For the otherwise uninitiated, Virtual Surround Sound (VSS) is the simpler and more compact way to simulate and enjoy the superior audio quality you’d get with a standard 5.1 surround sound audio receiver set-up – save for all those unsightly cables and space-consuming speakers that require a messy installation. All that’s generally needed with a virtual surround sound system is one speaker, one subwoofer, and a digital audio amplifier as pictured above.
So to those with limited space, to those that live in condos or apartments where every single square inch counts, to those in boardrooms and classrooms, and to those that just simply can’t be bothered with the all the time, hassle, and effort required to set up an audio receiver with accompanying speakers and cables, a virtual surround sound system could be just what you’ve been waiting for.
With the latest and greatest line of audio products from Niro, care of legendary sound engineer Niro Nakamichi, “oops, they did it again” would be an apt way to describe their most recent exploits (minus the oops part, because they really do know what they’re doing), specifically the Niro 620 virtual surround sound system. And for those of you out there who want, and have been waiting for great audio to compliment a great picture, this will most certainly be music to your ears.
Style & Appearance
One of the first things you’ll likely notice about the Niro 620 and the three separate components that make it up (satellite speaker, digital audio amplifier, and subwoofer), is just how compact and unassuming everything is. The speaker weighs about 7.7 pounds minus the 16.5 foot fixed cable, with dimensions of: W x D x H: 23.25 x 4.2 x 4.25 inches. The amplifier tips the scales at an ultra-light four pounds and 13 ounces, measuring in at: W x D x H: 7.9 x 11.7 x 2.2 inches. And finally, the subwoofer, being the largest of three, measures in at: W x D x H: 10.4 x 13.4 x 13.7 inches, and weighs 20 pounds not including the 16.5 fixed cable. Matching the convenience of its size and weight, the Niro 620 comes in your choice of a black or silver color finish, thus blending in perfectly with any of your other electronic components. The sturdy build is equaled only by a stylish design that features a healthy mix of straights edges and rounded contours.
In terms of audio juice, the Niro 620 offers 27 watts per five channels in the speaker, plus an additional 45 watts for the subwoofer, for a total output power of 180 watts. The subwoofer features an eight-inch driver with a high density MDF finish for better sound resonance, while the satellite speaker integrates five 2.5-inch speakers, that, while all in-line, feature subtle angled shifts away from each other for more efficient sound dispensation, and a high-grade, low resonance wood cabinet with extra coarse grill for enhanced sound quality. The amplifier features variable fan speeds which run low (quiet) when audio volume levels are low, and faster when audio volume is higher, thus assuring you that your product will never overheat and always be running at only optimum performance levels. Clearly, a whole lot of audio engineering expertise went into this product, and as we’ll discuss in greater detail further down, it all paid off
Set-Up & Performance
While many electronics manufacturers can claim that setting up their product is easy as a snap, the Niro 620 actually follows through on this promise. In fact, it’s quite possible that the actual unpacking and inserting of batteries in the remote control will take longer than the actual set-up of the Niro 620. As designed, the Niro 620 is an audio terminal only, meaning it handles all the audio and you take care off all the video. The amplifier features rear audio inputs that include: Optical audio (2), Coaxial (1), and Composite/Analog (1), as well as front audio inputs that offer one additional Optical and Composite/Analog input, along with a mini-jack for headphones. Thinking ahead, the amplifier’s rear features a memory card slot that virtually “future-proofs” your product by offering you the ability to upgrade or expand your Niro 620 down the road. When setting up, all you have to do is insert the subwoofer and speaker cables into the back of the amplifier where everything is clearly labeled for you, then determine what type of audio connection (Coaxial, Optical, or Analog) you plan of running from your video source (DVD player, Blu-ray player, gaming console, etc.) to the digital audio amplifier. Assuming you have your video cable and sources connected accordingly, all you need to do is power up the Niro 620 to start enjoying high-quality, virtual surround sound. Because the Niro 620 doesn’t offer video switching, the only thing you’ll need to do is toggle between at least two remotes to control your video and audio sources, although you can program your Niro 620 remote to control other electronic components such as DVD players and television sets.
Having taken care of all the setting up, it was now time to test out the Niro 620. Via a Coaxial audio connection, a 47-inch LCD TV, and the Pioneer DV-400V DVD player, my test subjects began with two movies: Pearl Harbor and The Fifth Element,in a room which measured 18 x 13 x 9 (L x W x H) feet. As per Niro recommendations, the Niro 620 is best enjoyed for optimal performance in an average to mid-sized room from six to eight feet away, and such, that’s just what I did.
First up was Pearl Harbor in all of its Hollywood, Michael Bay-infused mediocrity, though it does offer plenty of action and high-octane explosions that are a perfect sounding board for audio testing purposes. Without beating around the bush, I jumped straight ahead to Chapter 21: Hostility Imminent, which was the anticipatory and short-build up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. If you’ve just watched this movie or that specific scene with standard TV set audio, you’re only getting about half of the actual experience. While the scene becomes a veritable cacophony of chaos and a pure visceral assault of the senses, the Niro 620 managed to handle every explosion and whimper that was underpinned by a heart-wrenching score, with relative ease, Even with the volume cranked to ear-splitting levels, the Niro 620 managed to keep everything clear and crisp, and as each bomb and bullet found its target, and as each fighter jet screamed by overhead, you did get a fairly accurate sensation of being surrounded by sound, and the sub did a great job with all the low frequency audio, rendering each blast and explosion of gunfire with a nice, deep and rich bass. Next up was The Fifth Element, an all-together visual tour de force courtesy of Luc Besson, which, while lacking the explosion- overkill of Pearl Harbor, still offered much in the way of great audio, comprised of stellar sound cues and uber-rich bass lines, especially in Chapter 26: “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Chapter 27: Leeloo & Mangalores, which just so happened to be the focal point of my testing. All of this dense and fertile audio emerged from the Niro 620 with such force and grace that it was almost impossible to believe that such a compact single-speaker and subwoofer combo could pull such a thing off. Even during the less frantic segments where only dialogue and music were featured, the Niro 620 offered clean, rich, and natural audio that seemed to fill the room. The next phase of testing involved music CDs, and the two I used were “Southern Harmony And Musical Companion” by the Black Crowes and Interpol’s "Turn on the Bright Lights.” For those that enjoy and appreciate good music, regardless of genre, these two albums would be a terrific place to start. At any rate, as I’d mentioned in my review for the flagship audio system by Niro, the Niro 1000, the Niro 620 managed to find a whole other level of auditory goodness when it came to audio/music CDs. While even just in standard two-channel Stereo, or amped up Stereo EXP mode (which I preferred), without getting too technical on you here, everything just sounded tremendous, fabulous, fantastic, exceptional, and every other like adjective you can throw its way. While I’ll stop just shy of sounding like one of those lame and “possibly” fabricated customer testimonials that might say: “If I closed my eyes, it sounded as if the music was being performed live, right in front of me!” I will say that this was probably the next best thing. Even with the volume jacked up to obscenely ridiculous levels, the audio never once even so much as flinched, keeping everything sharp and smooth.The audio and accompanying musical riffs had a great left-to-right, and right-to-left feel about them, and the five separate channels of audio did a tremendous job individualizing and bringing out all the subtle nuances of each and every instrument. The subwoofer once again proved its worth by grinning in the face of deep and rich bass, right before it delivered it with the requisite deepness and richness it needed. Vocals had a nice central focus to them, and at no point felt muddled or overwhelmed by the music. In short: should you want to host a shindig for a large or small gathering of people and not date yourself by busting out the obnoxious, yet oddly endearing boombox from the Grandmaster and the Furious Five days, the Niro 620 is the quintessential solution.
Our next bit of testing involved taking the Niro 620 out if its element and comfort zone by using it in a much larger space (L:30 x W: 29.5 x H: 9 feet). I’ll keep this short and sweet: while the Niro 620 has a mere fraction of its auditory visceral presence in an extra-large room, the points worth considering here are A. it’s not designed to work as well in exceptionally large spaces, and B. it’s expressly designed to work in average to smaller-sized rooms where space is an issue, as is the idea of running multiple cables and speakers worth of clutter. Despite lacking the ferocious audio bite and surround sound-feel as it did in the other room, the Niro 620 still proved to be a gamer, offering the same crisp and rich audio that are Niro hallmarks, and providing an otherwise enjoyable soundscape to listen to.
To summarize my thoughts on the audio performance of the Niro 620 and virtual surround sound systems in general: at the end of the day, there is no substitute for the genuine article. Separating the fact from fiction, it’s absolute fiction to believe that a single-speaker plus subwoofer package can truly replicate and duplicate the auditory and visceral surround sound sensation that one gets from a conventional 5.1 or 7.1 audio receiver set-up. Having said that, it is quite possible to enjoy premium quality sound that offers you a reasonable facsimile to the 5.1 or 7.1 experience, and in this respect, the Niro line of virtual surround sound systems, including the Niro 620, are unquestionably at the very top of the food chain.
For far too long, many of us have had to suffer and endure lackluster TV-quality audio for fear of the cost involved with buying a proper home theater audio package, or the equally unpleasant notion of having to turn our rooms upside down with all manner of cables and speakers. Then along comes progress and technology in the form Niro, and in this particular case, the Niro 620, and just renders that entire notion simple, pedestrian, and archaic. If you’re looking for high-end, top-quality sound to match your super-nice HD picture, then the Niro 620 is the smart, simple, and convenient choice that will take your audio to the next level and beyond.
Manufacturer Homepage: www.niro1.com
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