Once set up and tweaked, the Beta system proved to be a solid performer. With stereo music, the Beta 20s (played alone)had a notably extended, detailed, yet smooth treble - in a word, they sounded "sweet." The midrange was scrupulously defined and clean, though with a touch of leanness through the male vocal regions. These small speakers also put out enough bass to keep me happy with most music.
In my standard movie-sound torture tests, the complete system played loud, with enough bass impact for any soundtrack. Seabiscuit is one of those films whose soundtrack, though unspectacular, serves its story well with its wide range of voices, music, and sound effects. Its horse-race sequences thundered by in a way that put me at the track - had there been a $2 window, I'd have placed a bet.
The C250 center speaker delivered even, clear response on the full range of dialogue and TV-announcer voices, with very little coloration. And I heard less change in the midrange tones as I moved off-center than with many other horizontally oriented two-way center speakers. However, I also discovered that the Infinity center's tweeter has a fairly tightly controlled spread. If I moved more than a little to either side - to the far end of a sofa, say - I noticed some falloff in snap and sparkle, even to the extent that some voices sounded smoother than at dead center.
The Infinity array vaulted my multichannel music hurdles with unified, clean playback from the best recordings. For example, James Taylor's SACD October Road is a sparkling six-channel studio production, and the Betas let me hear every bit of it. Tracks like "Raised Up Family" maintained all the superb clarity and instrumental definition I expected, and the disc was an excellent test of the ES250 surround speakers' three different modes.
Very accurate, well-balanced sound.
Deep bass from a small sub.
RABOS improves bass performance.
Highly flexible surround speakers.
A three-way toggle switch on the middle panel of the trapezoidal cabinet selects bipole, dipole, or monopole mode. In bipole mode, the ES250's dual driver arrays, each with a woofer and a tweeter, operate together, in phase. Dipole mode throws them out of phase (one set pulling inward as the other pushes out), producing a "null" directly in front, which enhances ambience and reduces the ear's ability to locate the speaker. Monopole mode silences one array altogether, yielding a simple two-way speaker.
Monopole mode provided the smoothest tonal match with the front speakers, especially on multichannel discs like the Taylor SACD, lending the most believability to the horn-stabs and percussion flourishes in the surround channels. Bipole mode added low-midrange oomph, but it was on the heavy side. I preferred the Dipole mode for movie soundtracks because it dramatically improved envelopment, but it sounded a bit hollow on this kind of music recording.
Unfortunately, as with nearly all such designs, you have to switch each speaker manually to change operating modes. Die-hard surround enthusiasts will be pleased to know that the ES250's two driver arrays can be individually wired, so you can use a single speaker as a back surround and feed it both left and right back surround signals in a 7.1-channel setup.
The CSW-10 sub's RABOS controls include a defeat switch, so once you have them set, you can easily turn the system on and off to judge its effects. With it engaged, the bass was subtly fuller on a lot of music and sounded slightly more powerful in the lowest octave, but without the added pounding that would come from simply raising the volume. For example, the thunder of thoroughbred hooves in the race sequence from Chapter 19 in Seabiscuit was a shade thuddier with RABOS engaged without sounding boomy.
In the final analysis, the Infinity Beta is a well-balanced and excellent-sounding system that neatly splits the difference between "speakers for music" and "speakers for movies." That leaves one unanswered question: with corporate headquarters now in New York but its design center in California, is Infinity a West Coast or an East Coast brand?
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