Compare Niro's 1.1 Pro II surround-sound system with a typical home theater in a box (HTIB), and a number of important differences immediately stand out. Where most HTIBs feature five or six satellite speakers, a subwoofer, and lots of wires, the Niro has just one larger-than-average speaker with a thick hookup cable and a subwoofer with a skinny wire. Next, while the Niro system doesn't include a DVD player, its amplifier is a good deal smaller than any receiver you've ever seen. Oh, and the 1.1 Pro II's full-bodied sound trumps most of the virtual-surround competition. Niro sells the 1.1 Pro II through the company's Web site for $990. Setup chores are as straightforward as they get: hook up the 1.1 Pro II's superspeaker and subwoofer's one-way-in connectors and a digital cable from your DVD player and cable/satellite box, and you're done. After that, there's nothing to adjust and no menus to navigate--we were watching a DVD in five minutes.
The ultracompact amplifier measures just 7.9 inches wide, 2.2 inches high, and 11.7 inches deep--that's a lot smaller than any receiver we can think of. You can even stand it up on its end and tuck it in next to your TV. It will fit in the most cramped spaces.
The matching superspeaker is beautifully finished in satin silver with gray fabric grilles. It's about as big as a full-size center speaker, and it measures 19 inches wide, 4.3 inches high, and 7.9 inches deep. If that's too large, check out Niro's smaller virtual-surround systems, the Niro 400, 600, or . In any case, the preferred speaker placement scenario is on top of your TV or at the base of a flat-screen TV, angled up towards the listeners' ears. Blocking the speaker's sides would be a major no-no--that would muffle the surround effects. The 1.1 Pro II's satin-gray, one-foot cube subwoofer sits on solid brass cone feet and weighs 14 pounds.
The remote control offers direct access to the amplifier's bass and treble controls, as well as control over the subwoofer and center- and rear-channel volume levels. You can also shut off the main speaker and listen to Niro's optional personal minispeaker, thePeel off the 1.1 Pro II's superspeaker's grilles, and you'll see that it's fitted with a total of five 3-inch drivers--one fires forward, and the two drivers at each end handle the left and right front and surround channels. The subwoofer has a forward-firing 8-inch driver. The digital amplifier sends 30 watts to each of the five drivers and 50 watts to the subwoofer. Niro's proprietary surround processing works in conjunction with Dolby and DTS , from the remote.processing. Please note: The 1.1 Pro II is a closed system; if the amplifier breaks, you can't replace it with a standard, off-the-shelf amplifier or receiver. And the superspeaker works only in tandem with the supplied Niro electronics.
The amplifier's rear panel has three optical digital inputs, one coaxial digital input, and an analog stereo input. On the front, you'll find a fourth optical digital input, another set of stereo RCA jacks, and a mini headphone jack. Video switching isn't offered; you instead hook up your DVD player and cable box directly to your TV.The Van Helsing DVD's wild special effects and powerful soundtrack will humble HTIBs with teensy speakers, but the 1.1 Pro II never complained or rattled. We cranked the system without mercy--30 watts per channel never sounded this powerful before. Niro's brawny little subwoofer is potent enough to energize even fairly large home theaters, up to 500 square feet, with solid bass. This little system sounds big!
The speaker's projected soundfield is very wide, but once we moved over to one or the other side of our couch, the sound fell back into the speaker. While we remained in the sweet spot, the 1.1 Pro II's speaker projected the concert hall ambiance and audience applause of Neil Young's Red Rocks Live DVD a good three or four feet into the room. The sound, on the acoustic and hard-rocking electric tunes, was excellent. The 1.1 Pro II's midrange clarity added to the believability of the sound when we played CDs; it's certainly on a par with the better HTIBs we've tested. (And sure, if those systems' five or six speakers are properly set up, they will produce a far more immersive surround experience).
All that said, some of you may be wondering how this Niro stacks up against Yamaha's sleek($1,499 list, less online), an obvious competitor. In our tests, we found the YSP-1 to be a lot trickier to set up, but it did produce superior surround effects that projected further into the room, with less image blur than the 1.1 Pro II. We also felt the YSP-1's imaging was more stable when we moved away from the sweet spot in the center of our couch over to the left and right sides. Great, but when we dimmed the lights and watched a DVD or listened to a CD, the 1.1 Pro II's richer tonal balance and more refined sound quality won us over. It's also worth mentioning that the YSP-1 doesn't include a subwoofer, so its additional cost will further increase the price differential between the two systems.