Part 9: The Review
If you’ve read all this so far, you’re still wondering, “How does it all SOUND?” Did I get the SQ and sound signature I was seeking? Is it worth the $1500 paid for the upgrade? Would I have done anything differently?
I listen to a lot of music (mostly on headphones), from many genres. I have very eclectic taste in music. From classical music to death metal, from The Little Mermaid soundtrack to dark synth, from the smooth stylings of Mr. Nat King Cole to the aural (falsetto) assault of King Diamond. I’ve always preferred listening to music in All Channel Surround, with a subwoofer, to fill the room. With my old system, I couldn’t push above an AVR volume level of ~60 (out of 100) without distortion – things just started breaking up.
With the new system, post-AccuEQ and post personalized EQ, I am listening to a lot of music, much more than ever before, and I’m loving it in 2.0. The Chane A5.4s are killers. I am so happy with them and their ability to fill both my family room and kitchen with clean, clear sound that I can’t really describe it adequately. As I said above, I love bass; if I bass-boost +3-6 dB on the AVR, I can go sub-less and get incredible bass out of these three little 5.25” woofers…it’s actually shocking. I’m not saying I get the room-shaking bass I get with my sub(s), but rather that the bass I do get is low, tight, clean, and it makes listening to music a lot of fun. Actually, refer to **
below for a bit more feedback on bass.
In fact, the A5.4s sound so good that they have me listening to genres of music I don’t normally enjoy, like New Age, Jazz, and Stage/Broadway. Everything sounds good. Vocals are sweet and smooth.
One of my earliest critical listening sessions in 2.0 with the A5.4s was on the “Stage and Screen” Music Choice channel on Xfinity. The song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” performed by David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke from the movie Mary Poppins, came on. I haven’t heard this song in over 10 years, and never thought much of it. But with the A5.4s, the SQ and vocal clarity was thrilling, and I knew I was listening to something special.
New Age and Dark Synth make the A5.4s shine more than any other genre (IMO), however. The overlapping sounds across so many frequencies simultaneously are tailor-made for the 5 drivers. I have auditioned Perturbator’s I Am the Night album (ChromeCast from YouTube) on these speakers at least 10 times and it’s a lot of fun. The tracks “Technoir” and “Deviance” make me smile every time.
I should rewind and add that I audition three specific (CD) tracks on any system (usually just boom boxes) to test its capabilities, as I did with the Klipsch L/Rs (mentioned earlier) at the local Magnolia Room. The first is For Today’s “Open Eyes.” This is a well-recorded and dynamic track, featuring some blistering vocals and thrash guitar coupled with some diving lows (a very cool effect). On the Klipsch R8000fs, in Best Buy, this track was too shrill for my taste; some personalized EQ probably would’ve worked wonders. On the Chane A5.4s, the track is tight, powerful, clear, impactful, and there is no ear fatigue. I can listen for hours with no issues, even at volume. They also create a terrific “phantom center” effect, where it seems like the sound is coming from between (and to the left and right and behind and above) the speakers and not from both separately. The A5.4s provide a wide sound stage with spades.
The second track is Kid Sensation’s “Two Minutes.” This track is very sibilant and has some piercing tweeter action throughout, making it painful to listen to at volume with headphones. On the A5.4s, it’s attenuated. I won’t say it’s completely removed (I don’t think that was the intention of the producers, after all), but it isn’t painful either.
As referenced above, I should make a note here regarding bass response. Running bass at +8 dB, and listening to the track “Back to Boom” by Kid Sensation, I can definitely say that I get chest-thumping, room-filling bass. I have been fooled on several occasions, in fact, that my sub was running when I was actually in 2.0, which is a good indication of the bass capabilities of the A5.4s.
The third track is Megadeth’s “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due.” My favorite band, my favorite album. I’ve listened to this particular track perhaps more than any other song. I know every nuance. I know when it sounds good and when it is lacking. I’ve even heard it live in concert (only once, sadly). And I realize that the original recording (1990) is severely lacking dynamically when compared to some newer albums I own. On the A5.4s, straight out of the box with zero break-in and no EQ, this track was severely lacking. Now that everything is dialed in, in 2.0 with a +3 dB bass boost, it sounds as good as I’ve heard it. Mustaine’s vocals are rich and clear and sharp. Guitar work is crunchy and technical. The drums/cymbals are a bit subdued (with Dolby engaged – see below), but I owe that to the recording (as evidenced by “Hangar 18” on the same album, wherein the drum work comes through much better). Referring to Interlude A above (Speaker Philosophy), this track puts a speaker through its paces – there’s a lot going on simultaneously. I’ve found that I get far superior results on the drum/cymbal work in Music/Stereo listening mode and not Music/Dolby Surround (set for 2.0), which tends to mute the midrange somewhat. DTS Neural:X also sounds superior to Dolby Surround (for all-channel listening), but this isn’t news to anyone I suppose.
As an aside, I should note that the Chanes are, by design, transparent with regards to production values – this has been disclosed by numerous reviewers. In other words, if you play a sub-par recording on the Chanes, you will hear it – nothing is masked. The Chanes, by design, don’t over- or under-emphasize any frequencies, they simply present the music as recorded. That being said, I’ve listened to a lot of 256 kbps (average) mp3’s from Amazon music, and I detect nothing sub-par about them. So far, I’ve yet to come across a music recording or source that sounds bad…but you can definitely tell which recordings are superior, as mentioned above when describing the Megadeth album from 1990. I’m also a big ChromeCast user, and I cast audio to the Onkyo from YouTube via laptop constantly…and it all sounds great to my amateur, IANAA ears. I can confidently say that the sound you get off YouTube using good headphones will be matched or surpassed by the A5.4s.
With these three test tracks performing excellently on the Chanes, I should make a few comments about my listening habits. I tend to listen at volumes well below reference. I have sensitive ears, and I don’t usually like it too loud…but I will blast it on occasion! And perhaps two things that make the Chanes even better to me are their low distortion and lack of ear fatigue. Whereas with my old speakers I couldn’t cross the 60-volume barrier (my AVR doesn’t allow reading of dB from reference, but it goes up to 100 as a point of reference), I now consistently push volumes as high as 75 and still get clear, clean, powerful sound, and I can listen for hours, literally. I’m confident I can push even higher volumes, but I value my hearing and my family will evict me if I go north of 75.
In summary, the best thing I can say about the Chanes for music, either in 2.0 or 5.1, is that they have me wanting to listen to more and more music. I used to spend as little as 5% of my time on my system listening to music, but nowadays it’s increased to as much as 60% of my time. It’s like listening to music for the first time and getting to re-experience a lot of beloved tracks.
As much as I enjoy listening in 2.0 nowadays with the A5.4s, I must also add that 5.1 music listening is excellent. Having Chanes around the room provides a great listening environment, and everything blends perfectly. Hearing sounds travel around the room, from A1.5s to A5.4s to the A2.4, is great – I can’t tell where one speaker stops and the next picks up.
. I love movies just as much as I love music. HT has historically been the major use for my system in the past, as mentioned above. And here, just as with music, the Chane 5.0 system shines.
The A2.4 center channel speaker completely lives up to its reputation, delivering vocal clarity far surpassing my old Kenwood or Pioneer center (or any other system I’ve heard in person). I’ve been watching TV and movies with closed captioning or subtitles for about 15 years because I have trouble understanding dialogue at times, but now that the A2.4 is dialed in, I have no need. I can understand 100% of spoken dialogue from pretty much any source, be it cable, DVD, Blu Ray, streaming, or even VHS
. In order to test the audio quality of a lesser source, I recently played Blade
on the last working VCR in America. The opening nightclub scene is a favorite. The audio from VHS cannot compete with Blu Ray or even DVD, but the dialogue was still comprehensible amidst all the thumping base and vampire-eviscerating loud sound effects, a massive improvement over the old system.
Moreover, and this cannot be stressed enough, the surround capability with A1.5s is fantastic. Watching Guardians of the Galaxy
was a trip as ships came flying in from off-screen – (as mentioned above) the transition from the A1.5 to the A5.4 to the A2.4 was seamless; the only way I knew there was any transition at all was how the sound traveled right to left across my room. Likewise, watching The Shrine
recently on Netflix DVD was a trip – lots of ambient effects coming from the A1.5s added a lot of weight and excitement to the film. My only criticism is pointed at myself – the A1.5 is too nice a speaker to relegate to surround duty! I’ve read that a lot of folks are using the prior iteration, the A1.4, as L/Rs with great results.
Everything about the A5.4s above, regarding music, goes for HT uses, as well. I’m tempted to try them as a phantom center, but I’d be hard-pressed to ever remove the A2.4 center from the equation.
The system shines most brightly, however, with Blu-Ray. Thor: Ragnarok
was thrilling in 7.1, as close to a theater-going experience as I’ve ever had at home, even listening well below reference and without everything fully dialed in via optimized EQ and crossover. My son, situated on the couch, kept glancing over my way with eyes wide. I’d describe his expression as, “Whoa!” We had even better experiences with My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
and Dragonball Super: Broly
, both only 5.1-encoded, but extremely dynamic with effects and soundtracks. The sound stage fills the room, the sound quality is superb, volume can be pushed to ridiculous levels, dialogue is readily heard and understood, while quieter surround effects are noticeable, etc. I did experience two explosions in the My Hero
movie that triggered my subwoofer limiter, but had no effect on the Chanes, thankfully!
Part 10: Ongoing Issue
If I have one complaint about upgraded system, it’s this: the Chanes are so good, tight, fast, and clear, that they make my current subwoofer sound (at times) slow and muddy. I’ve had some issues integrating the sub with the new 5.0 system, although
, and others on the Chane owners thread, have helped me a lot. The ultimate solution to this issue is, of course, to upgrade the sub. Based on my research, the servo technology used in Rythmik subwoofers sounds like a great pairing for the speed, tightness, and clarity of the Chanes. My tentative plan is to replace the Klipsch R-120SW with a Rythmik FV18, although I’ve not entirely ruled out JTR, PSA, Hsu, Monolith, or even DIY subwoofers. Until then (and I’ll need 1-2 years to save the funds to make this upgrade), I’ll continue to dial in the current sub. I have the capability of altering crossovers and the LPF of my sub, along with trimming subwoofer output or bass in general, all of which has helped a lot.
I should also note that I do have the capability to run dual subs, although they are mismatched. I have the Kenwood SW-35HT in the opposite corner of the room and I can turn it on with the flick of a light switch. Running dual (preferably matched) subs is ideal for battling room modes and nulls, giving a flatter frequency response across all listening positions. But it can also be very difficult to blend two subs together, especially without measuring tools. In my current setup, I rarely add the second sub, although I do find it gives a nice bump in across-room response (by ear).
Interlude E: Measuring Tools
As just mentioned, in order to get the most from any system, it is paramount that one have access to the best tools available. Top-line AVRs with YPAO (Yamaha), MCACC (Pioneer), Audyssey XT32 (Denon/Marantz), and Dirac Live (Emotiva) go a long way towards improving SQ for any given space (as mentioned above, Onkyo’s AccuEQ is not afforded a top reputation by most at AVS, but I find it helps a bit). In order to fully understand in-room speaker responses, however, one must make a jump to REW (Room EQ Wizard), coupled with a UMIK-1, which allows measurements of FR across multiple listening positions AND tweaking your system to eliminate nulls at specific frequencies [Note – there are more user-friendly alternatives to REW but most cost a pretty penny]. All this to say: for me, it’s a bridge too far right now. REW is a free piece of software, but I’ve heard it is not user-friendly and requires a good deal of reading and studying to understand, implement, and optimize. The UMIK-1 is about $100, and that’s $100 more than I have right now. However, I will say that procuring both these items is almost definitely in my future – why spend all this money on top-quality products if you’re not going to utilize them to their full extent? On the other hand, I have read far too many accounts on AVS of REW users getting frustrated with the exhausting process of optimizing response for a room. As a result, since my system sounds so good in its present state, I’ll spare myself that frustration…for now.
Additionally, sub integration is made easier by investing ~$100 in a little tool called a miniDSP 2x4HD, which allows individualized and very specific EQ of subwoofers. When I upgrade my sub in a few years, I will also invest in one of these – it gets rave reviews and seems fairly user-friendly.
Part 11: Summary
Hopefully all of this is helpful to someone. If not, I’ve enjoyed my in-home auditions and authoring these posts, so I’m good either way. I’m sure I’ve made errors in some of my terminology/descriptions, and I will make edits as necessary – thanks for any feedback
So, do I now have the best speakers
for the price I paid? I can’t say that. Do I like the sound signature of the Chanes better than other speakers in their price point? I can’t say that either. I have not auditioned every possible brand and model of speaker in my room, with my equipment and content, listening with my ears, so asserting such would be utterly foolish. However, the better questions are, “Are you very happy with your upgrade, and do you believe it was worth the expense, and would you recommend others audition the Chane speakers?” The answers to all three questions would be a firm “Yes, very much so.”
I’m loving music and HT in my space far more than ever. I feel like I did enough research to make this purchase with confidence, as my research was focused on several factors: value/SQ (great return on investment, i.e. you get a lot of speaker for the $), clarity (incredibly sharp sound signature), and reliability (can you trust the company to help out if repairs are necessary). The Chanes deliver on all three areas with top marks.
IANAA…but with this system and a few more upgrades in the future, I feel like I’m on the cusp. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some listening to do!