Sony MUTEKI HTDDW1600 review: Sony MUTEKI HTDDW1600

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Typical Price: $1,299.00
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Good sound for a HTIB. Excellent value. Imposing.

The Bad No OSD. HDMI switching but no decoding. Need to spend extra on an iPod dock.

The Bottom Line The Sony MUTEKI may not be hi-fi, but for sheer bang-for-buck it's a solid first choice for budding home theatre enthusiasts and party-goers.

7.8 Overall

We see a string of product names every day at CNET.com.au towers -- and some are more tongue twisting than others. Japanese brands are usually the biggest culprits, and Sony names in particular are pretty incomprehensible. And sometimes the names can just be plain silly -- Pioneer, for example, with its receiver named ASS .

This is why we were surprised to see a Sony product with one main name, the MUTEKI. But of course the company couldn't help itself in the end and added a string of letters and numbers after that. It's also known as the HTDDW1600, combining the STRK1600 receiver and the SSCRP1600 speaker set. MU.TE.KI. means "invincible, without rival" in Japanese and it's easy to get that first impression.

Design
The thing that immediately strikes you about this system -- even before it's set up -- is how large the packaging is! The MUTEKI comes in two large containers the size of plasma televisions -- but we suppose this is to be expected of a system that offers full-size towers and, count 'em, two subwoofers. We don't see 6.2 systems taking off in anywhere but the largest, dedicated home theatre set-ups, but here it's a decent gimmick. It certainly gets your attention.

As you'd expect from a system at such a low price, the quality of the speakers isn't as good as stand-alone units -- there's a certain amount of plastic and particle board -- but they're certainly well-built. The woofers have grills -- which may help deter young fingers -- and the front of the speaker is finished in popular piano black. It's certainly not an unattractive set of speakers.

The STRK1600 receiver appears to be a renamed STRDG510S (AU$599) and comes in silver only. It's as sturdy as you'd expect a Sony receiver to be.

The included remote is standard Sony fare -- a grey oblong which can control other Sony components as well. But it's not a learning model though.

Features
You won't see many other systems that offer so much for this price. At AU$1,299 it's got several unique features including HDMI inputs, MP3 player connectivity and a "disco lights" option.

For that "party atmosphere", the MUTEKI includes a D-Light output which enables you to attach a compatible light device which flashes in time to the music. Late onset epilepsy anyone?

But of course at this price, the Sony also comes with the inevitable compromises. For instance, it's billed as a home theatre in a box, but the obvious thing it lacks is a DVD player. However, for around a hundred dollars more, Sony has a perfectly acceptable player, the DVPNS57PB, which will suit the system quite well. Also, there's no onscreen display (OSD) for the receiver -- which makes set-up a little harder.

The other letdown is that the amp will only act as an HDMI switcher, not a decoder, and the manual doesn't mention this at all -- it only goes as far to say that it may not decode audio from "certain components". Only a sticker on the box and the amp tells you this -- it may actually work in regions other than Australia.

Also, to utilise the Digital Media port you'll need to purchase an extra dock -- the Walkman model is available for AU$150 but the iPod dock is a stiff drink at AU$250.

Performance
With this imposing set in your house the only thing to do is turn it on. And the results are far from unpleasant.

Watch King Kong -- after connecting a digital coaxial cable of course -- and the results are good. The surrounds are smaller than the fronts but are able to give a decent amount of ambience during the island scenes.

Fed through an audio signal from the Marantz SR7001 DVD player, Nick Cave initially sounded a bit muffled. Quickly switching to Music mode made the sound noticeably more upfront, and stereo focus was good for the price -- unlike the Sony SAVS300H 6.1/7.1 speakers we saw recently.

But it's parties that this system was built for, and pumping some Pendulum through it in our test labs had the office complaining way before the speakers or the two large subs gave in.

Unlike other HTIB solutions the MUTEKI offers the user some flexibility. As it's essentially a speaker set combined with an amp it offers a decent upgrade path for the future. The amp should be able to tolerate much better speakers.

Hi-fi? Not a chance. But a good first choice for budding home theatre enthusiasts and party-goers? Definitely.

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