Face Off: HTIB 4U Page 3
My trick of using SACD didn't quite work. Everyone noticed that the Sony, the only HTIB in the bunch with SACD capability, performed far better with the Sacred Feast track than the others. Comments like "open" and "natural" were almost more praise for the SACD format than for this system, but it was good to see that, even in a less-expensive system, you can hear the benefits of a higher-resolution format. Chris and Claire both mentioned, though, that there was a slight ringing in the extreme high end.
The Bowie track didn't sound too great through this system. Claire said that, while this HTIB was far better than the JBL with this type of music, it still wasn't quite the Sony's forte. Chris said that the sub was far better but still boomy. On this song, he felt that it overpowered the satellites.
The glass-breaking scene in The Haunting didn't faze this system and wasn't overly bright. Claire said it best with, "I got lost in the movie." Since this is the ultimate goal of any system, that's pretty high praise. In the end, the Sony HTIB was her first pick, as she felt it was the most well rounded. Adrienne pointed out that the system seemed to compress the audio somewhat.
Moulin Rouge sounded better, but it wasn't perfect. Compared with the JBL, dialogue and effects were clearer, and the music didn't overpower the speakers as much. Still, Chris felt that this HTIB compressed the audio on this track. This was the only piece of material that Ron seemed to like, as he made it a point to mention how much he disliked the rest of our demo selections. He thought that the system lacked dynamic range and that the sub was too messy.
Chrome and Trapezoids
If you've read this far, you've only seen one person's vote for their favorite system. (If you've skipped ahead to this part and have no idea what I'm talking about, go back and read—there will be a test on this later.) Other than Claire, everyone ranked the Unity first and the DAV-C900 second. This was based almost entirely on audio performance.
Out of the gate with the Lyle Lovett track, Claire and Adrienne remarked how clear the Unity sounded. Ron made a point to mention that he still didn't like this song but did say that it had a very full, open sound. Chris aimed at the sub, saying it was by far the most controlled and that the gap between the sub and the satellites is far smaller than it is with the other systems. In fact, it was the sub that sold Chris on this system. Granted, it's not the greatest sub ever, but it did a solid job without being overly boomy or distracting.
With the CD track on the Sacred Feast SACD, the Unity's Pro Logic II mode did a good job spreading two channels to all five speakers. Without the extra resolution found in the SACD track, though, the praise wasn't quite as strong as it was for the Sony. It's too bad that Kenwood didn't choose to throw in a DVD-Audio decoder. With this track, Chris reiterated something he said about the Lovett excerpt: While it sounds good, it lacks some of the other systems' dynamics. Adrienne concurred. Chris also thought that the speakers had a good balance—not too forward, not too laid-back.
This was the only system that even remotely handled the heavy load of Mr. Bowie's Techno Adventure, thanks mostly to the sub, which was able to keep up and not get bogged down by the never-ending thump. Other plaudits like "energy" and "controlled" rang out. Even notes of distaste by some of the reviewers (OK, everyone but Claire and me) about the track itself were hard to find, proving how much a system can affect listening enjoyment.
It's not too surprising that this HTIB also did a fine job with movies. Chris returned to praising the sub on The Haunting. He said that, while it wasn't the only reason he liked the system, it was certainly a major factor. Adrienne thought that this system had the best midrange and vocal clarity. Claire was far more subdued in her comments about the Unity HTIB, her second choice. She said that, while there was nothing overtly wrong with this ensemble, she simply liked the DAV-C900's sound better.
Moulin Rouge turned out to be the best judge of this system's prowess. While the other two HTIBs handled the Moulin Rouge dance scene with varying degrees of success, the Unity was the only one that was able to handle the music and effects while producing dialogue that you could understand throughout the scene. This is no small feat, as there's a lot going on in this scene for small speakers and a fairly low-powered amp to handle. Adrienne, Chris, and Ron all said that, of the three systems, they would buy this one based on its ability with movies.