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Product Review - Kenwood THX Certified Audio Visual System - November, 1995

By Daniel Long, Singapore


Kenwood A/V THX System

Kenwood THX certified Audio Video system; KR-X1000 Audio Video receiver, KM-X1000 Stereo Power Amp (bridged to drive passive subwoofer), LS-X1F LCR loudspeakers, LS-X1S Surround loudspeakers; all THX certified.

KR-X1000 - 125 watts rms output per channel at 6 Ohms (Stereo mode); 130 watts rms output per channel LCR, 80 watts rms output per channel surrounds, all at 6 Ohms (Surround mode). Inputs/Outputs: 5 audio video inputs (including 2 record-out capable loops and 1 camcorder input on front panel), CD, 2 tape decks, phono; 1 monitor out. All video input/outputs come with S-video and composite on RCA. Line level input/outputs: sub-out, all other channels with pre-out and main-in. size 6 5/8" H x 17 5/16" W x 16 13/16" D, weight 36.4 pounds, black metal chassis, non-grounded AC plug, with AC outlet (1 x 200 W max.). US$1100.

KM-X1000 - 130 watts rms output per channel at 8 Ohms (Stereo); 270 watts rms output per channel at 8 Ohms (Bridged); size 4 7/16" H x 17 5/16" W x 15 1/2" D, weight 29.4 pounds, black metal chassis, non-grounded AC plug, US$450.

LS-X1F LCR loudspeaker - 3-way, 5-speaker system (magnetically shielded), Acoustic Air Suspension enclosure; 2 x woofer 5 1/8" cone, 2 x mid-tweeter 1" dome, 1 x dome high-tweeter; impedance 8 Ohms (nominal), 3.8 (minimum); sensitivity 87 dB at 2.83 V/1 meter; frequency response 80 Hz - 20,000 Hz (no tolerance given); crossover 2 kHz, 6 kHz; size 17 7/8" H x 8 7/16" W x 10 3/8" D, weight 18.7 pounds each; enclosure finish high density particle board laminated with PVC sheet, felt-coated baffle panel. US$500 each.

LS-X1S surround loudspeaker - 3-way, 6-speaker system, Acoustic Air Suspension enclosure; 2 x woofer 5" cone, 2 x midrange 3" dome, 2 x dome tweeter; impedance 8 W (nominal), 3.5 (minimum); sensitivity 86 dB at 2.83 V/1 meter; frequency response 125Hz - 20,000 Hz (no tolerance given); crossover 300 Hz, 3.5 kHz; size 12" H x 9 9/16" W x 5 13/16" D, weight 12.8 pounds each; enclosure finish high density particle board laminated with PVC sheet; (LS-X1S(B) - black, LS-X1S - white). US$600/pair.

SW-X1 passive subwoofer - Bass reflex, floor type; 1 x 12" cone; impedance 8 W (nominal; minimum not specified); sensitivity 85 dB/W/1 meter; frequency response 20Hz - 5,000 Hz (no tolerance given); 150 W maximum input power, 75 W rated input power; maximum SPL - 2 units required to meet THX specifications for rooms bigger than 3,000 ft3; size 19 1/4" H x 19 1/4" W x 20 1/16" D, weight 57.2 pounds each; enclosure finish high density particle board laminated with PVC sheet; US$500 each.

If you're reading this, and you haven't been on the moon for the past 2 years, then you know what THX is and what it means to the consumer shopping for a home theater system. Before I go into the review proper, I shall first categorize the different people that may put this system on their lists. First, there are those who've read a lot about home theater systems but don't want to put together a combination of components from different manufacturers because they don't want the hassle of figuring out how much power, how sensitive, how big, how small etc. These can also be divided into two sub-categories: those who already have a decent music-only system (of separates) and those with a decent Sony/JVC/Technics (or other such) mini-compo. The next group would be the dedicated music-only audiophiles who happen to have kids and/or also like watching movies but are too lazy to go to the cinema. They have an expensive multi-kilobuck system in the den but want to set up a home theater in another room so they can have friends/relatives over for a night of action and excitement with Arnie/Mr T-Rex/Darth Vader.

If I've described you above, read on; if not, read on anyway! I promise you'll not be disappointed.

The Kenwood THX system:
I first heard the entire system at HEX 5 (Singapore, September 1995), and it (not to mince words) blew me away. I was impressed! I have always had a Kenwood in my system, because they provide a 24 month warranty on all their electronics. But this was serious. I would've spent the money on the Kenwood THX system because it was the best-sounding THX setup at the show! And it was a paltry Singapore Dollars$6969 (US$4150; US$4650 for system with a pair of SW-X1's) for everything above (except only 1 sub, but they throw in an LD player).

I sought eagerly to get it home for a review. And here I must thank Anthony Margil (of Margil Hi-Fi, Singapore) for putting me in touch with Kenwood, Singapore and to Michael Seet and Sean See (of Kenwood Singapore) for graciously lending me the whole shebang for 2 weeks. Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you!

Setting it up:
Nothing to it, really, just that you might want help unpacking it all. I set up the LCR (Left, Center, Right) speakers where my normal references are. The left and right speakers are about 6' 2" apart (center-of-baffle to center-of-baffle) and the center speaker was placed atop my trusty Toshiba TV, firing downwards at my listening seat just over 8' away. The rear surrounds were placed on chopping boards mounted about 6' up at the sides and 6' also from my seat. Next were the connections. My LD/CD player (a Kenwood LVD-9200 karaoke machine) was plugged into the THX receiver's Video 3 input (Videos 1 and 2 are playback/record loops for VCR's). The speaker connections were then all made. The speakers themselves all appeared to be fairly good quality with sturdy gold plated five-way binding posts. At the juice end, no such luck. To reduce costs, Kenwood has elected to use bare-wire only connectors (screw-in type), so I had to cut my wires! I understand in overseas markets (including the USA), the very same models come with banana and spade lug capable connectors (binding posts). Sigh! The KM-X1000 amp was run in mono (bridged) to drive the sub. All the electronics were finished in attractive (!) black, although a gold version series is available (those are nice).

The KR-X1000:
You can have Home THX Cinema, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 Stereo, DSP Logic, Mono, or straight two channel Stereo. Levels are easily set either from the main panel or the universal remote (which you can program to work with your TV, VCR's, cable, tuner, LD player) but you can only do this from one of the processing modes; in Stereo, you can't. Which means to boost the sub-level (via the sub-out line output), you have to change to one of the surround modes and do it there. Levels are held constant for any of the modes. There's also a straight-line button which, according to the manual, bypasses the tone controls for better sound. It works with all inputs but I couldn't detect any differences in sound quality, when the tone controls were set at 0 influence.

Using the Kenwood with movies:
For such an inexpensive system (less than US$4700 for everything above, including 1 pair of subs), on movies, the Kenwood THX system was nothing less than amazing. I played through several laserdisc favorites, including The Lion King, The Abyss, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Memphis Belle; the Kenwood was dynamic when required, and subtle as needed. The underwater scenes before the crane hits the drop-off in The Abyss, and the jungle scenes in Jurassic Park, before Nedry ("Ah ah ah! You didn't say the magic word!") became dino-dinner, illustrate this. This is where the THX dipole surrounds proved superior to my discrete ones. However, over the weekend, I heard an AC-3 demo which indicated that discrete surrounds may be better in AC-3. The scene, in True Lies, was the Harriers' missile attack on the terrorists on the bridge. There was intense action music from both rear channels (small Yamaha discretes) and these contributed greatly to the excitement. I doubt dipoles would have done as well. As an aside, I think with AC-3, calibration (which in the case of the demo I mentioned, was poor) of the speakers is very critical. When the missile in the above mentioned scene was fired, it actually "disappeared" sonically as it flew from in front of the viewer towards the back. In other words, the handover, if you will, of the signal from the fronts to the rears was anything but smooth in the AC-3 demo. I doubt you would notice such a sonic artifact with Dolby Pro Logic decoding. How about the main action? It was ably served by the LCR's and the sub. Check out the Sarah Connors' nuclear explosion dream scene and the flock of "chickens" scene on Jurassic Park. I use the former because it has everything a surround sound aficionado could want. The fire-storm literally fries your tweeters, and the exploding trees/buildings/ people as well as the intense percussive soundtrack make your innards rumble. The flocking scene should come as a wave of sound first concentrated at the front, then as the "chickens" pass Dr. Grant and the children, you should feel as well as hear that you are caught in the stampede. The Kenwood THX system handled everything and eagerly awaited more. I only made observations during my second watching of every movie. I was too busy enjoying the movie to write anything!

However, in implementing THX's mandatory 7 kHz roll-off to compensate for smaller living rooms, I feel it is a little too aggressive on the Kenwood system. Dialogue had a nasal character which I think is a result of this roll-off. Also, one sub isn't really enough. Turning up the sub-out level resulted in too much mid- as well as low-bass. This muddied dialogue further and made everything bass emphasized (including footsteps and slamming doors, etc.) After about a week of intense auditioning, I hooked up my HSU HRSW12V (driven by it's own dedicated amp) in parallel; in my 2500 ft3 (approx.) listening/living room, the low-bass was now smoother and at the same time, more visceral. I place the HSU just to the outside of the right speaker about 2' from the corner and the SW-X1 just to the inside of the left speaker. I used Home THX Cinema mode for most movies. I think if you buy the KR-X1000, you won't be using the Dolby Pro Logic mode very much. I find the THX mode more spacious, and the rears are steered faster (missile scene in True Lies as mentioned above). Also, while THX darkened things sonically a little, I found Dolby Pro Logic a little too steely.

Listening to music in the various modes (to recap, these are Home THX Cinema, Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby 3 Stereo, DSP Logic, straight two channel Stereo, and Mono), I think you'll have to experiment to see which you like (or dislike) for the different types of music you listen to. Me? I liked Home THX Cinema for live recordings of acoustic jazz that have a wider than normal soundstage (e.g., Clifford Jordan Quartet, Live at Ethell's, Mapleshade 56292). Dolby 3 Stereo is good if you have your left and right speakers a little too far apart or on recordings that are a little too aggressively Stereo (try a re-released-in stereo Beatles CD); just ease down (about 2 dB from flat) on the center level. On some others, straight Stereo was the best. I didn't use Mono much. Having said this, when I was done with the Kenwood system and moved my usual setup back into place, the differences between it and my Audiolab 8000AII/KM-X1000/Mirage1090i/HSU HRSW12V/Kenwood LVD9200/RegaPlanar3/RB300/ATel-cheapoMM on music was clear. My stuff had more space behind and to the sides and imaged better. It also had a smoother top-end. However, on torture tracks (no. 9 on Reference Recordings' Pomp and Pipes), the Kenwood could go louder and seemed marginally more effortless. Ultimately, the Kenwood was more fatiguing in the long run.

For a better-than-decent THX home theater system, I can't recommend the Kenwood system enough. For US$4650, you have everything you need for very good movie action sounds in a large room (in fact, it sounds better in a large room). When it has to, it also does delicate. However, on music, I'm afraid you need to look elsewhere, as the Kenwood system doesn't cut it in that regard.

Sound Level (SPL) Measurements at various frequencies (Amplifier volume adjusted so that meter reading was 70 dB at 40 Hz and at 1 kHz):

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Hz/dB: 20 25 31.5 40 50 80 100 125 160 200 1k 2.5k 5k 10k 12.5k 16k 20k
Stereo: 74 68 70 70 72 80 79 78 76 72 70 72 73 69 68 65 61
THX mode: 68 70 70 70 72 79 74 78 75 73 70 73 73 67 64 61 60

P.S. Hope U can understand the table. For example, at 50Hz, in Stereo mode, the response was 72dB, in THX (surround) mode, it's also 72dB. At 200Hz, its 72 and 73dB respectively.

Daniel Long

Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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