Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Phase Technology CineMicro One 5.1 Speaker System

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

I have no problem admitting that I like a certain type of manufacturer. I've always had admiration for companies that specialize in one area. I'm not saying that manufacturers who throw their hats into multiple rings don't make solid products, many of them do. If I'm being honest though, if my favorite brewery started manufacturing headphones I'd probably take a step back to evaluate the situation. In my opinion when a company devotes all of its attention to a particular category there's usually more attention to detail. There's no question that Phase Technology is a speaker company, one with deep roots at that; dating back to 1955. It's safe to say that they know a thing or two about high-fidelity. While not necessarily a household name, odds are you've probably come across their speakers in demo rooms, trade shows or publications. The CineMicro One is the company's attempt to pack their audio expertise into a compact, easy to use 5.1 home theater system. Knowing the company well and being a "big speaker guy" myself, I was interested in hearing how these little guys stacked up.

Specifications

  • Design: 5.1 Speaker System
  • Satellite Speakers
  • Drivers: One 0.75" Dome Tweeter, One 3" Midrange (Two 3" Midrange in Center Channel Speaker)
  • Subwoofer
  • Driver: 8" Polypropylene Cone
  • System Frequency Response: 36 Hz - 20 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 86 dB
  • Nominal Impedence: 8 Ohms
  • Recomended Amp Power: 100 Watts per Channel
  • Dimensions: Satellites (6.5" H x 5" W x 4.5" D); Center (4.5" H x 10.5" W x 4.75" D); Sub (15" H x 12.5" W x 11" D)
  • System MSRP: $938 USA
  • Phase Technology

Design and Setup

I always get nervous when multiple speakers are shipped in the same box, I have a few horror stories I could share with you. Why am I talking about speaker packaging? Well, it brings me back to that "attention to detail" thing. Speakers that sound good are useless to you if they arrive in a million pieces. While the shipping box is compact there's plenty of separation and thick Styrofoam that your speakers should arrive in one piece. 5.1 pieces to be exact.

The CineMicro system consists of 4 identical satellites, a matching center channel speaker and an 8" vented subwoofer. I'm not a fan of black gloss speakers or black gloss anything for that matter. While this is purely preference they tend to be finger print magnets and in my case, my daughters fingerprints. That aside, these speakers are beautifully crafted. The cabinets are all wood polished to a high gloss. Home theaters in a box, eat your heart out. Although you wouldn't typically carry speakers around, they feel good in hand, clearly a high quality design. Each satellite consists of a 3" cone woofer and ¾" dome tweeter. The center channel is similar in design adding an additional 3" woofer. The subwoofer rounds out the system featuring an 8" down firing woofer.

I appreciate the removable grilles; I always like taking a peak under the hood. Around the back you'll find standard spring clip speaker connectors. With the rest of the speaker being so well made I almost expected to see gold-plated binding posts, I've always preferred the ease of banana clips. Each satellite is wall mountable; speakers of this size afford an abundance of mounting options. The subwoofer also offers a welcome amount of flexibility. Some manufacturers offer speaker packages that force you to route each speaker through the subwoofer. The CineMicro One system features a powered subwoofer that allows you to run each speaker independently to your receiver or amplifier giving you the ability to fine-tune to your hearts content. This also gives you the option of adding an additional sub and/or speakers depending on your setup.

I usually obsess over setup and implementation. I'm generally a fan of the Audyssey EQ system my reference receiver utilizes but for me it never stops there. I still break out the SPL meter and crawl around the floor when setting up a subwoofer (I know, I know). I would like to tell you that things were different this time around, but it wasn't. Part of this is simply what I'm used to. The other is the size of my listening space in comparison to the size of the CineMicro speaker system. Setting the crossover point took patience; the manual suggests starting high, around 150 Hz. While the CineMicro satellites aren't designed to play low frequencies with any real impact I was able to find a nice equilibrium at 120 Hz. The subwoofer doesn't have the ability to completely bypass the internal crossover so keep this in mind when trying to find the right balance. This was a bit of a disappointment considering the price point and quality of the system, an easy fix nevertheless.


In Use

Man of Fire is one of my all-time favorite movies. I watch it every time it comes on cable, I own it on every format available and I've even tried to orchestrate group watching during dinner parties. So it was obvious that I would look to it when reviewing a speaker system. Right away I noticed that CineMicro system isn't afraid to play loud, I mean really loud with no signs of strain until you reach a volume that your ear drums and neighbors would clearly be unhappy with. The soundstage collapses a bit the higher you go but separation remains respectable and un-fatiguing. Chapter 20 "At the Rave" is the perfect storm for speaker systems as there is non-stop heart pounding bass mixed with gunfire and dialogue. The center channel of the CineMicro One system was an absolute star, it's easy for dialogue to get lost in the background noise but this center speaker would have none of that. Voices were life-like and intelligible, a good mix for a speaker this size.

Another honorable mention goes to the 8" subwoofer. Switching gears to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy the subwoofer has obvious limitations below 30 Hz, it provided a surreal experience when played within its comfort zone. Bass was punchy and tight with no sign of boominess or port chuffing. It was hard to believe that I was listening to an 8" subwoofer. With material after material my eyes continually drifted to the corner of the room in amazement. It blends well and doesn't draw attention to itself but you'll know it's there. It doesn't have the sheer impact of my reference sub but it's clear that wasn't designed to.

Music was also good through the CineMicro One system but not as impressive as its performance with movies. Again there were no signs of brightness or edginess but the sound wasn't as enveloping as I'm accustomed to. Imaging was also average compared to other speakers of its size. Don't get me wrong, the CineMicro produced a respectable musical presentation but it set the bar so high with movies that music was a bit of let down. In a 5.1 format its minor musical limitations were less apparent. The 8" subwoofer delivered tight and well defined bass in both stereo and 5.1.


Conclusions

The size and design of the CineMirco One system tells me that Phase Technology was targeting consumers who want big sound in a small, attractive and easy to use design. In this regard the CineMicro One is a success. Not all customers who buy home theater in a boxes are doing so because of price, ease of use and space constraints also play important roles in the decision making process. The problem with most of these systems is that they don't sound very good; this is where the CineMicro One sets itself a part. Combined with a quality low cost receiver like the Onkyo TX-SR608 you can build yourself a great home theater system that doesn't break the bank. If you're in the market for a compact 5.1 system do yourself a favor, find these and listen to them, you'll be happy you did.