Most times you get what you pay for at the top end of the home theatre market, but putting together a budget solution is not always so easy.
Often you have to skimp too much on the big cinema sound or the calibration to deliver a system within a price range. Stepping up from the Home-Theatre-in-a-Box solution to a fully fledged AV receiver with all the bells and whistles, then adding some competent speakers and a big sub woofer to deliver convincing home cinema sound, generally more than triples the price.
Unless, that is, you turn to Zensonic. This gear is designed and specified in Australia before contract manufacturers overseas take control and build the gear. When it comes to specifications, the Zensonic designers have managed to combine function, quality and cost in a product that makes big home theatre sound affordable to most budgets.
The Adelaide-based company shipped us a set of its Z800 series speakers and an AV receiver, the Z1080 and, after breaking our backs lugging 100 plus odd kilos of speaker up three flights of stairs, unpacking the sub, two rears and the large front and centre speakers we were ready to hook it up.
While the owner’s manual for the receiver could have been a little more user friendly, it was not long before we had some big thumping sounds emanating from the 5.1 surround setup. Although the Z1080 is capable of driving a 7.1 system, the Z800 series speakers were more than adequate to rattle the windows of our test lounge room. Zensonic offers two speaker sets which are available either separately or as a 5.1 bundle that saves you a couple of hundred dollars on the purchase price.
The Z810 series speakers, which we didn’t test, are akin to the Z800 series – though finished in a piano black lacquer, the thumpers might have had a better chance of staying in the lounge room. Unfortunately these speakers are designed for a lounge room with a little more space than our two bedroom unit. The Z810 series loudspeakers are rated slightly lower, but the rears have triple 5.25 inch woofers and a 1 inch tweeter rather than the Z800’s double woofers.
The Z800s use aluminium cones usually found only in pro audio speakers. Aluminium is a preferred material for loudspeaker production as its stiffness delivers powerful sound with less distortion. The speakers in the set are also all magnetically shielded (often lower priced speaker sets will only shield the front speakers). Magnetic shielding allows you to place the speakers up close to the TV set without causing interference.
To take advantage of the system’s 12in long throw 150 watt sub, we cranked up the Z1080, slid in a copy of Alien Vs Predator and ratcheted up the sound. It was an impressive performance from a system that would cost less than an arm and leg.
The Z1080 is the only receiver in Zensonic’s range and it’s probably the only 7.1 surround amplifier on the market with an RRP under $700. Despite the price, the designers haven’t skimped too much on the features. Though there’s no HDMI, two sets of coaxial digital sound inputs, two sets of fibre optic inputs, component, S-Video and composite contribute to make this a receiver priced well-below its capabilities. A total of six audio inputs (DVD, Video 1, Video 2, AUX, Tape and Phono) left us looking around for more sources to plug in. The dedicated Sub line-out is another nice touch.
Inside the Z1080 box a 24-bit, 192KHz CPU handles a good range of standards, including Dolby Digital Surround EX, dts ES Discrete 6.1 and matrix 6.1 decoding, as well as Dolby Pro Logic II and dts Neo:6 Stereo to Surround sound processing for those non-5.1 tracks. A signal to noise ratio of 100dB and a healthy 120 watt RMS output power across each of the seven channels and a frequency range of 20Hz to 60KHz offered sufficient range, plenty of power and a nice clean sound.
Calibration by way of independent channel delay controls, LFE trim and compression offers good enough control over the output and speaker positioning. The set-up performed well with standard stereo CDs music, but our test hi-fi system would probably never do any amp justice. The ability to use the rears and sub in the soundstage for stereo added to a nice full effect on the soundstage.
When it came time to pack up, it was the 150 Watt RMS 12-inch subwoofer we were sorry to see go back. The long-throw sub has the ability to correct phase, adjust low frequency cut-off and it has its own volume control which all meant we could really ramp up the knee trembling explosions in our test DVD.
Zensonic Z1080 & Z800 | $699 & $999 |
For: Fantastic price for its quality; six audio outputs; dedicated Sub line-out.
Against: Manual could have been more user friendly (a feeble complaint!); no HDMI.
Verdict: An all-round impressive performance from a system that is priced well below its capabilities.