Boston Acoustics' aptly named MicroSystem 515 is a compact 5.1-speaker package that's no bigger than most of the smaller home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) satellite/subwoofer systems we've reviewed. The big difference, though, is that the MicroSystem 515, which carries a list price of $1,000, is built to a much higher standard than your typical HTIB and sounds like a much larger ensemble. The seriously compact Boston Acoustics MicroSystem 515 includes four 6-inch-tall Micro110x satellites, one 13-inch-wide MicroCenter speaker, and a PV500 subwoofer. The Micro110Xs are available in black or white, but the center speaker is available only in black. All the speakers come with perforated metal grilles and wall-mounting brackets. If you plan on placing the center speaker on top of a large-screen TV, its adjustable foot can direct the sound down toward your listening position.
Pick up the little charcoal-gray and black-vinyl PV500 sub, and you'll know it means business. While it, too, is on the compact side (13.2 inches high, 12.25 inches wide, and 15.75 inches deep), the potent cube weighs a hefty 28.5 pounds. Its fit and finish standards are high. We also appreciated that the subwoofer's volume control is mounted on the front panel, so it's easy to reach over and fine-tune the bass level for CDs and DVDs.
In terms of setup, to achieve the best possible sound quality, you should use the 515's satellites with A/V receivers that have flexible bass-management/crossover options (adjustable to 150Hz). If your receiver doesn't go there, Boston Acoustics recommends routing an extra set of speaker wires between the subwoofer and the receiver. We found the procedure a little awkward, but it gets the job done. The somewhat high crossover point also means that in order to get the best possible blend between the sats and the sub, you'll need to position the sub within a few feet of the front three sats. The Boston Acoustics MicroSystem 515's Micro110x satellites use a 3-inch copolymer woofer and a 0.75-inch tweeter, while the center speaker relies on slightly larger drivers: a pair of 3.5-inch woofers and a 1-inch tweeter in a woofer/tweeter/woofer array. Both feature high-quality speaker-wire binding posts.
The PV500 subwoofer has a 10-inch woofer and an FTC-rated 85-watt amplifier (that number is more accurate than typical subwoofer power specs, which are usually exaggerated). Connectivity options are limited to two mono line-level inputs--one that engages the sub's built-in crossover and another that bypasses the crossover--and a set of stereo speaker-level inputs. It's also worth noting that Boston's quality-control standards ensure that each PV500 matches the engineer's reference specification. Since the Boston Acoustics MicroSystem 515's satellites are smaller than those of many home-theater-in-a-box systems, we were curious to see just how far we could push them. Halle Berry's creepy psycho-thriller DVD Gothika depends on full-bodied sound for its effectiveness, and we weren't disappointed. The PV500 sub rumbled and quaked with resounding fury, and the little satellite speakers cruised through the DVD's extreme dynamic range of blasts and shrieking violins. During the shower sequence, the speakers palpably conveyed the wetness of the water, and when Berry hears voices coming from all around her, our hearts raced. The MicroSystem 515's wee dimensions never crossed our minds during this first audition, so we were off to a good start.
Next, we checked out a brand-new concert DVD from the breezy power trio Guster. Oh, man, Brian Rosenworcel's killer conga and bongo percussion grooves were well served by the 515, and the spunky subwoofer's low-end support never faltered. Ryan Miller's riffing guitars and passionate vocals jumped out of the live mix.
Auditioning CDs was less satisfying. The Micro110x satellites sounded somewhat thin and anemic during our stereo listening sessions, so we engaged the entire 515 set with Dolby Pro Logic II. That filled out the sound. Moby's Play CD fully exercised the subwoofer, and the bass was taut and clean, but the sats sounded strained when we cranked the volume--it's best to confine the MicroSystem 515 to smaller rooms of 300 square feet or less.
We next compared the MicroSystem 515 to Atlantic Technology's surround speaker package. The System 1200's satellites and subwoofer are a bit bigger than the 515's, and they sounded it. The Atlantic system's sound was warmer, and its bass went deeper and was better defined. But the 515's more compact dimensions might be a crucial factor for some buyers. Considering the Atlantic's size advantage, we would have expected it to more soundly trump the 515. But it didn't--at least on DVDs.
That said, it's hard to call the 515 a bargain, considering the stiff competition it faces from far less expensive 5.1 packages such as Harman Kardon's overachieving $649 , which features a massive 12-inch subwoofer. But if compact dimensions are what you're after, this system certainly holds up well against other microspeaker packages in its class.
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