● Codecs: DD and DTS
● Speakers: Five Satellites (3"
Drivers) and One
Powered Subwoofer (8" Driver)
● Power: 7 Watts to Satellites
and 30 Watts to
● THD: 0.15%
Crossover Frequency: 140 Hz
S/N ratio @ Rated Power: 70 dB
● Dimensions: Satellites - 5.9" H x 3.9" W x 3.9"
- 15.5" H x 11.6" W x 11.8" D
● Weight: Satellites - 1.8 Pounds Each;
Subwoofer - 28 Pounds
● MSRP: $1,199 USA
I met Philip Juang, Co-founder and Director of Marketing for
thiphi/Audio LLC (the "t" of thiphi is not capitalized) while maneuvering the halls of the Hilton Hotel in New
York City during the HE Show in May, 2004. The tight hotel hallway was cramped
with visitors and music coming from everywhere. I ducked into one of the
hotel rooms and found a small 22” LCD monitor with very compact speakers
around it. Included in his demo room were two systems, one, the sexy
prototype 6A 2.1 speaker system meant to compliment flat panel
monitors not due out until later this year, and the other, the very compact THT-8801 5.1 speaker system
reviewed here. Philip introduced himself, told me they were
located in Queens, and joked, “Someone has to be based outside
I think that was a prophetic statement coming from a New Yorker, where the
average apartment is no larger than most master bedroom closets anywhere
else in the country. I also believe that to be the genesis for the THT
8801 5.1 speaker system: compact, flexible, and unobtrusive.
Some companies call such compact speaker packages that include a
subwoofer, Home Theater in a Box, or HTIB. I guess this is partly because it
all fits in one box. The THT-8801 package does include everything you
need right out of the box, including speaker wire. But, it also includes a
decoder (DD, DTS, etc.) and a full set of power amplifiers, as described
below. Not much power, but enough for a small setup, such as a dorm room.
All you need to do is add a CD player or DVD player.
The THT-8801 distinguishes
itself from other systems in a number of ways. Most importantly, no
controller or receiver is necessary, as all the decoding is done
with the electronics console contained in the subwoofer. It also has a 6-channel amplifier, one of which
drives the subwoofer, rated at 30W, front
ported, with an 8” driver. It produces 7 watts to each of the five satellite speakers
with 3” drivers and a THD at 0.15 %.
I’ll admit we’re not talking about very impressive specifications, but
that’s not the attraction here. Again the control is all done at the
subwoofer; included on the rear panel of the sub are two optical, two
coaxial digital audio inputs, three analog audio inputs, and of course all
the speaker connections. The decoding for DTS, Dolby Digital and Pro Logic
all done by the sub, and boasts 24 bit/96k audio DACs.
Although the brain of this system is mounted on the subwoofer, the heart is the
center channel. It is identical in size and design with the other
satellite speakers, and in fact as I unpacked the system, I thought the
center channel was omitted before flipping it over to reveal the different
face with indicator lights. It lets you know when the sub is decoding DTS or Dolby Digital. It also indicates volume control, from 0
dB - 80 dB at 1 dB
increments (relative). The center speaker reminds me of a nightstand alarm/clock/radio.
And, actually it’s the most attractive piece in the set. The entire package is
nicely designed: simple, semi-studio industrial look, all black and cubic.
The satellite speakers are magnetically shielded and can be placed
inconspicuously around the room, wall mounted, or on speaker stands.
Phillip was nice enough to send me the stands, so I could move the system
around from room to room.
Setting it Up
This is the area that the THT 8801 5.1 HTIB is meant to
attract interest, ease of setting it all up. In fact, I spent more time fishing the
wires through the speaker stands than I did calibrating the system. Not
much to adjust here. The credit card-size remote control not only handles
volume speaker delays. In stereo mode you
have your choice of DSP soundstage: Theater/Stadium/Hall or Game mode. Of
course plain stereo or Pro Logic modes are also available.
Choosing your input from the remote is as straightforward as can be.
There’s a button for each of the 7 inputs, and the center channel will also
confirm your choice.
Four speaker modes allow you to choose which combination of the channels
you want on. So, you can have all speakers on, or just left/right fronts with
subwoofer only, for CD playback.
Built in test tones allow channel adjustments to all speakers except the
LFE. Center and rear channel delays also allow for corrections.
Subwoofer crossover is set at 140 Hz, no choices here.
If you plan to watch TV broadcasts
in Dolby Digital, you’ll need to connect both a digital input and a stereo
input using up valuable real estate on the back of the sub. Be prepared to
manually switch inputs on the remote from digital to analog depending on
Running the downward test tones from my Avia DVD and using my trusty Radio
Shack sound meter, I found the overall balance quite flat, for an HTIB. I also compared
the built-in test tones and the Avia tones and found them very comparable.
My concern prior to and confirmed during the first minutes of the audition
was the modest power (and that’s being a little generous) of only 7 watts
into the satellites. It seemed pushing the unit up to the maximum of 80
dB yielded barely a shudder. The dynamic range reduction switch can help a
Just in time, the arrival (pre ordered months ago) of
The Lord of the
Rings, Return of the King, gave us the opportunity to run the 8801 full
out on a demanding soundtrack. Although it gave a pleasant experience, I
felt the soundstage was a bit thin. What was lacking were the speakers
engaging me, pulling me along in the adventure. Of course, this is a
system designed for limited room situations. At low volume, such as when
your dorm neighbors are studying, and you are watching TV because you know
the material cold for tomorrow's mid-term exam, it's fine.
When I first heard the system in the 150 sq. ft. hotel room, I was struck
by its ability to fill the room nicely with sound. What the system does do
well is give you a good distribution of sound throughout in general. Even
the sub seems to fill in the lower frequencies without dominating the
I wondered if my slightly larger 12’ x 17’ living room was perhaps too
much for the system. After discussing my issue with Philip, he suggested
to give it time and let them “breath”. Well, let me state that as I used
the system more, I not only began to hear a wider soundstage and more
depth but also I was turning the volume down to the 65 dB range. What this
points out to me that unlike other HTIB products I’m familiar with, this
one needed some “break-in” time.
Watching Paycheck with Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman, what the THT 8801gave
me was clear audio and nice surround mix. The system reproduced what I’d
heard in the hotel room nicely. No harshness, just simple clean sound. The
center channel also surprised me in its clear delivery of vocals.
Well, Father’s Day came along and my sons surprised me with one
favorite and one new, Saturday Night Fever and Kill Bill. Listening to the BeeGees disco music, I found the speakers a bit mellow, I would have liked
more energy in the midrange. The satellites gave nice detail in the final
sword battle scenes of Kill Bill, and I especially enjoyed the exotic
musical score that the cubes delivered.
I did watch game 3 of the NBA finals in both Dolby Digital and stereo
modes just so I could play with the surround modes. The stadium mode was
almost unintelligible with
the echo effects a bit harsh. Naturally the Dolby telecast was superior,
but in Pro logic or stereo modes, it's also very easy to listen to.
To go to CD playback, change inputs, and a click on the remote switches
the speaker mode into fronts and sub only, (with the center and rear
channels off). Keep the 12 page manual handy for the first week or so, because
you’ll have to remember the codes displayed on the center channel that
identify the speaker modes. When 201 is displayed, this means 2 fronts on and 1 sub. 321
refers to all 3 fronts, 2 rears, and the sub on. I’ll remember them eventually.
Tunnel of Love CD highlighted some very surprising
details. Bass filled in nicely, no bloating at all, just helping the
satellites reach the lower frequencies.
From track 10, "One Step Up", the bass guitar had a smooth lingering tone.
Diana Krall’s new
The Girl in The Other Room (not my favorite of her work)
was very pleasing, especially the bass. During track 3, "Temptation", the
bass intro was nicely reproduced. However, her voice, although generally
smooth, was lacking a bit of detail.
What was still nagging me was the limited power output from the sub, so I
did the unthinkable, and hooked up these little satellites to my 120 WPC
receiver, which provided some challenge. I’m happy to say the satellites
were fantastic, and handled a substantial amount of power before any
distortion was detected. I replayed most of the music I’d listened to
prior, and the 8801s impressed me. I now felt like the package was where
I’d hoped all along. These little cubes do have it in them to give more
music, detail, and depth. The subwoofer doesn’t have the ability for an
amp input so use your own; making sure you set the crossover a little
higher than normal to compensate for the satellites.
Helping the Subwoofer by Placing it Properly
Placement of the subwoofer is critical for best performance. Because this
sub handles so much of the lower end with a crossover of 140 Hz, it needs
to be treated more like a loudspeaker. Placing it mid-room about 2 ft from
the wall finally gave me a good balance, and removed the boom from placing
it in the corner. I do think this to be an impressive sub, from just an 8”
driver. I now understand why they decided to fix the crossover at a higher
140 Hz, allowing the sub to carry more of the burden.
HTIB gets more people into home theater, period. Hopefully that leads to
better equipment in the future. Until then, getting one that you don’t
throw away when the sound is intolerable becomes the challenge. The THT
8801 5.1 speaker system is not a throw-away, it’s a keeper, and the
speakers should age nicely. Is $1,200 pricey for a HITB? In this case, no,
because you get everything but the sources. I believe this system fits into a niche: a true high fidelity sound from satellites, and an honest
subwoofer that takes care of everything without an outboard amp. A DVD
player and a TV is all you need.
My recommendation to thipi/Audio is minor, more power, please! Increase
the price $100 if necessary, but give us about 30 watts per channel, maybe
75 watts to the subwoofer.
If you’re looking to blow yourself off the couch, this won’t do it for
you. If you’re looking for a spouse approved, stylishly integrating, easy
to set up, uncomplicated 5.1 surround sound system for a den,
bedroom or dorm room, give Phillip a call.
- Piero Gabucci -
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