LCD and plasma technology have enabled TVs to get wider in inverse proportion to their thickness, which can make the audio side of the home-theater equation stick out like a sore thumb. Denon’s $500 DHT-FS5 promises to deliver an authentic surround-sound experience from a single, low-profile box. And while it doesn’t completely replicate what a true surround system is capable of, it comes pretty close.
Features and Design
The DHT-FS5 is self-powered, so it eliminates the need for an A/V receiver; and it houses six 8cm drivers that can take the place of three speaker cabinets up front (left, right, and center), two or more in back (for surround effects), and a subwoofer (for low-frequency effects). Unlike some single-cabinet home-theater speakers that promise to deliver surround sound from an analog stereo signal, Denon’s is equipped with a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), a digital signal processor (DSP), and is capable of decoding Dolby Digital and DTS bit streams. The cabinet has two optical S/DPIF inputs, one coaxial S/PDIF input, and one RCA analog stereo input, so you can plug in multiple sources: a DVD player, a television, and a gaming console, for instance.
Denon DHT-FS5 Connections
Our Test Environment
We evaluated the DHT-FS5 in a 250-square-foot home theater, a room-within-a-room design constructed of four 2×4-framed walls inside four 2×6-framed walls, with two layers of R19 insulation stuffed in the dead space between them. The walls and ceiling are covered by two layers of sheetrock with sound-deadening caulk sandwiched between them, and the front wall is canted by three degrees to help prevent the formation of standing waves (a trick we learned from someone who designed demo rooms for consumer electronics retailers). We placed the speaker at the base of a 42-inch ViewSonic N4285P LCD television, and connected it to the coaxial digital-audio output of a home-theater PC. We played Spiderman 3 on the PC’s Pioneer BD202MR Blu-ray drive for our source material.
The DHT-FS5 has settings for three room sizes – 108 square feet, 172 square feet, and 215 square feet – so you can roughly tailor the speaker’s performance to your particular environment. We used the third setting and found that the device’s 150-watt amplifier was very much up to the task of filling the room with sound. The DHT-FS5 has four surround modes – movie, stereo, music, and news – that adjust the sound stage to suit the source material. We preferred the stereo mode for listening to music, which creates a sound stage typical of a pair of conventional stereo speakers. In our view, it did the best job of rendering the audio experience that the musicians and engineers in the studio originally sought to create.
The music mode, in comparison, spread the sound stage too wide for our taste. The news setting emphasizes vocal frequencies and is intended to make narration and dialog easier to hear, but we found that our ears became fatigued after listening to it for long periods of time. We spent most of our evaluation with the speaker in movie mode, since we were most interested in the speaker’s performance with Blu-ray movies.
A Thin Illusion
One thing became crystal clear as soon as the movie’s opening credits began to roll: Even with its bass boost activated, the DHT-FS5’s 8cm drivers aren’t up to the task of delivering the visceral, gut-punching bass that we crave from a home-theater audio system. It’s just a matter of physics: Small speakers aren’t effective at reproducing low frequencies. We liked Denon’s system much better when we added our existing powered subwoofer and set its crossover to match the Denon’s 150Hz crossover. (When a speaker is plugged into the Denon’s subwoofer preamp output, it redirects frequencies of 150Hz and below to the subwoofer.)
The human ear and brain are extremely capable of locating a sound’s origin, so it’s very difficult for a speaker in the front of a room to fool them into perceiving sounds as originating from the back of the room. The DHT-FS5 did a good job of expanding the sound stage, but it never fooled us into believing that we were truly surrounded by sound. There are two chapters in Spiderman 3 in which this became most readily apparent: The first is the one in which James Franco’s character is pursuing Tobey Maguire (Spiderman). Franco is flying on a jet-powered skateboard, and he hurls explosive globes at Spiderman. Watching this scene on a true 5.1-channel sound system, we could hear the globes whiz toward us and past us before exploding behind our heads. On the Denon system, their sound traveled about halfway up the wall and stopped. That’s an impressive accomplishment for a single-cabinet speaker system, but it’s just not the same.
The Denon had even more trouble with the second action scene. This time, Thomas Haden Church’s character falls into a sand pit in which scientists are about to conduct some sort of particle-accelerator experiment. As these three huge vertical arms begin spinning around him, the audience is supposed to feel as though they’re sitting in the middle of the resulting vortex, with these mechanical arms whirling around their heads. The DHT-FS5 moved the sound from left to right, but our ears were never fooled into perceiving that we were in the middle of that sound stage.
The Denon DHT-FS5 weighs only 11 pounds, so it can be easily hung beneath a wall-mounted TV, provided you have a power outlet nearby (most people will need to have an outlet installed; so while you have the wall open, run a cable to a subwoofer). It does a good job of simulating a surround-sound system, and it consumes much less space than a conventional A/V receiver and six speakers. But it doesn’t come close to delivering the same audio experience as those components.
- Attractive form factor
- Plenty of power for a moderately sized home theater
- Multiple inputs
- Preamp subwoofer output
- Can’t match the performance of a true surround-sound system
- Can’t decode Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio
- Inadequate bass response