The Niro 800 is one of four current models in the company's line. Each has the same basic design and amplifier head unit hardware, with the following distinctions:
- Niro 420 ($580): 5x 2-inch drivers, 6.5-inch sub, 160-watt amp
- Niro 620 ($780): 5x 2-inch drivers, 8-inch sub, 180-watt amp
- Niro 800 ($990): 5x 3-inch drivers, 8-inch sub, 200-watt amp
- Niro 1000 ($1,390): 5x 3.5-inch mid-woofer drivers; 3x 1-inch super-tweeters, 8-inch sub, 300-watt total power (150-watt main amp is augmented by the included 150-watt subwoofer amplifier)
It's also worth noting that Niro is the only manufacturer of virtual surround systems that offers hardware upgrades to owners of older Niro systems. Owners of earlier iterations of each Niro model can get the new speakers--and a firmware upgrade chip--for each respective model at a discount. Size has its advantages. The Niro 800's home-theater prowess, dynamic range, and bass power handily exceed all of the smaller virtual surround systems we've tested. The large subwoofer takes the lion's share of the credit for that, but the speaker's ample proportions were also evident in the natural quality of its sound. The Niro 800 projected left and right "phantom" channels two or three feet out to the sides of the speaker, and the imaging remained stable even as we moved from the center position over to the right and left sides of our couch. Only the $1,700 Yamaha YSP-1100 virtual surround system was as spatially accurate when we moved away from the "sweet spot"--and that system's price doesn't include a subwoofer.
Few virtual surround systems pass muster on music, but the Niro 800's shined in that area. We played an a cappella CD, The Persuasions Sing U2, and were pleased to hear the Niro's speaker sounding wonderfully natural on vocals. The sound was best when we listened in stereo; when we switched to Dolby Pro Logic II mode, the soundfield expanded with greater left-to-right separation, but the sound was also more reverberant. Still, the Niro 800 produces the most natural virtual sound we've heard on music, free of the typical processing artifacts--harshness, and an echoey, shrill quality. Jazz pianist Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby CD was also excellent, the piano's tone was rich and full, and the acoustic bass was deep and fairly well defined. The drum's cymbals were slightly harsh, but we tamed that by adjusting the tone controls. Even the Clash's raw rock and roll didn't throw the Niro 800. The subwoofer nailed the heavy beats, though we did detect some strain from the speaker.
DVD concert discs such as Cream's 2005 Royal Albert Hall show sounded just as good and the surround mix projected a large and deep soundstage. Jack Bruce's bass guitar sound was powerful but definition veered over to the muddy side of neutral.
Turning to movies, The House of Flying Daggers DVD sounded very bassy, so we turned the subwoofer volume down. That helped, but the thudding bass persisted. Dialogue was very clear and natural, and the surround effects were appropriately wide-spread, but never they projected that far forward (ahead of the speaker). In this regard, the Sony DAV-X1V more closely mimicked the immersive sound of a 5.1-channel system, but the Sony lacked the power of the Niro. By comparison, the Niro's sounded much better on music than the Sony.
We next hooked up the Niro subwoofer amp to the Niro 800 and literally felt the difference--the subwoofer could play louder and go deeper, like a larger subwoofer would. Low bass special effects, such as the depth charge explosions on the World War II submarine DVD U-571 packed one hell of a wallop. Taking the subwoofer amp out of the system, the explosions were still impressive, just less so. But we can't say we heard much of a difference from the main speaker's sound.
All in all, the Niro's home-theater sound is in the top tier of virtual surround systems, and it is the go-to choice for buyers who will be spending at least as much time listening to music as watching DVDs.