Speaker Packages Awards – Q1 2013 (Part 1)

3/14/2013 9:10:34 AM

From compact sets to big-box wonders, these systems deliver top cinema surround sound to your living room

Product of the year

Best style package: $1,500-$2,250

Bowers & Wilkins MT-50: $1,642

Now, we don’t hand out our Product of the Year prizes to just anyone. We always champion our performance-per-pound ethos, and this B&W MT-50 speaker package fits the bill perfectly.

Bowers & Wilkins MT-50, the best style package: $1500-$2250

Bowers & Wilkins MT-50, the best style package

The essence of this package lies with the M-1 satellite speaker. A staple Award-winner when paired with previous incarnations of B&W’s Mini Theatre range, they have now been given a major design upgrade. Behind the grilles the tweeter has adopted design cues from the high-end Nautilus speakers, while the drivers use the same technology seen in the superb PM1s. the ASW 608 subwoofer is the perfect complement to the M-1s; it might not produce the very deepest sound, but it’s fast and agile.

We can’t think of anything more demanding than a Hans Zimmer score, so we naturally put Inception on to put the MT-50 to the test. And it passes with flying colors – it’s fabulous with 5.1 surround soundtracks. The upgraded M-1 satellites are the biggest contributors – they do wonders with the midrange and above. There’s plenty of space and bite to the top end that adds extra sparkle to the cracks of gunshots, and allows the gradual progression of the poignant and atmospheric music to reach its full potential. And the seismic shifts in sound signifying the dream-world’s time-bending place you right in the middle of the action. It’s not just fancy dream-bending effects that benefit from the MT-50 – a crisp midrange means that dialogue is conveyed with remarkable clarity.

Great with stereo music, too

Home cinema systems that do music very well are rather rare, and it’s this quality that we love about the MT-50. Its natural deftness and agility come to the fore with stereo music.

Sonic performance notwithstanding, the system also looks great with its sophisticated matte-black finish, and its compact nature makes it easy to position close to, or on, the walls. Add all this together, and you’ve got a home cinema package to truly marvel at.

Best traditional package up to $1,050

Q Acoustics 2000i 5.1: $900

When it comes to affordable speaker packages, Q Acoustics has it covered. Its traditional 5.1 home cinema systems have made themselves comfortable in this corner of the Awards, dominating this particular category for the past few years now.

Q Acoustics 2000i 5.1, the best traditional package up to $1050

Q Acoustics 2000i 5.1, the best traditional package up to $1,050

Q Acoustics’ 2010 Award-winning 2000 Cinema Pack was replaced with this 2000i 5.1 system, significant material and design upgrades ensuring it retained its place as a winningly affordable package for two years in a row.

The 2000i 5.1 pack comprises two pairs of identical 2010i satellites that serve as front and back speakers, maintaining a cohesive experience across the room, with a 2000Ci center channel tying everything together.

We love the look of the speakers – the rounded corners give a friendly and inviting vibe compared with more imposing sharp-edged packages, while the speaker terminals tucked away in a recessed plate at the bottom of the speakers add to the neatness of the package.

And if you prefer your speakers wall-mounted instead of perching on stands, the simple ‘tilt and turn’ brackets help you to get the speakers as flat on the wall as possible.

The upgrades to the 2010i speakers from a completely new and decoupled tweeter, to the carbon fiber and ceramic coated paper mid/bass drivers and a revised crossover were a market improvement to the sonic performance of the full package.

Settle down for a full 5.1 soundtrack experience, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the 2000i pack’s confident and dynamic performance. It’s simply a joy to listen to. Despite its comparatively compact build it has great presence, even in a large room, and we’re still stunned by the amount of scale and atmosphere it manages to deliver with demanding movie soundtracks.

We’re still stunned by the scale and atmosphere it manages to deliver with demanding movie soundtracks. It’s simply a joy

Articulation with refinement

It’s an articulate and refined listen, with good timing and rhythm proving it capable with stereo music as well. The 2070Si subwoofer deserves a special mention for its precision and improved ability to dig deep into the lower frequencies, all the while staying controlled with plenty of attack.

We were wowed by the 2000i 5.1 package when we first tested it last year, and we’re still impressed at the scale and confidence of this system. Another year, another Award – it speaks volumes that nothing else in this price bracket has come close.

Best traditional package $1,050-$2,250

Dali Zensor 5 5.1: $1,950

We had high hopes for the Dali Zensor package when we first tested it last year, especially with the inclusion of the brilliant five-starring Zensor 1 Standmounters as the rear speakers. And it didn’t disappoint, with the journey from First Test to Award-winner being a short road indeed.

Dali Zensor 5 5.1, the best traditional package $1050-$2250

Dali Zensor 5 5.1, the best traditional package $1050-$2250

The center channel Vokal was the only unknown entity back then, but it emerged as the strongest piece of the pack with an expressive midrange that emphasizes the front Zensor 5 pair’s strength in delivering centered and textured vocals.

A year on, and the strength of this 5.1 set-up shows no sign of waning. It’s an eye-catching package as well with the high quality finish especially that of the glossy black, looking rather beautiful contrasted against the 13cm wood-fiber mid/bass drivers. The floor-standing Zensor 5s and the Vokal that make up the front channels are neatly proportioned, even with the high driver count. That said, the Vokal is a large unit, so you’ll need quite a lot of space under (or above) your TV.

The E-12F subwoofer has featured in two Dali Award-winning packages (this one, and last year’s Fazon 3 5.1). Its hefty combination of 170W amplifier and 30cm aluminum driver sings through a movie soundtrack with agility and punch, though a little more exuberance wouldn’t go amiss.

Play the Coen brothers’ Fargo, and the Dali’s strength with dialogue shines through: every cadence and inflection of Steve Buscemi’s loquacious Carl Showalter is delivered unflinchingly and is packed with character. There’s meticulous attention to detail with both big crashes and quitter moments, and the sure-footed timing moves the pace along.

There’s meticulous attention to detail, both with big crashes and quieter moments, and the timing is resolutely surefooted

Wide, convincing soundstage

The system has fluid dynamics across the frequency range, and the wide and convincing soundstage is truly immersive. We’re impressed with the Dalis’ ability to walk the fine line between excitement and grace, and the system’s integration produces an engaging tonal harmony.

It’s talented with stereo music as well, with crisp detail and natural rhythms making it an effortless listen. In fact, the overall even-handed presentation of the package goes a long way in making it enjoyable to listen to for hours on end.


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