JBL zeroed in on exactly what the average home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) buyer really wants: the biggest sound from the smallest-possible speakers. Bingo! The company's Cinema ProPack 600 home-theater system backs up pint-sized satellites with an extrapotent subwoofer. JBL bulks up on the electronics end, too, with a full-sized, full-featured A/V receiver and a separate five-disc changer. JBL zeroed in on exactly what the average home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) buyer really wants: the biggest sound from the smallest-possible speakers. Bingo! The company's Cinema ProPack 600 home-theater system backs up pint-sized satellites with an extrapotent subwoofer. JBL bulks up on the electronics end, too, with a full-sized, full-featured A/V receiver and a separate five-disc changer.
Grab your tape measure
Those components consume a significant amount of shelf space: each one is 17 inches wide and nearly 17 inches deep. Stacked on top of each other, they stand almost a foot tall, and you'll need to add at least another 3- or 4-inch clearance for ventilation if you stash them in a cabinet. The five speakers, on the other hand, are as space-efficient as they come: the four satellites are barely 4.5-inches tall, and the matched center-channel speaker isn't much bigger. People who don't want big speaker boxes cluttering their living rooms will like these. The brawny 30-pound subwoofer, on the other hand, is a monster by HTIB standards: it's 13 inches wide, 15 inches high, and 14 inches deep. But it's still easy to hide in a corner or under a table.
If one piece, such as the DVD player, in the ProPack breaks, you can easily swap it out without replacing the entire kit, unlike all-in-one systems, such as the Pioneer HTZ-55DV. Similarly, you can upgrade each piece of your home theater slowly.
But the components in the ProPack 600 are good enough that you aren't likely to feel the need to upgrade soon. The receiver is decked out with 24-bit/192KHz digital-to-analog converters, Dolby Digital, DTS, and MP3 decoding. It also includes an advanced digital-processing algorithm, Logic 7, which enhances standard surround modes and creates surprisingly natural multichannel sound from two-channel sources. The abundant connection options handily accommodate users, with a full set of composite and S-Video connections, plentiful facilities for digital and analog audio sources, and a full array of front-mounted A/V and digital connectors. What's missing? JBL left off phono and 5.1 analog inputs, so vinyl lovers and DVD-Audio/Super Audio CD (SACD) fans will be disappointed. Also, the button-laden universal remote's logistics aren't the best; you have to remember to push the DVD or Main input-selector button, depending on the sequence of your commands.
The five-disc DVD carousel changer serves up great-looking video and has all the basic connections, including component video outputs. Ordinarily, we'd ding a player that has only a coaxial digital audio output, but since the receiver has the necessary input, this isn't a problem. While this deck will play CD-RWs, we were a little surprised to discover that it won't play CD-Rs or MP3 audio discs. If you want to use the MP3 Decoding feature, you'll need to hook up another device, such as your PC, to one of the receiver's digital-audio inputs.
Ready for action
We loved the way the system rattled our cage when we played special-effects-driven DVDs such as Men in Black and Seven. Once we dimmed the lights, we forgot all about the size of the speakers and just enjoyed the sound. The sub is punchy and powerful in ways that most HTIB's subs are not, but it lacks some finesse, glossing over the twitchiest bass lines on the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense DVD. The system can play pretty loud, though we preferred the sound at more moderate levels.
The ProPack 600 system is more than up to the job of delivering the tactile and palpable details of our favorite Cuban percussion CDs. This HTIB communicates the music's energy. The sub's bass prowess was so positively addicting that we barely noticed that the satellites' midrange can sound lightweight. Voices and other midrange sounds can lack body.
The styling of the ProPack 600 receiver and DVD changer is bold, but it's a bit gray and plastic for our tastes. It's a far cry from the sleek, all-metal . But the ProPack's sound trounces that of the Sony, and it should, considering the kit's $1,199 price. If you're ready to dive into home theater with a single purchase, the Cinema ProPack 600 offers great sound and excellent components.