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Boston Acoustics Horizon MCS 130 review: Boston Acoustics Horizon MCS 130

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Boston Acoustics may be one of the oldest American speaker companies, but the company is trying to reinvent its brand with some nontraditional product options. Take the Horizon MCS 130 surround sound speaker package. It's one of several "Personal Options Plan" products the company introduced in 2007. So instead of just choosing between black (onyx) or silver (mist), the MCS 130 lets you choose from six other sets of snap-on grilles--glacier (light blue), rosebud (pink), pearl gray, chocolate (brown), chili pepper (red), and caramel (tan). The grilles are available for $20 to $28 each--buy as many as you'd like to match the decor of your room, or go crazy and mix and match. The system itself lists for $800, but it can be found online for half that.

6.5

Boston Acoustics Horizon MCS 130

The Good

Distinctively styled 5.1 surround speaker system; 200 watt, 10-inch powered subwoofer; relatively compact size; optional grilles available in eight colors.

The Bad

Subwoofer looks like an overturned wastebasket; the recessed connectors are somewhat difficult to access.

The Bottom Line

If you like the swappable speaker grilles--and can find the system at a discount--the Boston Acoustics MCS 130 is a worthy surround speaker package.

The MCS 130 system comes with three LCR (left/center/right) satellite speakers for the front, a pair of smaller matching surround speakers, and a subwoofer. The satelites are all small enough to be unobtrusive. The LCRs measure 13.8 inches tall by 5 inches wide by 4.1 inches deep, and can be used in either a horizontal or vertical orientation. They weigh 5.5 pounds each. The surround speakers are a bit smaller: they're 8.9 inches by 5 inches by 4 inches, and weigh 3 pounds. The subwoofer, which looks like an overturned wastepaper basket, isn't exactly small--the 16.5-inch square is 13.8 inches high, and tapers to a trapezoidal shape (the top is smaller than the base). Its 31.2-pound weight feels fairly solid.

The LCR speakers feature the classic woofer/tweeter/woofer arrangement with newly designed dual 3.5-inch drivers and a 1-inch soft dome tweeter. The molded cabinet combines subtle curves and a distinctive flared "lip" around the edge of the front baffle. Around back you'll find a sturdy bolt-on "foot" that supports the speaker when it's placed on a shelf or stand, or take the foot off and mount the speakers on the wall using the keyhole slots. There's also a pair of molded-in bass-enhancing ports on the back panel.

The smaller surround speaker uses just a single 3.5-inch mid-bass driver and the same 1-inch tweeter as the LCR speaker. It also has the foot and keyhole slots. One gripe: all of the satellites' recessed plastic binding posts are somewhat difficult to access; that won't be a problem with banana plugs, but threading bare wire or spades into the recessed connectors can be a minor hassle.

If you're running a 6.1 or 7.1 channel system, additional LCR and surround speakers are available for $130, and $90 MSRPs, respectively. Likewise, if you want to save some cash, you could downgrade to the Boston Acoustics MCS 100, which uses smaller satellite speakers all around. (That said, recent price breaks make it more affordable to stick with the MCS 130 at many retailers.)

The subwoofer's down-firing 10-inch driver is powered by a 200 watt amplifier. Connectivity options are limited to just a single LFE input, and that's fine with us (your AV receiver's bass management will handle crossover functions). We used the 120 Hertz setting on our Denon AV receiver.

We got acquainted with the MCS 130 by playing the Seabiscuit Blu-ray. The little MCS satellites cruised through the horse racing scenes with grace. The thundering gallop of the horses was nicely balanced against the distant sound of the cheering crowds.

Bjork's Live at the Royal Opera House DVD was something else. She shared the stage with a symphony orchestra and a small group of electronic musicians--and the whole affair was beautifully handled by the MCS 130. The orchestra sounded rich and full over the three front channels and all sorts of downright strange electric and synthesized noises came from behind. The surround mix was especially effective, with Bjork's and her women choir's vocals clearly defined against the gigantic spread of acoustic and electronic instruments.

Next, we popped on the House of Flying Daggers Blu-ray for a shoot-out between the MCS 130 and the Definitive Technology's ProCinema 800 surround speaker package. The now-famous circle of drums scene packed a healthy wallop, and the MCS 130's sub was definitely ready for anything. The bass was plenty deep and powerful, but we were maybe a bit too aware of the sub--ideally the bass should sound as if it's coming from the satellites, but that was not the case here. Switching over to the ProCinema 800, the bass definition was tauter and cleaner. Also the sat/sub blend was seamless, so the big drums boom seemed to come from the satellites, not the subwoofer.

The sword fights were plenty exciting over the MCS 130, but we felt the metal-to-metal clangs and clashes sounded just a bit dull; the ProCinema 800 resolved more of the detail of the treble sparkle so the swords sounded more realistic. We also noted we could hear the sounds of the sword clashes reverberating in the palace with the ProCinema 800. The MCS 130 was less clear on that score.

For music, we played the Led Zeppelin I CD. The MCS 130 definitely had the muscle to put across heavy metal rock with gusto. In stereo or Pro Logic II (faux surround), the sound floated free of the satellites. We'd rate the MCS 130 as equally accomplished with music as it was with movies.

At the end of the day, the Boston Acoustics Horizon MCS 130 proved itself a capable system, but it didn't blow us away. It's best recommended for users who will take full advantage of the Personal Options Plan, and opt for a set of the unique grille covers. Likewise, price makes a big difference on the MCS 130. At its $800 list price, we'd much prefer something like the Cambridge SoundWorks Newton Theater MC155 or Definitive Technology ProCinema 600. But if you can score it for $400, it's a much more attractive proposition all around.

6.5

Boston Acoustics Horizon MCS 130

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6