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Product Review
 

NIRO Two6.1 Home Theater in a Box

February, 2004

Yongki Go

 

Specifications:
 

Speakers:
(Featuring built-in right, left and center channels)
• Drivers for Each Channel: One 3.5" Midwoofer and One 1" Metal Dome Tweeter
• Dimensions: 23" W x 6.9" H x 8.4" D
• Weight: 13 Pounds

Subwoofer:
• Drivers: 8" Active and Two 8" Passive
• Amplifier: 150W
• Dimensions: 12.75" W x 12.25" H x 12.75" D
• Weight: 27.3 Pounds

Receiver:
• Six x 30 Watts
• MFR: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
• Dimensions: 17" W x 3.5" H x 14.5" D
• Weight: 18.3 Pounds

 

MSRP: $1,999 USA

 

NIRO

 

www.NIRO1.com

 

Introduction

Since joining his family business over 30 years ago, Niro Nakamichi has been the force behind many innovations in the audio world. Under the Nakamichi company name, his contribution ranges from the development of an improved cassette tape player to the creation of an innovative CD changer mechanism.

About five years ago, he established a new company, called Mechanical Research Corporation, which markets products under the NIRO brand. The goal of his new company is simple: to create original and innovative audio products without the limit of conventional technologies. The NIRO Two6.1 system reviewed here exemplifies one such product.

The NIRO Two6.1 system was developed under the premise that the complexity of a modern home theater system intimidates many consumers. I could see the validity of this concept myself, as I have some friends and colleagues at work who are reluctant to get into home theater because they think it is not easy to set up or to accommodate in their living room. Certainly the idea of having to deal with five, six, or more speakers becomes an intimidating factor for them.

The NIRO Two6.1 system was developed as a solution to such situations. The design goal of the Two 6.1 is to provide non-compromise home theater enjoyment yet be simple to set up and easy to use. My review here hopefully could shed a light to the readers whether the intended goal of the system is met.

Product Features

The NIRO Two6.1 cinema system comes pretty much self-contained. Everything you need to make the system up and running is provided in the box. The system consists of a receiver, front and rear speakers, a powered subwoofer, a remote control, and some accessories, such as speaker cables, subwoofer cable, AM/FM antenna, and speaker mounting kits.

Besides the user manual, a quick setup guide is provided to help you in making a quick and proper system connection. The user manual itself is relatively concise and utilizes a combination of picture and text, an approach that I really like. The manual is fine in general, although some of the instructions in it are not very clear and need to be improved to avoid potential confusion. Also I would love to see more detailed specifications than the ones currently put in the manual.

The heart of the Two6.1 system is the receiver. The front panel is free from button clutter. Besides the on/off button and the big volume knob in the middle, there are only three more buttons: the radio preset up/down buttons and the source select button.

A set of audio/video inputs is hidden behind a small flip door on the bottom of the front panel. These front inputs include S-Video, composite video, stereo analog audio, optical digital, and a headphone jack. The display on this receiver uses green lettering, which automatically brightens for a second or two when any command is received from the remote control or the front panel buttons. The main part of the display shows the source input or the radio frequency (in tuner mode). Good sized lettering is used for this part, so it’s relatively easy to read from distances up to 12 ft away. The other parts on the display show the operating mode, such as the surround mode, and for these indicators, I can only read them if I am close to the receiver.

The rear panel of the Two6.1 receiver sports an array of connectors as shown in the photo. For audio inputs, there are three stereo analog, three digital coaxial, and one optical digital. For line-level audio outputs, a stereo analog, a subwoofer pre-out, and a coaxial digital are provided.

Switching for three S-Video or composite video inputs are also available with two sets of video output. There is no component video switching provided. Up to four audio-video devices can be connected through the back of the receiver. Note however, that because the receiver doesn’t have the capability to assign inputs, the connection configuration using this receiver is not very flexible. For example, for the input labeled DVD/CD, only a digital coaxial connection is provided. If you want to also connect the analog audio output in addition to the digital one from your DVD/CD player to this receiver, you have to connect it to another input, such as the one labeled TV/AUX. Digital audio will be prioritized when both digital and analog audio inputs from the same input label are connected. When the unit receives a digital signal, it automatically configures itself to the correct mode. The surround formats supported by the receiver include Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic II (Cinema and Music), DTS, and DTS-ES. A night listening mode is also provided, which compresses the difference between the loud and quiet passages in the program material.

On the receiver’s rear panel, you’ll also find a master power switch, an AM/FM antenna connector, an infra-red jack, and speaker output connectors. The speaker outputs on this receiver utilize a specific type of connector to be used with the special speaker cables supplied. These connectors are like the ones you usually find inside your desktop computer, for power connection of computer components such as a hard drive or a CD-Rom. The power cord on this receiver is not detachable.

All the functions of the receiver can be accessed using the supplied remote control. The buttons have various shape and size, and they are nicely spaced and laid-out. I found the remote to be easy to hold and pleasure to use. The white buttons on the remote, which are the ones you likely use most often, softly glow in the dark (phosphorus type of glow). The source/input buttons on the remote have a red backlight, which light up for a second after they are pressed. The remote can be used to operate other equipment as well by inputting the appropriate three digit codes of the equipment based on the brand name. The manual provides the list of codes for various types of devices from various brands.

The NIRO Two6.1 uses two speaker enclosures (for front and rear) that are distinctively shaped (see picture). Each of these speakers actually houses three sets of drivers in three separate chambers. The picture of the speaker with the grille off shows the side and middle driver configurations. So, each of the speakers has three 1" dome tweeters and three 3.5" woofers. In essence, you have three speaker channels packaged in one enclosure. The front speaker has the front left/right and center channels, while the rear speaker has the left/right and center surrounds. The front speaker also has a built-in infrared sensor, that when connected allows the user to direct the remote control at the speaker to control the receiver. This can come in handy in situations where pointing the remote at the receiver is not convenient. There are two threaded holes on the bottom of the front speaker, which can be used for inserting the appropriate footing. The speaker connectors on the back are of the spring-clip variety.

Because the NIRO system employs only two enclosures with a unique configuration (the speakers are close together), some processing is necessary to make the design work or, in other words, to create the desired surround effect. The core technology behind the Two6.1 system is NIRO’s proprietary NIROSONTM Cinema processing, which is used to create an enveloping surround sound from the two enclosures. This technology, which is included in the Two6.1 receiver as indicated by the NIROSONTM logo on its front panel, was based on research in the psychoacoustics field and developed with the help of some Hollywood sound experts. Later on I will discuss whether this technology actually works.

The NIRO comes with a powered subwoofer. This cubical subwoofer, which is relatively tiny, has an active 8" driver with dual 8" passive radiators and is powered by a 150 W amplifier. The rear panel of this subwoofer is much simpler than what you usually find on an average powered subwoofer. Only a single line level input and output are provided. There are no controls on the subwoofer, as it is designed to be used only with the receiver and the speakers that come with the Two6.1 system.

The volume level and the phase of the subwoofer response can be controlled from the receiver. However, the subwoofer phase control in the receiver is only for 0 or 180 degrees, and hence, for optimal bass response, you have to also play around with placement of the subwoofer. Fortunately, due to its tiny size, this subwoofer is easy to move around.

There is no crossover frequency control. Although this subwoofer is only meant to be used with the speakers of the Two6.1 system, I do think that a crossover frequency control is still useful to accommodate various room acoustics for achieving smoother frequency response. On the bottom of the subwoofer, there are four threaded holes for inserting spikes if you wish.

Special speaker cables with sufficient length and specific termination to match the connectors at both the receiver and speaker ends are supplied with the Two6.1 system. The front speaker cable is round in shape, and the rear one is flat. I thought it was thoughtful of NIRO to provide a flat speaker cable for the rear speaker, as in most situations, one will likely run this cable across the room, and the flat cable is easier to hide than the round one. The front cable also includes the wiring for the infrared sensor.

The NIRO Two6.1 components looks contemporary and modern. The receiver and the front and rear speakers are finished in silver, while the subwoofer is finished in gray. All the speakers and the subwoofer have detachable light-gray grilles. Build quality is good all around.

Setup, Use, and Sound

Setting up the NIRO Two6.1 system is a breeze. There are significantly fewer connections to make, compared to other systems, as you only need to deal with two speaker enclosures instead of five or seven. For the speaker placement, I followed the instruction on the manual. I put the front enclosure on top of my television and angled it a little bit towards my listening position using the bolts and hex nuts supplied. For the rear enclosure, the manual suggests to mount it on the rear wall firing towards the listener or put it on the floor/table firing upwards to the ceiling. In this review, I used the second method, that is I put the rear speaker on the floor and fired it up towards the ceiling. I placed the subwoofer near one of the front corners of the room and made the necessary placement adjustment to arrive at what I considered the best result. The level of the speakers and the subwoofer was then balanced using the internal test tone in the receiver and an SPL meter. The setup can be fine tuned by setting the appropriate surround delay and adjusting treble level to compensate for room acoustics. Three levels of treble adjustment are available, with flat or adding more treble as the options (no treble reduction option is provided). In my room, I found the use of the flat setting to be the most natural sounding.

In regards to the operation of the Two6.1 system, I found it to be quite logical and easy. The digital signal auto-detect function worked flawlessly. In essence, this is plug-and-play. The process to preset the radio stations was quite easy to do using the remote. Up to 30 stations can be put into the memory presets of the Two6.1. I won’t say much about the tuner of the Two6.1 system, except that it was very good in signal reception. Using its supplied antenna in the FM mode, I was able to get clear reception of some radio stations that I failed to tune-in clearly using the tuners included in several mid-level receivers and surround preamps that I have tried in the past. My only quibble about the operation of the system is that when you switch off the receiver using the rear master switch, you will lose all your custom settings and the unit goes back to the default settings upon switching on. It would be nice if the custom setting values could be retained in such situation, so that one doesn’t have to input the calibration settings all over again every time the master switch is used.

Now, does the NIROSON technology work in creating believable surround effects from the two-speaker configuration? My short answer is a sure YES. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical initially, but now after I have had a chance to listen to it, I am a skeptic no more. The NIRO Two6.1 system works wonders in creating admirable surround effects. And the most important thing is you get these effects without having to deal with the clutter of many speakers and cables.

Left-to-right and front-to-back transition effects with the Two6.1 system were excellent with no obvious sound discontinuity. Also, the Two6.1 system was very potent in producing a realistic ambience effect. For example, the intense surround effects in the shooting scene during the opening of the movie S.W.A.T and also the fallen helicopter scene in that movie were reproduced convincingly by the NIRO.

The Two6.1 was also capable of delivering clear and intelligible movie dialog. Transparency could be improved, but this didn’t seem to reduce the intelligibility. The amplifier inside the Two6.1 receiver is only rated at 30 Watts per channel, however it was capable of driving the system to a fairly loud level before the system became strained. I would say that the system was capable of producing SPL that should be more than sufficient for most usage.

The little subwoofer of the Two6.1 system could produce useful bass down to about 35 Hz in my room. It augments the rest of the system adequately, although I would say that this is more of a home-theater subwoofer than a music one. It was capable of delivering good impact and adding weight to movie sounds, but I felt it lacked a bit of tightness for high fidelity music reproduction. Fortunately, this is the part that you can easily upgrade or change if you feel necessary, as it is not subjected to the NIROSON processing like the front and rear speakers of the system.

Although the NIRO Two6.1 is a cinema system, I imagine users who buy it would also use it every once in a while for music listening. Therefore I tested it for music application as well. For music in surround with Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode, the Two6.1 system performed respectably. In stereo mode, however, it left something to be desired. Although the system was capable of creating the image and soundstage that was free from the confinement of its front speakers, the overall sound had a slight echo, which was especially noticeable in human vocals. It was as if you were listening to the musical performance in a big hall. My guess is this was due to some processing to create good sound space representation from the type of the speaker enclosure used in the system. For casual stereo music listening, this might be okay, but serious listeners might object to it.

The drawback in the stereo reproduction, however, didn’t bother me much, as its name, Two6.1 Cinema system, implies that it is designed primarily for home theater applications. When using it for channeling sound from the television or for DVD movie watching, I was quite impressed with what the system can do. You might be able to achieve a better overall sound with a conventional multi-speaker system, but you will have to deal with a much more complex setup. On the other hand, the NIRO Two6.1 system offers a much simpler setup with little compromise in the sound performance. The decision is obviously yours, but I can tell you with confidence that the Two6.1 system is a very viable home theater solution that won’t sacrifice your enjoyment in case you cannot or don’t want to go with five, six, or seven speaker setups.

Conclusions

There is no question that the NIRO Two6.1 system is a very appealing solution for many space-challenged situations. It is elegantly designed, very easy to set up, and simple to use. On top of that, it is capable of delivering an admirable surround performance that creates realistic movie experience. While a bit pricey at $1999, if it is simplicity and space-saving features that you are after, the NIRO Two6.1 system might be your best solution.

 

 - Yongki Go -

Associated Equipment for This Review:
CD playback: Shanling CD-S100
DVD playback: Toshiba SD-4700
Satellite receiver: Dish 301
Other pre-pro: Lexicon DC-1
Other speaker system: Onix Rocket ELT-1 speaker system.

 

    Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Speakers

 

 

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