We don't know why, but the best-looking, most stylish HTIBs are never our top choices for audio quality. Maybe product designers put in more overtime than engineers. One thing's for sure: JVC's gorgeous TH-M65 sounds as good as it looks. Even though JVC claims that the M65 incorporates the world's smallest five-disc DVD changer, the unit's 15.6-by-15.25-inch footprint is hardly dainty. The front panel's flip-down door lets you access all five tray loaders at once, so getting to the disc you want is easy. The swapping process took 14 seconds, however, and it was nowhere near as smooth or quiet as it is with a carousel mechanism.
Each of the kit's four elegant aluminum towers is 43 inches tall. You have to attach their internal wires and bolt on their heavy metal bases; assembly took us around five minutes per speaker. The 10.5-inch-wide center speaker is styled like the towers, but the subwoofer isn't nearly as cool-looking. Made of gray-and-silver plastic, it measures 14 inches high, 9.5 inches wide, and a full 19.5 inches deep. We'd bet that most folks will stash it out of sight.
The full-function remote works with other manufacturers' TVs and VCRs, yet it keeps things simple with a minimalist button deployment. A full complement of less-used keys resides under a slip-down cover. JVC doesn't list the sizes of the two drivers in each tower and the center speaker. But the company does tell you that the sub contains an 8-inch woofer, its own 120-watt amplifier, and five 100-watt amps for the satellite channels.
The receiver offers DTS, Dolby Digital, and Dolby Pro Logic II surround-processing modes. The changer plays CDs, audio and MP3-encoded CD-Rs, and the other standard disc formats. It can also handle DVD-Video discs and all the recordable DVD variations except DVD-RWs.
Connectivity will be satisfactory for only simple systems. Yes, the M65 has the now mandatory progressive-scan component-video connection, plus ins and outs for S-Video and composite video. But the receiver accepts analog audio on just one set of hookups, and the digital optical input and output don't have coaxial counterparts. The tower speakers of the Sony Dream and Panasonic kits offered disappointingly anemic sonics, but the M65's towers sounded big. Their performance was fantastic during the early scenes of the Signs DVD, in which Mel Gibson frantically runs through his fields searching for his children. The rustle and the crunch of Gibson thrashing his way through the cornstalks, the buzzing of insects, and the barking of dogs seemed to come from all around us. Thanks to the potent sub, the score had the weight and the power we associate with component-based systems. And when we played The Thin Red Line, the speakers delivered the DVD's heavy-duty special-effects bombast with impressive impact, proving they could fill moderately large (400 square foot) rooms.
Next, we switched gears with Neil Young's all-acoustic DVD, Greendale, and the M65 produced fittingly intimate results. As Young laid out some of his tastiest blues guitar licks, his voice and harmonica had a natural quality, and we felt like we were at a live performance. The guitar's lower strings tended to sound too thick and warm, but that problem was easy enough to fix with the remote's bass and treble controls.
The towers weren't treble-heavy, and the sub didn't boom. Instead, they all blended seamlessly--a singular accomplishment among high-style HTIBs. Still, the sound didn't quite equal that of the better Onkyo systems, such as the $700 . But hey, Onkyo's packages aren't nearly as handsome as the M65.