. The HD transfer looks filtered. The image has very little grain texture. Facial features sometimes smear when in motion. This suggests that some Digital Noise Reduction was used. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack makes creative use of directional effects. The bouncy score has nice musical clarity. Dynamics are nothing special, but the gunshots deliver a nice crack. Most of the supplements are recycled from previous DVD editions. These include a commentary, making-of featurette, deleted scenes, storyboards, photo gallery, trailers, and TV spots. Hidden in the Languages menu is an option for “Pikey” subtitles specifically for Pitt’s character. New to the Blu-ray are Sony’s Movie IQ cast trivia interface, a feature that lets you edit video clips, and access to the studio’s BD-Live portal. In certain respects, Snatch amounts to more of the same from Ritchie, a director whose attempts to stray BLU-RAY beyond the crime STUDIO: Sony Pictures, 2000 movie genre have met ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 with mixed success. AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 On the other hand, LENGTH: 103 mins. why complain when DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie the results are this STARRING: Brad Pitt, Jason much fun? Statham, Benicio Del Toro


Leigh, Hattie McDaniel




ock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a movie about schemers, lowlifes, thugs, mobsters, dimwits, and cheaters. In other words, it’s one of the many quirky crime dramas made in the wake of Pulp Fiction. British director Guy Ritchie (Madonna’s future exhusband) managed to break through the clutter with this rough but wildly entertaining debut feature. The movie was shot very cheaply on 16mm film. The stock is rough and grainy, with frequent focus issues. Colors take on a yellowish pall throughout. The transfer is nonetheless often very sharp, sometimes too sharp. Black crush is occasionally a severe problem. Even so, by and large, the disc is an acceptable presentation for the movie’s gritty aesthetic. The DTS-HD lossless track is likewise riddled with problems. Dialogue recording levels and fidelity are all over the map. Dynamic range is flat, even during the big action sequences. On the other hand, the surround channels come to surprising life. The Blu-ray contains only the movie’s 108minute theatrical cut, not the longer 120-minute version that was released on DVD in 2006. Despite this, the disc has only a few supplements from the Director’s Cut DVD. We’re left with a short making-of featurette and a very brief profanity reel. For the high-def disc, Universal has also added D-Box enhancement and a link to the studio’s generic BD-Live BLU-RAY portal. Neither is STUDIO: Universal, 1998 particularly exciting. ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 The Cockney slang AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 dictionary from the LENGTH: 108 mins. original DVD might DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie have been more STARRING: Jason Statham, Jason helpful. ● Joshua Zyber Flemyng, Vinnie Jones

● Joshua Zyber





80 FEBRUARY 2010 &


www. ww stor oremag or ags. com m & www. ww w.fant ntam amag ag.c .com .c om




Sony Pictures


uc Besson’s Léon: The Professional is among the best action flicks of the 1990s. Fans of aggressive and imaginatively choreographed action get all they could ask for (and then some). But what’s unique and more intriguing about this film is the emotional center developed in the bizarre but affecting relationship between the ruthless but childlike hit man Léon (the great Jean Reno) and the preteen Mathilda (Natalie Portman), who becomes his ward after her family is murdered by corrupt policemen led by an over-the-top and utterly diabolical Gary Oldman. This Blu-ray contains both the theatrical cut and the longer extended cut. The theatrical cut is more exhilarating in that it moves at a torrid pace without losing anything essential in character development. The extended cut is a much richer portrait of the two main characters, which are the movie’s strength. But it’s also more complicated as the sexual undertones of the theatrical cut between Portman and Reno come to the forefront to an uncomfortable degree. The image quality is sensational, with deep, inky blacks, terrific contrast, and crisp detail. The color palette has always been stylized and remains so, but this movie looks like it was made six months ago. The soundtrack is equally impressive, with active surrounds, wide dynamics, and pounding bass that punctuates the music score and the action. Whichever version you watch, Léon: The Professional is an BLU-RAY essential high-def STUDIO: Sony Pictures, 1994 release for those who ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 have seen it and a AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 marvelous opportuLENGTH: Theatrical Cut: 109 mins.; nity for those who Extended Cut: 133 mins. haven’t. DIRECTOR: Luc Besson STARRING: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman

● Shane Buettner




20th Century Fox


hen one thinks of great screen romances, they typically think of Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Titanic, and The Empire Strikes Back. But often overlooked is the poignant and deceptively simple love story behind Say Anything. Diane Court is a popular girl with a brain who seems impossibly out of reach to a guy like Lloyd Dobler. Lloyd throws caution to the wind and asks Diane out. Despite her initial resistance, Diane is won over by Lloyd’s charm, and they fall in love. But as with all great love stories, trouble looms large on the horizon. John Cusack and Ione Skye have excellent chemistry in creating the believable universe of two people in the throes of young love. Veteran actor John Mahoney plays Diane’s well-meaning but morally flawed father, and there are notable supporting performances from Lili Taylor, Joan Cusack, Eric Stoltz, and Jeremy Piven. This is one of Fox’s better catalog transfers. While it’s not as sharp and detailed as most recent films, this is still the best-looking Say Anything by far. Music plays an important part in this film, and the new DTS-HD Master Audio mix lets the many songs shine through. Extras include a commentary with writer-director Cameron Crowe, a 20-year retrospective documentary, and interview snippets from comedians and actors about how much they love Say Anything. Like John Hughes, Crowe effectively captures the angst of BLU-RAY teenage relationships STUDIO: 20th Century Fox, 1989 and the heartbreak of ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 young love. It’s so AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 believable, certain LENGTH: 100 mins. scenes will make you DIRECTOR: Cameron Crowe cringe at how close to STARRING: John Cusack, Ione Skye, home they hit. John Mahoney



omedy doesn’t come in a darker shade of black than Fight Club, David Fincher’s ultraviolent man fantasy based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel. How much of the armchair philosophy is b.s., and how much is of genuine sociological import I don’t know. But I do know that this movie is filled with scathing dialogue and a ton of biting pop-culture witticisms. First rule of Fight Club: If your display can’t do deep blacks, you can’t see Fight Club. When you can see it, there’s enough sharp, gritty textural detail that you’ll want to clean under your nails after watching. Ren Klyce’s sound design puts Fight Club in reference territory. The level of activity and ambience in all channels, the use of explosive dynamic range (it’s not just loud, it’s got incredible swing from quiet to loud), and the quality of the individual sound effects are beyond convincing. It’s so organic, it doesn’t just sound real, it feels real (the fight sequences will make you squirm in your plush theater seat). Astounding! The extras start with a gag splash screen for a Drew Barrymore movie, and they don’t let up. Exclusive to this 10th-anniversary Blu-ray are a sound mix demo with Klyce, a “Flogging Fight Club” featurette with an apparently drunk Mel Gibson on a horse, and a PiP mode that indexes the commentaries and extras by topic that’s appropriately named “I Am Jack’s Search Index.” Hours of family fun! Fight Club is appropriately pulverizing on Blu-ray, which I say with genuine BLU-RAY affection. Now, go STUDIO: 20th Century Fox, 1999 blow up your Blu-ray ASPECT RATIO: 2.40:1 player and your TV, AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 you decaying piece LENGTH: 139 mins. of organic matter! DIRECTOR: David Fincher STARRING: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter

● Corey Gunnestad


20th Century Fox


82 FEBRUARY 2010 &

● Shane Buettner

www. ww stor orem emag ags. com m & www. ww w.fa fant ntam amag ag.c .com om



Check out this exclusive listing of our reviewers’ recommended gear.





Sony BRAVIA KDL-40V5100 LCD HDTV, $1,100 Reviewed September 2009

Sanyo PLV-Z3000 LCD Projector, $2,795 Reviewed June 2009


Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 6500 UB LCD Projector, $2,999 Reviewed August 2009 Replaced with PowerLite Home Cinema 8500 UB LCD Projector, Price unavailable at press time*

Panasonic TC-P46G10 Plasma HDTV, $1,500 Reviewed July 2009


Panasonic VIERA TC-P42G10 Plasma HDTV, $1,200 Reviewed September 2009

Panasonic TH-50PZ85 Plasma HDTV, $2,200 Reviewed October 2008 Replaced with TC-P50G10 Plasma HDTV, $1,600* Toshiba REGZA 46SV670U LCD HDTV, $2,300 Reviewed November 2009 Panasonic VIERA TC-P58V10 Plasma HDTV, $2,700 Reviewed January 2010 Samsung UN55B7000 LCD HDTV, $3,600 Reviewed August 2009 Sony BRAVIA KDL-46XBR8 LCD HDTV, $3,700 Reviewed January 2009

HIGH END Samsung UN55B8500 LCD HDTV, $4,500 Reviewed January 2010

Mitsubishi HC7000 LCD Projector, $3,495 Reviewed March 2009

SOURCE COMPONENTS Panasonic DMP-BD60 Blu-ray Player, $200 Reviewed July 2009

JBL ES20 Speaker System, $1,746 as reviewed Reviewed September 2008

Sony PlayStation 3 Game Console/ Blu-ray Player, $299 Reviewed May 2008

JBL Control NOW AW Speaker System, $2,124 as reviewed Reviewed February 2009


Paradigm Special Edition SE 1 Speaker System, $2,344 as reviewed Reviewed February 2010


Samsung BD-P3600 Blu-ray Player, $300 Reviewed July 2009 LG BD390 Blu-ray Player, $350 Reviewed December 2009 Panasonic DMP-BD55 Blu-ray Player, $399 Reviewed December 2008 Replaced with DMP-BD80 Blu-ray Player, $250*

Panasonic PT-AE3000U LCD Projector, $3,499 Reviewed March 2009 Replaced with PT-AE4000U LCD Projector, $2,499*

OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray Player, $499 Reviewed September 2009

Sony VPL-HW10 SXRD Projector, $3,499 Reviewed March 2009 Replaced with VPL-HW15 SXRD Projector, $3,000*


JVC DLA-HD350 D-ILA Projector, $4,500 Reviewed June 2009

JVC DLA-HD750 D-ILA Projector, $7,500 Reviewed April 2009 Replaced with DLA-HD950 D-ILA Projector, $8,000*

Meridian Sooloos Control 10 Media Server and Twinstore Storage System, $8,250 Reviewed October 2009

SPEAKERS DCM Cinema2 Speaker System, $500 Reviewed November 2007

Sony BRAVIA KDL-55XBR8 LCD HDTV, $5,000 Reviewed February 2009

HSU Research HB-1 Speaker System, $1,124 as reviewed Reviewed March 2007 Replaced with HB-1 Mk 2 Speaker System, $1,124*

Panasonic Premiere TH-65VX100U Plasma HD Monitor, $7,500 Reviewed April 2009

PSB Alpha B1 Speaker System, $1,336 as reviewed Reviewed February 2007

• JVC DLA-HD350 D-ILA Projector Planar PD8150 DLP Projector, $8,000 Reviewed July 2008 Sony BRAVIA VPL-VW85 SXRD Projector, $8,000 Reviewed November 2009

Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 Speaker System, $2,495 as reviewed Reviewed March 2007 Replaced with Reference Studio 20 v.5 Speaker System, $2,495*

MIDRANGE Focal Dôme Speaker System, $2,599 as reviewed Reviewed January 2010

Digeo Moxi HD DVR, $799 Reviewed June 2009


• LG BD390 Blu-ray Player

Mordaunt-Short Alumni Speaker System, $1,470 as reviewed Reviewed March 2008

• Sonus faber Toy/REL T1 Speaker System Boston Acoustics Reflection RS 260 Speaker System, $2,900 as reviewed Reviewed February 2010 Atlantic Technology System 4400 Speaker System, $3,350 as reviewed Reviewed December 2009 Boston Acoustics VS 240 Speaker System, $3,700 as reviewed Reviewed January 2009 Acoustic Energy Radiance 1 Speaker System, $4,200 as reviewed Reviewed September 2009 Definitive Technology Mythos STS SuperTower Speaker System, $4,355 as reviewed Reviewed March 2009

• Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 Speaker System

Marantz VP-15S1 DLP Projector, $9,000 Shane Buettner reviewed this model for (Available while supplies last)

• Toshiba REGZA 46SV670U LCD HDTV * This replacement product has not yet been reviewed in HT. Although we suggest it is worth a close look, this is not a specific recommendation. &

• VIZIO VSB210WS High Definition Sound Bar Speaker System

Infinity Classia C336 Speaker System, $4,494 as reviewed Reviewed April 2009 PSB G-Design Speaker System, $4,696 as reviewed Reviewed October 2007 PSB Imagine T Speaker System, $4,749 as reviewed Reviewed May 2009 Dynaudio Focus 110 Speaker System, $4,750 as reviewed Reviewed September 2007 Canton Ergo 620 Speaker System, $5,550 as reviewed Reviewed January 2010 Sonus faber Toy/REL T1 Speaker System, $6,044 as reviewed Reviewed May 2009 Usher Be-718 Speaker System, $6,988 as reviewed Reviewed May 2008

HIGH END Atlantic Technology 8200e Speaker System, $7,530 as reviewed Reviewed July 2007 Thiel SCS4 Speaker System, $8,350 as reviewed Reviewed April 2008 Sonics Amerigo Speaker System, $10,095 as reviewed Reviewed February 2010 PSB Synchrony One Speaker System, $10,700 as reviewed Reviewed December 2007

Paradigm Reference Signature S8 Speaker System, $15,195 as reviewed Reviewed January 2009

Polk SurroundBar 360 DVD Theater Soundbar, $1,200 Reviewed January 2009

Integra DTR-9.9 A/V Receiver, $2,600 Reviewed April 2009 Replaced with DTR-80.1 A/V Receiver, $2,800

Pioneer S-2EX Speaker System, $17,500 as reviewed Reviewed February 2007

Phase Technology Teatro PC-3.0 Speaker System, $2,400 as reviewed Reviewed May 2009

Arcam AVR600 A/V Receiver, $4,999 Reviewed August 2009


Denon AVR-5308CI A/V Receiver, $5,500 Reviewed August 2008

Monitor Audio Platinum PL300 Speaker System, $25,650 as reviewed Reviewed October 2009


Revel Ultima2 Salon2 Speaker System, $45,993 as reviewed Reviewed July 2009

Sony BRAVIA DAV-HDX500 HTIB, $499 Reviewed at Replaced with DAV-HDX587WC HTIB, $430*

Pioneer Elite SC-09TX A/V Receiver, $7,000 Reviewed November 2008

Onkyo HT-SR800 HTIB, $599 Reviewed at Replaced with HT-S5200 HTIB, $599*

Integra DHC-9.9 Processor, $2,000 Reviewed July 2009 Replaced with DHC-80.1 Processor, $2,300

IN-WALL/ON-WALL Atlantic Technology IWCB-626 In-Wall Speakers, $875/each Reviewed September 2007 Sonance VP89 In-Wall Speakers, $2,850/pair Reviewed September 2008 Paradigm Millenia 20 Hybrid Speaker System, $5,281 as reviewed Reviewed January 2010 BG Radia BGX-4850 In-Wall Subwoofer System, $7,000 as reviewed Reviewed January 2010 Pioneer Elite EX Series S-IW691L In-Wall Speaker System, $10,197 as reviewed Reviewed June 2009

SOUNDBAR SPEAKERS VIZIO VSB210WS High Definition Sound Bar Speaker System, $350 Reviewed July 2009 ZVOX Z-Base 550 Single-Cabinet Surround System, $400 Reviewed April 2009

MIDRANGE Panasonic SC-BT100 HTIB, $1,000 Reviewed October 2008 Onkyo HT-S9100THX Integrated System, $1,099 Reviewed April 2009

Denon DHT-FS3 Soundbar, $1,199 Reviewed April 2008

Marantz AV8003 Processor, $2,600 Reviewed October 2008 Anthem Statement D2 Processor, $7,499 Reviewed September 2008 Replaced with Statement D2v Processor with ARC, $7,499,* review upcoming

A/V RECEIVERS ENTRY LEVEL Pioneer VSX-1019AH A/V Receiver, $499 Reviewed October 2009 Onkyo TX-SR607 A/V Receiver, $599 Reviewed August 2009

MIDRANGE Onkyo TX-NR807 A/V Receiver, $1,099 Reviewed December 2009 Denon AVR-4310CI A/V Receiver, $1,999 Reviewed November 2009

• Denon AVP-A1HDCI Processor Denon AVP-A1HDCI Processor, $7,500 Reviewed September 2009

AMPLIFIERS Rotel RMB-1085 Amplifier, $1,199 Reviewed October 2008 Replaced with RMB-1565 Amplifier, $1,299* NAD Masters Series M25 Amplifier, $3,499 Reviewed January 2007

ZVOX 425 Soundbar, $600 Reviewed July 2008 Definitive Technology Mythos SSA-50 Soundbar, $1,099 Reviewed August 2008


• Integra DTR-9.9 A/V Receiver

ADA PTM-8150 Amplifier, $4,999 Reviewed February 2007

Rotel RSX-1550 A/V Receiver, $1,999 Reviewed June 2009

Anthem Statement P5 Amplifier, $7,199 Reviewed December 2006

Marantz SR8002 A/V Receiver, $2,000 Reviewed May 2008

Denon POA-A1HDCI Amplifier, $7,500 Reviewed September 2009

HIGH END Rotel RSX-1560 A/V Receiver, $2,599 Reviewed August 2009

Radia BGX-4850 In-Wall • BG Subwoofer System

• Rotel RMB-1085 Amplifier

• Onkyo HT-S9100THX Integrated System 85 &

DEMO Where to Find the Best in Home Theater... CALIFORNIA (northern)


Jim Zoyiopoulos, Owner Home theater and music systems showroom. Lighting control and whole home automation. 26384 Carmel Rancho Lane Carmel, CA 93923 Lutron, Kaleidescape, Crestron, JVC, Sony, Denon, Niveus, Triad, Speakercraft, Pioneer

CALIFORNIA (southern)


1254 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91106 (626) 577-7767 Home Theater, Home Stereo and Custom Music Systems since 1977. “Best Stereo Shop” by LA Magazine. ARC, AUD, B&K, DWI, FUJ, LEX, MAR, MLN, MER, NEC, NIL, NUV, TNY, PSB, ROT, THI, UNV, AND MORE


VALENTINO HOME ENTERTAINMENT Towne Center 7150 Jefferson Hwy., Suite 670 (225) 925-9669 & (225) 925-9660 FAX B&W, Classe, Rotel, McIntosh, Martin-Logan



99 Pleasant Street, Suite #1 Brunswick, ME 04011 • (207) 373-1147 AER, B&W, BOS, DEF, EAR, INF, LEO, LUT, MAR, MSU, MNT, NAD, PIO, RBH, REV, ROT, SLD, SAM, SHA, SIM, SNE, STW, SUN


INNOFACE SYSTEMS, INC. FLORIDA The DC Metro Area’s source for quality Home Theater Installations. Crofton, MD 21114 • (410) 721-4040 CHF, CRE, DAL, DEN, EPS, EXT, HIT, INF, KLI, NIL, PIO, SHA, TOS, UNV, VEL


Tampa’s most beautiful showroom - Established 1988. Professional Quality Easy Living® Automation Systems with by appointment services. Tampa’s largest AMX and Vantage Lighting Control dealers. 3300 S. Dale Mabry HWY., Tampa, FL 33629 (813) 831-8551 AIN, AMX, ANY, ART, ADA, BDI, CAN, CHF, DEN, DVO, EXT, FAR, FUJ, INF, JBL, LGE, MAR, MER, NIL, PAR, ROC, RUN, SAM, SON, SAE, STW, TRI, UNV, VEL, WWR, XTH, ZEN



Hwy. 441 Ocala/Villages area Over 15 years experience Custom Designed Home Theater Automation/ Home Audio (352) 245-2183

2410 Route 35 North, Manasquan, NJ 08736 3585 Route 9 North, Freehold, NJ 07728



20 Years of Excellence Designing Home Automation and Lighting Control for Atlanta’s Finest Homes. Visit our beautiful design center. 2516 Cobb Pkwy., Smyrna, GA 30080 (770) 955-8909 B&W Speakers, Wilson & 15 Other Brands. 86 FEBUARY 2010 & ww

HOME DEALER LOCATOR To Advertise CONTACT: Helene Stoner at 505-474-4156





166 Daniel Webster Highway Nashua, NH 03060 Tel: (603) 888-9777, Fax: (603) 888-9555 AER, ARC, ANT, ATL, AUQ, BDI, B&W, CAR, CLS, DEN, EPS, LGE, MAC, MNT, NAD, PAR, PDM, PIO, PRC, PSB, ROT, SEN, SIM, SLD, SPK, STW, SUN, THL, TOT, TRP, UNV 2915 Berry Hill Drive, Nashville, TN 37204 (615) 385-3999 CT4, DEN, SAM, BOS, PLK, PIO, PAN, TOS, RUS, JBL, ONQ, BOS



To Advertise



INTECH AV 270F Duffy Avenue, Hicksville, New York 11801 Tel: (800) 822-4993 • Sony, Samsung, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Crestron, Martin Logan, Meridian, Niles ICS, Triad, Sim2 Since 1993, providing high end custom installation and integration in the Tri-State New York area.

Winner, 2007 & 2008 Home of the Year Award! The Source for Home Automation and Entertainment Solutions. 3209 Premier, Ste. 112, Plano, TX 75075 (972) 516-1849 AER, ATI, ATL, ACT, B&K, BOL, BOX, CYA, CLP, CRE, DAL, DEN, DWI, EAR, EXT, FAR, HAR, HNS, ITL, JAM, JVC, KIM, LUT, MNT, MON, NIL, PNX, PAN, PAR, PHL, PIO, PSA, RCA, RGP, ROC, RUN, RSD, SAM, SHA, SNE, SNY, SPE, STW, THI, TOS, TRB, VEL, XTH, ZEN


CONTACT: Helene Stoner at 505-474-4156 Helene.Stoner@

4032 Sunrise Hwy, Seaford, NY 11783 (516) 679-9700 Sights-N-Sounds 784 West Jericho Tpke., Huntington, NY 11743 (631) 673-2000 •

* Indicates Certified Home THX Dealer # Indicates CEDIA Dealer

A/V EXPERIENCE Providing over 25 years experience in personalized music & theater systems for discriminating clientele. Cedia-certified. Long Island, New York • (631) 205-1410 vc/fax ADC, APX, ATL, DEN, FUJ, INT, PIO, SAM, SEL, SHA, SPK, SHB, SNY STS, WWR

IDS AUDIO/VIDEO & TECHNOLOGIES Specialist in: Dedicated Theaters, Automation and Music Everywhere. Cedia Certified. IDS Audio/Video & Technologies Experience over 20 years of personalized service and custom installation 243 Roslyn Road, Roslyn Heights, NY (800) 570-6464, Fax: (516) 625-9590 ACR, ATL, B&K, B&W, BDI, CAN, CHA, CLP, CIN, CRE, DAL, DEN, DVO, DWI, ELA, FAR, FUJ, HNS, ITG, KLI, LOE, LUT, MAR, MNT, MON, NAD, NEC, NIL, NHT, ONK, PNX, PAN, PDM, PAR, PHA, PHL, PIO, POL, REP, ROT, RSD, SLD, SAM, SAS, SHA, SEL, SON, SNY, SPE, STS, STW, TER, TRI, TRB, UNV, XTH, YAM, ZEN


INTELLIGENT ELECTRONICS Raleigh, NC 27606 (919) 481-4224 • AIN, ATL, BDI, CAN, CRE, Definitive Technology, DEN, JAM, JBL, JL Audio, LG, PAR, Russound, SAM, SEL, Sony, Stewart Film screen, TOS, UNV, Vidikron, XTH & st

www. ww stor orem emag ags. com m & www. ww w.fa fant ntam amag ag.c .com om

Instant Information for Our Readers... PAGE#



65. . . . . Oppo Digital, Inc.

86. . . . . Advanced Home Theater System

Phone (800) 414-1849

19. . . . . American Power Conversion Phone (888) 289-APCC

87. . . . . Audioengine

39. . . . . Bello International Corp. Phone (732) 972-1333

12-13 . . BodySound

Phone (877) 943-4041

83. . . . . CEA

15. . . . .

Phone (866) 243-1001

9. . . . . . Crutchfield

Phone (800) 555-8347

57. . . . . CSA Audio Design

Phone (973) 744-0600

10 . . . . CustomHT

Phone (800) 246-5006, ext.00

C2-3 . . . Definitive Technology 23,69 Phone (410) 363-7148 71 22. . . . . Diamond Case Designs Phone (800) 616-5354

8. . . . . . Intech Corp.

Phone (888) 429-HDTV

20. . . . . JBL

Phone (516) 255-4JBL

49. . . . . Kevro Monitor Audio

88. . . . . New Egg

MANUFACTURERS Phone (650) 961-1118

61,17 . . Panasonic Consumer

34. . . . . Paradigm

Phone (905) 564-1994

29. . . . . Parts Express

Phone (800) 338-0531


5,7 . . . . Polk Audio

Phone (410) 764-5275

86. . . . . Pro Audio Acoustics

Phone (888) 247-8437

45. . . . . Regza

40. . . . . Salamander

Phone (800) 350-6859

C4 . . . . . Sanus Systems

Phone (800) 359-5520

21. . . . . Schneider Optics

Phone (800) 228-1254

77. . . . . SRS Labs

Phone (800) 243-2733

11. . . . . Sumiko

Phone (800) 301-0799

C3 . . . . . Sunfire Corp.

81. . . . . Totem Acoustic

Phone (514) 259-1062

79. . . . . Vutec

53. . . . . ZVOX Audio

Phone (866) FOR-ZVOX

Home Theater (ISSN 1096-3065) February 2010, Vol. 17, No. 2. Copyright 2010 by Source Interlink Magazines, LLC. All rights reserved. Published monthly by Source Interlink Media, LLC., 261 Madison Avenue, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY and additional mailing offices. Canada Post Publications Mail Agreement No. 40612608. Canada Returns to be sent to: Bleuchip International, P.O. Box 25542, London, ON N6C 6B2 Canada. Subscription rates for one year (12 issues): U.S., APO, FPO and U.S. Possessions $23.94, Canada $36.94 (price includes surface mail postage to Canada and GST-reg. no. 87209 3125 RT0001). All other countries $38.94 per year. POSTMASTER: Please send address changes to Home Theater, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. Mailing Lists: Occasionally, our subscriber list is made available to reputable firms offering goods and services we believe would be of interest to our readers. If you prefer to be excluded, please send your current address label and a note requesting to be excluded from these promotions to Source Interlink Media, LLC., 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245, Attn: Privacy Coordinator. Subscription Service: Should you wish to change your address or order new subscriptions, you can e-mail hometheater@emailcustomerservice. com, call (800) 264-9872 (international calls: 386-447-6383), or write to: Home Theater, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235. Information listed in this index is done so as a courtesy. Publisher is not liable for incorrect information or excluded listings. Advertisers should contact their sales representative to correct or update listing. & www.fantamag.c .com .c om

Every issue of Home Theater is packed with in-depth, industry-leading coverage of developments in HDTV, Blu-ray, and more. Plus previews of hot new products, a look at some of the most incredible home installations out there, Blu-ray Disc reviews, objective gear reviews and comparisons, including specs, ratings, measurements, and opinions, and much, much more! Create an incredible home theater experience with Home Theater!

Order NOW to subscribe at the incredibly low rate of just

$12.97 FOR 12 ISSUES. Your satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back. To order, visit our Website at or write to: P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235


Curtain Call m BY Michael J. Nelson Michael J. Nelson is the former host and head writer of Mysteryy Science Theater 3000 and the proprietor of, e I,I which offers his commentaries on A-list films, including Star Wars: Episode The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Matrix.

Almost Perfect


f you love someone, set them free,” is the advice Sting offers. He goes on to add, “Free, free, set them free,” about 300 times, but it does little to alter his basic message. Der Stingle can be forgiven for a lack of subject/pronoun agreement because he was probably doing something tantric at the time he wrote it. But even if we do him the favor of correcting it to, “If you love someone, set him or her free,” I’m not entirely sure I’d buy it. I’d counter with, “If you love someone, keep working on her, correcting her tiniest faults, and nudge her toward perfection at all times until she is exactly how you want her to be.” No, I don’t feel this way toward my wife. She knows that I fully agree with her assessment that she’s already perfect. But I do have this attitude about home theater. Things are pretty good right now. We have highresolution TVs, near-perfect audio, convenient storage media, falling prices, and ever-advancing technology. Still, there are some improvements that could be made and edges that could be sanded down with some efficient nagging. I bow to no one when it comes to my affection for Blu-ray. (It’s purely platonic, Blu-ray, don’t get any ideas.) But dealing with its packaging quickly puts me into a rage that, although I’ve previously never had even the slightest inclination, makes me want to set fire to my own hair. The tight, shrink-wrapped cellophane is impenetrable, even though it offers a tantalizing hint that it may be vulnerable at the ends, where it folds over and fastens. But any probing with a fingernail quickly proves that it, too, is utterly inviolable. It rewards you with more frustration and possibly minor injury. The only dependable way to open it is to whet and hone your thinnest Rapala fishing knife to a razor edge and do your best to get its tip under a fold at the end. If you can do this and avoid major blood loss, you’re ahead of the game. Would it kill you, Blu-ray packagers, to engineer a little convenient peel-up tab for easy access? I submit to you that it would not. Don’t get cocky, though. You’re only through the first layer. You’ll now have to deal with the army of security stickers. Designed and engineered to vex you, they do their job superbly. Although they are impossible to peel up by the edges, they can, with some effort, be torn in half. Or you could slice them with the Rapala, but since you just finished bandaging a pretty serious Rapala-caused wound, you’ll probably be a little wary of blades. You then have to face the arduous task of picking off the sticker shards. This usually proves to be a relatively easy, if unwelcome, task. But it quickly leads to a new problem: You have a dozen or so sticker shards adhered to your hands. You must peel them off and stick them to something else. I usually stick them to the inside of

a garbage bag, since it’s not always possible to choose the more desirable option of sticking them to their inventor’s face. Once you’ve freed the disc from its prison and pressed Play, you are greeted with the ubiquitous FBI warning screen. We’re used to it now, but step back and think about the user experience. The cellophane wrapper, the stickers, the FBI warning. The message from the manufacturer is clear: “You are a filthy, thieving pirate. We will hunt you down, find you, and hang you from the nearest yardarm with a sign around your neck that reads, ‘Filthy, Thieving Pirate.’ Now, enjoy your movie.” I sympathize with their desire to minimize the theft of their product, but it’s a little like walking into a store and having to submit to a cavity search before being allowed to shop. I also love downloadable and streaming content, but here again, there’s room for improvement. Since I have no other TV service, I’m forced to stream sporting events. If you’re considering it, I strongly urge that instead, you grab a buddy, mount his shoulders, and find yourself a nice knothole in the fence through which to view the game. I’m confident it will be an altogether superior viewing experience. This past fall, I was excited to see that had finally taken the subtle hint of my twice-daily letters that urged them to offer high-quality streams of the games, so I quickly laid out the $10 for their post-season package. I was fully taken in by their promise of “up to four different camera angles,” which I naturally assumed were in addition to the game feed itself. I thought it was a harmless gee-gaw, one that I’m not likely to use, but hey, if the chaps at like to keep themselves busy providing it, I’m happy they’re happy! As it turns out, the stream was only from a single individual camera. This is a big plus for those people out there who like to go to a ball game and focus their eyes on one tiny quadrant of the field, without ever moving their heads or changing their focus. But for those of us who actually like to follow the action as it moves, for instance, from one base to another, it had major drawbacks. Yes, you could select other camera angles, but only as tiny inset pictures, which offer a similar viewing experience as being high above the stadium in a helicopter with a dirty windshield. Oh, and no replays, no feeds of interview subjects, etc. It’s as though Major League Baseball said, “You can watch a little bit of our game— that’s too much! Stop watching!” Yes, I’m sure it has to do with pre-existing contracts, etc., but in a fastmoving digital world, not being able to deliver your product in a highquality format seems a little behind the times. Like, Honus Wagner–era behind the times. In short, I love you, home theater experience. Now change.

90 FEBRUARY 2010 &



Let’s face it, every Home Theater enthusiast has a love affair with Power. For some it’s the subwoofer. For others it’s the amplifier or receiver. For Sunfire customers, it is all of those. We share their obsession with power, because we know the end result is a movie and music experience that is second to none. That’s why for last 15 years Bob Carver and Sunfire have continued to redefine how you think of Home Theater. Offering more clean, efficient power than you ever thought possible – from some of the industry’s most innovative designs, like our patent-pending Tracking Downconverter™ power supply found in all Sunfire electronics and subwoofers. Each a testament to our unending search of sonic perfection.

For a personal audition of Sunfire Home Theater, please visit our website to locate a Flagship showroom near you.

Limited Time Offer for Home Theater Readers We invite you to join in our passion. For a limited time, Home Theater readers qualify for a $1000 trade-in credit when upgrading from an existing receiver or processor to a Sunfire 401-Series product.

For de ta ils, please v isi t sunfi re.c om/ upgrade & www.fantam

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