For those looking for a more individual home theatre system, this THX active system is a great proposition. It's rich in character and is tailor-made for home theatre histrionics
Clean, neutral, well-balanced performance with solid extended bass
Some loss of air and subtlety and coarseness in mid/upper mid
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Blue Sky is the company formed by one of the creative lynchpins of American speaker legend Miller & Kreisel, who decided to strike out on his own. Its core business is active loudspeakers for the professional and studio worlds, but the Blue Sky package reviewed here is also appropriate for mid-to-large domestic home cinemas.
The company, Blue Sky International based in New York, has met with considerable success, including selling a substantial number of systems to the Skywalker Ranch postproduction facility, part of Lucasfilm, where they have been used for production work on big-budget films such as The Hulk, Tomb Raider and Finding Nemo.
The key difference between this system and many of its contemporaries is that it is fully active. Active in this context means that each speaker has its own built-in power amplification and crossovers specifically designed to match the capabilities of the drive units. Most subwoofers are now designed this way, but it's still rare for main speakers or sats.
Each Blue Sky satellite is equipped with two amplifiers rated at 100W per channel and directly connected to its drive unit. The crossover network operates before the power amps at pre-amplifier level. The benefits of this configuration are more precise and easily matched crossover slopes, and better control over the drive units.
Active drive means that the architecture of a home cinema system is different from the norm. You don't need power amplifiers or an integrated one-box amp/receiver. All you need is a processor of the kind on offer from Krell, Theta and Lexicon for example. Such processors are designed for high-end systems and tend to be expensive. It is still possible to use a conventional amp as long as it has pre-amp level outputs for all channels.
The other variation from conventional systems is that system wiring is different. In a 2.1 channel Blue Sky system each satellite is wired back to the rest of the system through the sub, which supplies low pass filtering for the satellites using a coaxial cable, which is thin, flexible and can easily be hidden under a carpet.
In a 5.1 channel system the Bass Management Controller (BMC) can be used instead. The Blue Sky system is exclusively fitted with balanced connections, which have the advantage of rejecting noise pickup over long cable runs, but it is possible to wire balanced-to-unbalanced phono level outputs. Finally, each loudspeaker requires a mains input.
The Blue Sky active system is THX certified to the professional pm3 studio certification standard, of which domestic THX Select certification appears to be a subset. Each of the loudspeakers are solid and well built, though the subwoofer is too large to easily insinuate itself into many living rooms. The dark textured finishes are ideal for the subdued lighting conditions necessary for critical viewing, but the mains power telltales are on the back panels which isn't a great idea.
All five identical satellites and the subwoofer are equipped with rear-panel gain controls along with power switching and fuses. The sub also has phase and mute switches.
More to music
Although designed as a home theatre product, the system does an acceptable job with music. The mid-band is smooth and layered, and the bass extended, but there is some loss of air and presence at the highest frequencies, giving a slightly cool, distant presentation.
There are some colouration artefacts in the central and upper mid-band and congestion in the treble that gives a rather coarse effect with complex sounds. Full orchestra in particular can be quite badly affected. Nevertheless, for much of the time the Blue Sky system is an elegant and persuasive performer, particularly in multi-channel mode where the low crossover point of the sats helps give the system a broad, even dispersion.
But while the Blue Sky works well (albeit with some caveats) as a music system, especially with multi-channel music, the system really comes together when used for home cinema.
There are two reasons for this. First, vocal intelligibility is extremely good. The satellites have been voiced with this in mind, and it has been achieved without any obvious artifice, though the colourations noted with music may have had the paradoxical effect of lifting vocal performance.
Its other main strength is the subwoofer. The SUB 12 is not the most sophisticated performer on the planet, but it has been designed with the studio world in mind, and it is more than capable of coping when real power is required to reproduce explosions and other loud special effects.
More impressive still is the way it fills out the sound during more prosaic passages. The opening numbers from Moulin Rouge, for example, are warm and full and powerful, and the whole system sounds comfortable and able to rise to the occasion when dealing with varied and incident rich soundtracks such as LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring.
For those looking for a more individual home theatre system, this THX active system is a great proposition. It's rich in character and is tailor-made for home theatre histrionics.
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