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Zenith DA3520 review:

Zenith DA3520

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The Good Nicely balanced sound; compact receiver/DVD player.

The Bad Won't play all that loud; feels inexpensive.

The Bottom Line This little Zenith won't tempt audiophiles, but it sure delivers a high level of performance for the money.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall

Zenith's DA3520 home theater in a box (HTIB) won't win any industrial design awards or belt out rock-concert volume levels, but it exudes a confidence that's rare in budget products. This nifty $399 kit has a bona fide 5.1-speaker package and A/V receiver/DVD player; no obvious corners were cut. Zenith's DA3520 home theater in a box (HTIB) won't win any industrial design awards or belt out rock-concert volume levels, but it exudes a confidence that's rare in budget products. This nifty $399 kit has a bona fide 5.1-speaker package and A/V receiver/DVD player; no obvious corners were cut.

Simple pleasures
The setup chores are unusually straightforward: without even cracking open the manual, we had the DA3520 up and playing DVDs in less than 20 minutes. Zenith isn't stingy with the features, either; the system has DTS and Dolby Digital surround sound and plays DVDs, CDs, CD-R/RWs, and MP3 files. The 6X 30-watt A/V receiver/DVD player is smaller than most, and the full-sized remote's ergonomics are excellent.

Connectivity choices cover just the basics. You get two A/V inputs and one A/V output set--no digital audio ins or outs. Video output connections to your TV are limited to one composite and one S-Video. That's all she wrote.

The five-inch-tall plastic satellite speakers are generic-looking, but the matching fiberboard subwoofer definitely rises above the beer-budget HTIB ranks. That subwoofer runs off the receiver's power amp, but since the receiver is also outfitted with a line-level subwoofer output jack, upgrading to a powered sub later on is a possibility. That sort of flexibility is refreshing in a $399 HTIB.

Like most HTIBs, this Zenith system is optimized for home-theater duty, and we slightly preferred the kit's sound with DVDs over that of CDs. However, Tony Bennett's swinging new disc, Bennett Sings the Blues, sounded really nice. Thanks to the DA3520's smooth sub/satellite balance, acoustic basses on our jazz CDs had real weight and presence. MP3 CDs play just fine as well, but we far prefer the sound of store-bought CDs.

Loud enough for you?
The sound quality of DVDs is more than respectable. The DA3520 coaxed surprisingly realistic rain and watery atmospheric effects from the Seven DVD. The dialogue was clear and full bodied, but if you're looking to shake things up with a steady diet of action or sci-fi DVDs, the Zenith will disappoint. Even with the volume control pegged to the max, Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear was only medium-loud. The Zenith was significantly softer (maybe 5dB, but that's only a guess) than other HTIBs we've tested. The cop stakeout scene that erupts in gunfire on the Traffic DVD was muted. Bombastic war films such as Saving Private Ryan audibly distort; the DA3520 just can't muster enough juice to convey home-theater dynamic impact. Still, the sound quality, if not quantity, equals that of Pioneer's , which sells for twice as much. If you want to rock out, you need to move up to a much bigger HTIB or separate components. The Zenith's DVD picture quality won't disappoint those with smaller (32-inch or less) TVs, but this system obviously isn't a good match for high-end sets.

The DA3250 is at its best playing low-key music and films in cozy bedrooms or dens, where it can serve with distinction. For the money, this kit absolutely delivers. However, enthusiasts may find that its a little too tame. Pioneer's is a good choice if you're looking for a little more volume and low-end rumble.

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