First Look: Big Sound for Small Spaces
At a Glance
In my house, my husband is the audiophile. He spent months researching which speakers to purchase for our living room, and he painstakingly installed our surround-sound stereo system, even going so far as to wire up speakers behind our couch. And he enjoys nothing more than listening to music or watching a DVD, with the sound blaring, thanks to his speaker handiwork.
Some might consider it heresy, but I, on the other hand, am perfectly content listening to a CD on the Sony boom box I bought back in 1997. Don't get me wrong--I love our surround-sound setup--I just don't have the patience to sit down with all the manuals and wires and inputs in an attempt to decipher the hookup.
Which is why I really like the $450 Niro 400. This compact 5.1-channel surround-sound system comes with one small main box that generates the front, rear, and center channels; a subwoofer; a receiver; and a remote control. It's easy to set up: You simply have to place the main box in an optimal spot--on top of your TV, for example--and position the subwoofer on the ground. Both plug into the petite receiver, and you can operate the system with the included remote control. With this setup, you can avoid having to cram five speakers (and a whole mess of cables) into your living room.
The hexagonal main box, which the company suggests should rest about 10 feet away from where you're sitting, works by projecting sound from five separate speakers in five different directions. You should be able to hear the resulting effects--surround sound--as if you had separate speakers set up around the room.
Unfortunately, I didn't find that to be the case. I attached the Niro 400 to our DVD player and watched movies. The audio was appropriately loud and nuanced, and offered a decent reproduction of sounds you'd expect to hear from the left, center, and right of the screen. However, the promised effect of surround sound--such as audio emanating from behind you--was not really there. The sound definitely had some depth, nicely accentuated by bass from the subwoofer, but it was obvious that the sound was coming from a speaker in front of me. I moved the speaker box around as much as was feasible in my living room to see if the surround effect would materialize, but that didn't really make a difference.
Using the remote control is fairly straightforward: You get the ability to adjust the bass and treble, as well as to change the volume coming from the center channel, which is the channel that emits movie dialogue. The amplifier has built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoders, which should cover the bases of most DVD surround-sound formats.
I looked at a silver-clad unit, but the Niro 400 is available in bright orange, dark blue, and grey, as well. Niro also sells what it calls the MovieMouse speaker, a small, optional unit that you plug into the receiver and place on your coffee table or in your lap if you want to hear the sound at a lower volume (sound generated by the Niro 400's speakers automatically shuts off.) I didn't test the MovieMouse, though I do think getting surround sound from one small speaker seems a tall order.
The Niro 400 costs about as much as some other home-theater-in-a-box units. Serious audio types might not find the Niro 400 up to snuff. For undemanding audio neophytes like myself, its booming sound (and its not quite surround sound), along with its simple plug-and-listen setup, makes it a pretty good deal.
Niro 400 compact surround-sound speakers
Great sound and easy setup, but doesn't quite provide true surround sound.
Current prices (if available)