Sad but true: Great sound and home theater-in-a-box systems rarely go together.
HTIBs are the province of "good enough" performance and features, but I'm totally jazzed about these two exceptional models: Samsung's HT-BD1250 and Onkyo's HT-S9100THX.
Looking at the Samsung HT-BD1250 Blu-ray Home Theater System ($550 MSRP) it doesn't exactly stand out in a field of black plastic HTIBs. But once I listened to the thing I knew Samsung had a real winner.
The HT-BD1250 sounds great on music and movies, with remarkably good clarity, bass extension/definition, and low overall distortion. Even high-impact, special-effects driven flicks didn't betray the wee speakers and subwoofer weaknesses. Sure, play a Blu-ray really loud or try to fill a very large room and the HT-BD1250 will cry uncle. But in average size rooms, the HT-BD1250 should satisfy most home theater fans.
Rocking out with the Rolling Stones "Shine A Light" Blu-ray the band's punch and impact came through like gangbusters. The HT-BD1250 sounds noticeably less dynamically compressed than HTIBs with similarly sized speakers and subwoofers.
Few HTIBs of any size can sound credible with solo piano CDs, but the HT-BD1250 truly shined with Joel Fan's excellent "West of the Sun" release. The naturalness of piano tone was striking, and even the lower register keys had just the right weight. I credit that to the HT-BD1250's subwoofer, its refined sound perfectly matched the satellites. The sats kept up their part of the bargain, delivering effortless midrange and treble resolution.
Expecting great sound from a home theater in a box (HTIB) is almost always an exercise in frustration.
Even the top-of-the-line HTIBs, such as Sony's ES BDV-IT1000ES ($2,000 MSRP) don't hold a candle to an equivalently priced separates-based system. It's not even close.
Sound, schmound. Given that HTIBs are sold as lifestyle products, it's more important for them to look good than sound good. Product designers are compelled to make speakers that look slick hugging the wall next to a flat-screen display. That's why we're so jazzed by Onkyo's HT-S9100THX HTIB ($1,099 MSRP). Sleek, it ain't, but it sure sounds like a separates-grade home theater system.
The HT-S9100THX's largish shipping box hints at the reasons why. It weighs a hefty 144 pounds. Inside, you'll find seven bookshelf two-way speakers, a full-size subwoofer, and a 7x 130-watt-per-channel receiver with 1080p-capable HDMI v.1.3 connectivity, and complete decoding for the latest lossless, high-resolution Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio surround formats. You get four--count 'em, four--HDMI inputs, same as Onkyo's TX-SR706 receiver ($899 MSRP).
The HT-S9100THX's receiver also features Audyssey's 2EQ automatic calibration to tailor the sound of the speakers and the 290-watt, 12-inch powered subwoofer, and compensate for your room's acoustic anomalies. The front three speakers feature a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter matched with dual 5-inch woofers; the four surround speakers use the same tweeter and a slightly smaller woofer. The 17.5 by 14.9 by 16.8 inch subwoofer weighs 34 pounds. Compared to the 6-inch plastic poser subs that come with so many HTIBs it's the 800-pound gorilla. You'll feel the difference.… Read more