Sony DAV-X1V review:

Sony DAV-X1V

The system also includes an AM/FM tuner, which offers 30 station presets. There's no satellite radio option, no digital HD Radio tuner, and no headphone jack for private listening.

The speakers each have a pair of 2-inch woofers and a 1-inch tweeter. That 2-way design is a step-up from the older DAV-X1, which lacked tweeters. The subwoofer uses a pair of 6-inch woofers, located on opposite sides.

As far as the competition goes, the Sony is going head to head with the likes of the Cambridge SoundWorks SurroundWorks 200, the KEF KIT100 Instant Theatre, the Denon S-101, and the aforementioned Bose 3-2-1 at the $1,000 price point, but none of them offer HDMI output or multidisc changers. More budget-conscious shoppers should consider the preceding--but still available--Sony model, the DAV-X1 ($800), and the ultra-affordable (and HDMI equipped) Philips HTS6500.

Performance of Sony DAV-X1V

Creating a truly 360 degree immersive surround sound experience from two speakers and a subwoofer is impossible, but some systems are more successful than others. The thing that distinguishes the better ones is how far forward they can project the sound in front of the speakers' locations in the room. In this regard the Sony DAV-X1V was well above average. We heard sound projected almost out to the sides of our listening position about 8 feet from the speakers. However, the projected surround sound wasn't as precisely focused and tonally full as when the sound was emanating directly from the speakers.

The DAV-X1V offers a choice of two surround modes: Focused Surround and Wide Stage. Focused Surround focuses the sound to a relatively small area for one or two listeners. If we moved from sitting exactly equidistant from the left and right speakers when listening in Focused Surround, the sound would collapse into whichever speaker we were closer to. Wide Stage produces a much larger listening window, but it's not as precisely targeted as Focused Surround.

For the most part, the DAV-X1V's huge room-filling sound let us forget we were listening to just a pair of tiny speakers and a small subwoofer. Dialogue sounded natural, clear, and perfectly centered, and the little subwoofer made its presence felt when it delivered deep rumbling bass on the Cars DVD. The onscreen horsepower was communicated with surprising gusto.

Music seemed to reveal the speakers' size limitations more than DVDs, mostly because their lack of bass was more apparent. Still, the sound was definitely listenable overall, but not as satisfying as we've heard from the better 5.1-channel home-theater-in-a-box systems. Yes, the same could be said about the DAV-X1V's DVD sound, but its limitations were more bothersome on music. The subwoofer's bass is powerful but lacking in definition. If you intend to listen to more music than watch movies, the DAV-X1V may not be the best choice.

Among our complaints with the previous model (the DAV-X1) was the fact that the treble lacked sparkle and real detail. We expected the DAV-X1V's new tweeter-enabled speakers to do better in this regard, but cymbals and percussion sometimes sounded harsh and fuzzy. The system can play SACDs, though we didn't hear any improvement over the sound of CDs. For music, the sound was at its best when listening to music a low to moderate volume levels.

Comparisons to the similarly priced Niro 800 (a single-speaker virtual surround system that lacks a built-in disc player) put the DAV-X1V's talents in perspective. The Sony system generated more stable stereo separation, and more immersive, room-filling surround. On DVDs, the two systems were close contenders overall. The Niro was better with music--delivering a more stable center (dialog localization) and greater midbass power--and it could play louder, with more dynamic punch than the Sony. That hardly came as surprise: both the Niro's 24-inch wide speaker and its subwoofer are considerably bigger than the Sony's. Size still matters. Still, the Sony's integrated disc player and--for many--more attractive design is likely to boost its appeal for buyers most interested in style and convenience.

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