Infinity Beta Series Surround Speaker System Page 2
There were no weak links in this 5.1-channel chain. The C360 delivered high-intelligibility dialog while blending effectively with the Beta 50s, creating a wide, tall seamless soundstage across the front of my room, with all three speakers disappearing almost as effectively as the most expensive systems I've reviewed here. Of course, there were differences between what this modestly priced assemblage delivered and the memorable performance of far more expensive ones such as the Audio Physic Avanti III, the Linn Akurate, and especially the Aerial LR5. The differences had to do with dynamic scale, weight, transparency, and texture, with this Infinity system shaving sonic points off all performance parameters—especially in terms of transparency, 3-dimensionality, and dynamics.
For instance, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds DVD-Audio (Capitol 72434-77937-9-0) was well-detailed and spacious sounding, but it lacked the full-bodied, almost overwhelming richness and 3-dimensional transparency delivered by the Aerial LR5-based system I reviewed a while back. That system's subwoofers alone cost more than three times the price of this entire system. Nor could the Beta system deliver the effervescent clarity of Linn's Akurate or the detail resolution of Audio Physic's Virgo III-based surround system. Hardly surprising. Despite the whining of cranks on the Internet, you usually do get what you pay for, and if you want the full sonic fireworks, you'll need to pay considerably more than $3k.
That being said, this system was capable of surprisingly well-balanced sonic performance. The better the electronics used, the better it sounds, as I found out when I inserted the Lexicon RV-8 AV receiver in place of my former Integra reference, good as that was.
More expensive and ambitious systems can create larger spatial sensations, but the acoustic bubble and the envelopment produced by this system was convincing and impressive despite being more modest and compact, thanks in part to the dipole spaciousness created by the ES250 surrounds. These overachievers never revealed their physical presence, even though they were located less than eight feet from my listening position. Switching to bipole mode was better for multichannel music, but only if I sat centered between all of the speakers. From my living-room couch position, the diffuse dipole presentation provided a more convincing mix, with the rear channels better balanced with the front.
This is not a system that a serious audiophile would consider sufficient for maximum pleasure, but I found it more than adequate and totally satisfactory for movie watching. The accompanying picture compensated for the system's relatively minor shortcomings, especially in terms of dynamic range and transparency, which were at best adequate.
The mine-explosion scene in Finding Nemo, which felt as if my home was sliding off its foundation through the Aerial system, was effectively rendered through this system. Had I not heard it through the Aerial setup, I would not have imagined it could be delivered with much more weight or intensity.
The Infinity system could play loud, but volume cannot compensate for dynamic capabilities, and because of the costs associated with building hefty voice-coil/magnet systems and resonance-free cabinetry, the Beta's dynamic presentation at both ends of the scale suffered compared to far more expensive speaker assemblages. The Beta system offers outstanding performance at bargain prices, but don't expect miracles. On the other hand, for non-audiophiles used to puny "home theater in a box" type sat/sub systems, this package will simply blow them away.
Despite the shortcomings, I found the Infinity system's performance more than satisfactory for most movies I watched. For instance, we watched an HD presentation of Groundhog Day, for which the soundtrack must have been re-mixed given how amazing the sound was. (My wife noticed how good it was and mentioned it during the film, though she'd never before seen it.) On that film, and others I'd not seen and heard on the other more expensive systems, I found the Betas' performance more than good enough. In fact, this system's performance was so good, I could live with it happily ever after. That's how well-balanced and accomplished it was.
Using driver technology developed for its flagship Prelude MTS loudspeaker, Infinity has managed to create a line of relatively inexpensive speakers that offer astonishingly fine performance for the money, and perhaps for twice the money. The key is balance. The engineers skillfully shaved off ultimate performance, making smart compromises along the way. In many respects, it's more difficult to design a great system to a price point rather than one where price is no object.
The result here is a reasonably priced system that does just about everything right, from the center channel's vertical midrange/tweeter arrangement, to the dipole/bipole surround speakers, to the R.A.B.O.S. subwoofer that goes down smoothly to around 25Hz (though it cannot move massive amounts of air).
Yes, discerning audiophiles will find the system's overall sound somewhat dynamically compressed and a bit "lifted" in the presence region, with a hint of grain on the very top, but the sonic balance is generally very smooth. But there is so much that is fundamentally correct, I conclude that it represents one of the biggest bargains in surround-sound home theater speakers I've heard yet. By going with the smaller Beta 40 towers or the stand-mounted Beta 20s in front, the price drops to the subterranean basement of great value. This is an easy system to recommend. Just remember: the cleaner the power you feed it, the better Infinity's Beta system will sound.
Highs and Lows
• High performance/low cost
• RABOS-equipped subwoofer
• Configurable bipole/dipole surrounds
• Aesthetically less than elegant
• Large L/R towers may not please significant other