In a perfect world everyone would have, among other things, space for five or more speakers to create their own home theater. But many homes–whether it’s a tiny studio apartment in Manhattan or a bonus room in California–can’t accommodate surround-channel speakers. The consumer electronics industry offers several solutions: “wireless” surround speakers (which still have to be plugged into an outlet and connected to each other), three-channel surround modes, and most recently, scaled-down speaker packages that simulate surround sound using one or two front-channel speakers and a sub.
Cambridge SoundWorks’ entry into the latter group is SurroundWorks 200, a $999 system bundling the AVS600 DVD player/receiver with a single, multi-driver speaker enclosure and separate sub.
Design and Features
SurroundWorks features an unusually styled center speaker with concave moldings for the front three speakers: one on either side 2.78-inch full-range left and right speakers flanking a 2.78-inch center speaker. The speaker box connects via a single cable to the subwoofer which houses all the amplifiers for the ensemble: the 75-watt bass amp and 50-watt amps for each front channel. The subwoofer connects to the DVD control module which also packs an AM/FM tuner.
Additional A/V inputs include one component, three S-Video and two composite video jacks, one coaxial and one digital audio jack, and a set of standard front-panel A/V jacks for a game player or camcorder.
The bundle is space efficient, measuring approximately 15 (w) x 4.5 (h) x 7 (w) inches for the speaker, 10 x 11 x 12.5 inches for the subwoofer and 17 x 2.6 x 13.5 inches for the DVD/tuner. At 7 inches deep and just 4.5 inches high, the speaker module can fit beneath the screen of a plasma or LCD TV that’s mounted on a stand. Mounting screws are also included if you want to hang the speaker above or beneath a wall-mounted flat-panel TV.
In addition to Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, the DVD player spins DVD Audio (but no SACD) and MP3 files on CD. The AM/FM tuner stores 40 AM/FM presets.
Setup and Use
Consumers who don’t have space for surround speakers generally don’t have tolerance for messy wires or complicated setup. SurroundWorks satisfies that crowd on both counts. One cable connects the speaker to the sub and another runs from the sub’s amps to the DVD module. The owner’s manual uses illustrations to spell out the no-brainer connection process.
One confusing feature is the mode switch on top of the main speaker. According to the manual, it’s there for use with systems other than the AVS600. Those who don’t read manuals may try to flip through the settings: Mute, Surround, Dialogue and Stereo and find little satisfaction. The manual states that the dial shouldn’t be used with the SurroundWorks speaker system, which automatically selects the proper playback mode.
Little is required in the way of setup since it’s a one-box speaker system–part of the EZ setup concept. You can play with the positioning of the sub to get more bass (the closer to the wall, the more oomph), in addition to cranking up the volume using the dial on the back of the cabinet.
Image Courtesy of Cambridge SoundWorks
The goal in a faux surround-sound system is to get a credible sense of surround sound, not a replica of a 5.1-channel system. SurroundWorks handled the job well. I was impressed by the power output, which went louder than I was comfortable playing in my large basement room. I’ve heard annoying high-frequency distortion in other pseudo surround-sound systems but was happy to hear realistic glass shattering sounds in Terminator 2 rather than sibilance.
I placed the sub a couple of inches from the rear wall and didn’t feel cheated. Explosions in Empire of the Sun and thundering horse hooves in Mask of Zorro came off convincingly. Dialogue was very clear and true from Martin Sheen’s distinctive narration in Apocalypse Now to the Gov’s “I’ll be back” in T2. I didn’t get a sense of the dripping water behind me in the Zorro prison scene in the way I do with a full-blown 5.1-channel system but the sound came from somewhere other than the front which worked for me. A bit of detail was lost in the runway scene in Empire of the Sun, but the system caught the panning sound of a B-51 screaming from left to right across the screen.
I was especially surprised by the musicality of the system, which is likely to get as much music time as movie time. The bass violin line in the Clayton Brothers’ “Happenstance” jazz recording was impressively deep and punchy. Overall, music was rich and filled the room nicely. Stereo separation suffered a bit, of course, but there was a decent semblance of a soundstage. It didn’t sound like all the sound was coming from a single point.
The player handled MP3s and audio CDs without a snag and went into slideshow mode automatically upon discovering a JPEG CD-ROM. I would have liked the addition of Windows Media Audio (.wma) playback, especially given that Cambridge is owned by Creative, whose Zen portables are Windows PlayForSure devices.
My only gripe is with the remote control, whose tiny buttons and labels require more eye time than should be required. The play button is the same miniature size as the other transport control buttons and not easy to locate–especially in the dark. Volume buttons aren’t set off enough for quick identification. The Channel Up button is located two rows above the Volume Up button and both are marked with the same icon.
Image Courtesy of Cambridge SoundWorks
The SurroundWorks 200 is designed for those who want a quick, easy and compact solution for music and video playback. It delivers all that with a few extras thrown in. Sound quality is terrific for a system of this type. Aside from the remote control, setup and use is a breeze, but the remote isn’t a deal breaker. This little system rocks.
– Good sound quality
– Simple to setup
– Works good in a family room setting
– Small buttons on the remote control
– Does not support .WMA playback