Kenwood's SAT7100 7.1 channel home theatre system is an amalgamation of four main parts: the KRF-7090D-S receiver; the KS-8200HT five channel speaker package; the KS-3200EX rear surround channel speaker set; and an SW-39HT subwoofer. Note that, unlike many of the home-theatre-in-a-box systems we've looked at this year, the SAT7100 is purely an audio package, and thus lacks add-ons such as a DVD player/recorder.
The aforementioned components are mostly silver with a dash of black for the speaker grills, which seems to be the current trend in home theatre component styling. The system as a whole - built from a confluence of aluminium and plastic - exudes a certain air of style and quality that's pretty much mandatory for such a pricey system.
The remote control is jam packed with functionality, but Kenwood's use of colour coding makes navigation somewhat less daunting. Kenwood labels it a "universal" control, but its compatibility is limited to other Kenwood products only.
It goes without saying that such an elaborate system requires a fairly large living room for maximum benefit. Wiring is plentiful and thus, a clean installation requires significant planning. Kenwood attempts to make this process as painless as possible, in that each of the speakers include screw holes for wall mounting, while there are also optional stands for the rear speakers.
As mentioned, the SAT7100 package lacks extras such as a DVD recorder and a TV tuner, but certainly makes up for this in its audio capabilities. The receiver, priced at AU$899 if purchased separately, is clearly the most important part of the package with a hearty power rating of 7 x 130 watts into 8 ohms at 10% THD. Speakers are connected via spring terminals located at the rear of the receiver, which sit amongst copious other connectivity options. These include four digital inputs (2 x optical, 2 x coaxial), eight audio inputs (including Phono MM, Front AUX, and a six channel input), two audio outputs, twelve visual inputs (5 x composite, 5 x S-Video, both including Front AUX, and 2 x HD component) and five visual outputs (2 x Composite, 2 x S-Video, HD component, each including monitor output). Interestingly, the front panel of the receiver also includes a plug and play games console plug that will automatically detect game input and adjust surround settings accordingly.
On the decoder front, the system is capable of Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS 96/24 and DTS-ES decoding. The Dolby Pro Logic II support is essential here, as it processes stereo and 5.1 recordings into the full 7.1 channel output that this system is capable of. Other features include five audio DSP modes (Arena, Jazz, Club, Theatre and Disco), a digital AM/FM tuner with 40 presets, S-Video up conversion and Kenwood's 'Active EQ' feature. Put simply, Active EQ adjusts the frequency response to assigned surround speakers to suit different activities, which is summed up in three Active EQ modes - 'Cinema', 'Music' and 'Game'. This is great for novice users that would prefer not to tinker with individual speaker settings.
The five channel front satellite speakers use a two-way, three speaker design housed in bass-reflex aluminium cabinets. Each boasts two 70mm woofers and a 25mm tweeter with 120W peak input power. Further, the surround speakers have the same peak input power and identically sized drivers, but they instead use a two-way, two speaker design. All of the satellites are rated at 8 ohms.
The subwoofer unit has an internal 100W amplifier running a 160mm cone woofer. Its minimum frequency response rating is more than capable at 25Hz.
It was pleasing to see that the SAT7100 performs admirably right out of the box using its default settings, so little configuration is required after the initial installation. Also surprising were the satellite speakers, which produce crisp, punchy audio despite their small dimensions. We were particularly impressed with their well-defined vocal reproduction, and compared to others systems we've tested, subtle sounds such as whispers aren't drowned out by background noises.
The Active EQ feature creates a realistic soundstage in movies, games and music playback. In our Xbox tests, enemies in FPS titles could be targeted with pinpoint accuracy, whilst audio tracks also convey a full 3D soundstage that rivals the experience of sitting inside the recording studio.
Bass effects are deep and undistorted, while volume levels can be cranked to ear-piercing levels without a significant trade-off in sound detail. Worthy of a special mention is that, unlike many surround speaker systems, the front, rear and centre channels all work in perfect unison, and at no point did we feel that one was overpowering the others. This is especially important for an enthralling surround sound movie experience.
Despite its excellent performance, the SAT7100 system is still quite pricey for purely an audio system, albeit you certainly get what you pay for.