SETUP I connected the speakers to my everyday home theater rather than my high-end music system, mating them with a $1,200 Denon receiver and a Pioneer universal DVD/SACD player. They were arranged in standard 5.1-channel configuration, with the surround speakers located to the sides and slightly behind my listening position. The tower speakers were about 2 feet out from the front wall flanking my 55-inch HDTV, facing directly foward per Canton 's recommendation, and the center speaker rested on the TV.
MUSIC PERFORMANCE It quickly became clear that the Cantons' performance complemented their sharp good looks. The LE 170s revealed themselves to be impressively transparent and neutral for speakers at their price, especially compared with my usual front L/R home theater speakers, a pair of similar-size Energy XL26s. The Energys' slightly warm but pleasing coloration in the upper midrange and low treble made the Cantons seem a bit cold at first, but I soon came to appreciate their straightforward presentation of music. For example, on Patty Griffin's live CD/DVD combination, A Kiss in Time, the LE 170s accurately revealed the brassiness of Griffin 's voice and acoustic guitar without ever devolving into brittleness or unwelcome brightness. The song "Christina" - a challenging track with very little bass and fairly hot vocals - never became strident even at over-the-top volumes. And the sound of the vocals and acoustic guitar tailed off in a lifelike fashion.
The DTS 5.1/DVD-Audio version of Porcupine Tree's In Abstentia, a highly produced and layered progressive-rock album, called upon the Canton system's full musical surround capabilities. Harmony vocals and keyboards are frequently sent to the surround channels, where the smaller LE 120s ably conveyed the lush textures of the recording with far more precision and dynamics than my usual dipole surrounds. And the Cantons served up the heavy electric guitars of the opening track, "Blackest Eyes," in all their powerful, overdriven glory. Similarly, the system delivered the punch and snap of the kick and snare drums. The 9-inch ASD 220 SC subwoofer offered a tightly focused bottom end, though it lacked the oomph and deeper presence of my more powerful 12-inch reference sub.
"Our Prayer/Gee," the lush opening a cappella track of Brian Wilson's SMiLE, further underscored what I liked about the Cantons: their overall transparency, smooth and dynamic midrange and upper bass, and tight bass. I'm used to a little more airiness and slightly more accurate imaging from my reference system, but the Cantons' midrange accuracy was seductive.
MOVIE PERFORMANCE Blue Man Group's Complex Live DVD contains everything from a full-on rock band to the blue-hued men pounding on PVC pipes and tinkling a 1981 Casio keyboard. The Cantons delivered the group's sonic eccentricity with aplomb. The DVD's B-side offered a taste of what is now included on The Complex, a multichannel DTS/DVD-Audio disc. On "Sing Along," guest vocalist Dave Matthews came through with his well-known huskiness intact, and the immersive if odd atmosphere of the remixed surround tracks was admirably conveyed.
The Canton system was also up to snuff delivering the terrific sound effects and swashbuckling score of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The center speaker made even Johnny Depp's oft-slurred dialogue perfectly intelligible, although the direct-radiating surround speakers couldn't match my dipoles' more enveloping sound field. Still, the Cantons' articulation and focused dynamic capabilities were evident when the gentle ship creaks and rigging sounds gave way to whizzing musket shots and the deep resonance of cannon blasts.
The tour de force DTS soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which contains some startling directional effects, also highlighted the Cantons' prowess with movies. Despite the thunderous concussions when the Orc army batters open the gates of Minas Tirith, you could still distinctly hear the more subtle effects, such as the archers' arrows raining down on the attackers. I'd have liked a slightly wider soundstage up front, a more pronounced and defined treble, and more authority from the small subwoofer. But the Cantons beautifully presented Howard Shore's expansive musical score.
When the Witch King's army attackd Minas Tirith in The Return of the King, the Cantons conveyed every impact - from thunderous battering rams to sleets of arrows.
BOTTOM LINE I was favorably impressed with the Canton speakers' build and performance. Movie lovers may yearn for dipole surrounds, a bigger sub, and a little more shimmer on the highs. But that's a tradeoff. In a system where music playback - both stereo and multichannel - is the top job, the overall balance, transparency, and dynamics of the good-looking Cantons should earn them an audition.
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