Sony's style is the stuff dreams are made of, and this update of the popular Dream system is downright gorgeous. And the DAV-FC7's beauty runs deeper than the aluminum skin of its receiver/DVD changer: this kit, listed at $600, includes Super Audio CD compatibility and progressive-scan video output. But while the FC7's warm sound may be the sonic equivalent of comfort food, many less expensive (if less attractive) HTIBs offer greater detail and refinement. We wish the FC7 sounded as good as it looks.
Sony upgraded the Dream styling for the new generation. Whereas the previous kits were smooth but boxy, the FC7 is all curves. It also abandons the conventional tray system; the face of the receiver/DVD changer swoops down to accept up to five discs through a single slot. The new mechanism's internal disc handling is remarkably gentle, but loading or unloading multiple DVDs is slow and tedious. We prefer the older models' approach.
The five curvy satellite speakers come in at 8.5 inches tall. Their aluminum cabinets are shaped like taco shells, so they won't stand on their own, but they all come with nifty mini stands. The rotund, silver-and-black subwoofer measures 15 inches tall, 14 inches deep, and just 7.5 inches wide.
The large, silver remote was easy to use. Sony laid it out carefully, and for once, we could even read the labeling. But forget about such niceties as bass and treble adjustment; you get only a two-step bass-boost control.
According to Sony's specs, the receiver's all-digital amplifier delivers 100 watts to each sat and the sub. Surround-processing modes include 5.1 Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS, along with a bevy of Sony's proprietary synthesized-surround options. The changer can handle the latest SACDs as well as CDs, CD-R/RWs, MP3 CDs, and DVDs. Unfortunately, the FC7 refused to play all variations of recordable DVDs.
Connectivity options are barely adequate. If you own an HDTV, you can hook up an HD tuner to the component-video inputs--rarely seen on HTIBs--and use the component-video output to switch between the tuner and the system's DVD changer. Otherwise, you'll stick with the composite or S-Video outs. For all your other digital-connection needs, there's only a single optical in and just one more set of A/V inputs and outputs. If you want to plug in more than, say, a VCR and a MiniDisc player, you're out of luck.
All five satellites sport 3-inch woofers but no tweeters. In this price range, we expect two-way sats, which have both a woofer and a tweeter. The receiver's amplifier powers the sub's 6.5-inch driver, so it's unlikely to produce the deeper and more controlled bass response typical of models with onboard amps. Oh well--at least Sony saw fit to include a six-track Rolling Stones SACD sampler.
Diminutive HTIBs such as the FC7 will probably wind up in relatively close spaces, so we confined most of our listening tests to a small bedroom.
Miles Davis's classic Kind of Blue CD was pleasantly rich and full, and Davis's brilliant trumpet was nicely present, though the drummer's cymbals struck us as harsh. Radiohead's Kid A revealed the subwoofer's tendency to muddy the bass. That said, the FC7's weighty sound was akin to that of a much bigger system.
Moving on to SACDs, we tried the Police's Every Breath You Take greatest-hits collection. Compared with what we'd heard from the CD version, the sound was slightly more immediate: Sting's vocals seemed more alive, and Stewart Copeland's drum kit kicked harder. Still, the limitations of the wee speakers and the boomy sub subverted most of the SACD format's sonic advantages. Even with the bass-boost control set to minimum, the music was too warm for our taste.
The FC7's forte is DVD movies. The vivid Spider-Man score and action sequences were a lot of fun. Mike Meyers's pumped-up Goldmember sounded fine--and that disc can stress out some HTIBs. All our DVDs had the FC7's overabundant bass, but it didn't bother us as much as it did with CDs.