Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- Excellent design, Excellent speakers, Extremely compact
- Occasionally lacking bass, Slightly cumbersome controls
A stylish system with crisp, rich sound that defies its petite stature
Price$ 1,299.00 (AUD)
The EX-A10 is JVC's top of the range Mini Hi-Fi/Home theatre system, sporting some unusual design elements and excellent styling. JVC has managed to cram a wide range of features and superlative sound into a rather petite package, and though the system may only contain two small speakers, not even having a subwoofer, it certainly impressed us.
It's clear from the outset that this is no ordinary DVD/Hi-Fi system, and it's primarily due to the speakers and amplifier. JVC has leapt far above the average home entertainment speaker setup and is verging on audiophile territory with the EX-A10. For a start, they have used unusual materials when crafting the speakers. The external casing is made from high quality cherry wood, but it's the speakers' cones (the part that vibrates and creates sound) that will really raise eyebrows, as they are also made of wood. The wood is soaked in sake, which makes it flexible, then is fashioned into shape; a truly unique approach.
In addition to this unusual technique JVC has taken the true audiophile route of using bi-wiring and bi-amplification. This means the tweeters and woofers are driven by separate amplifiers to improve performance and isolate the low and high frequency sound. It's easy to see why the EX-A10 is comparatively expensive when looking at the simple approach of most other mini hi-fi systems. Thankfully, the system's performance justifies its price tag.
We tested a broad spectrum of music and were impressed by the multi-faceted qualities of the EX-A10. From the orchestral strings of Bach through to the lively hip-hop of Outkast, the EX-A10 handled everything with panache. Sound was beautifully crisp, with a great balance between the highs and lows. There was no sign of any distortion and very little hiss was evident. For their small size, the EX-A10's speakers are surprisingly powerful, and provide warm audio with truly room-filling sound.
That said, one of the few disappointments we had with the system was the occasional lack of bass. One of our favourite bass heavy tracks, the Chemical Brothers' Under the Influence, sounded distinctly underwhelming when played from the EX-A10, even with the appropriate bass boosts activated. For the most part, however, the diminutive system provides a surprisingly well rounded sound, and unless you're a real fan of earth shaking sound, the EX-A10 should suffice. Thankfully if you really need that extra dose of low frequency sound it is possible to connect a subwoofer to the rear of the system.
The EX-A10 doesn't just play music though, as it's also a fully fledged DVD and DivX player. We were a little surprised to see that JVC hasn't included HDMI on this unit, seeing as it represents the top model in their range and comes at a fairly hefty price. Nevertheless, component is included, which means the video output of the JVC is generally very good, and this is complemented by digital optical audio, but not coaxial.
The playback from the unit for both DVDs and DivX files is of a good standard, and we were pleased to see that JVC included options for adjusting brightness, gamma, sharpness and other image controls. These aren't always included, and it certainly helps when attempting to get the perfect picture. The EX-A10 also supports the usual sound processing options, with Dolby DTS and Pro Logic II. JVC has included a couple of other sound modes that can be set to match the kind of movie you are watching, such as action and drama. Further sound adjustments can be made by fine tuning bass frequencies or by using a simplistic two-band equaliser.
One slight downside is the method of controlling the unit. JVC has split the EX-A10 into two distinct components: the amplifier and the DVD player. These can then be connected using a wire so they synchronise on some functions, e.g. when turning the units on and off. However, when using the button-packed remote, for most commands it's necessary to flick a switch back and forth to control each component, which, although simple, is still a little annoying. The EX-A10 can also play music files (MP3, WMA) and picture files, which it does well. However, if you place movies, pictures and music all on the same disc, then it becomes necessary to fiddle around in counter-intuitive menus to get the unit to play each type, as it can only recognise one type at a time. These problems are only minor, and are largely insignificant since the system performs so well in most other areas.
One final point of note is the system's design, which is simple but very attractive. The classy aluminium shell of the main units sits in sharp contrast to the wooden speakers, giving a sophisticated aesthetic. The only thing detracting from the look is the over-sized volume control, which protrudes awkwardly from the amplifier.
Overall, we very much liked the EX-A10. It looks great, it sounds great, it plays back both music and DVDs and for the most part it's easy to use. Its compact size means that it won't suit a huge living room, but for smaller rooms, such as a bedroom, it is perfect.
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