Samsung’s latest home theatre-in-a-box is impressively oddball.
WE DON’T REVIEW just any old home theatre-in-a-box. In fact, it takes a point of difference that astonishes and amazes and possibly baffles us to justify the full Witchdoctor treatment.
Samsung’s HT-E6750W (or ‘3D Blu-ray Home Entertainment System with 4 Tallboy Speakers’, as the Samsung website calls it) certainly has a point of difference (or two), so we suppressed the audio snob within to spend some quality time with a system that, at Samsung’s latest product launch, had us all scratching our mangy heads.
So, what have we got inside this enormous box? The main talking point is the combined Blu-ray player and receiver, which acts as an internet/apps hub for any television panel it taps into, and boasts two glowing valves. More about this bizarre fact later.
The rest is mostly speakers and stands: one so-called sub-woofer (which is, of course, just a bass port), a centre speaker, front speakers and wireless back speakers. (I know, five speakers, not seven: more about that later, too). There are also screws with which to assemble the speakers, wires, an iPod docking thing, and a Wi-fi hub for those so-called wireless back speakers… that is, a hub in which to insert the wires. Oh, not to forget the metal stands that screw onto the bottom of the speakers to stop them toppling over, and the plastic bit that plugs into the plastic bit with the speakers in it to make it the right height for listening.
I found the process of getting layer upon layer of fiddly bits out of the box rather frustrating. It was easy enough, but time consuming, and getting a few trusted accomplices to help will have it up and running in minutes, rather than the hour-plus it took me to muddle my way through. The set up was simple; it was more an issue of extricating all the bits from their plastic pouches and then working out what the heck went where that took the time. [Just don’t mention the sheer torture of disassembling and getting it back in the box. Thanks to my wife, Yoko, the kit-set queen.] Once it was assembled and in place, the on-screen set-up was smooth; no problem getting it online wirelessly with my modem, and the whole thing just worked, which is always a great feeling.
I followed speaker set-up procedure, using the little microphone to measure the distance between the speakers and figure out the right volume. Unfortunately, automatic speaker set-up was hopeless, and I ended up with surround speakers that were way too loud and a dialogue speaker that was so quiet that all the best lines got drowned out by music and sound effects. Still, it was easy to go to manual set-up, and I quickly got the speaker volume (in relation to each other and my sitting position) just right.
Aesthetically, the system is fairly typical of low-cost contemporary home theatres, and while the speakers are sleek, they’re also made of a light, hollow, shiny plastic material. Personally, I would rather mount satellite speakers on my walls than have these thin columns cluttering up my floor space, but that’s just me. The Blu-ray player-cum-receiver is, by contrast, rather handsome, and that’s mostly because of the two glowing valves. So, what’s that all about?
Samsung refers to the valves as ‘vacuum tube amplification technology’, and this is what they say: “The patent-pending Vacuum Tube built into this Samsung’s [sic] home entertainment system helps to enrich your audio experience by immersing yourself within your content. The vacuum tube helps to produces [sic] a warm, rich and enveloping sound.”
Okay, so Samsung’s product description is pidgin English, but it also lacks any real detail about this ‘vacuum tube’. Samsung claims elsewhere that the source signal goes through a quality DAC, then to the vacuum tube pre-amp, and then to a Class D amp with a claimed rating of 1330Watts. Hmm. Traditionally, valves need maintenance and, eventually, replacing; presumably, Samsung’s ‘patent-pending valve technology’ means they’ve come up with a tube that will last as long as the Blu-ray player does.
It does appear to have more than just novelty value. While budget home theatre systems typically suck very badly when it comes to quality sound reproduction, the HT-E6750W has a smooth playback which boxes well above its weight. Where the average $1400 system would sound boxy and shrill, the Samsung acquits itself surprisingly well.
Viewing movies, there’s none of that nasally, pinched sound that typically comes from a compromised receiver and tiny, low quality speakers. And although the system is not capable of the thrilling dynamics of a real home theatre experience (that is, dedicated receiver, quality drivers, much higher price), what it is capable of is sound that’s one heck of a lot more pleasing to the senses than what your TV panel is capable of. Sound that has some heft, and will give you goosebumps when an eery sound effect creeps up on you from behind.
Music sounds okay, too, as long as it’s coasting along at fairly low volume, and your brain isn’t telling your ears to apply any degree of critical listening. The thing is, nobody would buy a system like this for music listening. What I found on any music Blu-ray disc or DVD with a wide sound spectrum was that as soon as I pumped up the volume, it sounded horrible: the bass became this huge, globulous monster that dragged behind the beat like the fat ass of a desperately dieting Jazzerciser. And while it was momentarily pleasing to hear music in ‘surround’, the pleasure button soon turned to irritation as the system’s inability to resolve the various sonic strands of a musical performance became apparent.
I’ve got quite a few albums that have been reissued with both stereo (CD) and surround sound (DVD) remasters, and found myself comparing the two-channel version of some of these discs played through my hi-fi with the surround version played through the Samsung home theatre system. In each case, the difference was damning: hearing the two-channel version CD through my Martin Logans was almost holographic. Via the Samsung, the sound from each speaker was far too directional, so there was no sonic envelopment, and aside from the aforementioned problem of the dragging bass response, the mids were comparably devoid of texture, and the highs just any real zing.
My guess is that, apart from the sheer novelty value of Samsung’s valves, they also help to temper the usual sharpness in the sound of low-cost home theatre, but that it’s mainly to the benefit of movies: dialogue and sound effects.
Also: Is this system really 7.1? Normally, a 7.1 system comes with genuine rear and side speakers, but Samsung has seen fit to combine multi-speaker configurations into what looks for all the world like a 5.1 system. I think that’s a bit cheeky. Yes, I get it, the appropriate channels are there, in the swivel-top ability of the front speakers, but technically, it would be a bit more honest to call it 5.1-enhanced. On the plus side, there’s certainly less hassle setting up fewer speakers.
Generally, the system was a joy to use. Although I paired it with a fairly old Sony panel, it didn’t have a hissy fit for the sake of brand-allegiance, and the Smart Hub display allowed me to access the internet and various apps. This really opens up a whole new way of viewing to the average couch potato, because it includes a range of apps, a web browser, and there’s AllShare Play, which “puts all the files on your home network in one place”. I did, however, find that it’s response was slow, and the interface clunky to use, without a handy keyboard for typing searches. My guess is that this home theatre would work like a dream with the latest gesture-controlled Samsung panels. I also found it simple as pie to use the Samsung receiver with supplementary media.
Samsung could rightly claim that with the HT-E6750, they had a home theatre system with all the bells and whistles. Want to run analogue audio out? Hey, presto! Need to use HDMI as a switcher? That can be arranged. Keen to use its downtime streaming thousands of internet radio stations? Easy-peasy.
I do have a few more gripes: While the Blu-ray player was quick to start-up, it was also very noisy, and I’m guessing that’s the patent-pending valve groaning away. The Blu-ray player wouldn’t play some region codes that my older Sony BD player deals with, no questions asked. And the remote control, while it feels good in the hand and has pleasantly tactile, squishy rubber pads, is annoying to use in low-light situations. The remote’s layout is unintuitive, and it’s difficult to hold it and reach all the right buttons with the digits of one hand. And while I’m at it, the on-screen graphic for ‘volume’ is ugly and aesthetically unappealing, and it comes up every time you adjust the volume. And the speakers, despite their upgraded glass-fibre cones, are constructed with a plastic material that just can’t be any good for sound conduction.
Despite a bunch of reservations, however, the HT-E6750W is exceptional value at its low-cost price point, and I would have no hesitation in recommending it for certain scenarios. Perfect for a smaller, second lounge or as part of an entertainment hub, perhaps, this system presents itself as a genuine entertainment hub, and for the price, is a steal.
[Note: if you think my star rating is on the low side, consider the fact that my rating for most home-theatre-in-a-box systems would probably hover around the one-star mark]. GARY STEEL