Like many home theater speaker systems, the Definitive Technology ProCinema 600 (*Est. $800) relies on relatively small satellite speakers and a powered subwoofer to fill a room with sound. What sets it apart and ahead of its class is the capability to deliver more wallop than many similar speaker setups. CNET's Steve Guttenberg particularly compliments the 250-watt subwoofer. While watching the Blu-ray disc of "Independence Day," he says, "The little speakers easily handled the sounds of buildings crashing down, and cars and trucks hurtling through the air and smashing into the ground -- the sounds of the onscreen devastation were visceral in ways that few tiny satellite-subwoofer systems can match."
Chris Boylan at BigPictureBigSound.com is also a fan of the low-end performance, calling the 600 precise and full but adding that it can't put out very low frequencies at quite the volume of bigger and more expensive solutions. He's impressed with how well the system created a realistic sound stage with both multichannel and even traditional stereo recordings. Guttenberg found some issues with how well the sub and the satellites worked together, but Boylan says they can be fixed with careful placement of the subwoofer.
While the ProCinema 600 can be wired to your home theater in the traditional manner, the company recommends a more complicated hookup technique that bypasses the receiver's subwoofer output altogether. Guttenberg prefers the recommended hookup scheme while Boylan had better results with the simpler, traditional wiring technique; he says results probably depend on room acoustics. The ProCinema 600 comes in white in addition to the more traditional black.
If you're looking for a home theater speaker system that not only sounds great but can expand to fit your needs, consider the NHT Super Surround 5.1 (*Est. $800) . It's built around five of NHT diminutive SuperZero 2.0 satellite speakers (*Est. $100 each) married with NHT Super 8 subwoofer (*Est. $350) . If you need additional speakers for rear surround channels or front height or width channels, they're readily available. The easiest way to get the Super Surround 5.1 package is directly from NHT, though a number of retailers sell the SuperZero 2.0 satellites and the Super 8 subwoofer as separate components.
The SuperZero 2.0 speakers are mini-monitors that focus specifically on what small-form speakers excel at -- mid and high frequencies. Reviewers say they don't supply much bass in and of themselves. While that may be an issue if you simply pick up a pair of NHT SuperZero 2.0 speakers for use with your computer, the NHT Super Surround 5.1 system includes the Super 8 subwoofer. The 11-inch sub features an 8-inch long-throw paper cone, a 110-watt BASH amplifier and digital signal processing technology, while the speakers use 4.5-inch internal woofers and a 1-inch silk tweeter dome. An extra length of coiling inside the speakers helps prevent vibrations from the woofer from reaching the dome, which reviewers (and NHT) say reduces distortion.
Reviewers say the NHT Super Surround 5.1 handles dialogue and music especially well, although the system skews more toward clear, mellow tones than over-the-top, house-rattling bass bombastics. BigPictureBigSound.com reviewer Ian White listens to singer Adele's album "21" and reports excellent audio results. "Ninety-nine-dollar loudspeakers should never sound like this; better than $500 models from other companies," he says. He does mention, however, that the system's center channel speaker -- "a Super Zero 2.0 flipped onto its side" -- lacks scale when compared to a speaker specifically designed to handle center channel tasks, a complaint that's voiced by other critics as well. All in all, however, White says you flat-out won't find another home theater speaker system that sounds this good for $800. Mark Fleischmann at Home Theater magazine echoes White's comments. Although he needed to pay close attention to catch the dialogue in a pub scene in "The Fighter," Fleischmann reports overall excellence from the 5.1 system, giving it 4.5 stars out of 5 for performance and a perfect rating for value.
Dating from its earliest days, Klipsch has been a pioneer in using horn speaker technology, and the Klipsch HD Theater 500 (*Est. $500) builds on that heritage. Here, horn-loaded tweeters are used to precisely focus high frequencies in a way that minimizes interactions with the listening room. The result is a more accurate placement of sounds within the surround field.
Horn speakers have long caused controversy among audiophiles over their propensity to add bright coloration to music, and many experts aren't fans. That said, every review we saw for the HD Theater 500 gives it at least grudging respect if not outright raves. There are limitations, but for their size -- each satellite is just 6 inches tall -- and price, all say the HD Theater 500 deserves serious consideration.
While Mark Fleischmann at Home Theater magazine doesn't appear to be among the devotees of horn-speaker technology, he says the satellite speakers in the HD Theater 500 are among the best he has ever heard -- horned or otherwise -- and the system in general outperforms what he has heard in the vast majority of demo rooms at high-end audio trade shows. He's a little let down by the 100-watt powered subwoofer but says the HD Theater 500 is a good performer compared to other systems in its price class; the issue is that the sub is simply outshined by the performance of the five satellite speakers.
Most reports say the HD Theater 500 does a good to great job with music, but really shines with movies thanks to its ability to create more accurate sonic images. CNET calls that "an excellent sense of ambiance." More colorfully, the review at Wired says "an agonizing screening of 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua' yielded yelps from onscreen pooches that actually scared the crap out of my dog."
The biggest limitation of the HD Theater 500 is that it's not the best choice for large spaces. CNET says the system can sound harsh if forced to operate at the loudest volumes. Wired says the sonic imagery is weakened and lost if called upon to fill a big room.