Sharp SD-AT100 review: Sharp SD-AT100

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The Good Sophisticated digital amplifier; nifty, two-sided remote; curvy, compact satellites; plentiful connectivity options.

The Bad Pricey; lackluster speakers and subwoofer.

The Bottom Line The SD-AT100 is a pretty high-tech package, but the so-so speakers don't cut it.

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6.0 Overall

Sharp's SD-AT100 home-theater kit combines bleeding-edge, 1-bit digital-amplifier technology with a sharply styled design. But, alas, thanks to its rather ordinary speakers, the AT100's sound quality is uninspired. Sharp's SD-AT100 home-theater kit combines bleeding-edge, 1-bit digital-amplifier technology with a sharply styled design. But, alas, thanks to its rather ordinary speakers, the AT100's sound quality is uninspired.

Sharply styled, radical technology
What makes this home theater in a box (HTIB) different from others? In short, it boasts some pretty advanced engineering. Sharp's 1-bit digital electronics first sample CD or DVD audio signals at 2.8MHz, which is 64 times faster than a CD's sampling rate. Then, the AT100's all-digital amplification takes over and directly powers the speakers. Nice stuff, but we also have to lavish praise on this Sharp's elegantly styled, brushed-metal receiver/DVD player. It's a fairly compact design, measuring just 17.75 by 6.0 by 4.75 inches.

All disc formats are welcome. Not only can the AT100 accommodate DVDs, CDs, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs, but it can play back MP3 CD-Rs. Surround processing options are pretty standard; you get Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS. We judged the gold-plated jacks and connectivity options to be slightly above average, and yes, the AT100 offers component-video outputs for you videophiles.

The nifty universal remote control is nicely organized, and at first glance, it seems to have a lot fewer buttons than most remotes. But it's actually a two-sided unit; the bottom panel slides open to reveal a sizable number of lesser-used functions and controls--pretty neat.

The AT100 package also features five rounded, plastic speakers and a passive, fiberboard sub with a 6.5-inch woofer. Frankly, the sound and build quality of these speakers is not up to par. Pioneer and Sony offer all-metal speakers with their far less expensive models.

We had a few more nitpicks: The AT100's main unit, which contains six 25-watt amplifier channels, is hardly a powerhouse. Also, the speaker setup menus are visible on only the main unit's display; we would have preferred onscreen menus. Lastly, we found it difficult not to put fingerprints on our DVDs and CDs as we removed them from the vertical, albeit motorized, loading door.

Sound check
We were disappointed by the AT100's attempts at sonic virtuosity; the Black Hawk Down DVD should have put us in the midst of the mayhem, but the sound was flat and drab. CDs were equally lackluster; bass was lumpy and bloated, and high-frequency detail and air were conspicuously absent. Even by compact home-theater standards, the AT100 is loudness challenged. Our Almost Famous and The Thin Red Line DVDs have fairly quiet dialogue, but even at its maximum volume setting, the AT100 wouldn't play at all loud. We'd rate the AT100's sound quality as roughly comparable to that of Sony's $699 .

Why did Sharp's highly touted new technology produce such uninspired sound? Well, the flyweight speakers seemed to be the most likely culprits, so we hooked up our Energy Take 1.2 satellites, and the sonic quality radically improved. The flabby Sharp sub was still softening the bass, so we took advantage of the AT100's line-level subwoofer output jack and connected the Energy's matching powered sub, the S8.2. That did the trick--suddenly, the AT100's advanced electronics started to shine. The sound was now palpably alive, and the imaging approached holographic. Nine hundred dollars' worth of Energy speakers also eked out just a bit move volume than Sharp's speakers, and dynamic impact was more visceral. Other than the remaining volume shortfall, the sound was now right up there with that of the best kits we've heard.

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