Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Brian Alvarez
- Published on 10 October 2011
Introduction to the Boston Acoustics A Series Home Theater Speakers
Boston Acoustics has a well deserved reputation for delivery good sounding and musical speakers at reasonable prices. The very first pair of speakers I owned were Boston Acoustics. It was such a long time ago I can't remember the model number. All I recall are small bookshelf speakers in black ash. Sound wise they stood out at the time as the only speakers I could afford that sounded like music. This was during the late 80s and unlike now, a good sounding affordable speaker was the exception and not the norm. Through the years at every chance I've had the opportunity to listen to a Boston speaker I've always enjoyed the experience.
Boston Acoustics is a part of D&M holdings which owns Denon, Marantz, McIntosh, amongst others. Boston set out to design the new A series with its secret weapon at D&M, Marantz's Ken Ishiwata. I've been a fan of both Marantz and Ishiwata-san since the mid 90s. Every music lover should own a Marantz 2-channel piece of gear once in their life. Ken has been responsible for continuing the house sound of Marantz, that Saul Marantz established. Ken may be the only person at Marantz left who personally worked so closely with Saul. Marantz gear has always been imminently musical, warm, lush, and with a midrange to die for. It was a no brainer then to get a set of the new A series in for review.
BOSTON ACOUSTICS A SERIES HOME THEATER SPEAKERS SPECIFICATIONS
- A 360 Floor-Standing Speaker
- Design: 3-Way, Ported
- Drivers: One 1" Soft Dome Tweeter, One 3.5" Midrange, Two 6.5" Woofers
- MFR: 38 Hz - 25 kHz ± 3 dB
- Crossover Frequencies: 800 Hz, 2.7 kHz
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 89 dB/2.8 V/ 1 Meter
- Dimensions: 41.9" H x 13.6" W x 10.8" D
- Weight: 43.9 Pounds/each
- MSRP: $399.99/each
- A 225C Center Channel Speaker
- Design: 2-Way, Ported
- Drivers: One 1" Soft Dome Tweeter, Two 5.25" Woofers
- MFR: 65 Hz - 25 kHz
- Crossover Frequency: 2.6 kHz
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 89 dB/ 2.8 V/ 1 Meter
- Dimensions: 6.3" H x 16" W x 8.9" D
- Weight: 15.4 Pounds
- MSRP: $249.99/each USA
- A 25 Bookshelf Speaker
- Design: 2-Way, Ported
- Drivers: One 1" Soft Dome Tweeter, One 5.25" Woofer
- MFR: 55 Hz - 25 kHz ± 3 dB
- Crossover Frequency: 2.4 kHz
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 89 dB/ 2.8 V/ 1 Meter
- Dimensions: 10.7" H x 7.25" W x 8.9" D
- Weight: 10.1 Pounds/each
- MSRP: $149.99/each USA
- ASW 650 Subwoofer
- Design: Powered Subwoofer
- Driver: 10"
- Amplifier Power: 300 Watts RMS
- MFR: 28 Hz - 150 Hz, ± 3 dB
- Dimensions: 15.9" H x 14.7" W x 16.3" D
- Weight: 30.9 Pounds
- MSRP: $499.99 USA
- Boston Acoustics
- SECRETS Tags: Surround Sound, Speakers, Subwoofers
Design and Set up of the Boston Acoustics A Series Home Theater Speakers
All 6 speakers arrived in the gloss black finish (white has just been made available, and can only be purchased directly from bostonacoustics.com). The design focuses on gloss side and front panels (with the center channel only having gloss side panels) with a matte leatherette material wrapped from the drivers through to the top plate. The drivers (minus the tweeter) are a blueish white. The whole look is sleek if the magnetically attached grills are left on. Unfortunately the grills are far from being acoustically inert. There's a marked improvement in both imaging and treble detail with the grills removed. Grills off, the center and A25 surround speakers work well aesthetically, the A360 looks just too much like a big black box. Having seen pictures of the gloss white finish, the contrast of the black vinyl and drivers make the A 360 towers considerably more appealing.
Construction is what you would expect for the price. The cabinets are rigid but not overly braced or damped. Fit and finish isn't superb. There is only so much that can be done at this price level. They're no worse than competitors speakers. The A 360 speakers are tall speakers. Unusually so for this price range.
All speakers are rear ported, the subwoofer is front ported. The towers, center, and surround speakers are fitted with single speaker posts that accept bare wire, spades and banana plugs (protective red and black caps need to be removed in order to use banana plugs).
The A 25 bookshelf/surround speakers have a keyhole for wall mounting, but do not include a bung to seal the port if you should choose to mount them this way. In practice they don't produce enough bass for this be an issue, especially crossed over at 80hz or higher.
The A 360 main speakers have fixed rear feet with two adjustable front feet. There are provisions for the provided spikes for use on carpets. I chose not to use the spikes on my hardwood floors as the A 360 is a very tall speaker and I wanted to avoid raising the soundstage even higher.
The A 225C center channel has no tilt mechanism in the way of adjustable feet or pads.
The center channel sounds best pointed directly at ear level. I used Audio-Technical AT6099 Hybrid Insulators at the front to rake the speaker upwards.
My only concern with the design of the speakers centers on packaging. The center, surround and subwoofer are all double boxed with ample foam coverage. While all those boxes sustained external damage in shipping to me, the speakers inside were unhurt and the boxes could be re-used in the future. The A 360 boxes being significantly larger, not double boxed, and with a minimum of foam did not fare so well.
The speakers were cosmetically dinged from transit and one of the rear feet was sheared off. Boston replaced the foot almost immediately (and would do so for consumers as well) and offered to send replacement speakers (again, an offer that would be extended to regular customers). If purchased online or via mail-order I would insist on having the floorstanding speakers double boxed by the shipper.
Boston Acoustics A Series Home Theater Speakers In Use
Movie performance was evaluated with a Marantz SR5005, being fed signals from a Sony BDP-S550 Blu-Ray player, AppleTV 2, and an Audiolab 8200CDQ primarily used as a DAC via USB from a MacMini. Music evaluation used both the Marantz SR5005 in pure direct mode being fed from the Audiolab DAC and a Myryad MI-120 integrated amp. HDMI cables were all Kimber HD19, Interconnects were homemade Oyaide PA-02 with Neutrik ProFi RCA connectors, speaker cables were Furutech FS-301 terminated with Audioquest Banana plugs on the amp end, bare wire at the speaker end. I chose the Marantz receiver for testing for a few reasons. One, it's roughly in the same price range as would be used with speakers of this price. Two, seeing how Ken Ishiwata helped voice the speakers, I correctly guessed there would be a synergy between the Boston speakers and Marantz electronics.
I'll start with movie performance of the entire Boston Acoustics A series collective. The speakers were run in with white noise for a week at moderate level before performing an Audyssey calibration. At this point my room is now well treated for both a decently flat frequency response from 100hz on up and decay times. Confirmed by the fact that after performing three Audyssey calibration sessions, the equalization curves only applied no more than 2 decibels of correction. In fact besides the improvements to the subwoofer, the Audyssey calibration sounded almost identical to having the system off. As such, movie listening was performed with Audyssey engaged (for the improvements it brought below 100hz) and music was in pure direct mode on the SR5005.
The small center channel upon first inspection seemed an unlikely acoustic match to the large A 360 tower speakers. It proved to be unfounded. The A 225C formed a very realistic and well integrated front soundstage. Never standing out on its own, the A 225C went about smoothly blending in between the A 360s and provided real depth to the sonic picture. Audyssey identified the cross over point at 40hz and I had no need to move it upwards. The center has genuine bass response to 40hz and sounded worst when crossed over at any frequency higher than 40hz. The A 360 speakers were identified and run at full range.
Is the A 225C perfect? Far from it. No speaker at this price is without flaws. There is the ever present comb filtering when sitting significantly off axis. Male voices could at times sound overly chesty and boxy, while the tweeter's lack of air kept female voices from sounding lifelike. These are small downsides in comparison to the strengths of the center channel. The A 225C has incredible macro dynamics, it sounds alive in a way most center channels don't. The frequency response is neutral with no obvious bias in the bass or treble. Midrange clarity is good for the money. Overall as with the rest of the system, the A 225C possesses a good balance of strengths and weaknesses.
Highest in the strengths column is the integration with the A 360 towers. It's superbly seamless. A feat I've not heard some center channel speakers costing ten times as much pull off.
The A 25 speakers were only auditioned as a surround speaker. Again, much like the A 225C center, the surround speakers blended in superbly with the A 360 towers. The mid-range of all the speakers is exceptionally consistent. Bass response is decent and as such the speakers were crossed over at 80hz by Audyssey. I manually retuned the cross over at 60hz since I have a natural 60hz dip in my room.
Sitting down to watch The Social Network the combination of the Boston A series speakers and Marantz receiver were simply magical. There's a synergy between the two that is difficult to quantify. There are times when speakers and electronics form a synergy that is greater than the sum of the two. So much so, that for music listening I stopped using the vastly more refined and expensive (adjusted for inflation) Myryad integrated amp for music listening and just ran the Marantz SR5005 in pure direct mode fed by an Audiolab 8200CDQ via analog.
Having seen The Social Network several times in good theaters I was aware of just how good both the score and sound design sounded. Listening to it on blu-ray it was ten times better. The subtlety of the acoustic space of each location was simply staggering.
The combo of the Marantz and Boston speakers allowed the fluorescent light hum of the legal offices to contrast against, the reverberant halls of Harvard and the immensely detailed and bass deep score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The combo easily handled the smallest of details, to the loudest of passages, the night club scene stands out, as does dinner with Sean Parker. Dynamics are explosive but well controlled, quiet passages are filled with tension and effects steering is lightning fast. Movie watching had an immersive and enveloping quality. The sound field was truly 360 degrees with seamless panning between all the speakers.
If there is one weakness in the package it's the subwoofer. For most small to medium sized rooms the sub would work well, and if you take into account the price, it's a great sub. In my large room it struggled to balance pitch definition with output. The higher the output required, the less tuneful the bass sounded. Some port noise and cone break up could also be heard at reference levels in my space. It's a good sub for the price, but it doesn't deliver the refinement and level of performance the rest of the system is capable of.
Movie after movie the A series speakers delivered a superb listening experience. Whether the movie was Casino Royale or the distinctly more intimate and musical Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist the Boston Acoustics speakers (with the Marantz SR5005) delivered sonic gold. The entire listening experience is so balanced, so natural, so musical, it's just a treat on the ears. This despite knowing more expensive speakers deliver greater detail. Few speakers are just so pleasurable to listen to.
In music listening sessions one thing stood out. The A 360 towers are truly special and not just for the price. They deliver a musical performance (again, especially when partnered with Marantz electronics) that is emotionally engaging and rare regardless of price. If you value that je ne sais quoi of "musical" systems, this is one. There's nothing groundbreaking in terms of realism, resolution, or those typical "HiFi" qualities. There is however a solidity and cohesiveness to music that is warm, seductive and enjoyable. Sure, the A 360s lack treble detail and air, and the bass isn't the most forceful. The midrange isn't a transparent window the way the B&W CM8 speakers were. Instead the even frequency response, the great attack speed of notes and good dynamic capabilities of the A 360s combine with the slightly warm and forgiving sound of the Marantz SR5005 to render truly beautiful music, regardless of genre.
The drivers of the A 360 are superbly integrated and cohesive. The bass never overpowers the mids and highs, and keeps pace with the lightning fast 3" mid-range.
The 1" Kortec soft dome tweeter is smooth (though oddly, before break in, it was harsh beyond belief) with good detail and a taste of "air" though it's a small taste. The whole sonic image is impressively organic and you never get the impression that four drivers are present. Sonic images are seamless with good depth and a surprisingly low image height for such a tall speaker.
Whether the music was from The Glitch Mob and Rusko which is bass heavy Dub-Step to subtle tracks by Air or Charlotte Gainsbourg. The A360 speakers are truly music agnostic. One notable limitation, female voices do sound a bit reigned in. When listening to Emmy The Great's album Virtue, her voice lacked that shocking realism more expensive speakers can provide, but not once did that pull me away from the music. Rock and Pop tracks are conveyed with great enthusiasm and energy. Foster The People comes through with the kick drum leading the way in a realistic fashion at anti-social volume levels. Each layer of the mix sitting in its own space with great intensity and energy.
These speakers encourage you to stop analyzing music and just get up and enjoy moving to your favorite songs. I'll take that any day instead of overly analytical speakers. They're not perfect but they are good, very good.
Flaws? Yes, for starters they're not the most accurate when it comes to imaging. There's a sense of left, center, right with a diffuse image in between when listening in stereo. There's a midrange chestiness and female vocals sound less than realistic compared to stand mounts in the same price range. The tweeter is not extremely extended in frequency response and does gloss over details. This is a mixed blessing as it lends itself to a more enjoyable presentation with more modern recordings.
Conclusions about the Boston Acoustics A Series Home Theater Speakers
It's fairly obvious that I've fallen a bit in love with the A 360 speakers and the rest of the Boston A series speakers. The star of this show are those wonderful towers that can go toe to toe with speakers costing twice if not more. Especially in the areas of musical enjoyment. Kudos to Ken Ishiwata and the design team of the A series. The synergy between the A series and Marantz electronics I'm willing to guess is not an accident.
If you're the type of person who simply wants to sit down (I challenge you to remain seated for long) and enjoy music as an intensely pleasurable experience look no further.
Even if you have a larger budget. They may not be the best looking speakers (though I suspect that is different in the gloss white finish) they are pure beauty on the ears.
It doesn't matter if the song is impeccably recorded, a streaming MP3 track from RDIO or a dynamically compressed CD, the A 360, Marantz and Audiolab combo deliver sheer listening pleasure. Oh yes, they also do a great job with movies.