Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Affordable Systems Reviews: Mordaunt-Short Aviano and Cambridge Audio Azur 650R

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

The vast majority of time with the system was spent watching as compared to listening. As odd as that might sound, the home theater system was used predominantly for watching shows and movies. First an overview of my general impressions of the system, followed by some specifics from my viewings.

Starting at the bottom, the Aviano 7 does a great job, for the size, in filling the lower registers. It does not recreate the lowest tones nor provide the physical presence possible with larger subwoofers, but it would not be expected to at this price or size.

I am mixed in having direct radiators for the surround channels, as they can tend to localize the surround effects too much. I did not find that to be the case with the Aviano 1 which blended well with the remaining speakers. Obviously, sharing drivers between the units lends to greater homogeneity in tone.

Looking at the front channels, there was not a perceivable gap between the center and left/right channels with respect to range. The Aviano 5, while not a large unit, is large enough to minimize any potential disconnects between itself and the main channels when it comes to frequency response. Somewhat contrary to my experience with the Aviano 1 used as the surrounds, I found the Aviano 8 to a bit tighter than I am accustomed. The soundstage seemed to fit in the room rather than extend beyond it. The imaging and overall tonality was very good, but I was left hoping for broader imaging in a few instances. As the listening room was a new one, however, I am not certain how much is attributable to the room, and how much to the speakers.

Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers

Representing the most action filled of the trilogy, the Blu-Ray presentation is spectacular. Notable scenes include the duel between Gandalf and Balrog, the battle at Helm's Deep, and Frodo and Sam at the gates of Mordor. As I noted, the 7 did a great job with the deep bass, but was missing just the last bit at the bottom. You hear but do not feel the horn sound or the gates move. The orchestral soundtrack was one of the areas where I felt a larger soundstage was lacking. However, this was not the case for the action sequences.

Mordaunt-Short Aviano and Cambridge Audio Azur 650R

Hurt Locker

This is a very tense movie that does a great job of conveying the war without the dubious politics. To be honest, until the press raised the fuss about Kathryn Bigelow being the first female director to win, I did not realize she would have been the first. The dialog came through as cleanly as the gunshots and explosions.

Mordaunt-Short Aviano and Cambridge Audio Azur 650R

Sherlock Holmes

This was definitely an interesting take on Sherlock Holmes. This was also where I noted some of the peculiarities with the video discussed below. As a typical blockbuster the requisite action and explosions fill the screen. Again, there was little the combination of Mordaunt-Short and Cambridge Audio could not handle. If the budget could fit the larger Aviano 9, it might have pushed the whole experience right to the top of the scale, but that is coming from a bass junkie.

Mordaunt-Short Aviano and Cambridge Audio Azur 650R

Glee

This is admittedly the most music that was played through the system. Glee is a very interesting take on its high school namesake. The cast covers a broad range of voices and musical styles, so in the end provided a good audition of the system. It was a definite departure from the booms and bangs from the movies.

Mordaunt-Short Aviano and Cambridge Audio Azur 650R

Returning back to the minor issues I noted in the Setup section, the 650R had issues passing the signal from the Mac Mini through to the display correctly. Initially, it looked as though the 650R was applying some processing to the signal, but I was assured by Cambridge Audio that this could not be the case. The only "processing" performed by the 650R is transcoding between the inputs and outputs. Beyond sending any input signal to any desired output of equivalent or higher capacity, the unit does not perform any processing, including deinterlacing.

In normal computer use, text and desktop widgets were not displayed with the clarity with which I am accustomed. After much consternation and troubleshooting, I determined the 650R had issue with the 1080p signal sent by the Mac Mini. When the signal was switched to 1080i, the artifacts disappeared. There was not, however, the expected reduction in resolution stemming from an interlaced signal. I am not sure where the fault lies, but I do know the HDMI switch I normally use has no issue in sending the signals from any of my sources to the display without issue. The 650R definitely appears as an intermediary between the display and source, as evidenced by its identification as the display by the Mac Mini, as compared to a pass-through scenario where the actual display is identified. I took the issue up with Cambridge Audio, but there was no clear resolution. I do not think sending a DVI signal is a niche operation given the relative convergence of display protocols, but at least a simple workaround is available until the root of the problem can be determined.

The artifacting I saw is shown below in a scene from Sherlock Holmes. Figure 18 is the output directly from the Mac Mini into the display. Switching through the 650R results in the image shown in Figure 19. The image exhibits contouring in a contrasting color, with highlights being particularly susceptible to the degradation. The lower left and right portions of the fuchsia dress demonstrate the artifacts in question. The image in Figure 20 is the same file as displayed through the 650R and the PS3, and does not exhibit the same artifacts.