HTS Moderator , Reviewer
photo courtesy of XTZ Sound
The subject of this review is a 5.1 Cinema Series system from XTZ Sound. The Cinema Series is the company's top-of-the-line home theater package targeted at the serious audiophile, the person who doesn't wish to compromise on any aspect of their HT experience. Each piece in the Cinema line was designed to integrate perfectly with the others, yet somehow XTZ still managed to differentiate them such that they retain their own unique character.
It all starts with the M6 (Main, 6 drivers) speaker, a very unique configuration featuring four 1" soft dome tweeters in a clustered array called the Quattro. Those are flanked on either side by a 5.25" midrange driver. XTZ sent me three M6's to use for LCR (left, center, right) duties. They measure a fairly tidy 17.3x9.1"x8.7" (HWD at their largest dimension), yet they weigh a substantial 20 pounds each. Listed frequency response is 75Hz-30kHz, +/- 3dB. The in room rating is 55Hz-30kHz.
For surround duty I received a pair of S5 (Surround, 5 drivers) speakers, and they have an even more unorthodox layout than the M6. Here you'll find a single front-firing 4" midrange that sits above a pair of 1" soft dome tweeters in a vertical alignment. On the left and right sides of the cabinet are 3" wide band drivers. All told, you can setup the S5's in 3 different ways; strictly front-firing, dipole (side only) or Dipole 3X which is both front and side firing together. Smaller than the M6, the S5 measures 11.1"x8"x8.8" (HWD) yet still weighs a solid 16.5 pounds. Quoted frequency response is 80-30kHz, +/- 3dB. XTZ rates them for 70Hz-30kHz in room.
Given the number of drivers used in the M6 speakers and the S5 surrounds none of the cabinets were as large as I would have expected they might be. The SUB3X12 subwoofer is another story though, because this thing is both large and imposing.
Weighing in at an almost unbelievable 170 pounds, the SUB3X12 (subwoofer,3x12" drivers) is no shrinking violet. The tape measure showed it to be 44.5"x21"x22" (HWD), the largest subwoofer I have ever tested. Where the M6 and S5 speakers pack a lot into a small enclosure the SUB3X12 does the exact opposite and goes for cubic volume instead. Stated frequency response when using the amp in 'Anechoic EQ' mode is 16-160Hz with the port open, 22-160Hz if it's sealed. If you switch to 'Room Gain EQ' mode those numbers change to 24-160Hz with the port open and 28-160Hz with it sealed. I did try several variations to see what they sounded like, but in the end settled on the Anechoic EQ mode with the port open for the majority of this review.
Despite the stark difference in overall dimensions between the speakers and subwoofer they all share a very unique design characteristic; the enclosures use asymmetrical layouts. That provides several benefits, not the least of which is reduced distortion because of diminished internal standing waves. And you know me - I like things that are different - so right away the XTZ Cinema Series had my attention.
XTZ Sound is an Internet Direct company based in Sweden. Their North American distribution channel, XTZ Sound US, has been a presence in the States for about 3 years now. They have no dealer network in the US so all of their products ship directly from them. Each M6 speaker retails for $1000, while the S5 surrounds go for $700 apiece. The SUB3X12 subwoofer sells for $2500. All told the 5.1 system I reviewed would come to $6900.
XTZ Sound offers a 2 year warranty on their electronics, 5 years on everything else. They also provide what appears to be an industry first; a 60 day in-home trial period. That means you can evaluate this system for as long as 2 months before you have to decide whether you want to keep it. That's an incredibly long period of time, but XTZ Sound offers more; they will pay shipping both ways! When taken as a whole I don't think any other company is providing their customers with a package this generous.
Because the SUB3X12 is so large XTZ Sound shipped everything via trucking company, meaning strapped to a skid and wheeled up your driveway on a pallet jack. Since that colossus is the centerpiece of the system, from a visual standpoint anyway, let's start the unboxing there.
The sub comes in a thick cardboard box you have to lift straight up to get off, which is certainly not the typical fare I've grown accustom to with hinged flaps that are taped shut. The two portions were secured by oblong plastic cups around the edges that almost looked like hand holds. They aren't though because the sub weighs far too much for you to ever pick up the carton by them. Once everything was unclipped and the top portion removed I found the SUB3X12 held in place with sizable medium density foam blocks at the top and bottom, along with additional supports in the middle. The subwoofer was inside a gigantic cloth bag with a neatly tied drawstring keeping the outside world at bay. There are 3 separate round grills, one for each driver, which were inside a plastic bag tucked elegantly into their own individual cutout in the foam.
One little tip from me to you; given the SUB3X12 is almost 4 feet tall and weighs about 170 pounds it is not the easiest thing in the world to move around by yourself. When your new toy arrives consider inviting a few buddies over to help with the unboxing and placement in your spot of choice. I've now grown accustom to moving some of these beastly subwoofers around using a dolly, hand truck, packing blankets and ratchet straps. Not everyone owns all those helpers though so a couple of friends can surely make the task much easier. Besides, the look on their collective faces when they see this thing might be worth the price of admission.
Switching from the subwoofer to the speakers I find myself saying something I never thought I would in a review; double boxing was not necessary this time. There, I said it! The reason is the cardboard XTZ uses is triple the thickness of what you find on a standard shipping carton. Once opened I found an additional double thick sheet of cardboard laid across the top, further protecting everything from damage. Each speaker was placed in a custom fit cloth bag making for a neat and tidy appearance. Before you can get to them you'll have to remove the 2" medium density foam sheet that encompasses the entire top of the box. The bottom is protected in the exact same manner.
Both the subwoofer and speakers include white cloth gloves to protect the finish from fingerprints and smudges during installation. As is typically the case, they wouldn't fit my largish hands so I didn't use them. Truth be told I'm not sure you even need gloves; the speakers are covered in a matte black paint while the subwoofer uses a lightly textured finish, also in matte black. Something to cover your greasy paws may be advantageous when dealing with high-gloss paint, but since XTZ uses just a splash of that on the M6's faceplate gloves are superfluous really.
Everything came with its own individual magazine style owner's manual printed on thick coated paper stock. Thumbing through the semi-gloss pages yields a wealth of information about speakers and subwoofers in general, along with more specific details about the respective Cinema product it was covering. Language translation issues are still present in XTZ manuals so you might come across a few abnormalities. I would suggest you take the time to go through them despite the occasional translation stumble because there is a lot of good information to be had.
"very different" are the first words that came to mind when I setup the XTZ Cinema Series system in my listening room. However, "different" does not mean bad in this case like it so often does. Different is something I relish. For me that means a company who thinks outside the box (in this case, literally), a product that bucks conventional wisdom. Unique, innovative, not the same-old same-old. Everything about the Cinema Series is distinctive, atypical even. As with the unboxing, I'll begin with the SUB3X12.
How many of you can say they've ever encountered a subwoofer that stands close to 4 feet tall, almost 2 feet wide and deep, and weighs more than the average female in the US? I haven't come across anything like it before, that's for sure. Just looking at this thing you know it means business. Then there's the M6 speakers with dual 5.25" midrange drivers, which isn't a terribly uncommon layout really. What's not typical though is the fact they bracket an array consisting of 4 soft dome tweeters. Do you have something like that now? Didn't think so. So why 4 tweeters then? Glad you asked...
The first benefit is probably obvious; the more drivers sharing a frequency range the less each are stressed individually, which in turn means lower distortion. It also creates less thermal load which translates into... well, less distortion. Double bonus right there, but XTZ ain't done yet. Another benefit is a lower crossover point is possible due to the fact you can now spread the upper frequency responsibilities across multiple drivers, thereby not stressing a single drive unit. Most tweeter-to-midrange crossover points are in the 2-3kHz area, smack dab in the middle of the vocal range. Not good. Our ears are particularly sensitive to any abnormality in voices, so even a slight speaker coloration there is often quite obvious (something I used to my advantage during the movie and music testing phases). Exacerbating all of that is the fact a midrange driver in the 5+ inch range tends to be directional and 'beams' when asked to reproduce frequencies too high, but a tweeter doesn't exhibit that trait.
Like everything else in life there is no free ride. Multiple tweeters have many advantages but they have drawbacks as well, not the least of which is when they're placed in close proximity they often step on each other's toes. So how do you engineer around that problem? The solution turns out to be rather straightforward; don't let them all play the exact same frequencies over a broad range. Three of the tweeters in the M6 concentrate all their energy on reproducing a very narrow range of just 1kHz to 3kHz, and then they roll off and go silent. From that point on a single tweeter takes over and handles everything up to 20kHz. Sounds horribly out of whack doesn't it? That was my first impression as well, but what I saw on paper and what I heard with my ears were two totally different things. I'm no sound engineer but I do know what I like and to be perfectly frank I only care about the end result, essentially that which my ears hear. Logically XTZ's approach seems wrong to me, yet audibly it's hard to imagine them executing any better.
As mentioned previously the front panel of the S5 contains a pair of the same tweeters used with the M6 speakers, along with a single 4" midrange. On each side of the enclosure is a 3" full-range driver which can be used to compliment the front-firing drivers. Or not, because you can configure the S5 to use just the front drivers, only the side drivers or all of them concurrently (which XTZ designates as Dipole 3X). The 3 different ways you can setup the S5 allows for tremendous flexibility in placement, making it such that no matter what type of room layout you have - or where you put them - you're able to get the S5 to function exactly as your specific situation calls for.
Not a single plain rectangular cabinet exists in the Cinema Series lineup. I enjoyed typing that line because I get weary looking at ordinary enclosures all the time. The SUB3X12 is trapezoidal while the speakers are angled and slanted. With almost no symmetrical walls the cabinets inherently minimize interior refraction from sound waves. This phenomenon creates distortion which contributes to audible degradation, so by virtually eliminating that you start off with an intrinsic advantage. Plus, everything looks really cool.
The SUB3X12 is constructed using 1" MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) while the speakers are built from HDF (High Density Fiberboard). The latter is a variation of the former, but it is a more robust product. When you rap your knuckles on the top or side of the SUB3X12 a certain hollow sound can be heard, but given that this is a 4 foot tall bass reflex subwoofer - so a small closet with drivers essentially - anything other than that would be surprising. The speakers come off more like a monolith instead, sounding almost solid (as in the real sense of the word, meaning no internal parts).
XTZ used recesses for the drivers and the amp on their subwoofer, so it's all nicely flush mounted. There are dual 1" painted MDF window braces running the circumference of the interior walls, just below the top and middle drivers. Double layers of 1.5" acrylic acoustic damping mats cover all the interior walls. Thick, twisted pair wire bundles run from each amp to its respective driver (every driver has its own discrete 500 watt RMS Claridy class D monoblock amp). Decorative extension pieces made from a composite material cover the driver on the front part of the cabinet, visually separating them into what almost appears to be 3 distinct chambers. Even with the grills off the SUB3X12 has a finished appearance so there's no penalty for those who might want to do that. All of this goodness sits on top of 5 good size rubber feet which are attached to a 1" MDF baseplate. I observed not a single visible flaw in the finish or construction of any piece.
The SUB3X12's enclosure is finished with "Non reflective Matte black 8 layers paint on the front and Studio finish matt paint on side, top and backside". I'm not certain what a "Studio finish" is but it was indeed non-reflective, which is a good thing because you certainly don't want something as large as the SUB3X12 becoming a mirror in your theater room. The composite pieces on the front are smooth as glass while the top, back and sides all have a slight texture to them. I accidentally tested its abrasive properties by swiping my hand over the top one evening to brush off some dust. In the process I rubbed a little epidermis from my palm and fingertips which left a very dull white patch behind. The finish isn't rough to the touch - more along the lines of very fine sandpaper, the type used for wet sanding - but I did rethink my dusting strategy after that.
The grills are held in place by small magnets embedded in the plastic frame. They aren't the most robust grills I've ever come across, and truthfully seem less than fitting for a subwoofer in this price class. The magnets are encased within rubber plugs so there won't be any damage to the finish no matter how frequently you may choose to take them off and on. The grill material is acoustically transparent and very well attached.
When viewed in person the drivers certainly appear up to the task at hand. XTZ uses a basket which consists of 4 thick spokes as the foundation. The cone is made from treated paper with a dense rubber surround, topped off with a composite dust cap embossed with the company logo. Motivating it is a large vented motor structure with dual magnets, all of which is covered by a rubber sleeve. The wire leads are sewn into the spider to ensure they don't slap around during periods of heavy excursion.
I do have a few quibbles with the Claridy amps, at least with regards to how they handle the On/Off/Auto functionality. In short, they have a couple of personality traits that I never came to terms with. One in particular is they ("they" because there is 3 of them) go into standby mode too quickly and easily for my tastes. I had that occur frequently while watching sporting events, often to the point where they wouldn't stay on during a commercial-show-commercial cycle; by the time the 2nd set of commercials came on the amp had already gone to sleep. The trigger mechanism seems to be programmed for a short duration between bass events. Too short for me anyway.
As is my wont I compose all the free-form notes I take during an evaluation into a review while the system in question is playing music softly in the background. That allows me to work at my most creative level, so it's how I like to write. I wasn't able to do that this time unfortunately because the SUB3X12 kept going to sleep on me. It took a bit of juice to wake it up as well so unless I goosed the volume it stayed in Standby mode.
I could always forgo Auto mode of course, and leave it in the On position - which is what I eventually did - but in so doing I found the amps generated some warmth. Not hot mind you, but not entirely cool either. That might be partially due to how many amps are in the cabinet, two of which are directly attached to the rear plate I was placing my hand on. Interesting side note... if you run the SUB3X12 aggressively the amps don't seem to get too much warmer than at idle, so pushing this subwoofer was never an issue.
If I was going to be away for more than 1 day I tended to switch the amp into Auto mode so it would cool down completely. Upon my return I'd flip it back into On mode, but here is where I found another quirk; on a few occasions they didn't want to comply. The LED on the amp panel would go from red to blinking green, which indicates the mode switch, but no matter how loud I turned up the volume there was no bass. Cycling the power and switching modes back and forth (On to Standby and vice-a-versa) didn't seem to help. At some undetermined point the amp would suddenly decide to come back from suspended animation and switch on all by itself though. I was never able to determine what caused this behavior.
The amp has provisions for both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs. There is also an XLR 'pass thru' that allows you to daisy chain multiple SUB3X12 units. In that instance each subwoofer retains the ability to be individually controlled and tuned, so dialing everything in will never be a problem. There's a variable Low Pass Filter with clearly marked delineations for everything from 40Hz-160Hz. Right next to that is a Phase knob with the most common settings of 0, 90 and 180 degrees highlighted. The last dial is for Bass Level, which is fundamentally the same thing as a "volume" or "gain" control. As with the other two adjusters this one has markings for the most common settings. XTZ approaches their amps from a different angle than most other companies it seems; everything is very clear and easy to set. No guess work, no ambiguity. Certainly made my life easier.
There are three toggle switches, the first of which enables/disables the Low Pass Filter mentioned above. Next to that is one which sets the EQ mode, either Anechoic or Room Gain. Anechoic boosts the low end response, based upon the assumption your particular environment will not naturally do so (large areas or those heavily treated with acoustic material will generally fall into this category). Room Gain is what should be used if your space is smaller because those areas tend to add their own boost to the lower frequency range, so that setting rolls off the response sooner. The last switch controls the power mode, with settings for on/auto/off.
Similar to the SUB3X12, both the M6 and S5 speakers use a matte paint theme on all the exterior panels. Unlike the SUB3X12 however, there's a high-gloss painted faceplate that extends out from the front panel about .25" onto which the drivers are mounted. It's not shaped identical to the enclosure itself though, so you can still see the matte finish around the edges. I liked the overall appearance of these speakers a lot. Even with the grills off everything blends to form a striking character all its own, different than any speaker I have come across to date.
The grills are held on by rubberized magnets, but in this case they're formed into tiny stand-off's that raise the frame slightly off the front panel. The shape of the grill perfectly mirrors that of the extended high-gloss faceplate the drivers are mounted to, so when attached it forms a very sleek appearance. They're made from some type of polished composite or plastic material, but similar to the SUB3X12 they don't really match the strength and feel of the speaker itself. Grill material is transparent and was attached impeccably. I didn't use them for very long though; because of the very unique appearance of these speakers I did something I almost never do, and that's review them with the grills off.
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 ft^3), so it's not terribly large. The main seating position is approximately 11 feet from the subwoofer. All testing was done after everything had been broken in for at least 20 hours.
There's something about a high-end setup that is rather difficult to accurately describe. I'm a big fan of budget products - and have done my very best to ensure they get represented properly - but listening to speakers and subwoofers designed to provide an elevated level of detail and nuance is really something to behold. The sense of involvement is undeniable, you're inescapably drawn in. You may not even realize that its happened, but invariably it does. Being able to faithfully reproduce a soundtrack to the point where you get lost in the experience is what so many strive for, yet few are able to achieve. Realism ultimately rules the day and in that regard the XTZ Cinema Series probably has few rivals at this price point.
Subtleties not perceptible with lesser systems are in abundance here, that which might be masked by more humble setups was anything but. Seemingly insignificant parts of a soundtrack, which individually may mean little, are collectively presented in a way that brings everything up a notch. Undertones that could go unnoticed no longer do. The illusion that the movie producer or recording artist tried to create becomes reality. It's all quite enjoyable and highly addictive.
However, what the XTZ Cinema Series doesn't do turned out to be as important as what it does; it commits no mistakes, proving unflappable. Never once did I hear the SUB3X12 make an untoward noise, no port chuffing, no complaints from the drivers, no audible distortion, no abnormal sounds. The limiters are done to perfection, and no matter what I threw at it I wasn't able to get the thing to stumble and fall. Same with the speakers; crank the volume and they simply get louder, no theatrics, no harsh or biting treble, no loss of composure. It was as though everything was always well within the design limits. There was nary a complaint from any piece the entire time I had the system. I can't say that same thing about too many other products I've reviewed.
I agonized over the movie selections more than normal because I wanted to be sure every piece of this system had the opportunity to take center stage (so it could either sail or fail). My selection process proved too elaborate unfortunately and was causing me to waver back and forth - paralysis by analysis, as it were - so I finally decided to work from the bottom to the top. By that I mean the first criteria was to select movies with the ability to pound the SUB3X12, since subwoofers are basically my stock in trade and I know how to mistreat them perhaps more so than any other component, and then from there winnow down my selections to just a few that had an additional three key elements:
- sound effects that could actually occur in everyday life, so I could gauge realism
- scenes of utter chaos, to test how the system held up when pushed with intricate material
- lots of different voices (more on that in the paragraphs below)
Open Range (DVD)
In the context of audio reviews Open Range is primarily known for one thing; the amazing impact caused by firearms used during the gun fight in scenes 14 and 15. Although I used that part of the movie to exercise the SUB3X12 with those concussive blasts, it's the understated aspects I was more interested in this time. The multitude of voices, the sound of things like boots walking across dirt and gravel, the whistling of bullets as they ricocheted off all manner of things, the howls of anguish in the background from the injured, all of it. When watching a movie it's these delicate undertones that coalesce and form the overall experience. Simply reproducing the soundtrack is a poor substitute for involving you directly in the action, and yet unless your system can resolve an abundance of disparate sounds simultaneously you'll never fully realize the potential. While from an action standpoint this movie may seem laconic, its true value comes in gradation. Oh yea, and voices. Lots of them.
I often surprise people by saying many of the movies I gravitate toward when reviewing speakers are those that have a plethora of voices. Why? It's simple actually; everyone knows exactly what human voices sound like - you hear them all the time - yet how many people really know what a Colt 45 sounds like? Very few, so while it's nice to throw them into the mix for me I pay closer attention to what I know better, voices. The XTZ M6 speakers absolutely shined here.
Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Dean McDermott, Michael Jetter, the list goes on. Males, females, deep voices, high voices, British accent, you name it this movie has them all. There are a lot of scenes with just a bunch of dialog too, and the M6 speakers ate it all up. No matter who was talking - or how many at any given time - they never faltered, never left me wanting. This is a different level of detail here folks.
I would be remiss if I didn't also give the SUB3X12 a suitable workout, so after jotting down my notes about the speakers I decided to push things a little by cranking the volume during the aforementioned gun battle. I wasn't the least bit dissatisfied. Shots rang out with authority and weight, each time a bullet hit something there was a sharp percussion. Shotgun blasts ratcheted up the mayhem by jumping out of the subwoofer with a commanding presence. Thanks to ample dynamics pistols, rifles and shotguns all sounded distinct and unique, without relegating voices to the background, bringing a sense of balance to it all. Simultaneously powerful and polished.
Time for some pandemonium. Like Open Range, Cloverfield is known for deep bass. Unlike Open Range though, this one has tons of it. And mayhem, lots of that too.
I started with scene 5, which is where the first appearance of the alien beast occurs. One area I focused on in particular is when it tosses the Statue of Liberty's head into the streets of lower Manhattan. From there it invades the island and destroys its first building, causing the thing to crumble into a heap of rubble. The SUB3X12 ably produced all the ground-shaking effects, adding heft where it should and holding back when required. There was also enough headroom to ensure those shifts of intensity were evident and proportional. I can always tell when a subwoofer is doing the job properly because two things invariably happen; my thermostat and the hallway closet door start to rattle. Both occurred during Cloverfield. As capable as the SUB3X12 proved to be the speakers actually stole the show, and boy did they ever play their part beautifully.
Background sounds sprang to life, clearly heard in spite of the chaos. Panic screams, huffing from out of breath people, footsteps, glass breaking, debris raining down, sirens from the emergency vehicles, all of it resolved and presented brilliantly. I came thisclose to copying the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs from the Listening section and placing them here because it's worth repeating every word in the context of the experience I had with this movie.
I continued on with scenes 6 and 7 - enjoying them immensely - and then settled in for what I hoped would be a magnificent depiction of perhaps my favorite test, scene 8. And was it ever a treat. This is where our hapless brigade of 20 something's get caught between the beast and the military. As the marauder comes storming around a building the Army opens fire with an intense barrage, from automatic rifles to bazooka's and on to tanks, they used it all. An epic battle ensues and once again the XTZ Cinema system was up to the task.
As the troops dig in and start to unload you can hear the bullets whistling all around you (hey wait a minute, another movie with bullets?). Shell casings hit the ground with a 'tink', the footsteps from a platoon of men crunching rubbish that litters the ground, even the metallic noises that the tank tracks make. You could sense these elements held firmly in place, united, yet all distinct in a 3d panorama of sound. I actually watched this scene several times before I had compiled all my notes because I kept finding myself saying "are you kidding me?", then forgetting to jot anything down. I hate when that happens. Wait, check that; I love when that happens.
Black Hawk Down (blu-ray)
Cloverfield started with me saying "time for some pandemonium". Well, with Black Hawk Down (BHD) I'm saying it's time for some symmetry. How so? In June of 2014 I published a review on another XTZ 5.1 system which featured 95.x speakers and a W12.18 subwoofer. One of the movies I used then was BHD, and not surprisingly I did so for the same reasons I chose it this time; lots of action, a multitude of sound effects and voices. Sense a theme yet? Well, themes actually; voices and bullets. The voices part is 100% my doing - I deliberately selected movies that had a lot of dialog - but the bullets part is more coincidence than anything. It worked well though so I'm taking credit for it!
You can't use this picture in an evaluation without including the "Irene" scene (Irene is the code word the troops use to signal their mission is a 'go'). The filming of this part largely occurs on an airstrip and anyone who has experienced that environment first hand knows all too well the sensations associated to it (read: ear imploding volume and chest compressing depth). Once the code word is given the initiative begins in earnest and it's at this point the choppers spin up their rotors in anticipation of flight. The audio engineers back in the studio decided to highlight the event by creating one of the most demanding subwoofer test scenes there is - crammed with kidney pulverizing amounts of deep bass - but the SUB3X12's limiter stepped in here and said "not so fast", throttling back the output in order to protect the drivers. The impact was still very good mind you, but it didn't totally dominate like I have experienced at times in the past. That type of behavior is a double-edged sword really; while the protection mechanism made for a somewhat anticlimactic moment it did ensure nothing infelicitous happened. To be completely honest I would prefer it that way - "he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day" - but it can be a bit of a downer sometimes.
Amid all this commotion both the M6 and S5 speakers made sure minutia was not subjugated to the background. Chopper blades whirred, the unmistakable sound of diesel engines resonated from every HUMVEE, background voices reverberated against the metal structures of the quonset huts, the click-click from assault rifles as they were locked-n-loaded was ever present. Detritus stirred up by the rotor wash swirled around my room, the backdrop of radio chatter could be heard underneath everything, the list is practically endless. In spite of the tumult this XTZ system remained composed and equable. Need I say again that you could (should?) insert paragraphs 2 and 3 from the Listening section here?
After all the testing had concluded I checked the amp on the SUB3X12 to see how hot it had gotten, and what I found was it didn't seem to be much warmer than when it was left on with no activity. Seems like even when you punish this thing it remains unperturbed.
With speakers capable of rendering sound to the degree the XTZ system had up to this point would it be surprising if they excelled at music? No it wouldn't, and yes they did. So revealing - and flat out pleasant sounding - was this system that I spent far more time enjoying music than I did anything else. It's a rare treat for me to hear sound reproduced at this level, so I made sure I took full advantage of it.
1000HP, Godsmack (WAV)
First up is something aggressive, probably not all that shocking to most of you reading this. Having just seen this band perform live made it an even easier choice for me. 1000HP is the title track from Godsmack's 2014 album named... well, it's the title track so I guess you know what the album is called. This is a typical song for the band, which is to say a tune not for the faint of heart. Rumor has it this was the first number they ever recorded in their new Boston studio (the band originated in Boston, and when you listen to the lyrics of 1000HP it's apparently an ode to the area and their early years).
The beginning is a short piece centered around someone firing up their car and revving the engine which then immediately transitions into a driving rhythm accentuated by the kick drum of Shannon Larkin. Big block engines and heavy metal? Sign me up! Like virtually every Godsmack song this one places Sully Erna's vocals front and center (voices? yet more voices?!). The M6 speakers did not disappoint; every line Sully belted out - ok, maybe it was shouted - was crisp and clear. Since the mix is dominated by his voice, along with the guitar work of Tony Rombola and Shannon's drumming, the speakers in particular got quite a workout. Couple that to the inherent brisk pace with a lot of changes and you end up with something rather challenging to reproduce.
That was my thought when I selected this one anyway, but turns out it was no challenge at all. Whether the volume was low or cranked up high nothing was ever amiss. Vocals were straightforward, guitars sharp, drums loud and obnoxious. Basically, Godsmack at their finest; ostentatious and in your face. The XTZ Cinema Series 5.1 system reproduced all the bluster to perfection.
Silent Lucidity, Queensryche (CD)
Now that I have that out of my system, how about something completely different? Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum; while Godsmack is forceful and commanding Queensryche is antithetical, being both flamboyant and slightly pretentious. But that's what I wanted really - I'm trying to test the limits here - and one of the best ways to go about that is to dramatically switch things up. Using these two songs back-to-back should do nicely.
From the bands highly successful 1991 album Empire, Silent Lucidity is a slow and melodic tune which was written and composed - yes, composed - entirely by lead guitarist Chris DeGarmo. The reason I say "composed" is that it features a symphony orchestra during several parts, not something one normally associates to music from a rock-n-roll band. Even by Queensryche's lofty standards this one is a bit of an anomaly, grandiose and resplendent at the same time. I have yet to find any reliable source that explains the origin/inspiration of this song, but judging from the lyrics it probably has something to do with a person who passed away (accidentally or of their own hand). Perhaps it was written to mollify the pain which came as a result of the event, but either way it's a haunting melody which sticks in your head long after the tune itself stops playing. I'm not alone with that assessment either; this song won MTV's Viewer Choice Award in 1992 (when the "M" in MTV still meant "music" and not "moronic" as it seemingly does today). The XTZ Cinema Series system treated me to a spectacular and engrossing rendition of this classic.
The opening sequence is a simple acoustic guitar riff accompanied by the vocals of mercurial singer Geoff Tate (look up some of his antics and you'll know what I mean). Within the first 30 seconds the XTZ system had drawn me right in, so I was hooked almost from the get-go. By about the 1:15 mark everyone else in the band joins the party and almost instantly an entire orchestra is brought to bear as well. The SUB3X12 came on line first as the bass demands increased significantly, with it easily pounding out the simple yet notable contribution from the kick drum and bass guitar. That didn't quash anything else because the synthesizer, vocals and plethora of stringed instruments all came to life and amiably shared the stage with the rest of the instruments. Everything blended superbly, yet each element was recognizable and independent at the same time. How is that even possible? I don't know and I honestly don't care, all I want is the end result to make me smile. I got that in spades.
Soul Sacrifice (live at Woodstock), Santana (WAV)
Out of nowhere came a band that hadn't even released an album. To this very day - over 45 years after Woodstock - few people realize when Carlos Santana and his crew took the stage at the penultimate live rock event of all time that this group had played little more than bars and small clubs in and around the San Francisco area. From the viewpoint of rock bands they were nobody's really. It's the type of story you simply couldn't make up, yet one which fundamentally defined a career which has spanned decades. Spinal Tap personified.
Rumor has it Santana had the same manager as the Grateful Dead and he supposedly used that to his advantage by telling the Woodstock promoters if Carlos didn't play at the festival neither would the Dead, leverage he could exert considering how popular the Grateful Dead were at that time. The ploy worked like a charm and in the end Carlos and his band surprised everyone by putting on one of the most memorable performances of the entire event. They capped their 1 hour set with an instrumental piece titled Soul Sacrifice. By the time they stepped off the stage history had been made, and Carlos Santana's life would never again be the same.
Santana is acclaimed for giving unknown musicians a chance to shine, and he has recorded with so many different ones over the years that few people can keep track of them all, but the lineup he had at Woodstock will always be unequaled in my opinion. Consisting of Jose Areas (percussion and trumpet), Mike Carabello (congas), David Brown (bass guitar, and the only member that is no longer with us in 2015), Gregg Rolie (vocals, keyboards, maracas, tambourine and the person who went on to form the band Journey with another ex-Santana band member, guitarist Neal Schon) and Michael Shrieve (drums). It's interesting to note that there were only 6 members of the band when they played at Woodstock, yet when you watch the documentary film about the event you would know there's at least 10 people up on that stage. There wasn't.
Michael Shrieve is possibly the most interesting story of them all. In 1969 when Michael took the stage at Woodstock he was barely 18 years old and had never left California in his life, so flying all the way across the country for this festival must have been nerve wracking for him. Now he finds himself with over 400,000 people staring back at him, not something I would have found amusing in my late teens. So how can you apply even more pressure on the kid? How about asking him to perform a 4 minute drum solo during the bands last song! No pressure there, right? Michael wasn't intimidated though and his lighting fast hands and feet became one of the highlights of the entire set.
This was one of the parts I wanted to focus on in order to gauge overall performance, and I wasn't the least bit disappointed. No matter how fast Michael played each strike of the drum was unmistakable, replete with a sharp 'snap' every time one of his drumsticks came in contact with anything. Same type of effect when Mike Carabello does his brief conga solo; I could almost close my eyes and picture his hands hitting them. The individual elements from percussion instruments wasn't the only thing that clear either. The subtle feedback from Carlos's guitar, whistles from the audience, people on stage talking in the background during the quiet passages, all of it fused into a wonderful presentation. Definitely a 'you are there' kind of moment, which is no small feat when you consider that in general this soundtrack is not the best quality and has a tendency to be a bit congested. I had a thoroughly good time in spite of that. For what it's worth, I listened to this song 3 times in a row. That's how good it sounded, and each time I was able to pick out something new.
The XTZ Cinema Series is a sonic tour de force, a complete system that encourages you to dig deep into your movie and music collection to unearth hidden gems long since forgotten. Why? Because now you will want to experience everything in your library all over again. It is so good you might find yourself spewing adjectives on a regular basis; "enthralling", "riveting", "captivating", "outstanding", think along those lines. Regardless of how complex or busy the source material was minutiae sprang to life, detail was always evident, yet there was also a deep and layered soundstage. Output was never an issue. The SUB3X12 is a beast and can certainly hold its own, but for me the real stars of this show were the speakers. Is it possible to be subtle and obvious at the same time? Rhapsodic yet subdued? Whereas some companies rely upon magniloquence to get their point across XTZ relishes understated poise. I honestly can't think of a single legitimate complaint about the M6 mains or S5 surrounds, and with how picky I am that's saying quite a lot. From their unique appearance to the unrivaled performance you're talking elite here; they look different and sound exquisite, which basically describes the ideal combination in my book. If you want a system that will simultaneously get your friends tongues wagging and their jaws dropping then XTZ Sound has something you need to hear, and it is called the Cinema Series. With 2 months to audition them in your own home, and free shipping both ways, you have absolutely nothing to lose.
Please use the XTZ Sound Cinema Series Discussion Thread for questions and comments