Dave, Ximori and Forum members,
If you couldn't tell I was anal before this post, you'll know for sure by the end of the first paragraph! I'm completely new at review writing, so please forgive my rambling and lack of technical knowledge.
The Movie Mouse box came in a larger box filled with styrofoam peanuts. Unfortunately, they put the Mouse box on the bottom of the box full of peanuts, so the shock absorption at the base was non-existent. The Mouse unit seems to be a sturdy thing and appears none the worse for wear. Inside the Mouse box are two styrofoam holders keeping it in place. It was wrapped in a thin foam bag. Two pieces of tape are supposed to hold the bag shut tightly. One piece of tape was already half way rolled off and not keeping the bag shut. There are a couple of scuff marks on the shell of the Mouse that I was able remove with a bit of effort and a damp towel. There is a miniscule chip in the base. This is making me paranoid that I have received a unit that was returned by someone else.
The Reference unit came in a large box stamped "Made in China" with four separate boxes inside of it. The instructions and warranty came in a ziploc bag thrown on top. The instruction booklet had a big crease diagonally down the front page. For a $1k piece of hardware the presentation so far left a lot to be desired. One of the boxes was empty, used just as a placeholder for the rest. The amplifier, subwoofer and speaker unit each had their own separate box. Each cable for each unit cannot be removed and was bound up using saran wrap. As soon as I took the subwoofer out of its styrofoam holders and plastic bag, the cloth grille fell off. I tried to put it back on the driver only to see that two of the plastic pegs had broken and were now stuck inside their respective holes on the rim of the woofer driver. Inauspicious.
The remote uses 3 AAA batteries which are included. It is made in Korea. There is a sticker that is laid out over the main button grid that has the button names labelled on it. The sticker has a faint grey slash down the middle that I don't think is supposed to be there. There are also two areas on the the side where the sticker was not laid down entirely flat and now bubbles away from the remote.
The subwoofer looks very nice but feels extremely light for its size. It is 11.7(W) x 12.9(H) x 11.7(D) in. My GMX A2.1 woofer is about 10x10x16 and seems to weigh much more.
The speaker unit is fairly heavy and has a solid plastic shell. It feels substantial. There is some discoloration of the plastic where the cable meets the unit. The plastic grilles covering the drivers feel somewhat cheap.
The amplifier has a very good fit and finish. It is the only part of the package that looks AND feels expensive.
The Reference is extremely easy to hook up. Plug in the amp, plug the subwoofer and speakers into the amp, plug your optical cable in one of the slots and you're all set. I had it hooked up to an Xbox with the optical out (sorry Ximori, no coaxial option!).
I haven't had much time to test the audio capabilities of the unit yet. I listened to a couple of CDs (Getz/Gilberto, Diana Krall, Cowboy Junkies). The Reference sounded a lot better than my GMXs. The soundstage was much wider, the voices and instruments much more prominent and distinct from each other. I also played some Halo 2 and DOA Ultimate. The sound was incredible, although I did notice some distortion (clipping?) with certain female voices (Lei-fang, Cortana). It almost seemed like the microphone got too close to the actor's mouth and there was some feedback or something. I put some headphones on to see if I could duplicate the feedback, but could not. I noticed more surround effects with the games than with the movies I tested out.
I watched a little bit of Lost in Translation. The sound of water splashing seems to be extremely sibilant in all the movies I watched. The scenes when Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson meet in the bar had the best surround effects. I felt as if I was there in the bar with them. The clink of glasses and tinkle of utensils was very apparent all around. I followed that up with The Return of the King. The best effect I recall from my time with the film was when a nazgul carrying the Witch King flew across the screen. Most of the movie sounds remained in front of me however. As every reviewer of the Reference has stated, at no time did I really hear any sounds behind me or even directly to my sides.
The subwoofer is many times better than my GMX sub. It blends in very well with the speakers and is truly multidirectional. I believe that indicates that the full range speaker unit has a fairly low crossover. With my GMXs, the satellites don't go very low so I can actually pinpoint the sound coming from the sub.
The Movie Mouse works as advertised, but upon initial testing I can't really recommend the purchase. To get a good effect from it, the volume has to be fairly loud. I'm not sure in what situations I would want to use it over the main speaker unit. I purchased it because I have a two-year old son sleeping upstairs at night.
To sum up, the Reference is the best sounding piece of audio gear I have ever owned. In both movies and music I noticed many nuances in the audio that I was not able to discern with my old setup. However, the surround effects were a bit underwhelming, but maybe my expectations were too high. I have no idea what a real 5.1 setup sounds like. The stereo performance is also the best I have ever heard, but at no time did I ever feel like the performances were truly "real". The fit and finish of the components is somewhat disappointing and, again, I am bothered by the fact that this $1k+ piece of gear is entirely made in China. It may be an unfair bias on my part. Hopefully I will get in some more time with the unit over the weekend. I'll post some more thoughts later.
In the meantime, I wouldn't mind hearing a little bit more from some of you other Niro owners about your units. I'm feeling a little nervous about my purchase. Is it possible that the Reference is too powerful for the room I have it in? The living room is half of a 10'(H) by 11'(W) by 26'(L) space with the other half as a dining room. The Niro is along the 25' wall so it sits about 8 feet from my viewing area. Would the 600 actually sound better in my space? What are the consequences of too much power in too small a space?