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Now That’s Home Entertainment

3 minute read
Josh Quittner

I guess the first time I noticed that boys are different from girls was shortly after I married. My wife had gone with me on what I thought would be a happy chore: buying a new stereo. We went to one of those electronics stores, the kind that has rack after rack of receivers attached to an infinite array of speakers. The men, heads cocked in concentration like prairie dogs before an approaching storm, stood in front of the speakers, which were turned up really, really loud. The women, including my wife, stood behind us, looking as if their teeth were being drilled.

I thought of this the other day after setting up Sony’s new S500 DVD Dream System ($600)–a souped-up sound system that features a DVD player, five 40-watt speakers and an 80-watt subwoofer. I had avoided home-entertainment centers because I figured the setup would be horrible; this one took me five minutes without once peeking at the manual, thanks to Sony’s user-friendly design and attention to detail (down to the color-coded wires).

Proudly, I called my wife into the den. What, she asked, did I intend to do about all the wires? True, five sets now ran from the thin DVD receiver to speakers flanking the TV, then cascaded across the floor to other speakers behind the couch and to the big subwoofer that sat like a hound in the center of the floor. I made a suggestion. “Drill holes in the bookcases?” repeated my wife. Then she said it again, emphasizing different words. Then she left the room, chuckling in a way that scared me.

I decided to win her over with a Blockbuster movie that would show her what this baby could do. “How’s about a Hitchcock,” suggested my wife, “or a nice Doris Day?”

“You don’t rent Doris Days for your DVD,” I explained. What your home-entertainment center wants is something that can show off its sound system: warbling aliens, metal being ripped asunder, explosions whose concussive booms start at your toes and rumble across the den and into the kitchen, where they look in the fridge for something to eat.

This system is Sony’s least expensive, and I recommend it for those who don’t mind wires. While other manufacturers make comparably priced units, the Dream Systems are the first to also incorporate “Super Audio” CD players, which play special discs that look like CDs but have superior audio quality. The music discs use all five speakers and the subwoofer to marvelous effect. You have to buy special SACDs (which will play at lower quality on standard CD players) to take advantage of this. SACDs cost around $20, and selection is limited. My wife and I ended up viewing a special edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was especially swell in our cocoon of sound.

Note to Sony for its next Dream System: Go wireless.

Questions or tips for Quittner? E-mail him at jquit@well.com

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