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The future may be wireless, but today's home AV systems still require a rats' nest of wires.
Plenty of wireless audio and video schemes have appeared in recent years, but none have come close to dethroning the mighty copper strand. They include the "line-of-sight" dependent Wireless HD, which was supposed to take over from HDMI, but unsurprisingly, didn't. Bluetooth was more successful, but it has its drawbacks, too. The latest is promising technology called WiSA, which stands for Wireless Speaker and Audio.
The Enclave is the second system based on WiSA we've seen in recent weeks, and unlike the too-expensive Klipsch Reference Premiere, it keeps the price relatively low while still managing to get rid of the speaker wires. Aesthetically it's pretty ugly, and some of the functions are hard to find -- turning down the sub is difficult for example. However, it's a likable system and sounds decent for the $1,199 asking price.
Rather than some far-future wireless tech tour de force, the CineHome looks like your standard, boxy collection of compact 5.1-channel speakers. It's finished in matte-black.
The remarkable part is that the system is wireless and controlled by the "Smart Center" speaker, using the WiSA standard. Each of the speakers plugs into a standard AC power outlet and communicates over the 5GHz band to the Smart Center. The top of the Smart Center features a small control panel (finished in piano black), and the remote control is also finished in gloss.
The Center houses three HDMI inputs for your gear, and one output for your TV, as well as an optical port and 3.5mm stereo input.
The mains are less compact at a foot tall and feature dual drivers and a soft-dome tweeters. The rears are bipoles, which are designed to give a more diffuse sound. The system is completed with the addition of the 8-inch wireless sub.
Like the Klipsch WiSA system, the Enclave doesn't support DTS:HD or Dolby TrueHD, but it will read PCM soundtracks (as well as standard Dolby and DTS). While we thought the lack of HD sound processing was an oversight on the $5k Klipsch system, it's a little more forgivable here.
If you're looking to stream music from your phone the Enclave includes a Bluetooth connection. The company also offers an Enclave smartphone app designed to emulate controllers from the likes of Sonos and Sony. While it compiles several streaming apps into the one place, it's no substitute for a real Wi-Fi solution like Sonos or even Chromecast Audio.
CineHome HD's hookup is straightforward. Plug each of the five speakers into a wall outlet, connect your sources -- Blu-ray player, satellite/cable box, games, etc. to the center channel speaker -- and you're ready to go.
Helpfully each speaker is labelled (left, right, etc.) so there is no configuration step. You just have to make sure each speaker is placed properly.
If you like listening to your stereo recordings in Dolby Pro Logic II-processed surround, deciphering the onscreen menu options isn't really necessary. If you prefer stereo in stereo, however, some menu surfing will be in order.
Adjusting the volume of individual components isn't the most intuitive process. You have to press the up button on the keypad (volume) and then hold down the right key until it lets you cycle through each speaker onscreen. A dedicated speaker volume setting in the menu would be much preferable.
On thing you may encounter when using this system is that it appears to be on -- the video is playing -- but the buttons and the sound don't work. This could be because the On light is blue, as you'd expect, but the Off light is also an even brighter blue. Note to Enclave: Forking out an extra cent for a red Off LED would have saved a lot of potential frustration.
Right away the CineHome HD distinguished itself from all of the sound bars we've tested by filling the compact CNET listening room with authentic surround sound from movies. The speakers sounded crisp and clear, and the subwoofer provides a decent amount of bass.
That's great -- five speakers can fill a room better than one, so the CineHome HD's sound is closer to what we used to regularly get from home-theater-in-a box systems with five little speakers and a subwoofer. The CineHome HD's advantage over those old 'box systems isn't sound quality per se, but the WiSA wireless technology that simplifies setup chores. It worked flawlessly over the course of the review.
With the "Gravity" Blu-ray the CineHome HD's room-filling sound came to the fore; no sound bar can come close to making this space drama come alive. The subwoofer rumbled enough to add authority to the sound, and dialogue was natural and articulate. Spinning CDs, again the CineHome HD proved itself an above-average performer, but with music the subwoofer wasn't supplying enough oomph, so the speakers wound up sounding too thin.
The CineHome HD retails for $1,199 -- that's pricier than most sound bars and those old home-theater-in-a-box systems, and for just a little more money you can buy much better sound with a fully wired system. At least that's what we thought, so we hooked up our SVS Prime Satellite system, but since we couldn't locate two of the five Prime sats we substituted a pair of Elac Debut B5 speakers in the surround channels. The complete SVS five satellite/subwoofer package retails for $1,000, finished in Black Ash. We hooked up the SVS system to a Denon AVR S500BT 5.1 channel receiver ($249).
Listening again to "Gravity" with the SVS/Denon system the sound warmed up, and dynamic impact took on a more visceral intensity, thanks in large part to the mighty SVS sub. That beast was more potent, the bass went deeper, with much improved definition over the CineHome HD sub. The SVS/Denon's front-to-the-back-of-the-room surround immersion was more seamless. Frankly it was no contest, going back to the CineHome HD system the sound lacked body and fullness, so it sounded like a much smaller system, though the speakers in both systems were close in size.
Continuing with Eminem's "Live From New York City" concert DVD, the performance gap between the two systems was more apparent, even at moderate volume. When we turned the music up, the CineHome HD's sound thinned out; the SVS/Denon was more at ease when played loud.
Once we settled down with less-demanding fare like "Mad Men: Season Five" and the first "Saw" flick, the CineHome HD's talents were more in line with those of the wired system.
The Enclave CineHome HD has a lot going for it. Setup is a snap, the wireless technology works well, and the overall sound quality is very decent. As a lifestyle system upgrade over the speakers built into your TV or a step up from a sound bar, the CineHome HD is a worthwhile investment. For those craving the best sound quality for the money, however we still recommend wired audio systems.