Innovative Audio Cabinet Speakers Page 2
From what I heard in our listening room, it appears that the company has made good on their promise that you can put these speakers against a wall and still get them to image well, which is no small feat. As with any freestanding speaker, these models image better when you give them some room to work, but their sound quality depreciates far less than most speakers I've toyed with as they get closer to room boundaries. Again, Innovative has obviously engineered this trait into their speakers to account for the aesthetic realities of most living-room environments. Whether they look like speakers or pieces of furniture, most people are simply not going to place large structures in the middle of their room. Generally, as speakers get closer to the wall, the soundstage depth shrinks and the image begins to break down—turning from a centralized and cohesive sound into a disjointed presentation that sounds like two separate speakers (yes, we know that's what they are, but they're not supposed to sound like it). However, listening to two-channel music with the two front Cabinet Speakers situated roughly 6 inches out from the front wall and a foot or so from the side wall, the soundstage maintained a deep, well-defined character, and the image remained well-centered and relatively uniform. Placement flexibility is a welcome trait in any speaker, but it's obviously crucial for a speaker in this genre.
Bass output is another facet of speaker output that can be noticeably affected by room placement, but the Innovative speakers again showed only a relatively minor degree of difference in sound based on their location. As I already alluded to, the bass output of the Cabinet Speakers is prodigious, even in open space, and I definitely expected them to load up in the corners, as most standard speakers and subwoofers with healthy bass do. Against the wall, the low frequencies did pick up extra energy, but they didn't get boomy or thick. Overall, the bass character maintained an effective balance between punch and control. Wherever you put them, these speakers put out a good bit of bass, which I'd again wager is a part of Innovative's conscious effort to give these speakers a wider appeal. Let's face it—the masses like a lot more bass in their speakers than the neutral, flat response of audiophile lore. Innovative has responded with a pronounced low end that warms up the speaker considerably and adds significantly to its dynamic range without permanently dominating the speaker's overall tonal balance and making it sound like the standard teen's car stereo system. As with virtually every speaker I've listened to that has a big bottom end, there are occasions with music where the upper bass/lower midrange defers a bit too much to the lower frequencies and sounds somewhat laid-back, but this only occurred during particularly complex passages and usually passed quickly. Overall, most people are going to be quite happy with the Cabinet Speaker's tonal balance, in addition to being quite surprised at the physical presence that this lifestyle speaker can deliver.
That physical presence was most notably put to the test during the soundtrack demos, where the Cabinet Speakers, the good-sized center-channel unit, and a subwoofer that doesn't lack for low-end punch in its own right knocked out a raucous sound that belied their refined outward appearance. First up was the Omaha Beach scene from Saving Private Ryan (of course). This system once again reminded me of how entertaining a big pair of full-range surrounds can be. I freely admit that you don't get as much diffusion or quite as seamless an image as you get with dipoles, but the tradeoff is punch and power that many specialized surrounds (which are usually smaller and bandwidth-limited) simply don't deliver. War movies are convenient indicators of what a full-range surround can do. With explosions occurring all around you, you want them to sound as potent in the back as they do in the front—it's this type of consistency that goes a long way in selling a sonic image. Granted, the surround channels aren't fed the sheer amount of bass that the front channels are over the course of the soundtrack, but there's more back there than you may realize—as a full-ranger will tell you. Placing the surrounds to the side and slightly behind my position, and angling them roughly 30 to 45 degrees to the rear of the room, I got a nice fill and adequate diffusion while still preserving the physical impact, which tells me there's some finesse in these speakers, as well. Using top-shelf drivers almost always pays off in quickness, accuracy, and imagery. You may be asking for trouble from the THX police, but this cabinet model is as effective a surround as it is a front speaker.
As we all know, a center channel can make or break a 5.1 system, and the High-Definition Armoire model is a good one. While I understand the inherent size restrictions of the center speaker, I've always been partial to the sound of larger center channels. Again, driver quality is the most important factor; however, with more space to work with, most drivers are going to sound better in a bigger cabinet. It's not hard to figure out. Voicing was natural and articulate with the Innovative unit, rather than hollow and thin—characteristics that unfortunately apply to too many center channels today. The center channel must also have enough punch to handle its share of the effects, which this one appeared to have. The ruckus that ensues after the Diva's solo in chapter 26 of The Fifth Element places a good amount of effects information in the center channel, and this unit delivered tight gunshots, well-rounded explosions, and a good degree of control left over for clear dialogue under fire.
The contribution of the SubTable subwoofer did not go unnoticed in this scene, either. Like the rest of the system, this speaker does a nice job of balancing control and power, and it usually only resorted to boominess when the soundtrack called for it. The sub showed little in the way of compression or fatigue throughout the soundtracks I sent its way and, like the Cabinet Speaker, offers a degree of placement flexibility beyond the standard offering. While its appearance alone will probably give it plenty of options for location, it proves to be well-behaved both in open space or when banished to the corner like the rest of its low-end peers.
Like it or not, more speakers are going to become a part of our audio lives in the near future. Luckily, for those of you who can't live with speakers in their natural state, there are more options than ever before. Innovative Audio isn't looking to redefine the way the world looks at speakers, but they want to be one of those options. I'd recommend that anyone in the market for alternative designs (or simply for something out of the ordinary) take at look at their wares. Innovative's stuff offers far more performance than most life-style designs (and will hold its own quite nicely in most any speaker-performance context), as well as aesthetics that are undoubtedly going to appeal to a wider audience than the traditional fare.
Above all else, though, these speakers are designed to be easy to live with. Trust me, if Tom Holman and the rest of the designers get their way, livability is going to go a long way in the next generation of living rooms and home theaters.
• A lifestyle speaker that doesn't sound like a lifestyle speaker
• Aesthetics that should appeal to even the most ardent speakerphobes
• Wide range of styles and finishes