Less impressive is its ability to mimic the effect of surround speakers through its stereo pair, with Dolby Virtual Speaker failing to do justice to Gladiator's normally enveloping 5.1-channel soundtrack. Although the front soundstage is wide and dialogue is convincingly relocated into the space between the two speakers, the rear information doesn't get behind you in the way real rear surround speakers do. It's a criticism we've made countless times and once again it reinforces the fact that if you want a true home cinema experience then a 2.1 system isn't the way to go.
The system is terrific with music, offering a crisp, punchy presentation of Dave Grusin's Mountain Dance CD. It tenaciously keeps pace with the varying jazz-funk rhythms and makes the dancing piano notes sound warm and colourful - you can hear Teufel's audio expertise oozing from the speakers.
Picture quality from the HDMI output is solid but not world-beating - colours are smooth and convincing, deep black levels give the picture real punch and block and mosquito noise are nowhere to be seen, but there's a slight hint of softness that prevents it reaching the levels of clarity that you get from a good standalone player. Playing back a 1080i image on a 1080p set isn't ideal either, but for most tastes the Impaq 500's pictures will be more than acceptable.
The Impaq 500 is comparatively expensive for a 2.1-channel system, and with a lack of 1080p upscaling and a dated operating system it doesn't always justify its hefty price tag. But the system's saving grace is its phenomenal sound quality, which is effortlessly powerful and wonderfully detailed, although don't expect miracles from its virtual surround technology. The build quality and styling is also a cut above many 2.1 systems, making this a very promising start from a company that we hope to hear a lot more from in the future.