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Editors' note: The rating of the Denon DHT-FS3 has been changed since publication to better reflect its value compared to competing home theater systems.
After you've heard a few virtual surround speakers, you realize there's not a whole lot of surround sound coming out of these things. Yes, the better ones project sound beyond the width of the speaker and well into the room, but only if you're sitting directly in front of the speaker. Move over to the side and the surround effect disappears. Denon's DHT-FS3 handily avoids that pitfall: we heard a surprisingly wide and deep soundstage sitting to the left, center, or right on the couch of the CNET listening room. Better yet, it's a smaller than average design, and includes a slender standalone subwoofer. Also, the DHT-FS3's elegant piano black finish adds a touch of class that's rare in this category. However, given the price--$1,200 list, as little as $700 online--it would've been nice to see some video connectivity options onboard.
The Denon DHT-FS3 is a "1.1" audio system--the package includes a single speaker designed to sit below the TV, plus a standalone subwoofer. Instead of the usual squared-off box shape, Denon designers gently rounded the speaker's ends to soften the DHT-FS3's look. The front panel is completely covered by a perforated, wraparound grille, with small controls for volume, input, and surround mode selectors, as well as stereo, Dolby and DTS indicators. There's no provision for onscreen display, but a large LCD screen lights up from behind the grille, displaying a basic alphanumeric readout. Considering that the DHT-FS3 is competing at the upper end of the single speaker market, it's surprisingly compact--it's 3.75 inches high by 33.5 inches wide by 4.8 inches deep, and tips the scales at 10.2 pounds.
The matching subwoofer is just as trim: it's a mere 4.25 inches wide by 14.9 inches high by 14.25 deep, and weighs 12.3 pounds. It's also beautifully finished in piano black. Denon includes a 9.8-foot-long cable, but since the connectors are removable, you can shorten it, or if you need a longer cable, reattach the connectors to another cable.
Setup and installation in the CNET listening room was a breeze. True, there's no automatic calibration, but you can get decent results from the Quick Setup. Just choose between the A, B, or C room size/type settings described in the owner's manual. That worked well enough, but we went for the Detailed Settings, and plowed through the multistep procedure that offers adjustments for Front/Rear sound balance; the distance from speaker; and whether you're sitting directly in front of the speaker or over to the side. Bass and treble controls are available as well, so you can tweak the tonal balance to your liking.
The remote is a two-sided affair, with some lesser-used controls on the backside of the remote, behind a flip-open door. It isn't backlit, but since it's a near clone of the remote control Denon uses with its low-end receivers and home-theater-in-a-boxes, we felt right at home. Thanks to its different-size buttons and ergonomic layout, first timers will be up to speed in no time.
The DHT-FS3 includes two brackets for wall mounting, or you can use the included rubber feat to stand it in front of a TV. (However, that latter configuration may block your TV's remote receptor, so plan accordingly.)
The Denon DHT-FS3 speaker features six 3.15-inch midbass drivers, driven by five 22-watt amplifiers (perhaps the sixth driver is driven "passively"). The subwoofer has a 6.25-inch woofer, powered by a 40-watt amplifier located in the speaker (meaning the sub doesn't need its own power cord).
Denon's proprietary X-Space Surround technology works in conjunction with Dolby Digital, and DTS processing. The DHT-FS3 can't decode the more intense Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD soundtracks found on Blu-ray discs, so you'll get the fallback Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks from your Blu-ray player.