In the past, we haven't been terribly impressed with Sharp's high-tech home-theater systems (see the SD-AS10 or the SD-HX500, for example), but the company may finally be on to something good with its SD-SP10 virtual-surround home-theater system. Not only does the amplified speaker system feature Dolby Virtual Speaker technology (used in conjunction with Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II processing), the $350 rig is the first virtual-surround speaker system we've reviewed that incorporates Audistry, the latest surround technology from Dolby Laboratories. If that sounds like a whole lot of digital audio chemistry, it is, but thanks to right mix of technology and solid overall design, the SD-SP10 sounds equally accomplished when playing CDs and DVDs, and actually surpasses some higher priced single speaker-plus-subwoofer alternatives.
The Sharp SD-SP10 is a two-part, satellite/subwoofer system. The speaker houses all of the amplifier channels and system processing electronics. It measures 4.1 inches high by 17 inches wide by 10.75 deep and looks like any number of center-channel speakers we've tested over the years. But closer inspection reveals this is no ordinary design. First, a yellow/orange LED readout behind the speaker's metal grille displays volume level, subwoofer volume level, surround mode, mute, or the selected source. On top of that, small green LEDs indicate various processing choices such as Dolby Digital, Dolby Virtual Speaker, and DTS, as well as the Audistry suite of sonic options. These include Sound Space spatial enhancement, Natural Bass low-end booster, a mono-to-stereo synthesizer for older movies, and Intelligent Volume, that boosts quiet sounds and lowers louder ones for late night listening. Unlike most 5.1-channel home-theater systems, the SD-SP10 requires absolutely no setup adjustments or fine tuning--it's a true plug-and-play system.
The speaker is magnetically shielded, and while we didn't experience any problems with the speaker affecting the picture on our direct-view TV, the SD-SP10's users' manual mentions that interference may occur; if it does, you obviously need to shift the speaker away from your TV. It's worth noting that the two-channel speaker has a pair of 2.5-inch woofers and 2-inch tweeters; each channel is powered by a 35-watt digital amplifier. The speaker also houses a 70-watt amplifier for the included subwoofer.
The matching, solidly built, medium-density fiberboard subwoofer weighs 12.6 pounds. It's a mere 4.5 inches wide, but it's 16.5 inches high and 17.1 deep. Its bass level is adjustable over a wide range of settings via the remote, and we found it easy to tweak the sub on the fly when we changed discs. The subwoofer is not magnetically shielded, so you need to position it at least two or three feet away from the TV.
Connectivity is above average for this type of system. You get three stereo RCA analog inputs and three digital audio inputs: two optical and one coaxial. The subwoofer high-level output is intended for use with the included sub, but there's also an RCA subwoofer output that offers an upgrade path if you want to use another brand's powered sub. Hookup is extremely simple: just connect the analog or digital audio output from your audio source to the speaker's back panel and you're done. Thanks to the SD-SP10's ample range of jacks and onboard processing, you don't need a separate A/V receiver, though you can certainly use one if you choose; the system is essentially a home-theater-in-a-speaker. You can connect directly from your DVD player, VCR, cable/satellite box, and so forth.
As with every virtual-surround system we've tested--with the exception of the Yamaha YSP-800 ($800)--the SD-SP10's surround effect is at its best only for listeners seated directly in front of the speaker. Move over to the left or right and the sound space collapses, and all you'll hear is the sound coming from the one speaker. That said, the Audistry processing really worked wonders on the sound of the King Kong DVD. The wide and deep soundstage let us forget we were listening to a single speaker, and that skinny sub generated authoritative bass. Dynamic range and visceral impact were the equal of most entry-level home-theater-in-a-box systems. Dialog was clear and fairly natural. And for the most part, the SD-SP10 didn't fall prey to the artifacts--an irritating hollow or echoey quality--we experienced with other virtual-surround speaker systems.
We're also pleased to note the Sharp SD-SP10's sound was almost as enjoyable with CDs--and that's a rare accomplishment for a virtual-surround speaker, regardless of cost. We credit some of that quality to Sharp's athletic subwoofer, which goes deep and offers pretty decent definition. Overindulge with too much volume and yes, the sub will distort, but that's par for the $350-speaker-system course. However, at more moderate volume levels, the speaker's stereo spread on the Raconteurs' new CD, Broken Boy Soldiers was impressive. We didn't have any other virtual-surround speakers on hand for direct A-B comparisons, but we'd rate the SD-SP10's musical abilities at least on a par with those of models from Soundmatters and Yamaha. Significantly, those competitors cost more--more than double in the case of the Yamaha--and they leave it up to you to supply the subwoofer.