Face Off: HTIB 4U What Do You Think?
When it comes to music, I'll admit that I'm a tough customer to please. I entered this Face Off with a bad attitude, expecting all three of these systems to take in a CD and spit out sonic garbage. This said, my ears were pleasantly surprised to hear the Sony system's better-than-awful performance with music, particularly SACD material. The tweeters sounded sharper than I would've liked, but the bass was reasonably tight and punchy. The Sony speakers even did a decent job with the densely packed David Bowie track. Although both the DAV-C900 and the Unity did a fair-enough job with DVDs, I'd never buy an HTIB that made music sound like mush. The Sony gets my nod because, in this bunch, it was the least mushy.—Claire Lloyd
This Face Off provides a tangible example of how one poor element can adversely affect an entire system. In the JBL system, that element was the subwoofer, which was boomy, mushy, and a very poor match with the rest of the components. The Sony's Achilles heel was its amplifier, which just couldn't handle extremely dense material like the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. The Sony system was certainly the most stylish, and it did a fine job with music. Unfortunately, its performance with soundtrack material was just too inconsistent. The Unity HTIB, on the other hand, was a solid all-around performer, offering the warmest midrange and a well-blended sub. Aesthetically, it wasn't as sleek as the Sony HTIB, but it held its own. The Unity would definitely be my choice for a small-apartment or bedroom system.—Adrienne Maxwell
I thought this was a close race. Sure, the Unity sounded great, but, in the HTIB arena, sound is just one of many important factors. I thought the Sony looked the best, but the JBL's upgradeability shouldn't be forgotten. It was more what each system did wrong that made up my mind. The Sony just needs more power. It's like the body of a Ferrari Maranello surrounding the drive train of a Geo Prizm. The JBL had enough boom to make Chuck Yeager proud. The Unity, despite its great sound, lacked the five-disc changer that the others offer for the same price and had more chrome than a '50s Merc cruiser. However, these factors didn't detract enough to push the Unity out of the winner's circle—it's my pick.—Geoffrey Morrison
You've probably heard me express my belief before that sub/sat systems essentially live and die by the performance of their subwoofer—and I can now officially extend that statement to HTIBs, too. Obviously, there are several other important factors to be considered. However, there are so many bad subs in this price range that, if you can find a good one—or even a passable one—you'd better jump on it. That's what ultimately swayed me toward the Unity system. With some material, I did slightly prefer the Sony satellites, but I thought the Unity had the best all-around sonic performance. Partnering with Boston Acoustics was a good move for Kenwood, and the proof is relatively easy to hear.—Chris Lewis
In the darkened room, Geoffrey created as blind a test as I've ever been in. The systems proved to be as different as they were similar. CD music sounded good through the JBL system, which was also effective at producing the soundtrack and video for DVD. It was generally a good unit that you can expand upon and upgrade, but its two-piece construction is bulky and space-consuming. I felt that the Sony had problems reproducing the full range of frequencies, especially bass. The picture seemed muddy and lacked sharp detail. The ergonomics were good, and it has a very nice, modern design. To my ears, the Unity sounded better. The audio was excellent and had all the qualities I'd want in this type of system.—Ron Williams