The virtual surround speaker market is growing by leaps and bounds, but Niro was there first, and continues to build nothing but single-speaker surround systems. Niro sells direct on its Web site and currently offers four models ranging in price from $580 to $1,390; for this review, we selected the Niro 800 ($990). Where the previous generation of Niro models featured a compact, five-speakers-in-one-cabinet design and a slim subwoofer that could be placed next to a wall, the Niro 800 has a 24-inch-wide "superspeaker" and full-size sub. Niro figures most of today's buyers will be using its HTIBs with large flat-panel TVs or projectors, so the new, larger size makes sense. The new sound is bigger too: the Niro 800 plays louder with deeper, more powerful bass, so it can convey the dynamic punch of DVDs like never before. And while few multichannel HTIBs and single-speaker models really shine on music, the versatile Niro 800 can carry a tune. The Niro 800 system is a three-piece affair featuring one elongated speaker, a full-size subwoofer, and a tiny digital amplifier. Styling of all three is pretty basic, with the relatively small size and lack of clutter being their primary attraction. The speaker comes with a permanently attached 16.5-foot cable; the enclosure measures 4.75 x 24 x 4.7 inches (HWD). Niro offers a wide variety of wall- and stand-mounting kits for the speaker. For optimal sound, however, it must be placed in open space so the sound radiating from its sides won't be obstructed by furniture or large objects--don't even think of putting the speaker inside your home-entertainment furniture. The subwoofer measures 15.6 x 10.4 x 15.75 inches (HWD), and it weighs 23.3 pounds. It also comes with an attached 16.5-foot cable. The speaker and sub are solidly built--both are a big step up from the cheap, plastic construction you'll find on competing models. We just wish Niro would pump up the style factor a bit.
All four of Niro's models are ostensibly available in silver or dark gray. Be aware, however, that the color difference applies only to the main speaker. The subwoofer and amp included with both sets are the identical gray color.
Setup is as easy as it gets: hook up the speaker's and subwoofer's plug-in cables to the amp, then connect your preferred A/V sources: DVD player, cable/satellite box, game console, and so forth. That's it. There's nothing to adjust and no menus to navigate--you'll be watching DVDs in five minutes.
The digital amplifier is a little thing, just 2.2 x 7.9 x 11.7 inches (HWD)--it's a fraction of the size of an A/V receiver. Naturally, its control buttons are correspondingly teensy. To further save space, you can place it standing vertically on end and tuck it in next to your TV.
The remote control offers direct access to the amplifier's bass and treble controls, as well as command over the subwoofer and the center and rear channels' volume levels. It's nothing more than functional. As always, you're better off trading up to a universal remote that can control your whole home-theater system. Peer through the main speaker's perforated-metal grille and you'll see five 3-inch full-range drivers: the center one fires straight forward while the two drivers at each end--sitting at varying angles--handle the front and surround channels. To eliminate interaction between the drivers, each one is housed in an individual compartment. The subwoofer has a down-firing 8-inch driver. The digital amplifier sends 30 watts to each of the speaker's five drivers and 50 watts to the sub. The Niro can handle Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS surround decoding, into which it intermingles its own proprietary processing to maximize the surround effect.
Connectivity is fairly minimal. Crammed into the amp's tiny back panel is a single analog stereo input (red and white RCA jacks), plus three digital ins--one coaxial, two optical. The front panel offers an additional analog in, a third optical digital input, and a headphone minijack. That's it, and since the amp doesn't offer HDMI inputs or video switching, you'll have to hook up your video sources straight to your TV and manually toggle your audio and video separately. (For instance, you'd have to go to the DVD input on Niro for the DVD audio track, plus switch to the corresponding input on your TV--using two remotes or a universal remote programmed to do the job.) For a $990 home-theater system, that's a disappointment.
If you're looking to enhance the Niro experience, the company has you covered. The optional Subwoofer Amplifier ($250) is a separate 150-watt amp that not only boosts the amount of power available to the sub, it allows the Niro 800's internal amps to deliver more power to the speaker. If you have a large room or just love bass, it's worth the extra money. If you'd prefer to listen to the Niro 800 in a more intimate setting, the $230 Niro MovieMouse may be of interest; it's a sort of "home theater in your lap" speaker. Niro also offers a wide variety of stands, mounts, and other accessories at its Web site.