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Sweet sound from tiny speakers

While reviewers say that small satellites like those in the Energy Take Classic 5.1 system do a pretty good job of disappearing in a room, there are some even tinier speaker systems that are more suited to the task. The Cambridge Audio Minx S215 (*Est. $800) is a compact speaker system that delivers a surprisingly big sound, despite its diminutive size. Like many compact-style systems, the Minx S215 eschews the designated center-channel speaker typical of most 5.1-channel configurations and instead boasts five satellite speakers -- weighing in at less than a pound apiece and measuring about 3 inches square.

Unlike a traditional cube speaker, (which uses a cone-shaped driver) or two-way speakers (which use a separate tweeter woofer) the Minx S215 uses balanced mode radiator (BMR) technology to send sound in all directions, eliminating the need to locate a "sweet spot" for the best sonic experience. The Minx S215 is ideal for smaller spaces, but reviewers say it can hold its own in moderately sized rooms.

Music and movies sound good on the system, but it lacks the "presence" of larger speakers. "The Minx system seemed to hold back during scenes that a larger speaker would have fearlessly attacked," says Brent Butterworth at Sound + Vision magazine. But CNET (Australia) counters, saying, "We were impressed just how composed the system remained even when cranked up to quite antisocial volume levels." Both Butterworth and Mark Fleischmann at Home Theater magazine say male voices seem a bit light when heard through the Minx S215.

Despite those drawbacks, the Cambridge Audio Minx S215 draws accolades and top marks from lots of professionals and users. Dialogue sounds crisp and distinct, and the BMR technology works well at conveying accurate sound throughout the room. The X200 subwoofer included with the system does a good job of playing low bass notes without suffering from much distortion, although About.com's Robert Silva noticed some drop-off at extremely low frequencies.

Reviewers also praise the Minx S215's multiple wall-mounting options. Butterworth sums up critics comments: "The Cambridge Audio Minx S215 is the best little cube-shaped speaker system I've heard, and the first that I liked as much as larger, two-way sub/sat systems."

A more budget-friendly mini option is the Energy R.C. Micro 5.1 (*Est. $400) . Unlike the Cambridge Audio Minx S215, the system uses the more-standard 5.1-channel configuration: four satellites, a center-channel speaker and powered subwoofer -- which blend together very well, reviewers say. That avoids the frequency response gap that's a shortfall of lots of small speaker systems -- and some that sport full-sized speakers as well. As CNET notes, a gap in the frequency response between the subwoofer and the rest of the system usually shows up as thin sound when listening to movies and music.

Like many compact systems, the Energy R.C. Micro 5.1 strains at high volumes, and it can't deliver the low-end bass of more expensive or larger systems. But especially in smaller spaces, movies and music generally sound great.

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Energy RC-Micro 5.1 Surround Speaker System (Black)
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Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System (Set of Six, Black)
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New: $599.00 $349.99   
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