Samsung HT-E6730W Home Theater System Page 2
Activating the system’s Wi-Fi reception was almost equally easy—I pecked in my router password, and my wireless labors were over. Actually using the Smart Hub apps required software updating or registration in some cases. But before I got around to that stuff, I did my usual disc-driven demos. All movie demos were on Blu-ray Disc with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, and the disc drive loaded them speedily. Most music demos were on CD.
When I Paint My Masterpiece
The question on everyone’s lips will be: How, if at all, did the tubed preamp stage compensate for the sonic havocs inherent in HTIBs? It didn’t, as far as the sat/sub crossover was concerned, which I’m guessing fell somewhere high up in the 120-to-150 hertz range. I detected an audible and obvious discontinuity in frequency response and poor blending between the satellites and subwoofer. The sub uses a passive radiator and had a soft attack and tunelessness that didn’t match up to the other drivers.
However, the system did seem to have a more plangent midband and a more agreeable top end than I remember with Samsung’s previous compact surround systems, with little of the glazed, grainy, crunchy distortion of most cheap switching amps. The difference here was not subtle—most people would notice it immediately. The main distinction was in tonal color: If this system were an oil painting, it would have an expanded color palette, though the composition, proportioning, and brushstrokes would remain the same. The system also seemed to have a little more dynamic oomph than is the HTIB norm, a slight enlargement of the canvas, though again, I can’t say if this was attributable to the tubes or to other recent improvements Samsung has made in its amplifier designs.
Haywire is a vehicle for the mixed-martial-arts valor of Gina Carano, but I used its action-thriller soundtrack as a vehicle for 3D Sound—that’s what Samsung calls its height enhancement. 3D Sound does not use discrete height speakers or licensed processing such as Dolby Pro Logic IIz (although this system does have plain-vanilla DPLII). Instead, it uses proprietary processing to route amorphous spatial information through the height drivers built into the tops of the towers. The effect was not really a purely vertical soundfield expansion. Rather, it was greater overall fullness and a less speaker-bound front presentation. It did not affect or expand upon dialogue coming out of the center speaker. I could put my ear up to the height driver and hear no speaking voices. 3D Sound came in three levels—high, medium, and low, in addition to off—and the higher the setting, the louder was the system’s overall volume level.
The Thing is about a creature from outer space that devours Antarctic adventurers. I used it to assess the Auto Sound Calibration’s room correction prowess—and that wasn’t easy, because there’s no dedicated ASC button on the remote. Instead, I had to stop the movie, go into the settings menu, turn ASC on/off, then restart the movie from the beginning. With room correction off, the overall sound was less trebly and the loudest effects were less fatiguing. However, the soft-focusing of dialogue made it harder to catch. Moving forward, I left the room correction on.
Man on a Ledge delivers the plot suggested in its title, with the ledge dweller staring down into a city street. This setup gave the system plenty of opportunities to reproduce an urban wraparound soundfield. However, the Manhattan street noise was much more localizable in the front than in the surround channels. The musical score features a throbbing synth monotone that jostled for attention in the sub along with the low-frequency component of male voices. I used the remote control’s S/W Level button to reduce sub level and restore order. In a quick snatch of the Clash’s “Police on My Back,” the system warmed up Mick Jones’ fuzztone guitars and doubletracked vocals, turning them to ear candy.
3D, 2 Channels
The music demos fed the system’s disc drawer with CD fodder before I meandered off into lossy land. Pentangle’s In the Round is a later album with a folk-poppy approach and the saving graces of founders Bert Jansch, Jacqui McShee, and Terry Cox (minus John Renbourn). As I used 3D Sound mode with two-channel content for the first time, I was surprised to find that the height mode did not merely embellish 2.1 with height channels—instead, it activated all 7.1 channels. When I cut down to true 2.1, sans height, the treble just disappeared, obscuring cymbals and other treble-rich instruments. I looked for some middle path that would add just a little high-frequency extension to the mix. One option was to use 3D Sound, but at its lowest setting. Another option was to use 5.1-channel Dolby Pro Logic II with 3D Sound off. This provided the most naturally filled-out soundfield (within the system’s limitations).
A more straightforward challenge was Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard (the Deluxe Edition CD of 2004). The guitars sounded good, in one way or another, regardless of what listening modes I used. But the bandleader’s gently crooned, almost muttered vocals were elusive in 2.1 and DPLII 5.1. Experimentation showed that 3D Sound’s middle setting did the best job of bringing out the vocals without bending the overall tonal balance unduly out of shape. In essence, in two-channel I was using 3D Sound mode as an equalizer, to adjust frequency balance, not to provide height effects.
I suspected that this system would get along well with period instruments, so I threw it a softball in the form of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 3, 5, and 6 as performed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus Wien. The Samsung paid me back with a decent presentation, but as usual, I had to work for it. Any level of 3D Sound made the harpsichord and violins unacceptably prominent, so much that they detached from the rest of the soundstage. DPLII once again became the most natural-sounding choice—not so much in proportioning as in the specific character of midrange that showed off the baroque orchestra to best effect.
Disc demos done, I browsed around the other options for music connectivity. When I plugged a fifth-generation iPod nano into the Blu-receiver’s front-panel USB jack, the system recognized it instantly, and I was able to operate the iPod from the remote. The system did a surprisingly fine job with Dave Swarbrick’s Raison D’Etre CD. I don’t expect miracles from a home-studio recording ripped to MP3 at 192 kbps—but the system smoothed over the crudeness of the bits and flattered the fiddler’s folksy instrumental voice. Using the main menu’s AllShare Play, I was also able to get music out of my router-connected PC.
As a streaming video machine, the system did fine. The dedicated Netflix button on the remote did its job. From the Smart Hub menu, Vudu, Hulu Plus, and CinemaNow were also available. A Naked Trailers icon caught my eye and bore fruit with a trailer for That’s My Boy, with Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg. I was piqued by the French subtitles that came with it and made several more attempts to conjure up more Sandler trailers with French subtitles, though sadly, in vain. While the system’s remote control slowed down the entry of search terms—as I painstakingly maneuvered a pokey cursor around an onscreen alphanumeric keypad—I did manage to locate, using the search terms “ode to joy recorders,” a guy playing the Beethoven/Schiller “Ode to Joy” on two recorders, through his nose, in two-part harmony, one for each nostril.
I didn’t have the chance to use the system for years on end. However, over long-term use, tubes do mutate in sound quality and eventually need replacement. The tubes used here are the JJ Electronic 12AU7/ECC82, made in the Slovak Republic. You can replace them yourself or have Samsung do it. [Editor’s note: Or, you may be fine to just skip the replacement entirely. We lifted off the HT-E6730’s cover during our lab tests to have a peek inside, and were surprised to learn that not only did the system’s left front channel appear to play fine from either the disc drawer or the analog input with the tubes removed, but also that the romantic tube glow emanating from the windows was enhanced by four cleverly placed orange LEDs. While the tubes may indeed be contributing something to the sonic profile of this system, they’re apparently not directly in the signal path.—RS]
The Samsung HT-E6730W takes multiple new approaches to the voicing of an in-the-box system. Its mix of tube and solid state technology is clever, and while the 3D Sound–driven height enhancement proved to be more of a glorified tone control than a spatial enhancement, it did change the system’s sound in unpredictable but sometimes helpful ways. Building the height drivers into the tops of the towers was an inspired touch, as it added nothing to the system’s footprint.
The system was not without flaws. The most notable sonic one was poor integration of the subwoofer, which affected every piece of movie and music content demoed. The most notable functional flaw was the need to make text entries with the rather conventional remote control. A platform that requires as much typing as the Samsung Smart Hub (user IDs, passwords, search terms) should come with a full alphanumeric remote or at least the option of a wireless keyboard.
Still, this is an ambitious system that brings together an array of technologies from virtually every chapter of audio history. Samsung is marching to the beat of a different drummer.