Sony's tower o' power
Sony offers a wide range of Dream System HTIBs, but the DAV-FR9, which retails for $800, is our pick of the bunch. Sony's stylists gave it a sleek look, though you should be aware that the FR9's receiver-cum-five-disc-changer consumes a space-hogging 16 inches of shelf depth. Eschewing the traditional loading-tray mechanism, Sony opted for a slot-loading system--you simply feed each disc into the slot. Press Eject, and the disc gently swivels out. It's very cool and high tech, and so is the slim remote, which presents only the most essential buttons for everyday use and hides everything else under a slip-down cover. On a more critical note, the disc changer is a slow chugger--it can take 30 seconds to get to the next disc.
The four 43-inch-tall tower speakers, clad in an aluminum finish with gray grilles, are elegantly designed and largely responsible for the system's sleek appearance. They come with their bases already mounted, so for once we didn't have to exercise a screwdriver to get the speakers up and running. A 14-inch-wide matching center speaker completes the main speaker array, and the subwoofer's silver finish and sculptured front panel visually complement the receiver/changer and the towers. This 20.7-pound boomer measures 7.9 inches wide, 14.5 inches high, and 17.6 inches deep. The towers and the center speaker all feature the same 2.75-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter, while the subwoofer has two 6.3-inch woofers.
Though the 106-page manual isn't quite as straightforward as we'd have liked, the setup chores aren't too arduous, and this is system is a bit easier to get up and running than the step-up DAV-FR10W, which duplicates all of the FR9's features but adds a pair of wireless tower surround speakers to the system.
The receiver/changer's digital amplifier delivers 114 watts per channel to each speaker and 115 watts to each of the subwoofer's two woofers. Surround processing runs the gamut from 5.1-channel Dolby Digital to Dolby Pro Logic II to DTS to, get this, Dolby EX and DTS ES 6.1-channel processing. We were surprised by the 6.1-decoding capabilities because the receiver has only five main amplifier channels. To take advantage of the 6.1 capabilities, you'll need to hook up a separate amplifier and speaker to the receiver/changer. Oh, and the five-disc changer plays Super Audio CDs (SACDs), MP3s and JPEGs. Unfortunately, basic amenities such as bass and treble controls or even a subwoofer-level control didn't make the cut.
Connectivity is limited to the standard set of video outputs (including progressive-scan component), one optical digital audio input, and two stereo analog inputs. That's a pretty skimpy selection for an $800 HTIB and barely adequate for small home theaters.
We were surprised that for a "lifestyle" system, the DAV-FR9 sounded as good as it did. The musical numbers on the Chicago DVD sounded fantastic, even when we nudged the volume up to seriously loud levels. The scene on the Gangs of New York DVD where the U.S. Navy fires cannon rounds at the street gangs was fearsomely presented with excellent surround ambiance. Sony's older Dream Systems never delivered this much power and clarity.