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Niro 1.1 Pro Home Theater System Review

Highs

  • Small size; easy to set up; few components; good sound performance.

Rating

Our Score 7
User Score 8

Lows

  • The design and concept will not apeal to everyone
  • DVD player could use more inputs.
I was amazed at how well the Niro was able to emulate the sound field.

Summary

This is an excellent approach to surround sound. While nothing I have ever come across will replace a seat surrounded by speakers and a receiver capable of discrete channels the Niro 1.1 Pro is the best around. The Niro would be best used in a small apartment, perhaps by a couple just getting started and on a limited budget. It also makes an excellent choice for a dorm room or a second home theater in a bedroom or den. The small size and incredibly easy installation makes it perfect for areas where space is limited or you simply can not or don’t want to run wires all over.

Introduction

There was a time when surround sound in the home was a dream, beyond the reach of most people. Over the years there have been many surround sound formats such as quadraphonic, Prologic, 5.1, 6.1 and now 7.1 surround sound. The problem has always been the plethora of wires that you have to run around your room to install all of the speakers. This apparently bothered Niro Nakamichi quite a bit, so he developed a software driven system to provide surround sound with only a center speaker and a subwoofer.

One result of Nakamichi’s efforts is the the Niro 1.1 Pro series of home theater systems. While most simulated surround systems depend on reflected sound waves, the Niro 1.1 uses a highly sophisticated set of computations to separate the embedded channel information in an audio track and drive a series of speakers contained in a single enclosure. Having lived long enough to have tried most simulated surround systems I was anxious and a bit dubious about how the Niro 1.1 would fare.


The Niro Pro 1.1 system’s unique center channel speaker simulates surround sound.

Installation

For once the perennial claim of easy setup actually was true. A visually impaired person could set this system up in under five minutes. The proprietary connectors will only fit in the correct receptacles, it is impossible to make a mistake in what connectors go where. The Niro system consists of a main unit that houses a DVD player and receiver. The system includes a lone center speaker and a subwoofer – and that’s it. Simply connect the receiver to the center speaker and subwoofer, connect the television set to the video output of the receiver, and you are pretty much good to go.

The only calibration required is covered in a brief video setup where you select the type of display you are using. The speakers are automatically calibrated by the internal software. The video connector options are a bit light, there is an S-Video and composite video. There are no provisions for the addition of any additional equipment and also no digital connectors available. Both interlaced and progressive video modes are supported.

The manual is simple, a few diagrams are present but considering the way the system is constructed you don’t really need them. It is stated that you can place the subwoofer anywhere in the room and the only caveats pertaining to the center speaker are that it be placed on top of the television, and to ensure the sides of the speakers are unobstructed. For optimal audio effects it is recommended that the primary viewing position be about two to three meters from the center speaker. For some, the ribbon cables used to drive the speakers may seem strange, but with this system you have to consider it more of a computer than a speaker set. Additional information must be sent to the speakers to make the surround sound effect work, and that is what requires the additional wires. Rather than have a multitude of cables, the use of ribbon connections adds to the simplicity of the set up.

Testing

I wanted to put the Niro system through a more extensive than usual testing suite, so I started on the high end of audio sources and worked my way down the ladder. First up where a few discs that are encoded for Dolby EX and DTS ES. To test these seven channel systems on the Niro I selected the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The Niro 1.1 Pro actually did provide some degree of rear channel effect. During the climactic battle scene there was a sense of sound coming from the rear. I did notice that the positioning of the Niro center speaker was crucial. A slight shift to the left or right would almost negate the whole effect. While the effect was not as prominent as with a real multi-speaker system it was better than I anticipated.

Next up was DTS six channel sources. For this I chose Star Wars: Episode Two. Again, a battle scene was used to provide the best chance of rear audio. Once again there was a fairly good emulation of the rear channels. There was a noticeable lack of differentiation between the rear left and right speakers; most of the sound appeared to be centered in the rear of the room.  To be fair, there was a good center fill of the sound stage. The room did seem like I was in the middle of the action.


The advanced center channel speaker is “where all the magic happens.”

With regular Dolby 5.1 audio there was an excellent feel of being in the center of a full sound stage. There was better than average separation between the left and right with depth provided in the rear. In some scenes the dialogue was a little bit muddled. I was amazed at how well the Niro was able to emulate the sound field.

When I used several stereo DVDs, the effect was for the most part not there. While the Niro was able to provide a separation between the pseudo right and left channels there was too much blending in the center. There was little rear audio created with these discs.

When I tried a few CDs it was pretty much the same as with stereo DVDs. With a few concert discs there was some rear audio created. Mostly there was a sense of reverberation that made the music sound like it came from a small hall.

Overall the dynamic range of the system was excellent. There was continuity to the sound; it easily transferred from soft to loud without any breakup or distortion. For most audio sources there was a complete feel of multi-channel sound. It was impressive how well this simple little unit does its job. I have tried many different approaches to the emulation of other channels but Nakamichi’s is by far the best.

There is an ancillary audio input provided for things like a VCR or digital audio player. Since the system does not have Prologic or any other means of emulation, you basically have to take what it gives you here. Although there was a broadening of the sound stage it was not as good as when I compared the same tapes with a Prologic II system. The results for the Niro system were a lot better when I switched the VCR to stereo only mode and bypassed the internal Prologic circuits

Downsides

While the simplicity of the installation is owed to the module design, this is also a major drawback. You can not use the Niro with any other components. There is no way to use a different DVD player in the system. The internal radio tuner was marginally effective. The supplied antenna was only able to give reasonable reception with the strongest stations. In all cases the radio did not muster the same surround effects as with digital sources. As mentioned, the speaker placement is critical. For very large rooms the effect drops off rapidly after the recommended three meter distance.

Conclusions

This is an excellent approach to surround sound. While nothing I have ever come across will replace a seat surrounded by speakers and a receiver capable of discrete channels the Niro 1.1 Pro is the best around. The Niro would be best used in a small apartment, perhaps by a couple just getting started and on a limited budget. It also makes an excellent choice for a dorm room or a second home theater in a bedroom or den. The small size and incredibly easy installation makes it perfect for areas where space is limited or you simply can not or don’t want to run wires all over.