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Review: Cambridge Audio Sonata 2.1-Channel Stereo Home Theater System

Simplicity and High Performance in a Mini System

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Review: Cambridge Audio Sonata 2.1-Channel Stereo Home Theater System
If you've been shopping for a home theater receiver, you likely saw a dizzying array of large models with as many buttons as your dashboard. Perhaps you didn't see the Cambridge Audio Sonata 2.1 channel mini system, a great alternative to a monster receiver.

A 2.1 channel system has two stereo speakers and a subwoofer and is ideal for homeowners that want good sound with the simplicity of a stereo system without the hassle of center and rear channel speakers and wires.

This review includes the AR30 2.1-channel receiver with iPod dock, the DV30 DVD player, two S30 Sirocco speakers and the S90 Sirocco powered subwoofer.

AR30 2.1-channel Receiver

The Cambridge Audio AR30 is a mini-sized 2.1-channel stereo receiver that is dwarfed by its larger counterparts. But its small size is deceiving because under the hood of this solidly built component are some weighty performance features usually reserved for full-sized receivers.

The AR30 receiver has 40-watts of output per channel, more than enough for the S30 speakers or a pair on-wall or in-wall speakers. Its toroidal power transformer is the type usually found in the big guys, and offers more efficient output from a smaller power supply. It includes an AM/FM tuner with RDS (Radio Data System, used in Europe), an input for an optional Sirius Satellite Radio tuner (subscription required) and three analog inputs (CD, DVD and AUX).

The AR30 comes with the DD30 iPod dock that is compatible with iPhone and most iPod players and has a front panel input for MP3 players. Basic functions of the iPod can be operated with the system remote control. The AUX analog input can be re-named (TAPE, DVR, etc) on the front panel display and it has a separate REC OUT for a tape deck. The AR30 has a subwoofer pass-through from the DVD player that connects to the S90 powered subwoofer.

Convenience features include three triggers to activate the CD, DVD and AUX components when the source is selected and a digital clock (with alarm) on the front panel display, a feature every receiver should have.

The AR30 remote controls most system functions but lacks backlit buttons and the small print on the buttons is difficult to read, especially in a dimly lit room.

DV30 DVD Player

Like the AR30 receiver, the DV30 mini DVD-Video player is simply designed but with features designed for high-definition video including upscaling and deinterlacing to 1080p resolution, and composite, S-video, component and HDMI outputs.

Its front panel conveys simplicity with minimal buttons. The rear panel connections include a 2.1 channel analog output, optical and coaxial digital outputs for use with receivers that have digital inputs and a SCART output jack, a multi-pin AV connection used in European components. A trigger connection activates the DVD player when selected on the AR30.

The simplicity of its exterior is in contrast with the AV features found in the DV30. The player can decode and downmix Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete and DiVx formats among others (see specifications) and are supported by high quality Wolfson Microelectronics 24-bit/192 kHz audio digital to analog converters.

For international users, the DV30 menus support a variety of languages and in addition to NTSC (American standard); the player is compatible with PAL television standards.

Like the AR30, the DVD remote control has small buttons and print that I found difficult to read.

The CD30 CD player can be purchased instead of the DV30 DVD player for those interested in a music only system.

Sirocco S30 Stereo Speakers and S90 Subwoofer

The Sonata Sirocco S30s are 2-way bookshelf or stand-mount speakers with a 4.5" mid-bass driver and a 1" soft dome tweeter. They feature dual speaker connectors for bi-wire or bi-amp connection.

The Sirocco S90 is a compact subwoofer with an 8-inch long-throw woofer powered by a 70-watt built-in amplifier. It comes with floor spikes to be used only when placed on a carpeted floor and both the S30 speakers and subwoofer are magnetically shielded for safe placement close to a television.

Music & Home Theater Listening

Movie soundtracks are a combination of music, dialog and special effects. Music creates emotion, dialog provides context and storyline and special effects engage the viewer in the action. Music and dialog are the most critical elements and must be reproduced accurately and faithfully for a realistic home theater experience.

On that score, the Cambridge Audio Sonata is an uncomplicated, natural-sounding home theater system. When combined with a flat panel or big screen TV, the Sonata system sounds great with music and dialog, takes little space and avoids the clutter and hassle of five or more speakers required for multichannel sound.

I chose the movie "The Soloist" (DVD, 2009, DreamWorks SKG, Dolby Digital) to evaluate the system. The Soloist is a true story about Nathaniel, a disturbed homeless man who strikes a friendship with Steve Lopez, an L.A. Times reporter. Nathaniel has an affinity to Beethoven and a natural ability to play the cello and the violin. Throughout the film, Nathaniel's extraordinary talents treat the viewer to beautiful music from his violin, which is missing all but two strings, and a cello donated by a sympathetic Times reader.

I missed the three-dimensional ambience of a multichannel home theater system or a stereo system with virtual surround sound, but the sweet, resonant sound of the cello and violin were reproduced with exceptional clarity, depth and realism, even with the Sonata's modest speakers and sub. The 8-inch subwoofer had good extension and easily filled my 23' x 16' listening room. It seemed as if I were listening to a much larger system.

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