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Cambridge SoundWorks MegaTheater 505 (slate) review: Cambridge SoundWorks MegaTheater 505 (slate)

Cambridge SoundWorks MegaTheater 505 (slate)

headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
Steve Guttenberg
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

4 min read

Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.

cambridge-soundworks-megatheater-505-home-theater-system-slate.jpg
6.1

Cambridge SoundWorks MegaTheater 505 (slate)

The Good

Tiny satellites; burly subwoofer; 450-watt digital hybrid amp; brushed-aluminum receiver/DVD-Audio/Video player; progressive video outputs; 45-day, no-risk return policy.

The Bad

Inadequate onscreen displays.

The Bottom Line

Cambridge has loaded on more features and lowered the price of its cheapest home theater in a box.
Review summary
We reviewed Cambridge SoundWorks' original MegaTheater 505 DVD Home Theater System a while back, but this updated kit sports a brand-new receiver/DVD player, additional features, and a reduced list price of $549--$150 less than the original cost. While the MegaTheater 505 bears a passing resemblance to countless underperforming, cute and shiny packages, it can, when the mood strikes, deliver full-bodied sound. Cambridge is so confident you'll love the MegaTheater 505, it sells the system direct with a 45-day, money-back guarantee. The handsome brushed-aluminum receiver/DVD player takes the minimalist look to a new extreme: it has a smallish display and a volume control, and that's it. Hidden under the front panel's flip-down door, you'll find just a few more keys, including basic DVD player functions such as play and stop, along with a set of A/V inputs and a headphone jack that has its own volume control. While the 505 can play HDCDs (specially encoded CDs) and DVD-Audio discs, neither the receiver's front-panel or onscreen display imparts any information about the disc in play, which is unfortunate.
The remote carries over the minimalist theme, with many buttons, including frequently used DVD player options such as Menu and all of the cursor controls, hidden under a door. It's hardly the worst remote we've seen, but constantly having to flip open the door was a nuisance.
The quintet of adorable 4.5-inch-tall, slate-gray (or white) Newton Series MC50 satellite speakers can be stand-, shelf-, or wall-mounted. The matching and commendably heavy BassCube subwoofer measures just 13 inches tall and 11.5 inches wide and deep.
The MegaTheater 505 uses proprietary speaker and hookup cables, and we had to read the owner's manual a few times before we fully grasped the finer details. After that, everything came together without further hassles. If your room is very quiet, you may notice the 505's speakers always produce low-level hiss. We didn't consider it a big deal since the hiss was audible only when we weren't playing movies or music. The satellites feature acoustically streamlined cabinets with 4-inch, molded-composite drivers but, alas, no tweeters. (See the Performance section for more details on sound quality.) Impressively, the subwoofer's 8-inch-long, down-firing woofer reaches down to 35Hz--that's really low for a home-theater-in-a-box sub. The tiny sub is home to six digital amplifiers. There are 150 watts for the sub itself and 60 watts for each of the five sats.
The receiver/DVD player's surround processing modes go no further than the standard Dolby, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS, but that's to be expected from a kit in this price range.
Connectivity options are fairly reasonable. Since the DVD player is capable of delivering a progressive-scan signal, there's a component-video output, plus two S-Video inputs and two outputs. On the audio side, you get both an optical and a coaxial digital input, though no digital outputs (a minor omission). The aforementioned front-panel A/V jacks for gamers and video-camera users offer a composite-video connection and left and right analog audio.
The 505 is the entry-level model in Cambridge's HTIB lineup, which currently includes four models. Step up to the similarly featured MegaTheater 510 ($750 list), and you get two-way sats and a dedicated center speaker. As you might imagine, The Hulk DVD made big demands on the little MegaTheater 505 system--especially those scenes where Dr. Bruce Banner (Eric Bana) violently transforms himself into the green giant. The 505's small but gutsy subwoofer made its presence known, and it easily outperformed Sony's DAV-FC7 Dream system's puny subs. The 505's sats can also play louder and handle dynamic range assaults that would make many Panasonic HTIBs beg for mercy. Yes, the 505's dialogue rendering wasn't as full-bodied as we would have liked, but 4.5-inch-tall speakers can't overcome the laws of physics.
We initially had our doubts about the 505's ability to play DVD-Audio discs with enough gusto, but one spin of Chicago V convinced us otherwise. The band's powerful rhythm section came alive, but the tweeterless satellites lacked high-frequency detail and air. However, the big surprise was the rockin' deep bass and midbass response--definitely ahead of scores of other minisatellite-equipped HTIBs.
Our Miles Davis CDs sounded well balanced and natural, but the Dirtbombs' punk soul didn't cut it; we could hear the 505 working too hard to belt out rock and roll. Then again, our bass-heavy Morphine CDs kicked butt. And though we usually listened to CDs with the Dolby Pro Logic II turned on (then again, the onscreen menu doesn't make clear exactly what sort of processing is engaged), the sound had a tendency to bunch up in the center channel.
Quickie comparisons with Pioneer's larger but less expensive kit, the $450 list HTD-330DV, were a mixed bag. The 505's pint-size sub had it all over the 330DV's subwoofer; the 505 sub went a lot lower and deeper, but the 330DV's 9-inch-tall, two-way front speakers had a richer, more pleasing sound than the little 505 sats. At the end of the day, we gave the nod to the MegaTheater 505 on DVDs but preferred the 330DV for music.
Of course, an in-home audition is the only way you can judge the MegaTheater 505 for yourself. That's why we're such big fans of Cambridge's 45-day in-home trial policy.
cambridge-soundworks-megatheater-505-home-theater-system-slate.jpg
6.1

Cambridge SoundWorks MegaTheater 505 (slate)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 5Performance 6
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