Samsung HT-AS600 and HT-P50 HTIB Review

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Products: Samsung HT-AS600 HTiB & Samsung HT-P50 HTiB
Provided By: Samsung Canada

Introduction:

Both professionals and amateurs involved in the audio world will tell you that this is one of the most convoluted industries around. There are buzzwords that mean nothing, false specifications, shoddy manufacturing standards, and ridiculous markups. This is due mostly in part to the fact that home audio it is one of the most popular and fast growing segments of manufacturing. The consumer interest in audio components has risen rapidly to the point now that even the most budget minded consumer owns a “Home Theaterâ€? system.  As consumer interest goes up so does the selection and variety of products, and of coarse there are almost as many bad products as good products. However most manufacturers are genuinely trying to produce a better consumer product (except for Bose) and are constantly releasing new technologies at better price points.


HT-AS600 System
   
HT-P50 System

In this article we will take a good look at several of Samsung's budget HTIB (Home Theater in a Box) systems. On the low end of the price scale we will look at the HT-AS600, and moving up into Samsung's midrange we will look at the HTP50. We will look at these systems from both an audio quality and a price standpoint. It isn't fair to expect a $499 system compete with the likes of Paradigm and not everyone has the budget for a 10K sound system. Despite my audiofile aversions to HTIB there is a definite place for these systems. 1) It may very well meet the WAF (wife approval factor) better than a larger system. 2) Space constraints may limit your choices. 3) Budgets of under $1000 pretty much have to go with some form of HTIB. With these things in mind lets take a more detailed look at the systems we will be testing.



Samsung HT-AS600
Price: N/A


The Samsung HT AS600 could be considered part of Samsung's budget line of HTIB. It consists of a small amplifier/decoder unit and 5 satellite speakers plus 1 subwoofer. Unlike some of Samsung's other combined products, this unit does not have an optical drive built in, so you will need an external dvd player to hook this unit up. Lets take a look at some of its features.



Features


  • Total System Power: 750W
  • Subwoofer System: Passive
  • Subwoofer Type: 6 ½ “ Bass Reflex
  • Decodes: Dolby Digital, DTS, Pro Logic
  • Digital Inputs: 1 Optical/1 Coaxial
  • Tuner: AM/FM
  • THD @ Rated Power: 10%
  • Dimensions: 21.02â€?/19.72â€?/22.20â€?

The total rated power on these units can be somewhat misleading. When measuring audio power you can measure by peak power, RMS, and even those measurements can differ by what kind and level of input signal you are using. Be very careful when choosing an amplifier by wattage alone because each manufacturer seems to use a different method. Of course they are going to put down the largest number because it will look better and sell more product. Suffice to say that this unit is adequate for only a small living room. Anything larger than that and you will run into volume problems when watching movies. The 10% THD is rather scary as well. A mediocre amp shouldn't go above 1% THD and high end components rate under .1%.

Inputs:

The inputs on the back of this unit are well labeled and laid out if not a bit sparse. You have an optical/coaxial audio input for your dvd player, as well as a stereo set for a cd player and another for your vcr/satellite. There are also several coaxial video inputs and one output. This would be for those people that want to use the unit to switch video sources. However coaxial video is generally pretty low quality and so I would recommend you hook your video sources directly to the back of your TV. There are a set of subwoofer outputs in case you wish to upgrade your subwoofer to something a little more robust, and up in the corner we find the standard plugs for the AM and FM antennas.


On the back of the unit you will also find the speaker outputs. Pretty standard stuff here with spring clamps to attach the speaker wires to. Everything is well labeled and should pose no problems for even a novice installer. Right next to the speaker block we find a FAN. Yes most low end amplifiers will have fans in them to keep the components inside cool. I was relieved to find that the fan is temperature controlled and as fairly quiet under moderate usage. However I would still prefer that amplifiers used higher quality cooler components rather than having to use a fan to compensate.


 

Speakers:

Moving on to the meat and potatoes of any HTIB system lets take a look at the speakers. These are quite small with the satellites measuring in at only 3.58�/5.31�/3.88�. The center speaker is only slightly larger at 7.87�/4.21�/3.94� and the subwoofer measures in at 7.09�/16.10�/14.96�. The speakers seemed solid enough when I was setting them up however the inside build quality will have to remain unknown as I was unable to find a way to get inside.

 

Satellites front and back.

Center front and back


Subwoofer

Accessories:

In typical Nicao reverse methodology we will now get to the accessories. Samsung was nice enough to include most of the cables needed to get setup. In the package you will find a video cable, an AM antenna, an FM antenna, and a nice thick manual. Wires for all speakers are included although it is a very small gage, and there is also a remote control. I found the manual was well laid out in typical Samsung fashion, and the remote control was easy and intuitive as well.


Setup and installation:

I was pleased to find that setup went relatively painlessly. Despite the lack of an onscreen menu, speaker levels were easy to adjust and hooking up the dvd player was a breeze. Connecting the speakers was simple enough considering that the wire was even color coded. Placement of speakers is important and it always pains me to see people's speakers hiding behind flower pots. I have a fairly square testing room that is not heavily populated by useless knicknacks and so speaker setup was a breeze. Your mileage may vary.



HT-P50
Price: ~$449.99USD 

The Samsung HT-P50 is marketed as a midrange product. The main differences between it and its smaller sibling are, more amplifier power, larger speakers, a 5 disk DVD changer. Yes this is an all-in-one unit combining a 5 disk DVD changer with an amplifier component. This unit also reads memory sticks for audio files, plays DIVX and MP3s very well, and handles picture CDs. It has progressive outputs for connecting to an HDTV, and it also upconverts the signal for better HDTV quality. I could go much more in depth on the features of this unit, but this review is primarily dedicated to audio quality so that will have to wait.


Features

 

  • Total System Power: 1000W
  • Subwoofer Type: 8â€? Passive, Bass Reflex
  • Decodes: Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic
  • Progressive Scan: Yes
  • Inputs: 1 Optical, 2 stereo
  • THD @ Rated Power: 10%
  • Dimensions: 16.93x2.95x16.34

Let me assure you that this unit is more powerful than the AS600 but 1000W is an exaggerated figure. I was also surprised to see that this unit has the same very high THD (10%) as the AS600. During listening tests I found that is unit was very adequate for a mid sized living room with very reasonable volume levels. The main unit does incorporate a small LCD screen for messages, however this unit will display configuration information directly to your TV screen to make for easier adjustments.

Inputs/Outputs:

The first thing an experienced consumer will notice while examining the plethora of jacks on the back of this unit is the lack of audio outputs. We find a nice collection of video outputs including composite, Svideo, Component, and even HDMI, but it is strange to find that there are no audio outputs. This unit was meant to operate as a standalone item and cannot be hooked up to any other audio system. This unit has a very nice DVD player and has some great features including awesome quality DIVX playback, so it would be nice to be able to hook it up to another amplifier if one decided to upgrade their sound system. However most consumers will not be pursuing this option so the importance of this missing feature is up to you. There are several stereo inputs if you wish to hookup a satellite receiver or an external CD player, and there is also an optical audio input if you decide to hook up your XBOX to this sound system. This unit does rudimentary video switching, but like the AS600 the inputs are limited to coaxial video only.


As we move over to the speaker outputs you will notice that these are vastly different than the AS600. Where the AS600 implemented traditional spring clips, the P50 uses a proprietary jack system. This was done to insure that only the speakers provided by Samsung are connected to the back of this unit, and as we look closer at the labeling we see why. Most home audio speakers are rated at 4 or 8 ohms, however the speakers connected to the P50 must be 3ohms in impedance. The probable reason why they did this would be that lower ohm speakers produce more sound. This comes with a drawback however as amplifier components generally tend to produce more distortion on lower ohm loads. Regardless of the audio quality you will not be able to hook up a 3rd party pair of speakers or sub to the P50. On the P50 as well as the AS600 you will find the same ominous hole for a fan, however just like the AS600 it is temperature controlled and normally does not provide much annoyance.


The speakers for the P50 are very unique. Incorporating a stylish cylindrical design these speakers will fit in great in most living rooms. The satellites are quite small measuring in at only 4.72." x 12.09" but the center speaker is twice as large with dimensions of 22.28" x 4.29" x 3.50". The sub uses a small upright design measuring 7.68" x 17.20" x 16.06" and uses a front firing port. Front fired subs generally produce more bass than those that are rear fired, however the sound is usually a bit more “boomy�. I would have loved to examine the inside of these unique speakers, however my attempts were thwarted by the lack of any screw holes, leading me to believe that these are permanently sealed. All in all I found the speakers set for the P50 quite nice.


 

 

Satellites front and back



Center speaker



Subwoofer

Accessories:

The accessories that came with the P50 were virtually identical to the AS600. The manual was much larger to accommodate all the extra features, and the remote also had many more functions to deal with the addition of a DVD player.


Setup and installation:

Setup for this unit was very easy. The speakers use the same color coded wires as the AS600 and you get to skip the step of plugging in a DVD player. Once you have your TV connected, you can use the onscreen menu to setup your TV type and speaker levels. On this note I was surprised to find that the P50 did not have discreet volume levels for each speaker. You can adjust the level of the center, rears, front and sub, but you cannot adjust the levels of the individual speakers. This will not pose a problem for those people who have a nice square room, but for everyone else this could be an annoyance as you often have to adjust an individual speaker to compensate for placement. Other than this minor annoyance I found setting up the P50 to be a breeze, and the manual was very complete.


Testing Methodology

Audio tests are very difficult to perform because the human ear is ill equipped to make a definitive comparison between sounds. Also one person's ear can differ greatly from another's due to listening habits, ear physiology and tastes. Here at BCC we want to produce as objective a review as possible, so to that end we will use several different testing methods for these systems.

1. Microphone Tests. For this section I will be using some professional testing equipment to figure out exactly what frequency ranges these speakers are capable of. How low does the bass go? Does it have adequate high end extension? Do the speakers and the sub overlap well? These are questions that can only be answered with special equipment. I am using the Behringer ECM8000 reference microphone in conjunction with a small UB802 mixing board.




This equipment is fed into my computer using a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 and analyzed using RightMark's Audio Analyzer. I have done my best to make an acoustic testing chamber, however as the graphs show there are still some reflections. This test still gives a good indication of satellite and sub frequency response.

2. Electrical tests. The amplifier that goes with these systems plays an equally big role in overall sound quality so it deserves testing as well. I will be outputting several different waveforms at several wattages and analyzing the results with a Fluke ScopeMeter 97 which is basically a very nice digital oscilloscope. We can see from the resulting waveform what kind of distortion the amplifier typically produces.


3. Listening Test. Subjective though they may be, listening tests are still very important. For these tests I had several friends over who are very audio conscious, meaning that they know good sound. We ran through several movie scenes which they were asked to rate on several different categories such as clarity, bass, imaging, etc...


Amplifier tests:

Despite the sophisticated equipment used for this test, it is actually very simple. I used my Audigy 2 to generate a 1Khz sine wave which I then fed into the amplifier. I hooked up a digital oscilloscope to the output and examined the sine wave for bumps and ripples. The smoother the sine wave the less distortion there is in the signal. I tested at several different wattage outputs to see how the amplifier performed across its volume level. The second test is a 1Khz square wave which is then examined in the same method. A square wave is typically very hard for an audio amplifier to reproduce, so that should give us a good indication of the quality of components inside. I have used my Harman Kardon AVR130 as reference point. You could consider it a low end enthusiast amplifier. Without further delay lets get on with the tests.

HK AVR130

2Watt sine wave
10Watt sine wave
50Watt sine wave

    What we can see from this is that the AVR130 produces a very distortion free sound at both 2W and 10W. AT 50W the sound begins to break up because at this level the AVR130 is operating at the very peak of its power. If I was to back it off to 45W the wave would clear up again.

2.2Watt square wave

You may be saying “that doesn't look very square to me�. However for an amplifier that is a pretty good square wave. You can see that the top and bottom of the square extend in a straight line despite the ripples.

HT AS600




2Watt sine wave
10Watt sine wave
50Watt sine wave


When I first examined these results I thought there was something wrong with my testing equipment. I reran the tests just to make sure and came up with the same conclusion. This amplifier produces a much higher level of distortion than the AVR130 especially at lower volume levels. I'm not an engineer but this could be due to lower quality capacitors that are not discharging properly at the lower voltages. As the power increases the distortion ratio seems to go down, and by 50W the wave is almost acceptable. This looks very scary but the deficiencies in synthetic tests are always much more pronounced than you would find in listening tests.


 


2.2Watt square wave

We see the same sort of result with the 2.2W square wave. There is a large amount of bounce even at the end of the cycle. However again this is very common for amplifiers in this price range.

HT-P50




2Watt sine wave
10Watt sine wave
50Watt sine wave

Here we see almost the exact same results as the AS600. High distortion levels at lower wattages that seem to disappear at higher levels. I took both amplifiers apart and examined the circuitry. What I found out was that the circuitry for both amplifiers is very similar despite the differences in output wattage.


2.2Watt square wave

Again this square wave is quite similar to the HT-P50 reinforcing the theory that their amplifier circuitry is quite similar.

Conclusion:

From these tests we can conclude that you do indeed get what you pay for in an amplifier. Both Samsung units produce much higher levels of distortion than the HK. The amplifier is only one part in the sound chain and so distortion in the amp may be rendered null and void if the speakers have a higher distortion level. With HTIB systems the manufacturer tries to put together a well balanced package for the money. It wouldn't make sense for them to include a kickin amp with poor speakers or visa versa, so read on as we test the rest of the components.


Acoustic Speaker Tests.

In these tests I setup one of the speakers and for some tests the sub in a testing chamber. Using RightMark's Audio Analyzer software and a reference microphone, I can run several tests to see what kind of frequency response these speakers have. As a comparison I have included results from a small set of JBL E20 bookshelf speakers that retail for ~$300 CAD.

JBL E20


What we can glean from this graph is that this speaker has a usable frequency response starting at about 50Hz. If you need some real world items to compare against, consider that deep thunder clocks in ~20-40hz, and those rumbles you hear in a movie theater are usually in the ~15-45hz range. These bookshelves can go pretty low but not low enough for good home theater. For that we would need a subwoofer. On the high end we see that these speakers have quite good range tapering off at ~17Khz. Up in this range we find sounds such as the clash from cymbals, the hiss of steam, and a lot of the “S� sounds in human speech. Without adequate high end a speaker can sound muted as if a person was talking behind a curtain of thick felt. Overall we can see that the sound range is fairly flat with only a few drastic dips and peaks that could be caused by room resonance. Lets move on.

HT AS600


As we can see from the graph this speaker starts its usable life around 150Hz. There is quite a bit more variance than the JBL in the midrange and the high end tapers more quickly. However there is a sub to compensate for the lowend so lets add that to the mix.


With the sub in the mix the lowend is extended to 40Hz which is much better but still not low enough to catch the juicy parts of most “rumbles�. The reason the the sub appears as a high bump on the graph is that in my small testing chamber it tended to out power the single speaker even with the sub volume adjusted down. Why is there only 1 subwoofer but 5 speakers? This is because audio under 80Hz is generally considered non directional meaning that you will not be able to tell the location the sound is coming from. So one subwoofer generally does the job quite well if placed properly. However as we can see from this graph the subwoofer is required to produce frequencies all the way up to 150Hz. This means that some of the sound that you hear you will be able to distinctly tell that they come from the subwoofer. This is not ideal but it is necessary when you have such small satellite speakers.

HT P50


The speakers for the P50 start of at the same 150Hz as the AS600 however they are a bit flatter in the midrange and have a better high extension. They still aren't as smooth as the JBL speakers though which is understandable considering the cost. Let's add the subwoofer.


Adding the sub produces a much more beefy graph that extends down to 30Hz. While still a bit lacking, this subwoofer manages to reproduce much more “rumble� than the AS600. It is amazing what 10Hz will do in the low range. The same sound principles apply here as for the AS600 since the satellites only start producing at 150Hz. You will hear distinct sounds from the sub, but that is just par for the course with smaller satellites.

Conclusion:

The P50 speakers and sub are able produce sounds over a much wider range than the AS600. However both sets of speakers suffer from the HTIB syndrome in which sounds from the sub are distinctly directional.


Listening Tests:

No audio review is ever complete without listening tests. To this end I invited several of my friends over to provide an unbiased opinion. These are people that know and love good audio, and I feel are qualified to provide an opinion on this subject. We watched several movie scenes that I feel have great overall audio quality. I asked my “experts� to rate each of the systems based on several different criteria.

 

  • Crispness: Does the speaker produce high frequency sounds well?
  • Bass: Does the system produce low sounds well?
  • Accuracy: Does the system reproduce the sounds  in the way they were originally intended?
  • Annoying resonance: Do you hear any buzzing or whining from the system?
  • Imaging: Do the speakers blend well around you, making you feel immersed?
  • Volume: Was it loud enough without being distorted?

 

Each rating was done on a scale of 1 to 5 with 0 being the blown subs in my friend's lowrider and 5 being very good. So without further delay lets see what the 2 audio enthusiasts thought of these speakers.



From our two experts we can see that the HT-P50 is definitely the better of the two systems. This is no big surprise as the P50 is the more expensive of the systems. It also bears out the microphone tests which pointed out some obvious deficiencies of the bass on the AS600. The listening tests also showed that the volume of the AS600 leaves a bit to be desired. However it is still much better than TV speakers.


Overall Conclusion:

My thoughts after reviewing these two units is mixed. The HT-P50 showed that a HTIB can be a fairly decent system and would be satisfactory for most consumers. It is not, however, without deficiencies. The lack of digital outputs means that you cannot hook the excellent DVD player up to another audio system, and the lack of standard speaker outputs means that you cannot hook up a different set of speakers to the amplifier. That being said the build quality of the unit was great and the system presented a very balanced package overall. The player plays back MP3s and DIVX and does a great job of it. You can also play music or view pictures from a memory stick. The manual is well done and the setup was easy. All in all as a standalone package the HT-P50 is a good product.

Pros:

  • Good build quality and stylish design
  • Built in DVD player with DIVX support
  • Volume levels are sufficient for mid sized living rooms
  • Good bass

Cons:

  • No digital audio out
  • Lack of standard speaker and sub connectors
  • Amp quality could be improved

The AS600, while being presented in a more standard format was a poorer performing solution than the P50. Its bass was seriously lacking and the small satellites didn't have proper high end extension. However this unit did have sub preouts meaning that if you were to purchase a more powerful sub in the future, you would be able to hook it up. It is also a much cheaper unit than the P50 because it lacks the built in DVD changer. However I would hesitate to recommend the AS600 to anyone but the most budget minded consumer as a few more dollars will increase your experience considerably.

Pros:

  • Good build quality and stylish design
  • Standard speaker outputs and sub preouts

Cons:

  • Low volume levels
  • Subwoofer not adequate for movies
  • Amp quality needs improvement

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