Denon's DHT-FS5 is an unusually compact single speaker surround system with an unusually compact list price: just $500. That means it sells for less than half the asking price of its big brother, Denon's up market DHT-FS3. Even so, the two units have a lot in common: they're almost the same size, and they share a similar design aesthetic and sound. The pricier model is finished to a much higher quality, has slightly better connectivity, and comes with a subwoofer. However, thanks to its more affordable price tag, the DHT-FS5 is easier to recommend for buyers who intend to use the speaker in small bedrooms, dorm rooms, or dens.
While Denon's not claiming the DHT-FS5 can replace a bona fide 5.1-channel speaker/subwoofer system, it does sound substantially better than the speakers built into any TV. Blu-rays and DVDs sounded spacious in the CNET listening room, though we were less impressed with its sound while playing CDs. Still, those looking for a quick and easy sound solution will appreciate that the DHT-FS5 is self-powered, obviating the need to buy an AV receiver.
While the rather basic-looking DHT-FS5 won't be easily confused with its higher-end sibling, it's tastefully understated. The cabinet's front panel is covered by a black cloth grille, and there's a power/standby button, along with Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS indicators. The dearth of video connections obviates the inclusion of an onscreen display, but it makes up for that with a large, easy-to-read LCD screen that lights up from behind the grille. The DHT-FS5 is smaller than average for sound bar speakers: it's 4.75 inches high by 29.5 inches wide by 5.5 deep and weighs 11.25 pounds.
While there's no autocalibration mode, speaker setup couldn't be much easier. Just use the remote to choose one of three room sizes, and the system engages a corresponding preset mode. We had the setup squared away in less than a minute.
Thanks to the DHT-FS5's minimalist features set, the remote control isn't cluttered with a forest of buttons. Sure, there's volume and input selector buttons, plus mode buttons to choose among four sound options: Stereo, Movie, Music, and News. The last three produce different types of surround, which we experimented with whenever we swapped Blu-ray, DVD, and CD discs.
The remote also has Mute, Night Mode, Setup, and SDB buttons. That last one is "Super Dynamic Bass," a single-step bass boost that we found it highly effective, adding neither too much nor too little bass to movies and music. Alas, it would've been nice to see dedicated bass and treble controls as well, but the SDB button is the closest you'll get.
The DHT-FS5 speaker features six 3.15-inch mid-bass drivers, driven by 4x25-watt amplifiers, plus a 1x50-watt amplifier (presumably, the sixth driver is driven "passively"). Denon's X-Space Surround technology works with Dolby and DTS encoded discs to produce remarkably spacious surround sound.
Connectivity options are limited to one stereo analog and three digital inputs (one coaxial, two optical). The subwoofer output can be used to feed a powered subwoofer (hooking up a sub automatically limits the amount of bass coming from the speaker, which improves overall sound quality).
As mentioned, the DHT-FS5 doesn't offer any video switching at all. That means you'll have to run your sources' audio connections to the Denon, and the corresponding video outputs to the TV, and switch both inputs simultaneously (when moving from, say, a Blu-ray player to cable box). That can be accomplished automatically via a universal remote macro. It's an annoyance, to be sure, but it's less of an issue on this more affordable model than it is on the more expensive DHT-FS3.
Like most single-speaker audio systems, just plopping the Denon DHT-FS5 in front of your TV will likely block the TV's remote IR receiver. You'll instead want to mount it in a cabinet underneath, or wall-mount the Denon with the included metal wall brackets.