Samsung HT-TXQ120

When you first encounter the Samsung HT-TXQ120 home theatre system you may be a bit overawed.

I was.

It took two delivery persons to get the massive box containing this system to me. On opening the packaging, I decided to cancel my Saturday afternoon plans. I knew I had a long assembly job ahead of me.

When everything was in place, however, and the system set up in my living room I was mighty pleased with what I saw.

Perched on the living room couch, and surveying the glossy black seven-piece ensemble, I felt I was on the Starship Enterprise.

The seven units comprised:

• Four tall and slender vertical (front and rear) speakers;

• A horizontally mounted centre speaker;

• An oversized sub-woofer; and,

• A vertical DVD receiver unit.

The front and rear speaker towers are assembled from three detachable pieces – the speaker, stand and stand base.

Attaching the pieces together isn’t a difficult job, but can take longer than it should – mainly because the user manual doesn’t offer very precise instructions.

For instance, there are different kinds of screws to affix the stand to the base and the speakers to the stand, but the manual doesn’t specify which screws are to be used for what. You figure that out yourself.

The powerful subwoofer features a side firing driver and a rear bass reflex port. It also houses a multi-channel amplifier and an optional wireless transmitter expansion slot.

The DVD unit has an eye-catching retro look with the DVD drive on the side and an electric blue LED display (looks great in the dark) that tells you which output is being used.

The TXQ120 supports high resolution, multi-channel DVD audio, and audio CD. It can upscale standard definition DVDs to 1080p.

In terms of connectivity, there are two digital optical inputs and a high speed USB port. There’s also an HDMI input and an output – both consumer electronics control-compatible.

Audio power

Most “home-theatre in a box” systems on the market today include both Dolby Digital and Digital Theatre Systems (DTS) decoders for handling the surround sound track when playing DVDs.

The TXQ120 goes further offering Dolby Pro Logic II decoding – a form of multi-channel decoding technology that improves upon standard Dolby Pro Logic. The DTS decoder delivers full-frequency 5.1 channel sound.

(In all the system includes four built-in decoders: Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital, DTS).

Ports for connecting external audio components are shared between the main unit (DVD receiver) and the subwoofer. While the two digital optical input ports are on the main unit, the analog (composite) audio ports are located on the subwoofer.

The sound quality, when playing media (DVDs and CDs) using the built-in DVD receiver, is exquisite.

But before you can really experience the rich audio texture, it’s important that you use the system’s automatic sound calibration (ASC) function. This task is implemented using an external microphone (included with the unit).

It’s vital that you don’t skip the calibration step, or the audio reception may end up sounding imbalanced. It takes less than a couple of minutes to complete and needs to be done only once.

When it comes to quality sound reproduction the TXQ120 shines. (Remember, to use the ASC control on the remote to ensure the system ASC is turned on, however).

I put the system through the paces – classical, jazz, rock, pop, new age, acapella –and each time the audio quality was very satisfying, almost as if the system adapted to the genre.

In works featuring multiple instruments and voices (concerts and choirs, for instance) you get crystal clear stereo quality, amazing differentiation and frequency detail, and are able to discern subtle/delicate sounds that would be lost with inferior systems.

You have the choice of three broad listening modes: Music, Movie and Super 5.1 and within each of these a variety of sub-modes (Concert 1 & 2; Virtual 9.1; Ex-Movie, Cinema etc).

So if you press the Music button (for instance) when listening to a 2-channel sound source, it will be reproduced in 4.1-channel surround sound, with sub-modes that include CONCERT1, CONCERT2, JAZZ CATHEDRAL, BYPASS.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 is a longtime standard for multichannel audio. It features five full channels — front and rear left and right (4), front centre (1), and a .1 channel for low frequency effects from a separately powered sub-woofer.

The amplifier offers an impressive 1,000 watts of audio – 167 watts for each speaker and 165 watts for the subwoofer. This is certainly better than what’s standard in the market – stereo receivers that typically output 50 – 100 watts per channel.

You press relevant buttons on the remote to change modes and sub-modes. It requires some (make that a lot) of experimentation with different permutations and combinations to find the listening mode/submode best suitable to the genre – and a lot, of course, depends on your personal preferences.

The Samsung manual attributes the “exceptional” sound reproduction – dynamic range, low-level resolution and high-frequency detail – to the on-board 24-bit/192kHz DAC (digital-to-analog converter). Generally, specialized stand-alone DACs are found in high-end hi-fi systems.

You can also separately fine-tune the levels on the various speakers using the “sound edit” button on the remote.

Moving from one sound track to another using the numbered buttons on the remote inexplicably took at least 4 seconds. When using the “forward” or “previous” control, though, the change was immediate.

Multimedia multi-disc playback & FM Tuner

The HT-TXQ120 allows you to play many types of discs, including DVD-Audio, CD, MP3-CD, WMA-CD, DivX, CD-R/RW, DVD R/RW – and even Super Audio CD (SACD), a read-only optical audio disc format that provides much higher fidelity digital audio reproduction than the compact disc. It also features an FM tuner.

The system includes a USB Host Play feature.

The main unit features a USB port to which you can connect external USB devices – including mp3 players, digital cameras and USB memory drives.

My experience with this function was rather disappointing. I hooked up my Palm LifeDrive, my Treo 650, and my Kodak EasyShare digital camera – but could not play the mp3 files or view the images on them. Each time I got a ‘Disc Error’ message.

I was surprised at this – until I read page 68 of the user manual, which lists the (fairly limited) range of devices that the USB Host feature supports. Of the 20 mp3 players listed, 13 are Samsung devices. None of the Kodak or HP digital cameras (for instance) are listed as being supported.

However, when I inserted a simple thumb drive with my mp3 files and images it functioned beautifully, loading up the contents in just three seconds.

The audio quality was just as good as the DVD audio. The picture quality though was just about average.

Hi-res video

When playing DVDs with the system’s included DVD player you get 480p video, which is pretty clear.

A special feature of this HT-TXQ120, though, is its upconversion capability. It includes a set of HDMI input (and output) ports – so when connected to an input device – such as a Samsung BDP1000 Blu-Ray player, for instance, resolution can go as high as 1080p.

At the same time component and composite video outputs (on the subwoofer) allow you to view video on older TV sets.

The absence of S-Video ports on the system, surprised me, though with all the other connectivity options – I didn’t believe this was too much of a drawback.

Final word

In sum, the TXQ120 has all the features you would expect to find in a higher-end home theatre system – rich, textured multi-channel audio with enough oomph (panning to more than 160W per channel – which certainly supersedes the industry norm), multiple connectivity ports – including USB, an optional wireless module that allows you to dispense with some of the messy cabling.

The optional wireless module is easy to set up and doesn’t result in any erosion of sound quality.

The TXQ120 includes a digital sound processor (DSP), thereby offering a wider range of listening options. DSPs use a computer chip to duplicate the sound characteristics of a concert hall and other listening environments.

It’s automatic setup and speaker balancing features make operation of the system fairly simple.

On the debit side: the physical set up can take a while, the range of USB devices supported is limted, and the image quality was about average.

I didn’t view the latter as serious lacunae, though, and on balance I believe if you’re looking for a good higher-end home-theatre system, the Samsung HT-TXQ120 could certainly be a good option.

The system retails for $1,500 at