Reviewer: Thomas Bartlett
I am not a big fan of home theatre in a box systems. Too often they don’t end up being good value for money… once you realise that aspects of them need to be improved.
But I am a big fan of Denon’s take on the theme. That’s probably because it isn’t really a home theatre in a box. It merely encroaches on that genre through its pricing.
Instead, this combo system consists of a high quality 5.1 channel home theatre receiver, the Denon AVR-589, and a compact satellite/subwoofer speaker system, the SYS-56HT (which does indeed come in one box).
The receiver is incredible. I remember when component video inputs were the preserve of prestige home theatre receivers. This one has two sets of inputs. It also has two HDMI inputs!
These provide full support for all forms of HDMI video, faithfully passing it through to the display. But the receiver does not support audio over HDMI, so you need to parallel the HDMI cable from your Blu-ray player with an optical or coaxial digital audio connection.
The speaker system consists of five small satellite speakers (one is slightly larger and sits sideways, so as to operate as a centre channel) and a subwoofer. The satellites each have two 57mm drivers, while the subwoofer has a 50 watt amplifier powering its 160mm driver in a bass reflex-loaded enclosure. The satellite speakers all use spring clips for connections. Thin speaker cables and an RCA link for the subwoofer are provided.
One of the other things that quite belie the low cost of this system is the inclusion of Audyssey automatic calibration (using the supplied microphone).
Naturally, it had no problem detecting that the speakers were ‘Small’, and set the crossover between the satellites and the subwoofer to 120 hertz. There is no onscreen display, but the front panel is fairly clear when adjusting the few setup items you may require.
Lacking HDMI sound, the receiver does not include decoders for the new audio standards from Blu-ray (these need HDMI to be delivered). Instead, using an optical or coaxial digital audio connection you will get the standard Dolby Digital or DTS core from the Blu-ray disc. Some recent Blu-ray players include a ‘DTS re-encode’ option, allowing you to get full surround sound even from multichannel PCM soundtracks.
The HDMI video worked well. There appeared to be no analog-to-HDMI video conversion facility, so if you have analog video sources you will need to run suitable cables all the way to your display.
The driver complement in the satellite speakers, and that of the subwoofer, didn’t really give me much hope for great sound. I was unduly pessimistic. Denon has clearly spent a bit of time tuning them up so that they deliver, with the subwoofer, a balanced and hi-fi-like sound. The stereo and surround imaging was pretty decent as well, and the subwoofer was extended enough to deliver satisfyingly with kick drums.
The real limitation on them was volume level. Up loud they tended to get a bit confused and harsh, but used within their limits they were – and I can’t believe I’m writing this – lovely!
For under a grand, this system provides a great (repeat: great) low-cost entry into home theatre sound, and lends itself readily to step-by-step upgrading in the future. It is far, far better than the similarly priced home theatre in a box alternatives.