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Samsung HT-DB390 review: Samsung HT-DB390

Samsung HT-DB390

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.
Steve Guttenberg
4 min read
Samsung's 2004 lineup of home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems consists of a whopping nine models--some feature skinny towers, some offer virtual surround from fewer than five satellites, and there's even a stereo home-theater package. The HT-DB390 boasts the tiniest satellites and subwoofer of the bunch, wireless surround speakers, and an autosetup feature. The $499 mini system won't wow audiophiles, but it's ideal for space-conscious buyers. We just wish the autocalibration system actually worked and that the "wireless" rear speakers had fewer...wires.

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.


Samsung HT-DB390

The Good

Sleek receiver/DVD player; wireless surround speakers; teensy satellite speakers; autosetup and calibration; compact subwoofer.

The Bad

The "wireless" surround speakers have wires; inaccurate autocalibration feature; skimpy connectivity.

The Bottom Line

Samsung's HT-DB390 mini-HTIB is a mixed bag of hits and misses.
The HT-DB390's all-in-one receiver/DVD player measures 14.25 inches wide and a space-hogging 16 inches deep. It feels unusually solid, certainly more than its 15-pound fighting weight would imply. The blue-haloed volume control is easy to find in a dark room, but the somewhat noisy cooling fan will be audible in otherwise quiet home theaters. Oh well, at least the remote control minimizes button clutter by stealthily hiding most of the keys under a slip-down cover.

The 4.3-inch tall satellites are among the smallest speakers we've ever seen, and the 4.3-inch-wide center speaker comes with its own tiny cradle; it's downright cute. Speaking of size, the curvy subwoofer is also commendably compact at just 9.6 inches wide, 15.9 tall, and 13.1 deep. The speakers and sub are finished in tasteful dark-gray and silver plastic.

What sets the HT-DB390 apart from other HTIBs are its wireless rear speakers. They're driven by a 15.6-inch tall wireless receiver/amplifier tower you place at the back of your room, plug into an AC wall outlet, and connect via wires to the left and right surround speakers. In other words, the only advantage of the "wireless" feature is that you don't have to run wires across the room from the receiver/DVD player to the surround speakers.

The design is similar to every other wireless HTIB we've seen, except for one gimmicky difference. The DB390's wireless receiver is spiffed up with a mood light that lets you select among seven colors: blue, yellow, pink, and so forth. Perhaps you could color-coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security's color-coded alert advisory system.

We didn't experience any bothersome dropouts or problems with the wireless system, but be advised it operates on the crowded 2.4GHz spectrum. That same hunk of airspace is prone to interference from cordless phones, wireless networking equipment, and even microwave ovens.

The receiver/DVD player delivers 60 watts to each of the satellites and 100 watts to the passive subwoofer. Unlike the many multidisc changer HTIBs you'll find (such as Samsung's step-up HT-DS690 model), the HT-DB390 handles only one disc at a time. Surround-sound options are limited to standard 5.1-channel Dolby and DTS modes. Samsung doesn't specify the satellites' or subwoofer's driver sizes, so we assume they're on the small side of average.

This is the first HTIB we've seen with plug-in speaker connectors that can be inadvertently inserted backwards, with their plus and minus connections reversed. Such a mishap won't harm the speakers or amplifiers but can significantly degrade the HT-DB390's sound quality. So take care to match them correctly when inserting the surround speakers' wires into the jacks of the receiver/DVD player and the wireless receiver. Connectivity is otherwise no great shakes; you get the usual set of video outputs (composite, S-Video, progressive/component), two AV inputs, and one optical digital input.

More bad news: the DB390's automatic calibration feature didn't accurately balance the volume levels of the satellites and subwoofer. After the two-minute automated autosetup routine was completed, the surround speakers' volume levels were very low, so we ran the setup again, and the surrounds were still too low. To correct that problem, we manually adjusted the volume levels--a hassle since navigating the onscreen menus wasn't as easy as it should be.

If speaker size isn't an issue, check out Onkyo's superb $500 HT-S770 HTIB; it doesn't include a DVD player, but you can use your own. If you're hooked on the wireless feature, check out Pioneer's similarly priced HTD-630DV, which adds a five-disc changer with DVD-Audio and SACD support to the mix.

Before we start, we'd like to put the HT-DB390's sound in perspective. Samsung, Sony, and other HTIB manufacturers use one-way satellite speakers in some of their HTIBs, and they always sound their best in small rooms less than 200 square feet, where the system can play fairly loud. Treble detail can't equal the sound you get from two-way (tweeter and woofer) satellites.

Like other mini HTIBs we've tested, the HT-DB390 won't wow audiophiles. CDs can sound cramped, and the satellites sometimes sound like inexpensive boombox speakers. Classical and acoustic jazz CDs didn't cut it for us, but Nirvana's Nevermind CD kicked pretty hard, considering it was blasting out of five 4.3-inch tall speakers. Also on the upside, the surround speakers didn't overtly suffer from the typical fidelity limitations of wireless technology, so they sounded better than similar systems we've tested. The subwoofer's low-end bass support is also pretty good and raises the DB360's overall sound quality to an acceptable level for noncritical listeners. Male DJs' voices sounded very full, sometimes bordering on boomlike.

DVDs fared better than CDs, and The Ring, one of our favorite horror DVDs, wasn't lacking in creepy atmosphere. The startling effects lunging out of the surround speakers kept us on the edge of our seats. The meteor shower crashing into New York City at the beginning of the Armageddon DVD pummeled the HT-DB390 without mercy, and it didn't surrender. Dialogue from the diminutive center speaker defied our expectations by not sounding particularly thin or undernourished. The final score: DVD sound was passable, but CDs were uneven.


Samsung HT-DB390

Score Breakdown

Design 5Features 6Performance 6