Rod Easdown July 16, 2012
Yamaha YHT696AU, $1199.
These three systems bring the cinematic experience to you.
THE attraction of one-brand, factory-assembled home-cinema systems is that they're easy. The speakers have been matched to the amplifiers, the subwoofers have been matched to the speakers and the connections are usually idiot-proof.
The attraction of multi-brand systems you put together yourself is that you can buy the speakers you like most and hook them up to electronics with the features you want, for better performance all round. But these days buyers want it all.
It used to be that you'd spend a couple of thousand dollars to get a one-brand system that approached the sound quality you'd get from individual components, but lately we've noticed systems priced about $1000 are doing a surprisingly good job.
Some have good enough sound quality to keep all but the purists happy while retaining all the convenience of the single-brand systems. But you have to look around and listen hard to find the good ones, and today we've found three rippers.
The LG is for people who care about aesthetics. The tall, slim speakers will work in practically any living room and the rears don't need speaker cables. And it sounds terrific.
The Pioneer and the Yamaha are less about looks, more about grunt, with big cabinets containing generous drivers at front left and right. They have a lot more beef and go much louder than the LG, but you have to like black. You'll also need a disc player as neither comes with one.
All of these can comfortably double as music systems, handling CD quality music nicely. But your choice will depend on your ears.
The Yamaha has real hairs on its chest, especially down low, while the Pioneer is great over the full range of sound. The LG is more subtle, with good high range and comfortable, non-intrusive bass.
All of them do justice to a big, full high-definition screen. So whatever your needs, we'd venture to say that one of these will make you happy. If not, you'll have some work to do to find better at less than $1500.
Easily the best-looking system here with four tall (125 centimetres) speakers, a compact centre channel to go under the screen and a reasonably small but generous subwoofer. The bonus is that the rear speakers don't need speaker cables, although they do need a power point. You can set up your smart phone as a remote and there are several ways to stream content between this and compatible devices in your home. There's an FM tuner and USB recording. The Blu-ray player has internet connectivity. The sound is clear and sharp with pleasing fullness and good bass that's never overpowering and always well defined. It won't go as loud as the others but has enough power for a good action flick. And it doesn't lose sound quality at full volume. lge.com.au
$1199 (spotted for $890)
The big hitter of these three. It can be turned very loud and even way up there the signal remains clear and almost distortion free. The definition is good and the sound is muscular and full. And you can preset a maximum volume. It delivers great sound for movies and pretty good for music. The two 88-centimetre-tall front speakers contain a couple of 16-centimetre mid/bass drivers as well as a high range, while the front-firing sub has a 25-centimetre driver, the biggest here. The amplifier (with an AM-FM tuner) supports 3D and Blu-ray, and there are four HDMI inputs and one output. The remote can be set to control most popular televisions and disc players. This system doesn't come with a disc player and an iPod dock is optional as is Bluetooth streaming. yamahamusic.com.au
Pioneer Movie 521 Tall
$1049 (spotted for $891)
The big left and right speakers contain four drivers each, two for mid/bass and two for high range, while the rear and centre channel speakers are compact enough to hide away on a shelf or a side table. The sub is compact, too. The system is set up for Blu-ray and 3D with video upscaling as a bonus, and you get four HDMI inputs and one output. It can calibrate the speakers for your selected listening spot and there's Bluetooth audio streaming with an optional adapter. The sound is excellent across the full audible range and it goes very loud indeed. At normal to high listening levels it's fine but horrible distortion sets in when it's turned way up. The midnight listening mode enhances soft audio at low volume levels. This system doesn't come with a disc player. pioneer.com.au