Sony's cheapest HTIB surprises
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The HT-DDW660 is Sony's least-expensive HTIB. Stripped down to the essentials, it lacks a DVD player, but that's not necessarily a liability, considering that many people already have one. This nicely appointed A/V receiver/5.1 satellite/subwoofer HTIB typically sells for well under $200, but it'll surprise a lot of buyers with its solid build and sound quality.
The understated DDW660 receiver won't dazzle your eyeballs with flashy blue lighting schemes or a pancake-thin profile, but it has a legible display, logically deployed buttons, and a full-size volume control knob. Measuring 17 inches wide and just 12 inches deep, it can fit in or on almost about any cabinet or shelf. The remote control isn't anything special, but it's not bad.
Even by HTIB standards the five 4.75-inch-tall satellite speakers are tiny. The silver-plastic cabinets come decked out with medium-gray cloth grilles and are fitted with threaded inserts to facilitate wall mounting. The 13.2-pound silver-finished fiberboard subwoofer is a compact 13-inch cube.
The receiver pumps out 70 watts per channel and features Dolby Digital/Pro Logic II and DTS surround processing. The receiver's connectivity does without video-switching capabilities, but you get two digital inputs, one optical and one coaxial. Analog ins are limited to two sets of stereo jacks. Up front, you'll find a headphone jack.
The HT-DDW660's secret weapon is its mighty mite subwoofer--its 8-inch driver trumps all of Sony's far more expensive Dream System HTIB subs, which make do with a smaller woofer. The satellites feature a single 3.25-inch driver.
The Sony HT-DDW660's tiny satellite speakers visually conform to the generic HTIB mold, but their sound quality is more than a cut above average. On Wilco's new A Ghost Is Born CD, the DDW660 acquitted itself with gusto on the densely textured freak-out track "Less Than You Think," and when the band dropped back to earth with "The Late Greats," the little system demonstrated its rock-and-roll heart. The DDW660 never sounded harsh or strained at reasonably loud volume levels, and vocals were pleasantly warm. Yes, we wished for more treble detail, and the bass could be tighter, but we doubt you'll find a $199 HTIB that can do better.
The Butterfly Effect is a scary psycho-thriller DVD armed with violent bursts of volume that'll make you jump out of your seat. The film's wonderfully weird surround mix was a lot of fun, and its startling low-frequency effects gave the brawny little subwoofer a chance to strut its stuff. This is the sort of DVD that will fall flat on some budget HTIBs, but the DDW660's confident poise under pressure was remarkable. The system's loudness capabilities are also impressive, so we can recommend it for midsize rooms up to 300 square feet.
Panasonic's stellar, $249 listHTIB is the DDW660's logical competitor. We didn't have the HT05 on hand for direct comparison, but it is certainly more attractive and aces out the HT-DDW660 with its more-abundant feature list. Sonically, we'd call it a draw.
While we've never been all that enthusiastic about Sony's more-upscale audio offerings in the past, the company's least-expensive HTIB yielded a mostly positive experience. Call us pleasantly surprised.