In action the A 101 HCS 5 is an absolute revelation. We approached the system with a certain level of trepidation given the bargain basement price and the size of the satellites, but the Jamo confounds all expectations with a thrilling, detailed and surprisingly smooth performance. We started with our trusty Avatar Blu-ray disc, and after hearing the assurance and maturity with which it handles the epic action scenes we couldn’t quite believe that this is only a £300 system.
Take the ‘Battle for Pandora’ sequence for instance. Despite its diminutive size, this system has an acute understanding of how to convey drama and scale, with thumping helicopter blades, flapping banshee wings and roaring engines sounding absolutely huge. James Horner’s score also boasts urgency and drive, plus the breathtaking flurry of machine guns, zooming missiles and crunching trees are crisp and forceful without giving you cause to reach for the volume dial.
The ‘Banshee Rookery’ scene is equally spellbinding. The soaring strings and choral voices as the Na’vi take flight sound rich and mellifluous, while the creatures’ screeching is suitably prominent yet easy on the ear – some speakers at this price make them sound harsh and abrasive.
Flipping to some of the movie’s less adrenalin-fuelled scenes, we find the Jamo is able to handle subtle detail with admirable eloquence. As Jake and Neytiri escape into the forest to, er, consummate their partnership, the gentle chirping and fluttering of the surrounding insects, running water and whispering voices of the ancestors are clearly audible and drift around the soundstage beautifully. It’s not the last word in detail reproduction, but certainly digs deeper than a £300 system has any right to.
Dialogue is also smooth and forthright, making it easy to hear no matter how frenzied the action. It’s all topped off by a superb performance from the A 101 SUB, which delivers tight, agile bass that doesn’t overpower the satellites. In fact the sats and sub are a match made in heaven, boasting fluid integration and a seamless crossover. It moves some serious air, pounding out bass effects with gusto.
Next we tried out some music and were greatly impressed. A clip of Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City Music Hall in Dolby True HD is a treat, with crisp and sparky guitars and smooth voices. A little more detail, depth and transparency would have taken it to the next level, but that would be straying into floorstander territory – as compact systems go, it’s an absolute belter.
If you thought that being on a sub-£500 budget for your speakers meant you had to greatly compromise on sound quality then think again. The Jamo A 101 HCS 5 is proof that you can get exciting, dynamic and detailed sound without having to clutter up your room with massive floorstanders and van-sized subs – the only compact system we’ve heard in this price class that comes close is the Tannoy HTS-101. Not only has it impressed us with its price and performance, but it also comes with an innovative, space-saving sub, plus those dinky, wall-mountable satellites are sure to go down well with those who like their speakers to be heard but not seen. Impressive.
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Score in detail
Sound Quality 9