Audio Shopper's Guide: What do you want--sound or style?

The Audiophiliac muses over the perennial audio buyer's dilemma--sound or style.

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
2 min read
Samsung's state of the art home theater in a box. Samsung

Samsung's brand spanking new HT-BD2 home theater in a box put me through some changes. It's the world's first Blu-ray HTIB, so sure, it's got picture quality to die for, and even boasts state of the art Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio surround 7.1 channel processing. The HT-BD2 also looks pretty hot, the Blu-ray player/A/V receiver's curvaceous, high gloss style is drop-dead gorgeous, and the super-model thin tower speakers and chunky subwoofer are likewise designed for eye appeal.

But just that, the HT-BD2's sonic splendors are in short supply, or to put it another way, it's all show and no go. I'll get into more detail about the sound in my CNET review that will appear early next month.

But the HT-BD2's hefty price tag, $1,500, put me off. The Samsung sounds merely OK, not bad, just painfully average for a HTIB--clearly the product designers know that features and looks sell, and sound is a low priority. I'm sure Samsung will sell a ton of these things, but if you care about sound you can do a lot better for your $1,500. How good, let's see.

I didn't want to forfeit Blu-ray for this $1,500 dream system, so I selected Samsung's BD-P1400 Blu-ray Player (street price, $350). It duplicates the HT-BD2's video capabilities. Pioneer's VSX-817 receiver typically goes for around $200-250, and would be a good match for our $900 speaker/subwoofer package.

Speakers? I have two favorites in this price range, Atlantic Technology's sweet sounding System 920; you can read my CNET review here. PSB Speakers' Alpha Series is a little pricier, but truly excellent. Four B1 bookshelf monitors, the Alpha C1 center speaker, and SubSeries 1 subwoofer would bring us in on budget. OK, maybe a little over, depending on the deals you score.

The shootout between this separates based system and the Samsung HT-BD2 wouldn't take very long. The Samsung sounds like a home theater in a box--dynamically undernourished, with boomy, poorly defined bass, and no actual treble detail. Yes, the Samsung can play pretty loud, but sound quality isn't a happening concept. It sounds like a very large table radio.

The Samsung Blu-ray, Pioneer receiver, and Atlantic Technology or PSB Speakers based system will sound awfully nice on music and movies. Bass will be deeper and tighter, with freewheeling dynamics, an open sounding midrange and yes, actual treble extension.

We're talking big differences here, but it's your money and you get to choose--slick style or good sound. Don't say I didn't warn you.