The Niro Two6.1 is a very different home-theater system. How different is it? For starters, this 6.1-channel system uses just two curvy speakers and a compact sub. Created by Niro Nakamichi and his engineering team in Japan--some of you may recall Mr. Nakamichi's first company, famous for its high-end cassette decks--the Two6.1 aims to eliminate the complex wiring and speaker placement inherent in conventional 6- or 7-speaker surround systems. Like we said, it's really different--the $1,999 kit's sound is unlike that of any kit we've ever tested.
The curved-front Super Speakers are larger than most kit speakers, measuring 6.9 inches high, 23 wide, and 8.4 deep, while weighing 13.2 pounds each. The beautifully finished one-foot-cubed sub is solidly built and weighs 27.3 pounds.
Unadorned except for a display, four tiny buttons, and a silky-feeling volume-control knob, the separate receiver's front panel looks distinctively minimalist. The Two6.1 avoids most of the hassles of multichannel audio setup by nixing four of the six satellite speakers and their cables. Even with just two speaker cables, Niro didn't leave much to chance; the round, jacketed cable is for the front speaker, and a flat cable is for the rear. The flat shape makes it easier to run the cable under carpeting and rugs or to tack to the walls.
This system isn't too fussy about speaker placement, but you should make sure that the front and rear speakers are centered relative to the main listening position. You can stick the front speaker on top or below the TV, and the rear speaker can be mounted near the ceiling, placed on a table, or even stashed on the floor behind your couch, aimed up to the ceiling. Standard grilles are medium gray, but Niro also offers nine other colors for $49 per set.
An infrared sensor for the remote lives inside the center speaker, so you can place the Niro receiver wherever it's convenient--or even behind closed cabinet doors. The programmable remote offers on-the-fly control over the center, rear, and subwoofer levels.
Both curved-baffle Super Speakers contain three distinct speaker systems, each one fitted with a 3.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter. In conventional surround terms, the left, center, and right speakers (L+C+R) fit within the front Super Speaker, while the surround-left, back-surround, and surround-right (SR, BS, and SL) speakers fit within the rear one. The receiver delivers 30 watts per channel to the six channels.
The 150-watt sub, designed to work exclusively with the Two6.1 system, has a single RCA input. Its front-firing 8-inch woofer is augmented with a pair of side-mounted 8-inch passive drivers, and the cabinet sits on four adjustable brass spikes.
Compared to most premium-priced HTIBs, the Two6.1 doesn't provide much connectivity. Inputs are limited to just three sources, although you do get three coaxial digital and one optical in, as well as one coaxial digital output. The Niro lacks SACD/DVD-Audio inputs and component-video switching, but it sports a full set of A/V inputs (including another digital optical in) under a flip-down front-panel cover.
Niro also makes a less expensive version of the Two6.1, the Two6.1C. The $1,500 system has the same receiver and sub but uses two smaller Super Speakers.
We started our auditions in stereo with a stack of our favorite Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams CDs. They sounded sweet, with greater refinement than we're used to getting from home-theater systems. Stereo spread was remarkably spacious, and the sub's bass was reasonably powerful and deep, although bass definition was only fair.
The new Led Zeppelin DVD lacked the power and dynamics we heard from Onkyo's awesome; the Two6.1 doesn't have a rock-and-roll heart. On less demanding material, such as the Keb' Mo' track from the first Sessions at West 54th Street DVD, the system's surround capabilities came alive. If we had heard the enveloping sound with our eyes closed, we would have sworn we were listening to a 6.1-channel setup. The Goldmember DVD sounded well balanced as long as the volume levels remained moderate, but the sound thinned out at higher levels.
On some DVDs and CDs, we heard a hole in the response between the sub and the two sats, but that sort of thing is very dependent on room acoustics. We rectified the problem by moving the sub out of the corner position, closer to the front speaker. For larger rooms--say, more than 400 square feet--you might want to add a second ($599) Niro subwoofer.
We came away impressed with Niro's technological achievements, but the Two6.1 falls short of the power and glory of true surround speaker packages in its price range, such as the. If you're looking for a system that's easy to set up and use, however, and the simplified speaker layout works for you, we recommend an in-home audition.