A budget-priced home theater in a box (HTIB) with cute, little satellite speakers and good sound is a tall order, but the Philips MX966 is up to the job. Do you also want home theater-style bass to go along with your sound? No problem. The MX966's compact powered subwoofer belts out a potent bottom end--it's far ahead of the typical HTIB's pseudosub. And Philips's engineers weren't fixated on just sound; they also loaded on a host of useful features. A budget-priced home theater in a box (HTIB) with cute, little satellite speakers and good sound is a tall order, but the Philips MX966 is up to the job. Do you also want home theater-style bass to go along with your sound? No problem. The MX966's compact powered subwoofer belts out a potent bottom end--it's far ahead of the typical HTIB's pseudosub. And Philips's engineers weren't fixated on just sound; they also loaded on a host of useful features.
Plenty of options
The MX966 package includes a 500-watt (total power) A/V receiver, a 100-watt powered subwoofer, and five satellites. What's missing? For starters, the receiver decodes only Dolby Digital surround sound--not DTS. In addition, the MX966 lacks a DVD player, so you'll have to add one (or use your VCR) to complete your home theater. Philips is awfully generous with connectivity options: you get a set of 5.1 SACD/DVD-Audio inputs; three A/V inputs; one A/V output; three audio inputs, including phono; four digital audio and five S-Video connections; and two switched AC outlets! Whew--we've seen far more expensive units with much less flexibility.
This AM/FM receiver's look and feel are a cut above the norm for budget electronics. Thoughtful touches abound--the big, bold display is easy to read, and Philips nixed the standard-issue, flimsy wire-clip connectors in favor of beefy speaker-binding posts on the front three speakers (the surround connections are spring clips).
The silver, plastic satellites weigh less than one pound each, but their look is offset by tasteful, gray-knit grilles. The center speaker is configured in the classic woofer/tweeter/woofer array, which is unusual in a budget-priced HTIB. But be careful to keep this nonshielded sub a foot or two from your TV, or it will distort the picture and eventually damage the TV. We had one more gripe: the subwoofer doesn't automatically turn on and off, so you'll have to remember to hit the switch.
Typical flyweight satellites usually sound like little plastic speakers, but the MX966's six-inch tall units were clean and clear. Everybody's taste is different, but we preferred the sound even more after we fiddled with the receiver's bass and treble controls.
The system's composure wasn't ruffled by the surreal war epic The Thin Red Line, as long as we held the volume to moderate levels. We credit the potent sub with endowing the system with a solid foundation. Surround effects from the rear speakers blended seamlessly with the front soundstage. Like any system with microsatellites, the MX966 sounds best in small- to medium-sized rooms. So don't expect the unit to play really loud--the speakers have their limits.
We tweaked the level and crossover controls on the sub to mesh with the satellites before we rocked out with James Blood Ulmer's tasty new blues CD, The Sun Sessions. The ensemble easily transmitted the band's funked-up blues grooves, but Ulmer's growling vocals lacked their natural warmth. We're just being picky, but we liked the MX966's sound on DVDs better than with CDs. And we felt the tuner sounded thin and a bit brash.
Those few gripes aside, we were mightily impressed with the MX966. Its combination of sound quality and features coupled with its affordable $400 list price are hard to beat. Philips offers a similar HTIB, the $450 MX1015D, which incorporates a DVD player but has less power and skips a few features.