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5.1 Shootout: Listening Tests - DTS Music

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eagles.jpgI began my listening tests with some DTS 5.1 music, including The Eagles: Hell Freezes Over , Diana Krall: Love Scenes , and "Yesterday" from the Boys II Men DTS disc. I listened for each subwoofer's ability to accurately reproduce the low end bass melodies of Timothy B. Schmit in "New York Minute" as well as provide the material located in the difficult crossover frequency ranges of each system (which varied). This included baritone and bass vocals, guitars, bass and cello instruments, and percussion, which danced around the 80Hz - 120Hz range frequently and could suffer from a poorly designed system integration.

RBH Sound CT-5.1 System

Krall.jpgThe RBH Sound CT-5.1 system exhibited an uncanny ability to sound much larger than it was. The MS-8.1 subwoofer is a well-designed unit, and its dual-firing 8" aluminum drivers gave it the ability to perform with the force and range of a much larger subwoofer. The MM-4 satellites and C-4 center speaker provided a rather wide dispersion of the musical content which helped, but did not eliminate, the common effects of smaller speaker localization problems. I played several CDs such as Toto: Past to Present and confirmed that the soundstage was much wider than I would have expected for such a small system. The louder you played the RBH Sound system, the better it sounded.

Aperion Audio Intimus 5.1 System

Boys.jpgAperion Audio took a more forward approach to music, with vocals that appeared out front and almost accentuated at times. The Intimus 522D-C center channel speaker played very well with the rest of the system, blending in naturally and procuring a convincing reverberant soundstage on the Boyz II Men track. Diana Krall's "You Can't Take That Away From Me" exhibited a natural musical blend without any overemphasis of particular instrumentation. Vocals appeared slightly boxy on some tracks, emphasizing what felt like the 300Hz range, but varied from artist to artist in terms of its noticeability. None of the vocals exhibited much lisping or compression, making this a well-rounded system. Having 5 identical speakers also made for the ideal DVD-Audio playback system - a selling point Aperion Audio forgot to mention.

Velodyne Deco System

The Velodyne Deco System required a crossover setting at 100Hz in order to produce the best sound in my set-up (this is also indicated on the rear of the sub should you choose to use the subwoofer's low-pass crossover, which we bypassed). The Velodyne seemed to sound a tad compressed on the high frequencies, causing some sibilance on vocals. The Deco satellites also tended towards the bright side. So if you often complain about not hearing center-channel dialogue in movies, the Deco system may actually help. It also had a rather pleasing wide dispersion that was possibly due to the use of silk dome tweeters. This was welcome since the setup didn't provide a dedicated center channel, which is typically geared for expanding the listening area sweet spots. Simply listen to Toy Matinee or " Seven Bridges Road " from The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over and you'll understand why we loved the Deco's affinity for spreading apart the mix onto an open space. The Deco system exhibited a consistently solid performance in the low end. In fact, we felt that the Velodyne Deco had the best low-mid sound reproduction of all the systems tested.

Mordaunt-Short Avant Premiere System

Mordaunt-Short has developed an excellent satellite system that, at least with the MS909W subwoofer, produced incredibly well-rounded audio with plenty of punch in the low end and lots of clean high-mid content. One thing we noticed, when queuing up some music tracks, was a predisposition toward rendering the vocals a tad "crispy", meaning that I believe the speakers were showing a bit of dynamic compression which was made even more apparent by the added headroom of the Sherbourn 200W/channel amplifier. In switching all of the systems to using the Denon AVR-3805's internal amplifiers during round 2 of testing, the high-end compression was less noticeable on both the Mordaunt-Short and Velodyne speakers, so amplifiers with more headroom may make this compression more apparent. The MS909W subwoofer's non-defeatable low-pass filter is rated down to 200Hz, something that perhaps is for owners wanting to match the sub with small tweeter-less cube systems that cannot extend much below 180Hz. In either case, we chose to open up the low pass filter and configure the Denon bass management to 100Hz (we initially tried out a setting of 120Hz but found it to be too boomy in the mid-bass.)

Summary of Musical Performance of the Systems

This low-mid boominess was a common challenge for nearly all the systems except the Velodyne Deco, but could be eliminated in just about every case. In listening to Diana Krall's song "They Can't Take That Away From Me" we could really hear a bit of excess low-mid response with the RBH Sound system. Having initially set the crossover in the Denon 3805 to 120Hz, I reconfigured to 100Hz and played the track again. The boominess went away and the transition frequencies from the subwoofer to the satellites sounded much smoother - the artificial bump heard at 120Hz had all but disappeared. Below are our recommended crossover settings for all systems tested:

Satellite System

X-Over Frequency

RBH Sound CT-5.1

100 Hz

Aperion Audio Intimus 5.1

80 Hz

Mordaunt-Short Avant Premiere

100 Hz

Velodyne Deco

100 Hz

The Mordaunt-Short Avant Premiere System performed admirably when listening to the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over DTS disc. The center channel produced transparent vocals and the system integrated well with the subwoofer, which combined the tighter attribute of a front firing woofer with the tactile response of its down-firing ports. While the Mordaunt-Short system in particular had a rather precise ability to locate instruments and vocals in the 3D soundstage, these satellite systems didn't quite seem to emulate some of the larger systems I have heard which create a relatively transparent environment. With these smaller satellite systems we consistently had the sense of where the sounds we were listening to were coming from, though the Aperion Audio Intimus setup was the best at hiding its size. Mordaunt-Short's Avant Premiere system was our favorite overall performer for listening to music, providing a well-rounded sound and uncolored, detailed reproduction of just about everything we threw at it.

 

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