Reviews : Synergy Home Theatre Speaker System

Audio & Video Lifestyle Magazine

Sian O’Neale

The midrange segment of the home theatre market is fiercely competitive and overcrowded, but it is here in which a lot of very interesting products are offered. As consumers are upgrading their home theatre gear from mini and lifestyle systems to more specialist, up-market separate offerings from specialist manufacturers – perhaps to match the increasing sophistication of affordable DVD players in the market – clever companies are waiting until their product is right before releasing it on to the marketplace.

The local manufacturing industry has a proud track record for loudspeaker development. A quick look at the annually presented AVL Best Buy Awards will confirm that for quality and value, Aussie music lovers and home theatre enthusiasts need only to look locally for the right product. With most well known, established local manufacturers offering at least one series of dedicated home theatre loudspeakers complete with centre, rear effects, front left and right, a subwoofer and magnetic shielding all round, it is reassuring to see the local industry doing well from the onslaught of imported competition.

Regular readers of Audio & Video Lifestyle will be familiar with the prestigious Whatmough Monitors products; these no-compromise loudspeakers are designed by Colin Whatmough and are perhaps best known for their acclaimed Performance and the outstanding Signature Series, of which the imposing, awe-inspiring 503 floorstanders are the flagship. Colin Whatmough does not believe that loudspeakers for home theatre purposes should be compromised in terms of musicality; as previous auditions of Whatmough AV loudspeakers have proven, this goal has been achieved in an entire range of models that perform well in home cinema applications but also play music just as happily.

The Whatmough range is a high quality series of loudspeakers designed by the company and its more affordable models are designed in Melbourne and manufactured in China to high standards; this arrangement allows the company to sell the models at lower prices and pass the savings onto the consumer. Recent reviews of Whatmough products have been extremely favourable.

The company has now announced a newly developed series within the Whatmough Monitors infrastructure – the Synergy sub/satellite AV system. As the company explains, the new Synergy Series has been designed for those consumers wanting a high quality 5.1 surround speaker system of compact size. It does point out, however, that the subwoofer uses a 240 watt amplifier and produces usable bass well below 20Hz. The five satellite speakers, for centre, front left and right and rear left and right, are mini monitors in their own right. The Synergy system has a frequency response of 22Hz to 20kHz (±3 dB). By using an AV receiver with the speaker setting set to small, all bass below 80Hz is directed to the subwoofer; the satellites cover the frequency range above 80Hz for which they have been designed.

Miniature satellite speakers typically have attenuated output below 400-500Hz, which results in a lack of upper bass and lower midrange. As a result they sound thin and dry. However, the Synergy satellites are large enough to extend to 80Hz while being small enough to be attractive and not take up too much precious room.

Starting with the sub, the Synergy active is beautifully designed and feels like it’s built to last. It is quite heavy for a compact subwoofer with meaty onboard amplification and bullet-proof build quality, complemented by a combination of MDF and visually pleasing solid wood sides. Like all the speakers in the system, the finish is pure class. The subwoofer’s good looks are complemented by ample low-end thump, which was certainly felt through my wooden floorboards. For action movies where there are a lot of explosions, car chases, fight scenes and general audio mayhem, a good quality subwoofer like this one is essential if images and sound effects are to have maximum impact.

With one of Whatmough’s favourite demo discs, the Director’s Cut of Pearl Harbor in my Pioneer DV-717 DVD player, the stage was set for an audition full of low-end excitement. The sound from the subwoofer was fantastic with the scale of the Japanese attack, the best scene of the film, being conveyed so realistically and dramatically through the floorboards. This is what cinema magic is all about – sound that can really be felt…

The compact and superbly styled mini monitors that make up the rest of the Synergy system carry on the brand’s trend of excellent sound quality at a realistic price. The sound quality is similar in some ways to that Whatmough’s Audiolab Magnum Series speakers but, with their size advantage and altogether higher levels of performance, they may have broader appeal. In particular, the centre channel speaker which is the same in size as the other satellites, is a very practical solution and being magnetically shielded, caused no hint of colour distortion on my television. The other satellites, ideal for the matching stands, can be specified to accommodate wallmount brackets for maximum versatility

The sound quality from Whatmough’s new Synergy system will inject life into even the most soporific of films. Driven by the capable Marantz SR6200 AV receiver in conjunction with the Pioneer DV-717, the Collector’s Edition of Spiderman, which just made it in time for this review, sounded as bold, dramatic and ‘in-your-face’ as exuberant director Sam Raimi could wish. The final confrontation between ‘Spidey’ and the Green Goblin was full of electrifying, frenzied energy and the soundstage created by the speakers reproduced every crash as both characters, in turn, hit the ground. Movies that I don’t usually like such as Dances With Wolves and Last Of The Mohicans, with narrative structures that are too slow and ponderous do come to life when experienced on the Synergy system. Dialogue is crisp with excellent diction, thanks to a centre channel speaker that is so well tuned to the image that it appears to be part of the set with well-focused soundstage steering.

I’m still puzzled by the failure of Pearl Harbor, both at the box office and critically. When it comes to showcasing the talents of a system such as these Whatmoughs, it is the perfect film to demonstrate scale, grandeur and sheer impact of multichannel surround sound. Historical inaccuracies aside, Pearl Harbor is a terrific story and the already mentioned magnificent attack scene, which is more graphic in the director’s cut, is amazing in its horror and intensity. Full marks go to the Whatmoughs, which presented this scene in such a competent way that repeat viewing was essential. The illusion of being there was incredible. The company offers another system, which takes this scene to another level altogether, but the price for these particular speakers may frighten the faint-hearted…

Disaster films are often fun to test the limits of a surround sound system. The edge thriller Final Destination features a hypnotic, well-directed plane disaster sequence that is presented from different points of view. The mid-air explosion of a Boeing 747 and the aftershock as witnessed by the lead characters from inside the terminal building was shockingly real and powerful. The Synergy system did an admirable job of conveying the scale of this event and the well-projected dialogue together with subtle moments of soundtrack was expertly handled. It is hard to believe that such a powerful sound can come from speaker of such modest dimensions.

As is the case with the other models in the Whatmough range, the Synergy handle music with the same skill as with movies. The speakers are fine performers with all genres of music and they handle female vocals very well as the Faith Hill music video on the Pearl Harbor disc testifies. Faith Hill’s voice has just the right amount of projection and clarity. The midband is tight and full of articulation but listening to this track in surround 5.1 is rather weird. Use a receiver such as the well-matched Marantz SR6200 and your home theatre system will double was your main hi-fi system without any problem.

Watching a movie – any movie – with the Whatmough Monitors Synergy system is a rewarding experience. The loudspeakers are versatile, compact and will blend in with any décor, with a sound so rich and powerful, you’ll think a larger system is in operation. The subwoofer also builds on the strengths of previous models and offers even more for the money. With the reasonable price tag, this is an encore worthy of applause.

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