Kenwood HTB-503 Home-Theater-in-a-Box Page 2
Setting up the HTB-503 is relatively easy. When you open the box, the first thing you'll notice is a large, easy-to-read Quick Connect guide that explains the system, including the color-coded wiring diagram and basic setup procedures like speaker placement and balancing. All of the unit's programming can be done from the handy remote, which can also control up to eight other devices. Setup shouldn't take any longer than an hour for anyone with basic knowledge of audio/video components. Unfortunately, unit programming may be a little complicated if your only experience is with your parents' 1970s hand-me-down stereo system. I'd suggest that you thoroughly read through the instruction manual before you begin.
Now, let's move on to system performance. The test was performed in an average apartment setting. Speaker placement is sometimes a problem for apartment dwellers, so I factored that into my evaluation. I wanted to get the feel and experience of the average HTIB buyer. The evaluation consisted of CD, DVD, and VHS sound-quality reviews.
Since this is a home theater system, let's start with the surround sound portion of the unit. If you like to feel as if you're in the movie itself, then here's what you're in for: The Kenwood is right for you because it offers the same complex processing that was once available only in a movie theater.
Questioning the effectiveness of a $499 system and the speakers it promotes, I began to set up the system for evaluation. Utilizing the easy-to-read, step-by-step instruction manual, I was able to quickly integrate the HTB-503 into my existing system. I played with the volume levels of each speaker in the ensemble and found the subwoofer to be extremely placement-sensitive. This is definitely a woofer that likes to be loaded into a corner for increased low-frequency extension. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with a cable long enough to facilitate moving the sub to the back of the room, if necessary. The problem is quickly solved by the additional purchase of a mono low-level cable, which is well-worth the extra $20.
Once the sub and sats were placed and correctly adjusted, I popped in a DVD. There's nothing like watching a movie in Dolby Digital or DTS from the comfort of your favorite food-stained Lazy Boy! Expecting the worst, I was delightfully surprised by the tiny system's impact and overall big-theater sound. Pushing the amplifier output, I was able to reach unbearable volume levels with little or no distortion (these levels wouldn't be necessary in an apartment-type setting).
Sounds can make or break a movie's mood and tone. This system brings a surrealistic feeling to your senses. If you think you'd like the feel of a Tyrannosaurus rex from Jurassic Park walking through your home or you'd like to pretend the shell casings from Neo's gun in The Matrix are hitting the floor at your feet, then this system will bring you movie reality. Dialogue from the center channel was clear and well-defined. At times, it did sound a touch nasally, but the overall performance was exceptional.
Even with the rear surrounds pinned to my ears, I didn't notice much crosstalk between channels. Overall, the theater performance was good to excellent. It was good, but the low cost drove the final rating up to the excellent mark.
Two-channel music was crisp and clear. The highs weren't overwhelmingly bright or unrealistically extended. Instead, they seemed to complement the midrange. At the same time, midrange tones were radiant without overpowering the highs (depending on the music). Instrumental separation and detail were very noticeable, not a jumbled mishmash of sound. The subwoofer unit is exceptional. Bass was extremely complementary to the rest of the music—very well-defined without rattling or reverb. Its performance was equal to some higher-end HTIB units.
The HTB-503 is a great addition to any single-family home or apartment. Setup is simple. The only problems you may encounter are the very heavy cardboard box that the unit comes in, the manual that may have some stereo jargon you need help translating, and the subwoofer cord that may be a little too short. Also, how did they get those speaker wires under the carpet? These things are minor drawbacks compared with your overall enjoyment of the system.
So, there you have it—a quality system at an affordable price. It's well-worth the $499 it'll cost you to drag it out of the store.
• Easy setup and operation
• Subwoofer delivers excitement
• Excellent bang for the buck