In a market crowded with look-alike, silver plastic home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs), the sheer elegance of JVC's EX-A10 desktop stereo system will be an attractive option for some buyers' bedrooms, dens, or offices. The EX-A10 comprises two minicomponents--the matching 9.5-inch-wide A/V receiver and DVD player come decked out in real satin aluminum--and the speakers' beautifully finished solid cherry cabinets exude class. Pop off their black grilles and you'll see what makes the EX-A10 truly unique: instead of the usual plastic or metal drivers, the JVC's woofers and tweeters are crafted from birch wood that's been treated with sake, the Japanese rice wine. At 10.1 inches tall, the speakers are a tad larger than the average HTIB models, but the entire system could easily fit on a bookshelf or a desktop. The JVC EX-A10 sells for $1,000.
The EX-A10 is a fairly radical update of the first model to employ JVC's sake-soaked speaker design, 2004's EX-A1. First and foremost, the EX-A10's speakers employ larger two-way (woofer and tweeter) designs, and the system now boasts a more powerful A/V receiver and a separate DVD player. By contrast, the old model employed one-way (woofer-only) speakers and a less powerful combo receiver/player. Those are two key reasons that the new model almost doubles its predecessor's $550 list price.
The JVC EX-A10's single-disc mechanism plays a wide variety of optical media, including DVD video and DVD-Audio, as well as audio CDs and discs encoded with MP3 and WMA files. VCD, SVCD, JPEG picture discs, and DivX video discs are also supported, as are most common home-burned DVD and CD formats. The system provides two-channel decoding of Dolby Digital and DTS audio, and it includes a faux surround "3D-phonic" mode. Setup chores are minimal compared to those of surround-sound HTIBs; you'll probably have everything squared away in just a few minutes. Speaker hookup is a little unusual--each speaker gets two sets of wires, one for the tweeter and one for the woofer.
Operationally, the EX-A10 conforms to a "keep it simple" design strategy. The receiver and DVD player faceplates have just a few buttons, and they won't challenge the dexterity of even fumble-fingered users. We mostly liked the remote, which keeps nearly all of the most used buttons in a logical array near the top. It's just that you have to slide a three-position switch between DVD, Receiver, and TV settings to control those components--a minor kink in the EX-A10's ergonomic design.
As mentioned above, the 4.25-inch wood woofer and 0.75-inch tweeter are easily the most unique design features of the JVC EX-A10 system. The birch drivers not only look really cool, the designer claims the wood provides "an ideal combination of high sound propagation speed and high internal loss." JVC engineers experimented with many types of wood over a 20-year period, but birch wood had the best acoustic properties. Thus, thin sheets of birch are soaked in sake to allow them to be molded into woofers and tweeters.