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The XR-X7's sleek, minimalist design mixes faux brushed steel, clear plastic, and implied heat sinks in a stylishly squat base unit that has the potential to slip into any decor. A recessed, backlit, color LCD panel sits behind a partially clear plastic mask and adds flair to the rest of the X7's understated aesthetic, while a motorized, top-loading, clear-plastic door reveals the CD tray. As an added bonus, the tall, unremarkable-looking speakers come with three pairs of interchangeable grilles, which allow for a small degree of color customization. If we had a complaint to register, it was with the 12-color pulsating glow that assaulted our senses in demo mode. Thankfully, however, you can toggle the light show off.
We found the X7 easy to use and even easier to set up. Most of the important features are located on the top of the unit as opposed to its face. On the top, you'll find standard CD/tuner controls and signal-source buttons. Along with an attention-grabbing LCD, the front panel hosts a 1/8-inch headphone jack and a button that engages Aiwa's proprietary Q Sound surround circuitry. A multijog dial on the far right of the faceplate adjusts volume, time settings, and sleep duration, and two adjacent buttons to its right let you toggle through treble, bass, T-Bass low-frequency boost, and timer settings.
For its product class, the X7 offers pretty decent connectivity options. The rear-panel array consists of an optical digital output, an auxiliary input for external devices, stereo RCA line outputs, and a line out for a powered subwoofer--in case you want to pony up for one. The two-way speakers measure 10.38 by 3.88 by 7.63 inches each and are magnetically shielded so that you can place them near your TV. The remote accesses most of the functions that can be found on the base unit itself.
In terms of performance, the tuner and the CD player met our expectations, pulling in most major radio stations and playing CD-Rs with aplomb. The amp delivers 20 watts of juice to each speaker, which handled loud volumes pretty well, and the proprietary Q Sound circuitry won our praise for spicing up the audio.
Unfortunately, Q Sound couldn't keep the speakers from sounding a little boxy, and the unit's EQ circuitry made matters only worse. That doesn't mean that the $299 X7 sounds bad, but we've heard slightly richer, more pleasing audio from shelf systems in the same price range. Therefore, if you're into sheer performance, we suggest taking a look at Yamaha's or Onkyo's . But if you like the XR-X7's looks and don't mind sacrificing a little sound quality, this system is a safe bet.