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If you're worried that a home cinema system will turn your living room into a box room then take a look at the Sony SA-VA3 active speaker system, with built in Pro Logic



Home cinema has got a image problem, it's just too darn complicated, at least that's the way it looks from the outside. Before it gets accepted by Joe Public as just another plug-in-and-go black-box technology, some of those black boxes are going to have to go... The Sony SA-VA3 reduces the box-count by at least two, by incorporating the amplifier, Dolby Surround processor and sub-woofer into a pair of rather imposing speaker cabinets. The whole caboodle, which includes a couple of rear surround speakers and all necessary cables will set you back just under 800. 


The electronics are housed in the lower half of the left-hand column, the corresponding space in the other column is occupied by a gutsy sub-woofer; the two units are linked together by a hefty 4-metre cable. The top sections of each column contain three driver units apiece; each side has a woofer, carrying the right or left stereo channels  plus bass from the centre-front channel (2 x 23 watts). There's a tweeter each, for the front channels (2 x 22.5 watts), plus another set of tweeters, angled inwards, for the centre-front channel (1 x 26 watts). The rear surround channel (1 x 26 watts) is handled by a pair of satellite speakers that connect to a bank of terminals on the back of the left column. Add in the 27 watts going to the sub-woofer and you get a grand total of 170 watts of amplification.


There's three effect options: Matrix, which creates a pseudo surround sound field from stereo material; Simulated, which generates a stereo effect from a mono signal, and Dolby Surround. The SA-VA3 has a full-spec Pro-Logic decoder with four operating modes, for normal operation, wide, phantom and 3-channel logic (no rear speakers). The sub-woofer is switchable and can rattle the floorboards in any of the main effects modes.


The main controls are hidden behind a flap on the left column, though most day to day operations can be controlled from the remote handset. The unit switches on automatically when there's a signal present on either of it's two inputs; it'll turn itself off after three minutes, when the signal disappears. Incidentally, whilst in the standby mode the front panel display shows the model number, should you need reminding.


Sony have been rather economical with the external inputs, there's only two of them, which is inconvenient if you want to use the SA-VA3 as a second-string hi-fi system. Nevertheless it all hangs together rather well, once you've got used to the size of the speakers and somewhat fiddly set-up routine. The combined effort of all those speakers produces a big, attention-grabbing sound. Dolby processing is smooth and detailed, managing to extract pretty well all of the most ear-catching dynamic effects though it's not quite as good at localising sounds as some of the better component-based systems. In the end convenience wins out over any processing flaws and lack of articulation on the part of the speakers, which are just fine for AV sourced material. Apart from the price this is just about as painless as home cinema can get, without going the whole hog with a Dolby-equipped TV.


VERDICT      SONY SA-VA3,  800

PLUS              Convenient, fully integrated package, easy to use, competent surround-sound performance

MINUS           Two inputs are barely enough for AV operation. Effect options somewhat dull and the price is on the steep side, you can get a NICAM TV with on-board Dolby Pro Logic for that!


Sound Quality             ****

Build Quality                          ****

Features & Facilities             ****

Ease of use                             ****

Value for money                     ***


SONY UK LTD Sony House, South Street, Staines, Middlesex TW15 4AT. 

Telephone (0784) 467000



The top section houses the three-way stereo and centre-channel speakers


The lower half of the right-hand column contains a meaty sub-woofer


All of the controls are hidden behind this flap, the alphanumeric mode display can be dimmed, handy for deterring burglars.


Around the back there's just two line inputs, barely enough for most AV systems




1994 0905


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