Sony DAV-HDX500 BRAVIA Theater System review

This Sony HTiB does the listening for you.

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

The DAV-HDX500 is an HTiB built around an all-in-one receiver/DVD changer that Sony generously rates as putting out143-Watts per channel (x 5) plus an additional 285-Watts for the subwoofer – but that's at 10% THD. The receiver/DVD changer includes an AM/FM tuner, auto speaker calibration, and an HDMI output with upconversion to 720p or 1080i. There are inputs for an additional A/V source, an audio-only source, and an optional XM satellite radio antenna. Two Digital Media Ports on the back allow you to connect Sony Digital Media Port accessories, such as a Bluetooth Interface ($80) or a Walkman cradle ($50), both of which are currently available. Future accessories will include an iPod Dock ($100) and a Wi-Fi Client ($200). That's a pretty impressive range of features and inputs for a sub-$500 HTiB.

For years, one of Sony's strong points has been the industrial design of the gear it makes, and this HTiB is no exception. Rather than incorporate a standard flat front faceplate that looks both boring and cheap, Sony chose to endow the DAV-HDX500 with a cool-looking, split-level front panel. The main display is visible on the recessed top half while the DVD drawer, transport buttons, and volume control are located on a silver strip that extends outward about half an inch. Although the buttons are small, they're spaced well enough apart from one another, making it very easy to operate the system without the remote control.

Speaking of the remote control, the one included here is unfortunately typical of most Sony system remotes. It's filled with tiny buttons, many of which do double duty and therefore have double labels. Using it may be an engineer's delight, but it's an average Joe's distress. It's long, feels awkward in your hand, and the only TVs it will operate are compatible Sony models. This is not a family-friendly remote control.

The five-disc DVD changer is a front loading type, not a carousel. The video output can be upconverted to 720p or 1080i, and the image quality with DVDs is consistent with those I've seen in the $150 range. The time it takes to change discs is a bit longer than you'd experience with a carousel. It's pretty noisy when changing discs, but you won't be listening to music while the mechanism is operating anyway.

The front left and right speakers are two-way monitor-types. They're skinny, tall, and look high-tech when used with the included pedestal stands (thin silver tubes with large, flat, circular bases). They can also be mounted on the wall where they'll look like most other plasma-matching, on-wall speakers.

The center channel, in contrast, is tiny – so much so that it looks like it doesn't belong with the system. Whereas the main speakers are over 33-inches tall and almost 4.5-inches wide, the itty bitty center speaker is under two inches tall and only 15.25-inches wide. Put two stacks of three DVD cases side-by-side, and you'll have almost exactly the size of the front face of the center channel – although the speaker is only about half as deep (approximately 2.5-inches).The rear speakers are small, too, but not so much so that you'll do a double take when you first see them. All the speakers are silver with black metal grilles. Like the fronts, the center and rears can be wall-mounted using keyhole slots.

The size of the subwoofer is about average for an HTiB in the same price range and has a cabinet that's predominantly black with a silver trim ring around the front and a black metal grille that cosmetically matches the other speakers. There's a large port – with a thin silver ring around it to highlight the fact that it's there – on the front of the sub. The metal grille, by the way, is especially nice to have on the subwoofer since it's going to live down low where toddlers are amazingly adept at finding things to push, pull, prod, and poke. That metal grille will certainly save the bass driver itself from damage, but I think Sony made a mistake by not similarly protecting the port which is big enough to make a great hiding place for Hot Wheels cars, half-eaten crackers, and maybe the family gerbil.

Setting up the system is incredibly easy. Sony uses special color-coded speaker wire connectors on the back of the receiver/DVD player, so you plug those in and connect the wire with the matching color at the end to the appropriate speaker. Since the amplifier for the subwoofer is in the receiver/DVD player, there's no power cord to plug in. That's nice because it means you can place the sub anywhere that looks good, sounds good, and/or you can easily run the speaker wire to. Unfortunately, since the system doesn't include a low-level subwoofer output or the ability to set the system's processor/crossover to "no subwoofer", it will be hard to upgrade the speakers later on if you get the inclination to do so.

After the speakers are in place, you connect the included microphone to the jack on the front of the receiver/DVD changer. In the calibration menus, you can choose from several different system configurations ranging from the standard three-front-and¬-two-back (plus subwoofer) arrangement to one that has all the speakers lined up on the front wall. While that's a thought sure to make any true home theater lover sick, I give Sony credit for including it since for some people that might be the only way they can set up the system. After that it only takes the automatic circuitry a couple of minutes of pops, clicks, and thumps before it's ready to go.

I found the calibration routine to be pretty accurate when it came to setting the delays as well as the volume levels. With the exception of the tiny center channel, I was almost ready to say that the dawn of a new era in the HTiB world was about to begin. That was before I sat down to do some serious listening to the system.

Don't misunderstand. When compared to most of what's on the market in the under-$500 range, the DAV-HDX500 is a solid contender when it comes to performance. It's just that, in my opinion, Sony has made the same mistake that almost all companies do with their HTiBs: they scrimped on the sound quality of the speakers.

The center channel offers a clue. It's just too small to do the job the way it really ought to be done. Because it, and the rest of the speakers, can't handle much in the way of bass response, the subwoofer is crossed over at a frequency that's high enough to make it easily localizable in the room. (One way to minimize this, of course, is to set up the subwoofer on the same wall as close to the main speakers as you can.) The bass is a bit boomy, but it's as good – and maybe a bit better – than what you'll hear with other $500 HTiBs. No, it's not going to knock you out of your chair, but you'd have to spend $500 or more just on the subwoofer for that kind of experience.

The main speakers tend to resonate a bit in the vocal range giving them a slightly hollow sound. It's not so noticeable with movies, but it became more obvious with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's Live concert DVD. The highs are a bit aggressive, which can put you slightly on edge when you're watching a movie like Monster House that has lots of high-frequency creaks and cracks. On the other hand, the cannon bombardment scene early in Master & Commander and the circle of drums scene in House of the Flying Daggers were both reproduced very well with a nice sense of space.

All things considered, especially the price point, I've got to give the DAV-HDX500 pretty high marks relative to its competitors. It's a fun system to use (except for that blasted remote), and the auto calibration makes getting the best sound possible out of the system as brainless as possible. It looks good, and if you're a Sony TV owner, it'll look especially nice next to your TV. I wish the speakers sounded a bit better, but that's a common knock against HTiBs, anyway. All in all, it's a good value in a one-box system.

Article Continues: At A Glance »

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Sony DAV-HDX500 BRAVIA Theater System review:At A Glance

At A Glance Sony SS-WS74 Powered Subwoofer
Drive Unit: 6.4", bass reflex
Power Rating: 285-Watts
Dimensions (WHD): 8.75" x 15.6" x 13.9"
Weight: 14.4 lbs.
Sony SS-CT72 Center Speaker
Type: single-driver, one-way 1.2" x 2.4" cone driver, magnetically shielded
Impedance: 3-ohms
Dimensions (WHD): 15" x 1.9" x 2.5"
Weight: 1.1 lbs./ea.
Sony SS-TS74 (Front Speaker)
Type: three-driver, two-way with two 2.6-inch mid-bass drivers and one 2-inch tweeter, magnetically shielded
Impedance: 3-ohms
Dimensions (WHD): 4.4" x 32.6" x 3"
Weight: 5.1 lbs./ea.
Sony SS-TS72 (Surround Speaker)
Type: one-driver, one-way with one 2.6-inch driver, magnetically shielded
Impedance: 3-ohms
Dimensions (WHD): 3.75" x 8.75" x 3"
Weight: 1.6 lbs./ea.
Sony DAV-HDX500 AV Receiver/DVD Changer
Power Rating: 143-Watts x 5 into 3 ohms
Processing Modes: DD, Dolby ProLogicII Movie/Music, DTS-ES/Discrete/Matrix/Neo:6, DTS 24/96, Neural Surround, Digital Cinema Sound
Video: One component and S-Video, two composite
Audio: One each coaxial and Toslink optical digital audio, two analog stereo
Video : One each component, composite, S-Video, and HDMI
Audio: N/A
Playback Formats: DVD-Video, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD+R DL, CD/CD-R/CD-RW, JPEG, MP3
Upconversion: 720p, 1080i
System Price: $499.99

Manufacturer Information
Sony Corporation
(877) 865 SONY

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Samsung DVD-V9650 DVD Player/VHS Recorder review

Teasing the high end while still embracing the previous generation.

I recently read somewhere that DVD's install base had eclipsed that of VHS, the former king of meat-and-potatoes home entertainment. I flashed nostalgically on DVD's initial toehold in rental outlets like Blockbuster and stores such as Suncoast, as well as its relentless growth to the point where VHS was relegated to a single shelf before disappearing altogether. I'm sure that recordable DVD still remains a runner-up to the ubiquitous videocassette—even though blank DVDs cost less than blank tapes and recording decks are at all-time-low prices. Still, for reasons that escape me, VHS just won't lie down, even though the consumer electronics coroner has pronounced it dead.
Catering to tape-faithful diehards, Samsung has an entire wave of assorted DVD-player/VHS-recorder combo units. Their top-end model is the DVD-V9650, the first upconverting DVD/VHS combi player from the company that introduced the original DVD/VHS combo going on six years ago. Right here in the second paragraph, let me make a few points plain. First, this model's recording is limited to VHS, meaning it doesn't record to DVD, unlike some other decks I've reviewed, as well as some other Samsung decks. There's also no way to record from DVD—copy protected or not—to VHS, as the deck is not wired internally for this purpose. It won't work even if you feed the DVD output to the VCR input, because the disc and the tape sections will not operate at the same time. And, while the deck offers DVD upconversion over HDMI, you can only connect the VHS output via composite or RF coaxial outputs, neither of which is an enticing choice for DVD output. (Interlaced/progressive component video and S-video outputs are provided, as well.) The bottom line is, you're going to need two different video-output cables to use both sources.

Video Snobbery (Just a Bit)
The last time I watched a videotape by choice was about two years ago, and that was something absolutely necessary for work that wasn't available in any other format. So, writing about VHS now feels oddly unfamiliar. I had to program the clock, of course, but this model thankfully doesn't endlessly flash "12:00." Samsung provides an Auto Clock feature to simplify setup. Under ideal circumstances, the clock might properly set itself. Otherwise, you can use the eight-step manual process, which depends upon your knowing which TV channels carry a time signal. It also requires a reboot. Samsung has added a TiVo-like Skip feature, a 30-second forward jump that you can use up to four times at once. There's also a Repeat feature, which takes you five seconds back at SP speed (15 in SLP), so you can catch missed dialogue and so forth. This deck doesn't support LP, the "long play" mode that is good for four hours on a standard T-120 tape. With its S-VHS Quasi Playback, the DVD-V9650 will play any S-VHS tapes you've accumulated over the years, albeit at standard VHS quality, or roughly 240 lines of resolution versus the 400 lines possible with true Super-VHS. This compatibility is something of a carrot to anyone with an S-VHS-C camcorder and a backlog of home movies.

The VHS picture quality is slightly better with this deck than I remember from other VCRs. With content from both home-recorded and store-bought tapes, an unfortunate screen-door effect plagued the picture. At times, a subtle darkness also rolled down the image, which might have been attributable to poor electrical grounding and not the player. The Auto Tracking locked on after about 10 seconds, and it ably cleaned up any major shakes and streaks. You can also adjust the tracking manually. Overall, for a composite video signal, the picture was not atrocious; if you have to watch VHS, you could definitely do a lot worse. The hi-fi stereo audio output was excellent, with fine separation and improved dynamic range versus linear audio, if your recordings offer hi-fi soundtracks.

The Latest in VHS: DVD!
VHS aside (it's on the right side, actually), this inexpensive little DVD player provides the modern-industry-standard HDMI output. It will output 480p and upconverted 720p and 1080i signals. You can set the HDMI resolution with the remote control and onscreen menus, or you can use the inconspicuous HD button that's almost lost among the VCR controls on the front panel. You can also set HDMI formats to match your display. The RGB Normal/YCbCr (4:4:4) mode is ideal for most TVs that accept HDMI input—delivering enhanced contrast and enabling superior color reproduction—while RGB Expand broadens the color and contrast range for connection to a monitor. Five available brightness levels allow you to fine-tune the picture to best play to your TV's strengths. There's also black-level adjustment, but you can only negotiate said blacks when the video output is in interlaced mode. In general, the upconversion isn't awful, but the introduction of a digital haze is definitely noticeable to the sophisticated eye. Frankly, I don't think upconversion makes the picture look much better, while the side effects actually make it look a little less natural than honest 480p. When I switched between certain DVD menus or worked with the soundless Faroudja Sage test disc, the DVD-V9650 continually reminded me that "HDMI Audio [is] not supported" in big white letters on the screen, a mildly annoying but unavoidable trait.

I used the Sage disc's line-twitter pattern to evaluate the field merge of horizontal lines in the alternating odd and even fields of each frame. After a one-second acquisition, all flicker disappeared from the lines, which appeared smooth and free of artifacts. The oscillating-pendulum graphic should illustrate the elimination of jagged edges in interlaced motion on progressive displays. Surprisingly, it remained smooth at all angles without jaggies as it swung, except for the instant when it stopped at the top of each arc. The actual edges took on a weird sort of glow. The random movement of the waving-flag test had minimal jaggies on only the most unforgiving flaps of the Stars and Stripes in this first real-world-video deinterlacing demo I conducted. In the following clip, the top edge of the hockey rink's glass looked clean and smooth for the most part during the panning shot of the ice. The moving-cross-hatch pattern evaluates inverse 3:2/2:2 pulldown, the deinterlacing of film-originated material; this suffered from continuous flutter during its diagonal journey across my screen.

There was definite feathering on the first example of mixed content—video text overlaid on film—although it wasn't the worst I've seen on this demo. The second clip, on the other hand, offered text that was clear as a bell. The final chapter of the Sage disc contains the tests for bad-edit detection and correction, so as to address breaks in the 3:2 cadence, a problem that commonly occurs when film is converted to video and edited. This can also lead to the feathering of images, but, here, the results were rock solid. To gain a fuller sense of the DVD-V9650's video performance, I ran the Sage disc over both progressive-scan component video and HDMI with virtually identical results. However, I did see a slight improvement to the smoothness of the top edge of the rink glass over HDMI.

This deck imparts a characteristic softness in the image processing of all content. Perhaps this was why I noticed less color banding than I've seen from some players on the difficult opening scenes of Superman at 480p. The problem was more noticeable with upconverted content, as was the twitchiness of fine textures on Superman and Master and Commander. Blacks were rather harsh, and, even with the brightness cranked up full, little picture information was revealed in the shadows. This being a Samsung DVD deck, it also offers multiple EZ View modes, including a vertical fit for flat 4:3 content within the 16:9 frame (with black bars on the sides). There's also a Zoom Fit enlargement, which renders the blown-up image only a tad softer.

So, who should buy Samsung's DVD-V9650? The answer is VHS loyalists who have a hard time facing the future (or the present) or those slow-moving folks who are finally, grudgingly making the transition to DVD but need a crutch to ease the journey. DVD and VHS quality exceeded my expectations at this ludicrously low price point, and there's plenty of customizability and most of the features you'd ever need.

  1. • DVD player upconverts to 720p/1080i via HDMI output
  2. • VHS VCR tucked in there, too, all at a great low price

Article Continues: At A Glance & Ratings »

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Samsung DVD-V9650 DVD Player/VHS Recorder review:At A Glance & Ratings

Video: Composite video (2), coaxial cable/antenna (1)
Audio: Analog stereo (2)
Video: HDMI (1), component video (1), S-video (1)(DVD only); composite video (1)
Audio: Digital optical (1), digital coaxial (1)(both DVD only); analog stereo (1)
Compatible Playback Formats: DVD, DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW, CD, CD-R/-RW, MP3, WMA, SVCD, JPEG, DivX (MPEG-4), VHS
Possible Playback Resolutions: 480i; 480p/720p/1080i (DVD)
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 2.3 x 17 x 10.8
Weight (pounds): 8.1

Ratingss: Samsung DVD-V9650 DVD Player/VHS Recorder

Build Quality: 88
• The mostly metal chassis endured slightly more abuse than I usually dish out
• The substantial innards also serve to dampen disc/tape operating noise

Value: 93
• A bargain even within the bargain category
• Tremendous functionality and lots of pleasant little surprises

Features: 87
• Generous array of video tweaks and front and rear inputs; many available outputs
• DivX certified for video on demand downloads from the PC

Performance: 89
• Despite a definite softness on all material, picture quality at 480p was respectable
• VHS picture quality was as good as could be expected

Ergonomics: 83
• The slim black box is designed to complement Samsung's latest HDTVs
• The front panel's Progressive and HDMI buttons seem to be an afterthought; rear panel is confusing

Overall Rating: 89
In the relentless march of technology, the prices of mainstream DVD players continue to plummet, while quality and features continue to advance, resulting in the DVD-V9650, an easily affordable deck that could actually impress.

General Information
DVD-V9650 DVD Player/VHS Recorder, $129
Samsung Electronics America
Dealer Locator Code SAM

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Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-70 Speaker System Review

This is a momentous time for Energy Speaker Systems. Until recently, Energy was one of several brands owned and operated by Audio Products International of Toronto, Canada. (The others included Mirage, Athena, and Spherex.) Now the API brands have been merged into Klipsch of Indianapolis, Indiana, creating a new fusion of Canadian design and American ownership. Energy has also moved their manufacturing to China, where they will have more control over parts, while achieving greater cost-effectiveness. John Tchilinguirian, the longtime lead designer for the brand, has moved on to independent consulting. That makes the Energy RC-70 towers, RC-LCR (serving as center), and RC-R surrounds partly a chapter from a previous tome and partly the first chapter in a new story.

Best Dressed
In the hierarchy of Energy's larger speakers, the Reference Connoisseur speakers sit between the bleeding-edge Veritas line and the more value-oriented C-Series. If you are looking for something less bulky, check out the similar but smaller RC-Mini monitor, the home-design-friendly Take Series, the Act sub/sat systems, or the three in-wall/-ceiling lines, the Veritas Custom, Reference Connoisseur Custom, and EAS series.

A couple I know recently decided to banish all vinyl-clad furnishings, including loudspeakers, from their home. Reference Connoisseur products would meet their standards, with real wood-veneer enclosures in warm cherry, darker rosenut, and black-ash finishes. Pull off the magnetically attached grilles, and you'll see a brushed-aluminum finish on the metal baskets that hold the drivers.

The RC-70 is the largest of the three new Reference Connoisseur towers. The RC-70 looks like a simple rectangular solid, but inside it has full-length bracing that's been computer-tweaked to prevent cabinet resonances from polluting the musical river. Its dual-rear-ported enclosure has enough depth to encompass sufficient volume to produce good bass and a front surface just wide enough to accommodate the girth of its 6.5-inch woofers.

With the inclusion of its 5.5-inch midrange driver, the RC-70 is the only three-way model among the three Reference Connoisseur towers. The woofer and midrange cones are both constructed of Kevlar. Energy specified the thickness and weave and also added a proprietary resin coating. In a move borrowed from the Veritas line, the 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter sits in a separate chamber to isolate it from vibrations.

Aside from the tweeter, the driver mix changes in the RC-LCR and RC-R. The RC-LCR is a left/center/right speaker, although, for this review, I used it only in the center position. Its dual 5.5-inch Kevlar-coned woofers are smaller than those in the towers. Flanking the tweeter in the center of the enclosure is a pair of 2-inch, aluminum cone midrange drivers.

There's no getting around the fact that the RC-70 and RC-LCR don't speak with precisely the same voice. Sticklers may prefer to match the front channels with three RC-LCRs to achieve perfect panning effects and the most even front soundstage. A system with five of them might arguably be the ideal surround system for music. (Steve Guttenberg used three in his Energy review in the June 2006 issue.) However, I didn't regret having two RC-70s in my listening room; it was a brush with greatness.

The RC-LCR's woofers and tweeter reappear on the front of the RC-R surround speaker, with two more of the 2-inch midrange drivers on either side of the enclosure. A switch beneath the grille lets you select between bipole mode (with the midranges in phase) and dipole mode (with the mids out of phase). Next to the switch is something quite rare—a dial that adjusts the output of the side midranges from 0 decibels (off) to 1 dB below the level of the front drivers. Silencing the mids turns the speaker into a monopole unit.

So, you have three options. Monopole operation is best for localized surround effects in the rear of the room (usually my preferred mode for surround music). Bipole operation offers what the manual calls a more "large" and "expansive" sound. And, finally, dipole operation is designed for an "even more expansive" and "even larger" sound. The choice is yours. I went with the dipole setting, as I prefer the fullest possible soundfield.

Second from the top in Energy's subwoofer line, the S10.3 has a 10-inch, front-mounted, hybrid-cone driver with two downward-firing ports. The driver substrate is polypropylene, with deposits of ceramic, glass, and mica to add stiffness. A patented Ribbed Elliptical Surround—which has construction similar to the tower's woofers—allows for excursions of up to 1.57 inches peak to peak. In plain English, you've got a cone that's strong and stiff, suspended in front with a piece of rubber that's strong and supple, being pushed and pulled a fair distance.

The sub's volume control is on its front—where it belongs—and its phase control is continuously adjustable between 0 and 180 degrees (many subs provide just a two-position toggle). If you prefer to set the crossover in your receiver, you'll want to take advantage of the crossover-bypass switch to prevent bass from being routed through two filters when one does the job. The finish is vinyl, not a genuine wood veneer.

The Devil and the Scrunts
The sound that emerged from this hodgepodge of speakers surprised me with its full, rich, easygoing nature. The forthright quality I've always associated with Energy was still there, but a voluptuousness that I had not previously heard from the brand joined it. With my usual 80-hertz crossover, the system generously ladled out lower midrange and upper bass, in contrast to many systems that thin out where the speakers meet the sub. The sub's bass response wasn't quite as taut as that of the speakers. It was more rounded and seemed to detach slightly, although it was also tuneful and performed well under stress.

Some movies pose challenges in dialogue delivery. With the DTS soundtrack of The Devil Wears Prada, fashion fiend Meryl Streep establishes a narrow dynamic range—from deadly sotto voce, down to a near whisper, and finally to an actual whisper. The RC-LCR's vocal delivery, like Streep's, was understated. (This was after I'd set the levels with an SPL meter, with the center channel 1 dB higher than the mains.) To compensate, I hiked the master volume. That enabled me to more easily catch dialogue while literally amplifying surround-rich material like parties, street scenes, and the violent thunking of expensive coats hitting a desk. If the RC-LCR was reticent, it was also commendably smooth, with no excessive sibilance or spit, and with nothing nasal or chesty in its character.

In Lady in the Water, the challenge was not vocal intelligibility per se, but the sheer strangeness of made-up words like "narf" and "scrunt." The center speaker delivered the Dolby Digital–ized consonants just precisely enough for my ears to hear them, but I still couldn't quite believe what I was hearing. When I switched on the subtitles, I saw that the equipment was accurate and that my ears had not been deceived. Then I could settle in and enjoy the whimsical story about an apartment house full of freaks, something the manager and staff of my building could easily relate to. The dramatic scenes didn't make the Energy speakers flinch, although the sound of an automated sprinkler suddenly erupting into all channels did make me flinch.

Miami Vice wraps its combination of action movie, film noir, and cheap, televisionlike visual language in a shroud of disappointingly conventional music and effects. The Energy speakers kept up with all of it, although that wasn't much of a challenge. The Dolby Digital soundtrack showed some early promise when synthesized musical pulses echo the rhythm of a just-concluded shooting. After that, things got dull. Still, to my way of thinking, any movie that features more than one song by Audioslave isn't a total waste of time.

The Sopranos, season six, episode one, features a loud blam that punctuates a key scene (and punctures a key character). The combined explosion from the subwoofer and speakers was suitably shocking.

The Universe and the Saint
BT stands for Brian Transeau, and his work, This Binary Universe, comes with two discs: a CD and a DVD with a DTS surround soundtrack. Naturally, I fired up the latter, and it rewarded me with mostly (but not entirely) abstract images that complemented the mostly (but not entirely) synthesized music. The RC-R surrounds made the most of the busy surround mix. "All That Makes Us Human Continues" was akin to wandering through a brightly lit, glass-enclosed rail station—like, say, Berlin's giant new Hauptbahnhof—while experiencing an inner crisis. The melody morphed from comforting to disturbing, then back again, while shards of light flickered on the screen. The ultimate effect was pleasant but not profound—more on the order of a nice sherry than a stiff single malt.

A piercing harmonica (is there any other kind?) kicks off track one of Robyn Hitchcock's This Is the BBC, a collection of studio-made radio performances dating from the mid- to late 1990s. As I walked from speaker to speaker, with the CD playing in Dolby Pro Logic II, I confirmed that the center was a little reticent compared with the left and right speakers, although none of them was either unduly bright or unduly mushy. This made the harmonica less painful, but it also blunted Hitchcock's edgy voice, slightly defocusing the music's emotional center and opening up the clean, dry BBC mixes. I got a better soundstage when I shut down everything but the two RC-70s. It reminded me that these two towers are as well balanced and satisfying as any I've ever heard in two-channel mode.

Recordings with multiple voices and complex acoustics practically beg for surround treatment, and that's what Bach's St. John Passion got from the Channel Classics SACD release with the Netherlands Bach Society. The performance used a one-voice-per-part arrangement, sacrificing the mellifluous character of a chorus for the specificity of individual vocal performances. There emerged an invigorating and moving contrast between the soundfield's soft, dark, enveloping enormity and the brilliant spotlight hitting each of the voices. The two-disc set includes a hardcover 192-page booklet with lyrics in English, Dutch, German, and French and a rich assortment of sacred artwork. It's expensive but worth it.

Great ideas, well executed, abound in this Energy Reference Connoisseur speaker system. The RC-70 towers provide a powerful combination of high performance, high value, high quality of construction, and understated elegance. As two-channel performers, they are monsters. In the RC-LCR, Energy offers an unorthodox driver array that would well serve every channel in a differently configured system. I loved the versatility of the monopole/ bipole/ dipole surrounds, and I developed a healthy respect for the sub. Wish Energy and their new owners luck—this remains one of the most fascinating brands in the speaker business.

* Audio editor Mark Fleischmann is also the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater (www.quietriverpress.com).

• Conventional on the outside; less so on the inside
• Voluptuous midrange and full, rounded bass
• The sub's driver is strong and stiff and is capable of large excursions

Article Continues: At A Glance & Ratings»

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At A Glance & Ratings: Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-70 Speaker System

Subwoofer: S10.3
Connections: Line-level (mono) and speaker- level (stereo)
Enclosure Type: Vented
Woofer (size in inches, type): 10, polypropylene-hybrid cone
Power Rating (watts): 200 continuous, 800 peak
Crossover Bypass: Yes
Available Finishes: Black Ash vinyl
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 17.33 x 14.14 x 18.31 Weight (pounds): 34
Price: $500

These listings are based on the manufacturer's stated specs; the HT Labs box below indicates the gear's performance on our test bench.

Speaker: RC-70
Type: Three-way, tower
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 5.5, Kevlar cone (1)
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6.5, Kevlar cone (2)
Impedance (ohms): 8 nominal, 4 minimum
Recommended Amp Power (watts): Up to 250 Up to 200 Up to 125
Available Finishes (veneers): Black Ash, Cherry, Rosenut
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 39.88 x 7.75 x 15
Weight (pounds): 59.6
Price: $2,000/pair

Speaker: RC-LCR
Type: Three-way, L/C/R
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 2, aluminum cone (2)
Woofer (size in inches, type): 5.5, Kevlar cone (2)
Impedance (ohms): 8 nominal, 4 minimum
Recommended Amp Power (watts): Up to 200
Available Finishes (veneers): Black Ash, Cherry, Rosenut
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 7.5 x 19.2 x 10.25
Weight (pounds): 24.2
Price: $600/each

Speaker: RC-R
Type: Three-way, surround
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 2, aluminum cone (2)
Woofer (size in inches, type): 5.5, Kevlar cone (2)
Impedance (ohms): 8 nominal, 4 minimum
Recommended Amp Power (watts): Up to 125
Available Finishes (veneers): Black Ash
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 9.75 x 12 x 6.13
Weight (pounds): 13.9
Price: $300/each

Ratings: Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-70 Speaker System

Build Quality: 94
• Has well-braced enclosures
• Aluminum cone midranges in center and surround speakers
• Custom Kevlar woofers

Value: 90
• At this level of execution, the price is usually higher
• Draws on design of higher-end Veritas line
• Composite-coned drivers are not off-the-shelf parts

Features: 91
• Patented Ribbed Elliptical Surround technology
• The die-cast baskets are finished in brushed aluminum
• Sub has continuously adjustable phase control

Performance: 91
• Generous soundfield with abundant detail
• Clean mids and treble; nice bass
• Good dispersion

Ergonomics: 90
• Not the slimmest towers, but they produce real bass
• Wood veneer, not vinyl, in three shades on all but the sub
• Magnetically attached speaker grilles

Overall Rating: 91
Energy makes their transition to new ownership with a set of world-beating towers, a daringly designed L/C/R, and an extremely versatile bipole/dipole/monopole surround. The sound is smooth and natural, with good bass. A choice of three wood veneers will make these speakers fit into even the most elegant homes.
General Information
RC-70 Tower Speaker, $2,000/pair; RC-LCR L/C/R Speaker, $600/each; RC-R Surround Speaker, $300/each;
S10.3 Subwoofer, $500
Energy Speaker Systems
(416) 321-1800

Article Continues: HT Labs Measures »

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Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-70 Speaker System review:HT Labs Measures

L/R Sensitivity: 89 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

Center Sensitivity: 86.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

Surround Sensitivity: 82 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

This graph shows the quasi-anechoic (employing close-miking of all woofers) frequency response of the RC-70 L/R (purple trace), S10.3 subwoofer (blue trace), RC-LCR center channel (green trace), and RC-R surround (red trace). All passive loudspeakers were measured with grilles at a distance of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt input and scaled for display purposes.

The RC-70's listening-window response (a five-point average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +1.38/–5.19 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. The –3-dB point is at 68 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 48 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.44 ohms at 144 Hz and a phase angle of –31.74 degrees at 98 Hz.

The RC-LCR's listening-window response measures +1.25/–4.52 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. An average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal responses measures +1.06/–4.71 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 57 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 52 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.05 ohms at 61 Hz and a phase angle of –25.52 degrees at 51 Hz.

The RC-R's three-face averaged response in dipole mode measures +1.62/–4.23 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 73 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 64 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.95 ohms at 203 Hz and a phase angle of –42.64 degrees at 132 Hz.

The S10.3's close-miked response, normalized to the level at 80 Hz, indicates that the lower –3-dB point is at 24 Hz and the –6-dB point is at 23 Hz. The upper –3-dB point is at 111 Hz with the X-Over Mode switch set to By-Passed.—MJP

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