Few - if any - companies have consistently managed to make their all-in-one home cinema systems as downright pretty as Sony. But even by Sony's standards the DAV-LF1 system - complete with 'wireless' rear speakers - stands out as pretty special.
Indeed, the DAV-LF1 system is dropdead gorgeous with its sumptuous blend of brushed and polished aluminium. The subwoofer looks like it's hewn from a solid slab of silver. Then there's the DVD/tuner unit, with its wonderfully sheer fascia and glass outer frame to emphasise just how skinny it really is.
My admiration for the DAV-LF1 takes a dive when I check out its connectivity, however. First of all, there's no digital video output - something that surely wouldn't be too much to ask on such an expensive system these days, right? Far more demoralising though, is the absence of component video outputs. This means there's no progressive scan output from the DVD section. Sorry Sony, but this is little short of scandalous on such a costly bit of kit. Even the most basic £100 DVD players have progressive scan now. Thankfully the single Scart socket can at least output RGB. Phew. But there's no 4-pin S-video option...
When it comes to attaching extra sources to the system, things are a little better, with two sets of PCM analogue stereo inputs, and a single digital input.
An exploration of the LF1's menus is immediately hindered by the annoying way you have to manually stop a disc playing before you can enter the setup menus. Then there's the horrible navigator system on the remote control. The circular arrangement you have to use is really sharp on your thumb, making it about as comfortable to use as Hessian underpants. Oh well - at least the remote's layout is unusually good.
I couldn't help but be disappointed by the LF1's features. As with practically all Sony systems these days it supports Super Audio CD playback (though not, of course, DVD-Audio, so you'd better hope none of your favourite artists only decide to release their albums on DVD-A format...). There's also a bass booster which ramps up the impact of the satellite speakers considerably, 30 presets on the FM/MW tuner, and a night mode for late evening listening. You can also adjust the relative volume and distance of all the speakers, and set off a test tone signal for fine tuning. But all of this is more or less as you'd find on nearly any system, really.
Muscle hounds might be tempted by the claim of 600W RMS total output - but this measurement is only achieved at 10 per cent distortion. This pretty much leaves the combination of a Sony S-Master digital amp and the sheer engineering prowess of the speakers to set our ears alight.
Solid as an LF1
Video presentation is fine, but not remarkable. There's solidity and richness to the LF1's presentation while colours are rich and MPEG noise and macro blocking is kept to a minimum. If I had to be really picky I might have liked a fraction more fine detail and smoothness. The lack of decent onboard deinterlacing really slows this deck down. But for a standard RGB Scart performance, the LF1 is difficult to fault. One little general niggle, though, concerns the rather unforgiving nature of the set's optical block. The LF1's DVD deck suffered severe break up with a couple of my regular test discs, even when no other DVD players I've used them in have shown any such struggles.
The system's sound is best described as entertaining. The so-called 'D-IAT' infrared speaker system is pleasingly robust, leaving the rear speakers almost completely free of crackle or drop out even when I walked across their apparent line of sight. In terms of actual sound quality, as with many previous Sony all-in-one packages, the system is quite bright. The assembled electronics are exceptionally deft at picking out - without over-emphasis or twitter - even the tiniest detail in a movie mix. Add to this a timbre-matched delivery from the tall satellite speakers, and you've got a pleasingly enveloping sonic experience.
The subwoofer is reasonably good for an all-in-one system, too. Take care with its settings as it can easily overwhelm, but the bass is as smooth as a whistle.
There is a weak link, though, in the centre speaker which can leave voices thin and lacking in authority. You can blend the centre with the other satellites - but only if you rein them in, which seems a wasteful.
I wasn't blown away by its approach to SACD, either. It's great at picking out the extra clarity in an SACD mix, but didn't do justice to the full dynamics of the high resolution sound format. This means that generally multi-channel mixes are left feeling a touch flat by the standards of £1,500-worth of AV kit.
Although the DAV-F1 is a stunning looking piece of home entertainment kit, its performance left me a bit nonplussed. DVD pictures are good, and those wireless rear speakers work well, but on a £1,500 system, I really need more. Much, much more.