GREATEST VALUE: PSB Alpha Studio Theater System ($1256)
For little more than the price of a Brand X home-theater-in-a-box rig of questionable provenance, PSB will sell you a legitimate, high performance 5.1-channel speaker system, which is cause for celebration as we see it. And what a world of difference it makes to have a speaker system that, while modestly priced, has nevertheless been designed by people who A) know what they are doing, and B) care deeply about sound quality. The key to this system is that it is based on PSB’s ultra high-value Alpha B1 monitors, which set the sonic tone for the entire system, providing an unusually well balanced combination of virtues. This system may not bowl listeners over with spectacular performance in any one area, but the longer you listen to the system the more you are apt to feel that—as we found in our review—it simply “sounds right.” At its price, the system is more or less in a league of its own.
BEST COMPACT SOLUTION: Cambridge Audio Minx S325 System ($1399)
In an era where, for better or worse, interior designers seem intent on ruling our world, one may well ask whether any in-room (as opposed to in-wall) home theater will ever gain coveted designer approval. But one that stands a good chance of acceptance is the incredibly compact Cambridge Audio Minx system. Indeed, the size of the Minx satellites, which will fit comfortable in the palm of your hand, is so diminutive that many might at first be tempted to dismiss them as mere “toys.” But we’re here to tell you they aren’t toys; on the contrary, they’re very serious (albeit tiny) loudspeaker backed by surprisingly exotic driver technologies. Specifically, the ‘special sauce’ at work here involves Cambridge’s use of sophisticated BMR (balanced mode radiator) drivers that—get this—behave like pistons over part of their frequency range but then transition to function as ripple-motion drivers in the upper part of their range. The result is a tiny satellite that is capable of room-filling sound that offers much higher than expected levels of sophistication. Add in a well-designed sub and you’ve got a speaker system that all but vanishes within the room, yet that gives more than satisfactory results, even when used in moderately large spaces. Even your interior designer could get behind that idea, don’t you think?
GREATEST OVERACHIEVER: Monitor Audio Bronze BX System ($2166)
Whether you judge it with your eyes, your ears, or both, Monitor’s Bronze BX system flat out looks and sounds like it belongs in the next price class up, and that’s what makes it special. Credit for this solution must go, in large part, to Monitor’s brilliant Technical Director Dean Hartley and his team, who are masters at the fine art and science of technology trickle-down. Hartley once told TPV that he believes each new product family, regardless of price, “should leverage every bit of design know-how acquired through work on earlier generation speaker families, no matter how expensive they might be.” One upshot of this laudable approach is that you wind up with modestly priced speaker ranges, such as the Bronze BX family, that borrow technologies and construction techniques from far more costly speaker systems, wherever possible (subject to cost-constraints, of course). The result is value with a capitol “V.” In practice, this means you also get to enjoy a speaker system where, as our TPV review put it, the “sonic sophistication/dollar ratio is pretty much off the charts.”