Pioneer's LX series of home cinema systems places the emphasis on style, but not at the expense of performance. Last year we were blown away by the LX01 package, which blended jaw-dropping design with some of the best sonics we'd ever heard from an all-in-one system - and it was also one of the first systems to boast Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio decoding, despite not even featuring a Blu-ray player.
But since then Pioneer has launched two Blu-ray style systems - the LX01BD, a hi-def upgrade of the LX01 with a combined Blu-ray player/receiver unit and omni-directional speakers, and the LX03BD, an upgraded version of the LX03 system that comes with a separate Blu-ray player, receiver, and a set of satellite speakers. Both are expensive but we're hoping that the performance will justify the cost.
All of the LX03BD's components look stunning, boasting that sleek, esoteric black finish that Pioneer does so well. The BDP-LX08 Blu-ray player (which is also available separately) is the epitome of minimal, with a flap covering the entire front section, leaving a central blue light as the only sign of life. It's much slimmer than the BDP-LX71 or BDP-51FD, but the sturdy brushed aluminium top cover gives it a similar level of sturdiness. Drop down the front flap and you'll uncover an informative display panel that shows the elapsed time and current title/chapter, with play, stop and open/close buttons below it.
The SX-LX03 AV receiver matches the LX08 perfectly, with the same brushed black aluminium and matte combo and almost the same dimensions - when perched on top of each other, the two units ooze understated elegance. Below the front flap is a USB port that lets you connect an iPod and control it with the system's remote, plus minijack sockets for headphones and the auto calibration microphone (more on that later). The nicest feature, however, is the row of touch-sensitive buttons along the top, which light up when the motion sensor detects a hand approaching.
It's supplied with a set of unusual-looking 5.1 speakers, all of which are styled in a luxurious gloss-black finish. You get a pair of dinky rear speakers, a slightly taller pair of fronts, a compact passive subwoofer and two compact cube speakers that handle centre channel information - the centre channel cable splits in two and feeds both speakers. You can either place these in the traditional central position under the TV, or place the front speakers on top and join them together at the back using screws.
In the alternative Front Surround setup, the rear, front and centre speakers all sit in a cluster on either side of the TV. That way, you can position all of the speakers neatly at the front of the room but still enjoy a surround effect (using the built-in surround modes) which is ideal when rear speaker placement isn't possible.