With the HT-X710T, Samsung attempts to pile a DVD/CD player, FM radio, iPod dock, USB reader, Bluetooth and other goodies into one shiny wonder box, but ends up faltering a bit under the load of so many tasks. While it technically performs everything on the bullet list, we were less than blown away by its sloppy interface, lack of expandability, and the impracticality of its slick-looking new design.
Design and Features
The $500 price tag on Samsung’s HT-X710T system places it in the middle of the company’s home-theater-in-a-box line: It won’t take over every corner of your living room with satellite speakers and sub that will rattle the windows, but it’s no dolled-up pair of computer speakers, either. This is clearly a system for buyers just starting to stretch their legs in home audio, who place emphasis on looks and want a system that will go well with a flat-screen TV.
The system includes five different pieces: a DVD/CD player with built-in amp, left and right stereo speakers, a shiny plastic lump of a subwoofer, and an iPod dock that tethers to the receiver with a cable.
Each tallboy-style stereo speaker gets four smaller drivers arranged in a line behind the bowed out grille, and a tweeter nestled discretely up top. Together with the sub, the entire system handles about 400 watts.
Besides playing ordinary CDs and DVDs, the receiver unit will play discs loaded with MP3, WMA, WMV and DivX files, as well as JPEGs. Although it includes no Blu-ray player (or option to add one, since it offers no HDMI input,) the included DVD player upscales video to 1080p.
Since your typical A/V receiver basically amounts to a steel box with knobs on the front, Samsung has tried to shake up the typical design aesthetic with the HT-X710T. The combined disc player/receiver looks more like a multi-function printer or scanner than a receiver, with a rounded, blobby profile that can either sit up or lay down. Controls are sparse, there are no knobs to speak of, and the red LED display has been set into the top of the unit and layered over with the same translucent plastic that covers the rest of the box, making it almost disappear when off.
Unfortunately, while this configuration looks flashy on a showroom floor, we found it to be far less than practical in everyday use. If you plan to squirrel the receiver away in a typical stereo cabinet, the top-mounted display will be out of view and useless, and if you plan on standing it up so the display faces you, it becomes so tall that it fits almost nowhere in a typical home entertainment center. Bottom line: it just looks awkward, and most people will have serious problems finding a home for it around their televisions. The company does offer a wall mount, but hanging a device with half a dozen wires trailing out of it on the wall would really only make it more of a mess.
Oddly enough, the speakers fit in perfectly with your average flat-screen home cinema. Their tall, skinny profile makes them slide right in alongside a TV on a typical stand, and Samsung’s signature Touch-of-Color translucent amber material lends them a hint of class without calling too much attention to them, either. Similarly, the subwoofer is small, unobtrusive, and easy enough to hide behind a sofa or in the corner, with the proper amount of wiring.
As a home-theater-in-a-box system, most buyers will expect the HT-X710T to deliver everything needed to get up and running right from the box, and it delivers on that promise. Samsung includes an analog video cable, HDMI cable, FM antenna, and all the speaker wires necessary to hook it up, meaning most flat-screen owners shouldn’t have to drop a dime on other cables. Samsung also includes an iPod dock as a movable exterior accessory (as opposed to one built directly into the receiver) which is a nice touch we don’t often see included with these systems.
Image Courtesy of Samsung
After yanking all the included components out of their Styrofoam cocoons, setup for this system takes no more than 10 minutes. Just run the color-coded cables to every speaker, connect them up, add an HDMI display, and you’re in business. Even the Anynet+ functionality (which allows the player’s included remote to also control compatible HDMI-connected devices) required no setup when paired with our Samsung display. It just worked.
The downside of this tidy process would be the proprietary colored connectors Samsung uses to hook the speakers to the receiver unit. Yes, they make it ever-so-slightly easier to figure out which cable goes where, but we really would have preferred more traditional connectors in case we wanted to extend or replace the cables. With the included cables measuring only about 20 feet, options for speaker placement, especially the subwoofer, are quite limited.
Ports and Connectors
If you have any plans for potentially expanding your home theater system in the future, the HT-X710T is not for you. It includes only two auxiliary analog inputs to appease folks who want to hook up other components, and we get the feeling they’re mostly meant for connecting non-iPod MP3 players. That leaves very few opportunities to add VCRs, computers, Blu-ray players and other accessories. The lack of an HDMI input, especially, rules out hooking up a Blu-ray player and keeping its digital audio output intact, which we found to be quite shortsighted for a system introduced in 2008 when the move to HD was in full swing.
Ease of Use
Despite Samsung’s attempt to make this a system-in-a-box that’s easy for novices to plug together and use, we found the menu system and other controls confusing and unintuitive. For instance, attempting to access the on-screen menu to tweak system settings can only be done when playback is stopped, an annoying quirk that isn’t explained by the vague hand icon that displays when you attempt it, and requires thumbing through the manual to discover. Similarly, it won’t pop up in every mode, and some functions that you expect to find under the menu, like left/right balance, actually have their own dedicated remote button (“Sound Edit”) you’ll need to use to access them. This hodge-podge of different approaches for changing different settings irked and disappointed us.
While the HT-X710T obviously serves as a major step up from a television’s built in speakers, and will probably satisfy non-audiophiles, it fell a little short on sound quality for its $500 price tag.
The midrange on this system stands as its most obvious sore spot. As the subwoofer punches out fairly tight bass, and the tweeters sing crisp highs, the midrange from the left and right speakers never quite shows itself in full, hiding in the background of most tracks we tested it with. In fact, it was so notably missing that some familiar tracks almost felt like they were missing instruments.
In our attempt to fix this perceived problem in sound quality, we also discovered that the system has no equalizer to speak of. While Samsung advertises a “three-mode equalizer,” in its specs for the unit, we found no such equalizer in the menus, and Samsung support told us that this model didn’t come with one after all. Instead, you get a handful of worthless effects to make it sound like you’re in an auditorium or cinema, and not even the most basic way to adjust the response curve. We were almost in disbelief that a $20 MP3 player could include more options for adjusting sound than a $500 home stereo, but Samsung seems to have completely glossed over that aspect of this system, leaving absolutely no way to adjust your sound.
The speakers won’t rock the house at full volume or even push you out of the room they’re set up in, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that sound quality at the top levels didn’t diminish much. While many systems reach unacceptable levels of distortion when cranked all the way up, Samsung actually delivers a maximum volume that’s listenable. On the unit’s own volume scale of 0 to 50, we did notice a subtle hiss in quiet music after pushing it past 30 or so, but we don’t think many people would be listening to slow tracks at that aggressive sound level anyway, so it has little practical effect.
When we fired up movies with the system, the subwoofer that felt adequate for listening to music no longer impressed us much. The receiver didn’t quite seem to know what signals to direct to it, and as a result, it went underused. It stood dead quiet, for example, as the front speakers attempted in vain to emulate the rumble of Harley-Davidson choppers in Easy Rider. The weak midrange also made it difficult to hear dialogue without cranking the system up quite loud, causing background noise in scenes to become even more amplified. By the time we had it turned up enough to hear Ben and his father have a quiet discussion in The Graduate, the higher bubbling noise of a fish tank in the background was so loud it almost drowned it out.
Besides reading data, including MP3s and DivX files off of optical discs, the player can also pull them from USB accessories (like thumb drives) and iPods, amplify any analog source via its analog line-in connector, and stream wireless music through its Bluetooth connection.
While the USB feature is convenient in premise, Samsung’s clunky on-screen interface also kills off any desire for actually using it. For instance, inserting a thumb drive with MP3s will only allow you to play them in sequence exactly as they exist on the drive, with no option for rearranging them or even playing them randomly. In fact, you can’t even browse the contents of a drive while a song is playing. Every one of our pictures also took several seconds to load, and showed a black screen in between them, which interfered with slide shows. Even worse, it automatically scrolls between photos on a very short delay, and switches to 480p playback for displaying photos, knocking down resolution unnecessarily when it could display them in full HD. These little quirks added up to a lot of aggravation, and at the end of the day we were quite deterred from even using the option.
The iPod integration is better, allowing you to browse as you play, but we still managed to hang up the display system for a solid 15 seconds with some fast browsing. We could also access playlists, which was a welcome relief from having to listen to songs in alphabetical order all the time (though you still won’t be able to create them from the on-screen display, only access the ones you have).
Contrary to our experiences with most Bluetooth devices, using the Bluetooth connectivity on the home theater was relatively painless and trouble free. After switching to Bluetooth as a source on the receiver, our cell phone immediately detected the home theater as a stereo headset and connected without problems. We had it playing music from the phone under a minute the first time around, and switched to a computer without any hiccups. The wireless range raised our eyebrows even more. When coupled with a laptop, the Bluetooth signals managed to effortlessly slice through three interior walls without so much as a blip in playback, and in straightline tests, we were too far away to even hear the speakers at a reasonable level by the time the signal cut out.
Including a built-in FM tuner seems like a no-brainer for any A/V receiver, but Samsung failed to include any of the extra features we’ve come to expect from a digital receiver worth its salt. For one, while every other mode offers an on-screen video display, the FM tuner disconnects from the TV entirely and uses only the set-top display, which is hard to read if it’s been positioned to lay down. Furthermore, the display offers nothing but the frequency you’ve tuned to, neglecting to add RDS data about the station, track and artist that even many stock car radios now support. We can’t figure out why Samsung didn’t incorporate both of these into a simple display through the TV output, but both were sorely missed when using the device for radio listening.
In general, the DVD player did an acceptable job upconverting DVDs to 1080p, but not the best we’ve seen. For instance, the sharp sans-serif font on one DVD menu produced egregious pixelation artifacts that should have been antialiased better by the player. We found quality to be about on-par to the upconversion found in most Blu-ray players, like Samsung’s own BD-P1500, which we tested it alongside. However, it doesn’t touch the smoothness and refinement of top-notch upconverters like Oppo’s DV-981HD.
Although its unique style differentiates this system from rather plain competitors if you can find a place for its awkward receiver in your own home, everything else about the X-710T only reaches mediocrity. In aspiring to put so many functions into one player, Samsung seems to have forgotten to polish the interface at all, and left it in a crude, half-baked state. The inexcusable lack of an equalizer, cruddy system for MP3 and DivX playback, and sparse options for adding other components all weigh against it. But then again, there aren’t too many other all-in-one systems that attempt that much, in this price range. If you truly plan to use all these features, you might be better off spending more money for a system that does them properly, but if you prioritize sound quality, $500 could buy you a nicer 2.1-channel system that doesn’t try to pile so much on its plate.
• Many features in one system
• Surprisingly simple Bluetooth connectivity
• Easy setup
• Bulky, awkward receiver
• No equalizer
• Poorly organized, inconsistent menus
• Only two auxiliary audio inputs for adding components
• Lackluster midrange