Dear Gear Guy,
I want to junk my old dorm-room A/V system and buy a home theater setup. The picture on the TV should look impressive when my family and I are sitting on the couch, which is about 8 feet from our current TV. And I want a full-sounding speaker array - but my wife doesn't want it to eat up a lot of floor space. The system also has to accommodate all of my family's viewing and listening habits. My young daughter likes to watch children's shows, my son tunes in MTV and listens to CDs, my wife enjoys movies on DVD, and I watch a lot of sports. Is there one system that can meet all of our needs?
Dear Family Man,
Kiss your dorm-room gear goodbye! I can recommend a terrific system that's perfect for suburbia. You should be able to buy all of the necessary components for less than six grand after discounts. Frankly, I think you'll be amazed at how good a system it is for the money, and how neatly it will fit into your living room.
Sony's DVP-CX870D DVD megachanger ($799, reviewed in February/March) holds 301 discs, which should accommodate most of your family's favorite CDs and DVDs. Moreover, you can create folders to keep everyone's discs organized. As Daniel Kumin explained in his review, the Disc Explorer system organizer "brings up a full-screen, scrollable list of all loaded discs, including each one's format (CD or DVD), title, artist (for CDs), genre, and even a little thumbnail image." You can sort discs by slot number, genre, or title, which will make it a cinch for everyone in the family to find what they're looking for.
This is the only changer I know of that can flip over a DVD to play the other side or flip a CD that was inserted incorrectly. It also has a great remote control and a component-video output, plus a Dolby Digital (DD) decoder. Kumin's review concluded by saying, "If you like the idea of one box that lets you play, program, store, and organize discs in your music/movie collection, Sony's got it, without sacrificing video or audio performance."
But you won't need the Sony's decoder with Denon's AVR-3801 receiver ($1,199, May) because it has DD and DTS decoding built in - including 6.1-channel decoding for the ultimate surround sound experience. It's rated at 105 watts per channel, which is more than enough for most living rooms, and it drives up to seven channels, so you can add a couple of back surround speakers if you want to go all out. It also sports some nice ambience-enhancement processing for stereo sources.
Reviewer Ranada raved that the AVR-3801 "gives you nearly everything to keep you going in the multichannel age: ample power reserves, ultra-low background noise, up-to-date digital multichannel decoding, and, at last, a stereo-enhancement mode that'll keep your older recordings from going flat. All of this comes in an unusually well-balanced blend of performance, versatility, and ease of use at a reasonable price."
For speakers, I'd recommend B&W's DM 303 system ($1,270, May), which comprises four DM 303 satellites (the photo at right doesn't show the surrounds), an LCR 3 for the center, and an ASW 500 subwoofer. These budget speakers, like most everything else B&W makes, provide high sonic quality and have styling to match. Reviewer Rich Warren said, "By using speakers for the front and surround channels that go deeper into the bass than is usual for their size, B&W avoids a common pitfall of sat/sub systems - the gap between the low end of the satellites and the upper range of the subwoofer - while maintaining such benefits as easy placement and excellent imaging from small enclosures."
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