As part of our HTIB Roundup I went to Phoenix Gold to pick up an AudioSource System 230 Home Theater Speaker set. Phoenix Gold is a well regarded manufacturer of speakers for the auto market. This is not a complete home theater system, rather it is a 5.1 speaker set. Speaker wire and mounting brackets are included. You are free to choose your DVD player and receiver as separates.
The system 230 Home Theater Speaker set comes with four identical LS130
satellite speakers, a center channel speaker (LS130C) and one powered
(100W), front firing and front ported 8”subwoofer (SW380), speaker wire
already cut for each of the satellites and wall mounting brackets.
Available finishes are black and silver. Hookup wire for the subwoofer is
Pulling the speakers out of the box, the first thing I noticed was a bit more heft and solid construction than I would expect at this price range. The four surrounds have plastic bodies and metal grilles. Rolling it around in your hand you can feel that the considerable weight is not the
enclosure, but rather the driver. There is a substantial magnet in there. Peering through the grille it appears to be a two way speaker with a small chrome tweeter but Steve Williams, product development manager for Phoenix Gold told me that there is no tweeter. The chrome is for show. Neither is there a crossover. The driver measured well to 19.5 kHz so AudioSource decided it was better to forgo the two way design in favor of the more simple single driver.
The center channel contains two of these same drivers. The center channel and the surrounds have rounded backs, not simple rectangular enclosures. This shape is favored on a much larger scale in super high end speakers. It seems silly to compare these speakers from the opposite end of the price spectrum to such designs but physics is not price sensitive. The point of such enclosures is to reduce diffraction of the
sound wave as it leaves the cabinet. I doubt that the designers at AudioSource spent endless hours calculating the diffraction pattern off these cabinets, but all other things being equal, there is good reason to believe these cabinets sound better than a similar sized rectangle. And they look better.
The subwoofer can be connected either by speaker wire (driven from your multi-channel amp or receiver) or via RCA interconnect from the sub output of your receiver,
and the latter was my choice. There are two RCA inputs for the subwoofer input (L & R). The included manual says that a subwoofer out from the receiver should be split via a Y connector to both of these inputs, but Steve Williams told me that the connections are summed internally so there is really no need for the splitter. The subwoofer is powered by a hefty external power supply that will need to find a home somewhere on your floor, hopefully far away from speaker cables that might pick up interference. The subwoofer itself should be placed against a wall, preferably in front of your viewing position according to the Phoenix Gold engineers.
The conventional wisdom on subwoofers was that they could be placed anywhere in the room because the human hearing system could not localize low frequencies. I'm with the Phoenix Gold folks on this one, many high end speakers go to great pains to insure that the high and low frequencies leave their respective drivers in phase, that is, at the correct time relative to each other. This is not going to happen if the woofer is 12 feet away from the other
speakers. A subwoofer with a phase control can compensate for this somewhat, the AudioSource SW380 does not come with a phase control, so look to place it in front of your viewing position. The subwoofer is rated at 30 Hz to 150 Hz. Near the input connections you'll find a volume control and crossover frequency control (30 Hz to 180 Hz). If you are connecting via the ‘dot 1' subwoofer out connection on your receiver as I did, set the crossover control on the subwoofer as high as it will go and use your receiver to select the frequencies sent to the subwoofer. The highest setting on my receiver is 120 Hz, and that is what I used.
These speakers are meant to be an upgrade from the likes of my 19” stereo Panasonic TV that has long since been banished to the exercise room, replaced by a 65” Mitsubishi rear projector. This Mitsubishi features two way speakers, but the tweeters are simple paper cone drivers rather than the domes that we normally think of when we say tweeter. Nonetheless, you might think that this is an unfair comparison for the AudioSource speakers which are meant to be an upgrade for the likes of my Panasonic. Well, the AudioSource speakers compared to the Mitsubishi quite well. The first thing I noticed with the AudioSource set in normal television viewing was the additional clarity and presence in the vocal range,
especially male vocals. This clarity made television and movies more compelling. I noticed a similar effect with the acoustic guitar sounds in the recent PBS series ‘The Blues' parts of which I have happily TiVo'd.
With the more demanding Led Zeppelin DVD I was still impressed. Though there were some frequency ranges missing, for instance, I could hear cymbals crash but the ongoing shimmer was somewhat lacking. Also some of the high frequencies that give electric guitar its piercing quality were also missing. Still, I enjoyed listening to this great DVD with the AudioSource set. The bass and overall presentation were quite good.
Movies is where these AudioSource speakers really shone. With a Dolby or DTS source they did a remarkable job of creating a soundstage. When a whooshy sound effect panned from right to left in the opening of
"The Matrix", these little speakers seemed to vanish and the sound did not come first from this speaker and then that speaker. More like it was in the room or coming from the picture itself. This is what you are after when you upgrade to surround sound. In the over the top ‘Lobby Shooting Spree' scene, I still found the overall presentation to be quite engaging. Missing was the clearest distinction between the many sounds being thrown at
me (guns, bullets, things breaking, things exploding, thumping bass, thumping drums, distorted guitar). To resolve all of those sounds distinctly will require much, much more cash. But if you find yourself focusing on this aspect of the overall presentation at this point in the movie, you are an audio reviewer, not a Matrix fan. I am somewhere in between, everytime I went back to that scene to listen again or tweak the subwoofer settings I found myself watching to the end of the movie, forgetting all about writing this article. For movies that deal with reality as we know it, the AudioSource speakers' ability to present human voices so well was a clear upgrade to the movie watching experience.
The folks at AudioSource have done a great job at creating an affordable upgrade path for people who want to enjoy the benefits of surround sound without taking out a second mortgage. The suggested retail price is $160, but a quick check of the web showed them as low as $115. Going with a speaker set like the System 230 gives budget minded folks the option of selecting a DVD player and receiver individually rather than going with a complete ‘Home Theater in a Box'. For those looking to enhance their movie viewing and get their high fidelity music fix elsewhere, the System 230 will not disappoint.
-Rick Schmidt -
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