As the world of television migrates towards thin screens, be they Plasma or LCD, more and more speaker packages are being designed to match sexy flat tellies. After all, what is the point of getting your room thin-screened-out, fettled by a Feng Shui master, and then flinging a series of dog-coffins into the mix?
But while you might want to keep your room svelte and posh, do you need to compromise on sound quality and potency? Common thinking has it that small, skinny speakers can only make small, skinny sounds.
I did find one set a couple of years back so fabulous in design and so low in actual sonic performance that I branded them as Objects Dada - or utterly useless.
But things change. The brand in question has improved and many more speaker-makers are offering solutions for those seeking a slim and unobtrusive speaker product line.
Enter US brand Infinity, big in the States in both home and automotive applications.
Its Total Solutions TSS-4000 system reviewed here is specifically designed to match the new breed of on-wall TV design, and offers a variety of mounting choices. And, while it employs filtered-down technology from its stablemate Prelude MTS line in the shape of the RABOS (Room Adaptive Bass Optimisation System) bass control technology, it's a much less expensive proposition.
These puppies arrive in the most luxuriant packaging versus the size of the speakers within, that I have ever seen. You get one speaker per carton, another brace of cartons for the optional tower stand systems and one each for the subwoofer and centre enclosure. And they take a little sweat to assemble, as you get no less than four different levels of stature offered.
The TSS-Sat 4000 is a super-skinny alloy enclosure housing lots of drivers behind its grille. The same complement exists within the centre speaker. The only difference is that the TSS-Center 4000 enclosure comes with a shallow alloy tray-style mounting plinth for TV top positioning, and has its badge on the other way around.
All five surround speakers can be mounted onto a conventional long end-connecting swivel bracket. Each satellite includes three different-height shelf stands, so getting the speaker to match the television's height shouldn't be too difficult. Speakers can be angled inwards for best effect.
There's also an in-wall mount supplied with each satellite. The tower stands used for the front enclosures fit onto the same fixings as the plinth, by way of two really long bolts.
Each box houses six 89mm or three and a half inch wee drivers, four of which are used for lower frequencies down to the boxes' cut off of a high 120Hz and two of which drive up to the 3.8kHz crossover point with the 19mm tweeter, mounted in an elliptical waveguide or stubby horn if you prefer.
The subwoofer uses an integrated amplifier able to disgorge some 400 watts RMS and can drop down to 28Hz according to its makers. It runs a 12 inch Metal Matrix Diaphragm cone and has a RABOS kit in with it, comprising SPL (sound level meter), angle protractor and calibration CD featuring test tones from 20 to 100 hertz, to help tune the sub to your room.
This all adds up to at least a half hour of expert tweaking or more if you are cautious. I cannot help but feel that many punters will be stumped by this and many systems will get sold, installed and never adjusted. Perhaps it's best to ask for aid from your retailer right at the outset...
I love Robin Williams as voice over artist, ever since his epic Disney Genie, and he plays a major part in the CGI hit Robots. Much has been written about the artistry of the CGI work, but Robots also has an ambitious soundmix which is great to challenge speaker systems with.
The movie opens with an insane soundfield of mechanical clunks, whizzings, whirrings, clicks, thuds and clanging sounds of all types, to establish that it is a mechanical world. The Infinity system seemed to love flinging the various sonic components around its five-speaker soundfield. Yes, RABOS is a bloody pain unless you specifically love to tweak, but so help me, once calibrated it can sound really convincing.
The Crosstown express sequence, as our main character goes to seek his fortune at Bigweld's office, is awesome as a demonstration tool. To reproduce this well, you need amazing definition, clarity and lack of any sort of congestion, and the TSS-SAT4000s obliged.
The huge driver count, (35 voice coils not including the subwoofer) of which the five matching tweeters are a crucial part, makes for some seriously crisp definition and placement.
The system does have its limitations though. I felt that the small drivers still couldn't quite push enough air around to give that fulsome lower midband attack; that they reach down to 120Hz at all is somewhat amazing.
But you really do need that RABOS set carefully to avoid hearing exactly where you placed the subwoofer. The bass output is good for so small an item, and despite a fairly naff look, it can drop and growl far deeper than the specification of this ported item suggests it can.
Pleasingly, with two channel sources, the system sounds crisp and authoritative, while multi-channel music is pleasingly immersive.
Once set up correctly, this super-slim Infinity collection doesn't disappoint. That said, I found that this system can get a little brash and upfront when played very loud, although at sensible levels it sounds as good as it looks.
Those with a hankering for modernistic speakers which are plasma/LCD friendly are well advised to audition. Just be sure to involve your dealer in any installation - or at least ask for help from a tweaky mate to set those three knobs on the back.