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GROUP TEST

 

MINI HI-FI SYSTEMS

 

HEAD

MINI MAKEOVER

 

STANDFIRST

An AV mini hi-fi system is still the simplest and most cost-effective way to upgrade to home cinema, Rick Maybury has been giving his neighbours a hard time once again in pursuit home cinema excellence…

 

COPY/INTRO

 

For a lot of people the words home and cinema conjure up visions of huge widescreen televisions, lots of black boxes, giant speakers, wires all over the place, an irate spouse and a massive overdraft… Thankfully the reality is somewhat different. Home cinema is a very wide-ranging technology. Sure movies look good on a big screen and we all aspire to loud sound systems that can annoy people living two streets away but the principle aim is to capture the flavour and atmosphere of watching a movie at the cinema.

 

You do not need a lot of expensive equipment to achieve home cinema nirvana, in fact you can put together a decent system with a minimum of boxes for just a few hundred pounds, assuming of course that you already have a TV and a stereo VCR. One of the best places to start is with an AV-oriented mini hi-fi system. They're the classic 'one-box' home entertainment solution, bringing music and video technologies together in one convenient, easy to use package.

 

Most, if not all mini Hi-Fi systems include a CD autochanger, AM/FM tuner (usually with RDS), twin cassette decks and an amplifier, the home cinema element centres on the system's ability to create a three dimensional surround-sound effect. This can be done in one of two ways; the simplest is to generate a spatial soundfield through the main stereo speakers, using digital processing circuitry. The alternative is pukka surround-sound, which involves decoding hidden signals in the movie soundtrack and piping them through a set of five or more speakers placed around the seating position.

 

Most surround sound systems, and for obvious reasons, the one's we're most interested in, use the analogue Dolby Pro Logic system for separating out a centre-front dialogue channel, two front stereo channels and a rear effects channel, normally heard through two speakers. The arrival of DVD has brought with it high-performance digital surround systems, such as Dolby Digital/AC-3, MPEG Audio and DTS, giving up to six discrete surround channels (two stereo front, one centre dialogue, two stereo surround and one bass or sub-woofer channel). Digital surround decoders have yet to make an impact on the mainstream mini hi-fi system market but at least two models in this roundup have 5.1 channel audio inputs. This means they can be used with the growing number of DVD players on the market with built in decoders.

 

The real benefit of an AV mini system is convenience; everything you need is normally included, right down to the speakers and connecting cables. That means there's no need to worry about mixing and matching components and one remote control box works everything, sometimes even the TV and VCR as well. It sounds great and you want one, but there has to be a catch, right?

 

As we never tire of reminding you, with home entertainment technology you get what you pay for and mini Hi-Fi systems are no exception. Budget models often have the potential to sound quite good but all too many of them come with really naff speakers. AV mini hi-fi systems are called upon to do two quite different jobs, movie soundtracks have different dynamics to music on tape or disc, moreover a single speaker location is rarely be ideal for both types of application, in other words be prepared to suffer and make compromises. Providing you're not too fussy it should be possible to find a happy medium. However, be warned, if you are dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in either music or the movies you probably won't ever be satisfied with a Jack of all trades AV mini system, no matter how much you spend. 

 

So what should you be looking for? You can tell a lot about a system without even switching it on. The speakers are usually a good place to start. Ignore all the shiny bits that get tacked on to the boxes these days and concentrate on the size and number of drive units. A speaker with a single driver is unlikely ever to produce a satisfying sound; it's simply asking too much a speaker to accurately reproduce deep bass and treble frequencies at the same time. Size is important, as a very general rule larger speakers and enclosures are better at handling bass notes, but there are many exceptions and if you are mostly interested in home cinema shortlist systems with separate sub-woofer facilities. Amplifier power is less important than speaker efficiency, so don't worry too much about the numbers, but do look for an even distribution of power across the front and rear channels, unless you are going to be watching movies in a very small room. You should avoid buying any system without hearing it first, your ears should always have the final say, no matter what we, or anyone else says about a system.

 

Connectivity is vitally important, don't just think about the equipment you have now, the chances are you'll have a DVD player within the next year or so, maybe a digital satellite or terrestrial set-top box as well, what about camcorders and video games? They deserve to be heard through a decent sound system too. The bottom line is AV systems need sockets, and plenty of them!  Lastly think about how easy a system is going to be to drive, and will lots of flashing lights drive you potty, if so can they switched off?

 

Of course you will have your own set of criteria and a budget to work within but the point is you can afford to be brutal when auditioning equipment and weeding out the no-hopers since there are so many AV mini systems on the market nowadays.  

 

HOW THE TESTS WERE DONE

It's all terribly scientific so please bear with us if it gets a bit technical. Stage one is to set up each system in turn, connect it to a VCR and a DVD player and a bloody enormous TV. We switch the popcorn maker to industrial strength mode then settle back in a big comfy armchair to watch the noisiest bits from more than half a dozen movies, over and over again. It's more difficult that it sounds!

 

Although we tend to use the same movies from one group test to another, new ones are added from time to time, when we come across sequences that really stretch a sound system. Around half of the movies are on VHS but we're leaning more and more towards DVD test recordings since they put an even greater strain on a system and are better at showing up flaws. We also make a point of listening to a few CDs and tapes, to see how well it copes with music only sources. Stage two is the bit where we listen to lots of boring test recordings, they drive us mad but it does give us hard data on a systems limits and capabilities.

 

THE TESTS

 

AIWA NSX-AV540,  £280

VERDICT ****

Aiwa has consistently set the price benchmark for AV mini systems and the AV540 continues this honourable tradition. It's a remarkably well specified package, this year Aiwa has added RDS to the tuner and there have been a number of refinements to the speaker and control system. The styling is, as ever, designed to grab your attention though the front panel display is noticeably less lively than on previous models. The front panel is a bit scary, it looks cluttered and it takes a while to get used to where everything is.

 

In common with a lot of other entry level systems the input connections are very thin on the ground in fact it has only one auxiliary input, which could prove troublesome when using more than one AV source components (i.e. a VCR and a DVD player). It has its fair share of gadgets and toys, including a simple game that we never did quite fathom how to play, and a karaoke/microphone mixing function, so you can sing along with your favourite tunes. The CD section has a 3-disc rotary autochanger and there are twin cassette decks, deck 1 has auto reverse and there's a good assortment of CD to tape and tape to tape editing and copying options. The 2 way speakers are a fair size and are fitted with forward firing bass ports. The rear speakers are quite small and the captive cables could do with being a bit longer.

 

Bass output from the front stereo speakers is most impressive, especially with the 3-stage bass boost on full -- you might even be able to get away without a sub-woofer in a small room. Adjusting the levels takes quite a while, the centre dialogue channel is very busy and dialogue sounds a bit raspy at times. The rear channel level has to be set high to compensate for the small speakers and uneven power distribution; even so front rear transitions are not very smooth. CD and tape sources are satisfactory but there is no doubt it is happiest with AV material. Good value, a budget best buy.

 

Aiwa (0990) 902902

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features

Front: 2 x 40 watts, rear: 2 x 10 watts, centre 1 x 20 watts RMS, Dolby Pro Logic & Dolby 3 Stereo, 3-mode graphic equaliser (rock, pop, classic), bass-boost, 3-CD autochanger, AM/FM tuner with 32 station presets and RDS, twin cassette decks with editing and high-speed editing, sleep/program timer, microphone mixer and karaoke functions, game-demo mode

 

Sockets

1 x AV in, subwoofer & rear/surround speakers (phono), digital audio out (optical jack) front speakers & AM aerial (spring terminals), FM aerial (coax), front: microphone and headphones (jack)  

 

Picture            n/a

Sound              ****

Features            ****

Ease of use            ****

 

Captions

·        The front panel is rather busy but the display is quite restrained

 

·        Not enough sockets, the single auxiliary line input could prove awkward

 

·        The handset layout is good and the main control buttons fall readily to hand

 

 

JVC CA-MXJ75,  £300

VERDICT ****

Judging by the price JVC is determined to grab a serious slice of the budget AV mini system market. The MXJ75s a follow up to the very likeable Adagio D851, in fact the general specification is little changed, apart from a useful increase in power to the front speakers and there are one or two little extras, including the novel 'powered rolling panel'. To be honest it's a gimmick, but it's a good one. Press a button on the front panel and a bank of secondary controls silently rolls into view. You can't resist playing with it, we just hope the motor can take the strain…

 

The styling is a lot more angular it looks a bit slabby and the theme continues on the 3-way speakers. The display looks as though it has been toned down and the control layout is simpler, thanks to the hidden panel. The handset is small and not very easy to use since a lot of functions are accessed by pressing a 'shift' button. Up top there's a three CD autochanger using a drawer-loading system and both cassette decks have auto reverse mechanisms. The rear channel speakers are tiny and once again the captive leads might be a bit too short for a lot of living rooms. The main speaker leads could do with being a bit longer as well. Connectivity is poor with only one auxiliary line input.

 

DPL performance is mixed, treble and mid range front the front speakers is crisp and punchy and the centre channel is very shapely defined but the rear channel struggles to make itself heard. Bass is thin, dramatic set-piece effects tend to be shallow, it lacks the grunt needed to deliver convincing explosions; the menacing background rumble in movies like Batman and Robin and various space epics is nowhere to be heard. This is not a problem for CD and tape, it stacks up quite well in a hi-fi role; all is not lost the low price means you should have enough left over for a decent active sub to set it to rights for serious movie watching.

 

JVC, 0181-450 3282

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features        

Front: 2 x 75 watts, rear: 2 x 12.5 watts, centre: 25 watts RMS, Dolby Pro Logic & Dolby 3 Stereo, multi-mode equaliser/DSP (dance club, hall, stadium, rock, pop, classic) plus 3 manual sound modes, AM/FM tuner with 15/30 preset channel s and RDS, 3-CD autochanger, twin auto-reverse cassette decks with editing & high-speed dubbing, sleep/on/program timer

 

Sockets          

1 x AV in, subwoofer & rear/surround speakers (phono), digital audio out (optical jack) front speakers & AM aerial (spring terminals), FM aerial (coax), front: headphone (minijack)

 

Picture             n/a

Sound              ****

Features            ****

Ease of use            ****

 

Captions

·        Love that rolling panel, endless hours of fun for kids, of all ages…

 

·        Tut-tut, one auxiliary input is simply not enough

 

·        Shift buttons on remote handsets make life unnecessarily complicated

 

 

PHILIPS FW-890P,  £400

VERDICT ***

If ever you decide to check out the FW-890P in the flesh at your local mini system merchant put on a pair of sunglasses. They'll protect your eyes from the glare, and confer a degree of anonymity, that is unless you actually are an 18-year old male and impressed by loud shiny objects… Possibly that's a little unfair but the styling of the stack and the 'G-Sound' speakers is deliberately 'in-your-face' and aggressive; there's little doubt about the market Philips is aiming this system at.

 

Behind all the glitz there is an AV mini system but you have to dig quite deep to unearth the home cinema features. It has a bucket-load of digital sound effects, which get top billing. There's something called Virtual Environment Control for recreating the acoustics of large and small spaces and various custom effects for mangling the sound still further.  It has the usual line up of audio components with 3-CD autochanger, twin cassette decks and an RDS AM/FM tuner. If you ever get bored with what's on TV you can always watch the very lively front panel display. The speakers are also quite entertaining, though in a different way, as you try to imagine what was going through the designers mind when he (no woman would do such a thing…) dreamt them up.

 

It might look frightful but it really doesn't sound too bad. CD and tape material comes across as quite bright and breezy – provided you switch off all the DSP effects -- we can see it being a bit of a hit at parties and it is plenty loud. There's a useful spin-off from those lumpy speakers and that's a surprisingly solid bass, with a clean sounding treble and mid-range. The DPL decoder is quite agile and locks dialogue to the centre channel, the rear channel is a wee bit under powered, though and it only just keeps up with moving effects and loud sounds. If you shut your eyes and just listen you may be pleasantly surprised.   

 

 Philips 0181-689 2166

 

UP CLOSE

Features                     Front: 2 x 80, centre & rear 2 x 40 watts RMS, Dolby Pro Logic & Dolby 3 Stereo, 3-CD autochanger, AM/FM with RDS, multi-mode digital sound control with VEC & IS (virtual environmental control & interactive Studio), twin cassette decks (one auto-reverse) with high-speed dubbing, bass boost, sleep timer, G-Sound speakers, Dolby B NR

 

Sockets                       Line audio in/out, sub-woofer & surround out, digital audio out (phono), speakers (spring terminals), headphones & microphone (minijack)

 

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Captions

·        Yikes, the speakers from hell, easier on the ear than the eye

 

·        A paucity of phonos, a scarcity of socketry, you know the story…

 

·        The remote is okay, key functions are well labelled and easy to find

 

 

SAMSUNG MAX-945,  £500

VERDICT ****

Blink and you'll miss it on the packaging, but emblazoned on the front of the MAX-945, lit up for all to see, are the three magic letters 'DVD'. That's right, a mini system that plays Region 2 DVD video discs, and not just one, but three at a time, loaded into its autochanger carousel. Of course it plays audio CDs and tapes as well, there's a DPL decoder and some lightweight DSP facilities and it has the now obligatory RDS AM/FM tuner, but it's the DVD facility that really interests us here.

 

It's certainly an eyeful, from the front it looks a bit like a hi-tech safe with that large central control cluster. Samsung has gone well over the top with the light displays. Was it really necessary to have two waves of red beams pulse from either side of the central display every time a button is pressed on the handset? Let's call it brash and leave it at that. The styling spills over onto the loudspeakers, which is a bit of a shame. The light wood finish looks quite good, but someone decided they needed jazzing up and slapped a lot of hi-tech nonsense on the front.

 

DVD picture quality is excellent; our early sample was a multi-region type (production models will be Region 2 only) and as far as what was happening on screen it ranks alongside any of the current mid-market players. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of its audio capabilities, which were quite frankly disappointing. The trouble is almost certainly centred on the 2-way speakers, substituting them for some of the others in this roundup produced a dramatic improvement. You can sense the presence of bass but hardly anything escapes from the boxes. Movie soundtracks that should have the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention sound flat and uninteresting. It's a shame because the DPL processor works well, though it could do with a little more power to the rear channel and overall volume levels are quite modest.

 

A mini hi-fi system with a DVD player had to happen sooner or later and Samsung has nearly got it right. The cosmetics are eye-catching, the price is fair and video performance is on the button. The only niggle concerns the sound, which doesn't do justice to the picture. Bin the speakers and put some black tape over the winky lights and you've got the makings of quite a decent little system!

 

Samsung 0800 521652

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features        

Front: 2 x 60 watts, rear: 2 x 15 watts, centre 30 watts RMS, Dolby Pro Logic & Dolby 3 Stereo, 3-CD/DVD autochanger (Region 2), AM/FM/LW tuner with 8/15/7 presets and RDS, multi-mode equaliser/DSP, bass boost, twin cassette decks (auto reverse on deck 2), high-speed dubbing, sleep/on/program timer, picture zoom

 

Sockets          

AV in/out (SCART), aux audio in, video out, centre & rear/surround speakers (phono), digital audio out (optical jack) front speakers & AM aerial (spring terminals), FM aerial (coax), front: headphones (jack)

 

Picture             *****

Sound              ***

Features            ****

Ease of use            ***

 

Captions

·        A touch garish maybe but the illuminated sign leaves you in no doubt that this is a DVD player!

 

·        Poor connectivity but then you don't need any AV input sockets for a DVD player

 

·        The handset is okay but a lot of important little buttons are hidden away under a sliding flap

 

 

SONY MHC-NX3AV,  £500

VERDICT *****

There's a reassuringly heavy feel to the NX3AV transit boxes, especially the one containing the speakers. The front stereo pair is indeed of heavyweight construction but the real surprise is the three identical speakers for the front and rear channels. They're a little smaller than housebricks but they weigh almost as much! The front stereo speakers are finished in an attractive light wood veneer, and very classy they look too!

 

System components are housed in two silvery boxes connected together by a single ribbon cable. The front panel styling is fairly neutral, not too garish and with currently fashionable angular sides and edges. One box contains a tray loading 5-CD autochanger and twin auto reverse cassette decks. The amplifier, display and electronic gubbins live in the other. The backlight on the LCD display panel is a dramatic orange colour, it can be dimmed but it's still rather bright. Surprisingly the CD tray loading mechanism makes grinding noises; it's not a problem but it's not something you expect from Sony mechanicals, which can usually be relied upon to be silky smooth.

 

Good news for DVD fans, the amplifier has a 5.1 discrete channel inputs. There are also plenty of sound options to play with, far too many in fact with no less than 15 preset and 4 user equaliser modes and 4 DSP options. One of them (Enhanced Theatre) made a very peculiar pulsating noise from the rear channel, which definitely didn't sound right. Something similar could also heard in the background, at a very low level, when the DPL decoder was on.     

 

Those big speakers really pay off when it comes to movie soundtracks. They generate a beefy bass sound that carries special effects well, but they're equally adept with mid-range and treble frequencies. The small centre and surround speakers may not look terribly promising but they actually work rather well, especially at the front where the dialogue channel is sharply focused. The rear channel could do with being a little more dispersed but there's enough power coming from those speakers to mount them back a little from the seating position. The tape decks and CD also benefit from the front speaker's wide and open response and there's enough leeway on the equaliser settings to get the system sounding right for both music and movies.     

 

Sony (0990) 111999

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features        

Front: 2 x 100 watts, rear: 2 x 40 watts, centre 40 watts RMS, Dolby Pro Logic, 5-CD autochanger, AM/FM tuner with 30 presets, twin auto-reverse cassette decks with Dolby B N/R, multi-mode DSP, manual equaliser, sleep & program timer

 

Sockets          

Audio line in/out (phono), component interconnect (ribbon cable), speakers (spring terminals), front: headphone & microphone (minijack)

 

Picture             n/a

Sound              *****

Features            ****

Ease of use            ****

 

Captions

·        Smooth looking and smooth sounding, especially those classy looking speakers

 

·        There should be enough sockets here to satisfy most home cinema users

 

·        The remote is not too bad at all, all of the important buttons are well labelled and reasonably accessible

 

TECHNICS SC-EH750,  £450

VERDICT ****

 

The SC-EH750 is the only 'component' system in this roundup but it's almost as much a cosmetic sleight of hand as a single box units dressed up to look like a stack since the boxes in question are not stand alone devices. They're connected together by ribbon cables which limit the layout to two side by side stacks. It is possible to make a single pile but the ribbon cable has to go through some awkward contortions. The boxes have a solid 'mechanical' appearance, quite restrained until it's switched on when a large gaudy purple graphic equaliser springs into life and there doesn't seem to be any way of switching it off.

 

The amplifier and preamp sections are well appointed with lots of connection options, including six discrete channel inputs for AC-3/DTS equipped DVD decks. The front panel controls are spread around and they take some getting used to, especially the multi-function dial which also houses a tiny joystick for adjusting the manual equaliser settings. For some reason there doesn't seem to be any way of changing the many and various DSP sound modes and surround channel levels from the remote handset but generally it is reasonably easy to live with. The 3-way front stereo speakers are a good size but the design doesn't sit very well with the rest of the system. The surrounds are on the small side and like the centre channel, look a bit fussy. The CD unit is a 5-disc autochanger with lots of useful dubbing and programming options; both cassette decks have auto reverse mechanisms. The AM/FM tuner has an RDS decoder and 30 station presets.   

 

Bass levels are very good indeed, thanks mainly to the substantial speakers. It produces an agreeably mellow sound but there's plenty of volume in reserve across the front channels to cope with lively soundtracks. The rear channel tries to keep up but there is a bit of a dip with effects moving from front to rear. Nevertheless, the response can be tailored for both AV and CD/tape and it does both jobs well though on balance it's slightly more comfortable with music only sources. 

 

Technics (0990) 357357

 

UP CLOSE

 

Features             Front: 2 x 100 watts, rear: 2 x 30 watts, centre 60 watts RMS, Dolby Pro Logic & Dolby 3 Stereo, 5-CD autochanger, AM/FM tuner with 30 presets, twin auto-reverse cassette decks with Dolby B N/R, multi-mode DSP, manual equaliser, sleep & program timer

 

Sockets            Audio line in/out, surround & centre speakers (phono), component interconnect (ribbon cable), speakers (spring terminals), front: headphones (minijack)

 

Picture             n/a

Sound              ****

Features            ****

Ease of use            ****

 

Captions

·        Classy good looks, the 'mechanical' appearance is slightly overplayed and the equaliser display can be distracting

 

·        Full marks for the socketry and the six channel inputs are a big bonus for DVD fans

 

·        The remote handset seems to be missing some vital functions but routine functions are readily   accessible

 

 

THE VERDICT

Comparatively little has changed since our last DPL mini system group test, and most of those that preceded it. In general the electrical and electronic bits work well but a lot of potentially competent systems are let down by the speakers they're supplied with. Styling, especially in the busy budget and mid-market sectors, has become even more ludicrous, though we're pleased to see that the front panel displays are a little more subdued than in previous years. There have been one or two other welcome trends; CD autochangers are now the norm rather than the exception. Clanky mechanical cassette decks have all but disappeared and replaced by logic-controlled designs and a couple of systems now have 5.1 channel audio inputs, recognising the growing importance of DVD.

 

Some things haven't changed at all. Most budget mini systems have totally inadequate input facilities. A single 'aux' input is no good whatsoever these days, most people interested in home cinema will have at least two AV sources with a VCR and satellite receiver, and possibly three with DVD, manufacturers need to address this problem quickly.

 

Without doubt the most interesting innovation this year has to be the Samsung MAX-945 mini hi-fi with DVD. It's such an obvious combination of technologies and we suspect it won't be on its own for long. Samsung is to be congratulated for being first and setting the standard, it's going to be a tough act to follow. But for the woolly speakers and styling this would have got an unreserved recommendation, even so we still feel it deserves your very serious consideration, especially if you've been considering buying a DVD or mini system, or both, then this will solve all of your problems at a stroke. As an added bonus you'll save enough money to buy a pair of proper speakers.

 

The Technics and Sony systems show that AV systems don't have to look like they're going to mug you. They also demonstrate that it is possible to get half-decent cinema sound and music from a pair of modestly-sized bookshelf speakers, though in both cases the addition of a sub-woofer wouldn't go amiss, especially is movie watching is going to be a priority. They cost a bit more but it is money well spent if your taste in sound and design is a little more refined.

 

Aiwa, as ever, is bang on target with the AV540, it's bright and breezy, a great value for money package and it works well too, especially in home cinema mode. JVC is marking out its territory at the budget end of the market as well with an interesting, well-specified system, unlike the Aiwa system it favours tape and CD but a sub woofer would easily redress the balance. The only real criticisms of these systems, and this also applies to the Philips FW-890, is the lonely single input socket, which could make life difficult for those who want to expand their system beyond a single source component.

 

As far as the FW-890 is concerned, there are two points to bear in mind. The first is the price; the other is the styling. £400 is actually a fair price for what is after all a quite a reasonable sounding system, but this is a fast-moving dynamic market. You have to bear in mind the fact that there are at least two similarly specified systems from the likes Aiwa and JVC costing a good deal less. It also behoves us to point out that another £100 buys better performance and even a DVD player. We don't want to dwell too much on details like cosmetics but do remember how rapidly styles change in this business and how quickly today's cool and trendy can become tomorrow's naff and nerdy.

 

BEST IN TEST

SONY MHC-NX3AV,  £500

The NX3AV comes close to doing the impossible that is fulfilling the dual role of a hi-fi and a home cinema system. It also manages to pull off another difficult trick; the 5.1 channel inputs offer that rare commodity in consumer electronics, a degree of future proofing. It looks good and the price is just right.

 

TECHNICS SC-EH750,  £450

Technics, like Sony, has used a bit of forward thinking and made provision for those who have already, or will one day upgrade to DVD. The EH750 looks smart and best of all, it sounds great, whether you're listening to a tape, CD or blockbuster movie.

 

SAMSUNG MAX-945,  £500

The arrival of the first DVD mini hi-fi system is further confirmation of the format's meteoric rise and assured future. The MAX-950 is the first of a new species of home cinema system and we suspect the cloners are already hard at work.

 

AIWA NSX-AV540,  £280

A mad price for a very sensible system. It's an ideal way to get a taste of what home cinema has to offer, without breaking the bank, and for good measure you also get a bright and lively hi-fi system.

 

RIVAL BUYS

AKAI TX-720, £350

Akai has tried very hard with this system, the big bass rich speakers and punchy amplifier put it well into the home cinema ballpark. A bit of a brute but if you've a larger than average space to fill it is worth hearing.

 

SHARP CD-C477, £380

A well thought out systems with definite home cinema leanings, thanks to the inclusion of a sub woofer in the package and the competitive pricing. Bags of bass, a delight for action blockbuster fans!

 

YAMAHA AV-1, £650

A good place to start for those who want to get away from the standard black/silver box stack system concept. The system unit looks more like a VCR and the speakers are impossibly small but have a listen and prepare to be impressed!  

 

 

 

TABLE 1                   

BRAND

Aiwa

JVC

Phil

Sam

Son

Tech

Price

280

300

400

500

500

450

Power front

2x40

2x75

2x80

2x60

2x100

2x100

Power rear

2x10

2x12.5

2x40

2x15

2x40

2x30

Power centre

20

25

40

30

40

60

CD/DVD

3/-

3/-

3/-

3/3

5/-

5/-

Twin cass/AR

*/1

*/2

*/1

*/1

*/2

*/2

RDS

*

*

*

*

*

*

Picture quality

n/a

n/a

n/a

*****

n/a

N/a

Sound quality

****

****

****

***

*****

****

Features

****

****

****

****

****

****

Ease of Use

****

****

***

***

****

****

Overall score

****

****

****

****

*****

****

 

 

JARGON BUSTER

 

DOLBY DIGITAL/AC-3

High quality digital multi channel surround sound system used on DVDs, originally developed for use in movie theatres. Comprises five discrete broadband channels (front stereo, centre dialogue, stereo rear effects) and one narrow bandwidth bass channel 

 

DOLBY 3 STEREO

Halfway house surround sound mode feeding sound through three speakers (right and left stereo and centre dialogue). Surround sound information is extracted but fed to the front speakers and combined with the normal stereo to produce a wide spatial effect

 

DPL

Dolby Pro Logic, four channel (front stereo, centre dialogue, rear effects) analogue surround sound system used on movies on tape and TV stereo programmes, also included with digital surround sound information on laserdiscs and DVD 

 

DSP

Digital Sound Processing – a range of techniques, using digital audio processing microchips used to create a 'spatial' soundfield by selectively filtering certain frequencies and delaying others, to mimic the acoustic effects of additional speakers and listening to sounds in a larger rooms or an open space.

 

DTS

Digital Theatre System, 5.1 (5 channel plus bass) digital surround system original developed for movie theatres now used on a small but growing number of DVDs

 

MPEG AUDIO

Moving Pictures Expert Group, digital multi-channel audio system originally developed for used on European DVD recordings but now largely sidelined by Dolby Digital and DTS systems, which have become the de-facto international standard for DVD

 

RDS

Radio Data System – a kind of teletext system for radio, used to broadcast programme information and traffic reports, and assist with automatic tuning and station selection, according to programme type and content

 

SUB WOOFER

A large loudspeaker dedicated to reproducing low frequency bass sounds. Active Sub Woofers have a built in amplifier and are driven from line-level a sub-woofer output on an amplifier or surround sound decoder

 

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ã R. Maybury 1999 1507

 

 

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