- Review Price: £3825.00
If regular readers with good memories are thinking that we’ve already reviewed Loewe’s Individual Compose 40, they’d be right. We checked it out towards the end of 2007. But premium German brand Loewe doesn’t function like traditional TV brands, bringing out totally new products every six months or so. Instead, it tends to continually upgrade various elements of its sets, adding enhanced functionality, new design twists and extra customisation options as and when they become available.
And yes, I did say customisation options back there. For one of the most defining points about Loewe is that it goes (miles) out of its way to deliver something truly close to a bespoke TV buying experience. This is especially true of the aptly named ‘Individual’ series the Compose 40 belongs to, for within this category you can choose from: a selection of colours for the main bezel, different colours for the inset panels down the TV’s sides, different stand or wall mount options, a good selection of audio options, and even the tuner type you want – Freesat being notable in its absence.
It’s actually the relatively recent additions to its customisation options that have brought the Individual Compose 40 back to our test rooms. For starters, it now carries Loewe’s very latest image processing engine. Also, our sample is finished in a rather delightful new gloss white suit that’s sure to be a hit with fans of the classic Apple iPod. Loewe has also introduced a ‘Sound Projector’ audio option to the Compose range since we last examined it, so we eagerly bagged one of these for this review, too.
As its name suggests, the Loewe Sound Projector is a licensed version of Yamaha’s widely acclaimed Sound Projection technology, where a large array of small individual speakers placed within a single ‘bar’ you can hang under your screen generate a pseudo surround sound effect by bouncing beams of audio data off the walls of your room. You even get a microphone with the Sound Projector so that a nifty self-set up process – whereby the speaker ‘bar’ emits a few minutes of weird chirrups and beeps – can automatically calibrate the optimum sound settings for your living room.
Two final things to say about the Compose 40 Sound Projector are that: a) it rather awesomely attaches to the silver pole-style Loewe floor stand option we decided to perch our Compose 40 on and b) it also comes in white; perfectly matching the TV’s white extremities. Lovely jubbly.
Loewe’s obsession with design doesn’t stop there, either. For we also took delivery of a neatly proportioned new Loewe subwoofer that can be placed within – you guessed it – a jaw droppingly opulent gloss white cabinet precisely matched to the TV and Sound Projector.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Loewe going to such extreme lengths to deliver such a full design vision – especially when you consider that many people tend to shove their subwoofers behind a sofa rather than leave them in plain sight.
Having dwelt mostly on the White Compose 40’s matching colour scheme, it’s worth diverting momentarily to the actual build of the Compose 40 screen. For the way the gloss white edges to top and bottom contrast with the glass-fronted black down the sides and the lovely metal circle-enclosed infra-red receptor jutting out from the bottom edge make this one of the single most gorgeous and refined TV designs I’ve clapped eyes on.
With the basic elements of our review set’s design covered, I can reveal that we’re not done with the Compose 40’s customisation options yet. For another reason we decided to re-examine a Compose 40 is the presence of a new MediaPlayer module option. This can be fitted inside your TV by your local Loewe dealer if you decide you want it and enables the Compose 40 to connect up with a PC for direct streaming of the hard disk’s picture, music and video files.
This latest version of this retrofittable Media Player adds Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) file compatibility to previous Loewe Multimedia talents, for superior sound quality from ripped music sources.
And, while we’re talking about the Media Player, I might as well say that I was very struck by the slickness of the onscreen PC file navigation system, and by the quality with which the set reproduces both video and, especially, audio files. In fact, the only negative thing about the Media Player is that unlike the one built into Loewe’s Connect TV, it can only be hardwired to your PC/router. There’s no wireless capability.
This isn’t the only interesting thing built into the white Compose 40’s gorgeous bodywork, either. For the svelte frame also plays host to a built-in hard disc recording system, offering 250GB of HDD space for recording from either the Freeview tuners (you get two) or some of the analogue inputs, copy protection permitting.
What’s more, this latest ‘DR+’ recording system records the direct digital stream of Freeview broadcasts for completely lossless picture quality, rather than the messy, quality-damaging process of converting them to analogue and then reconverting them to digital as happened with earlier DR+ generations.
Now for some bad, if hardly unpredictable, news: all the flexibility, build quality and uniquely bespoke elements of the Compose 40 don’t come cheap. At all. Brace yourselves…
Just the White Compose 40 screen alone will set you back around £3,825. Then the white Sound Projector option costs another £1,220, with the white subwoofer unit adding another £580 on top of that. If you want the latest Media Player upgrade, meanwhile, you’ll be shelling out £220. Last, but not least, the ‘Floor Stand 5’ silver pole option we used with our review sample costs £530. In other words, if you want to buy the total package used for our tests, you’re looking at £5,375 all in.
This eye-watering price is clearly hugely intimidating to most ordinary folk, and will likely be enough to cause many reviewers and editors to choke into their soupy black coffees and instantly declare this full White Compose 40 system a complete waste of money.
But you know, I personally think that a gut reaction of that sort rather misses the point. For Loewe simply doesn’t make TVs for the price-driven mass market. Instead its design ethic, build quality, attention to detail, brand image and unprecedented flexibility make its TVs truly unique (always a valuable position) in the AV world; perfectly suited to the ‘money’s no object’ tastes of the relatively rich and famous.
It’s also fair to say that as with any relatively niche operation Loewe can’t enjoy the same economies of scale as the likes of Sony or Panasonic. Next, white paint finishes and lacquering are notoriously difficult – so expensive – to achieve consistency with (hence the White Compose 40 costs around £800 more than a ‘standard’ Compose 40). Finally, it’s pretty obvious that having to make and store such a wide variety of finish options, different stand types, add-in feature modules and even multi-coloured inlay panels is bound to be a seriously expensive business.
In other words, trying to put Loewe TVs into anything like the same price melting pot as a ‘normal’ TV really is both unfair and ultimately futile when you actually stop to think about market realities for more than a few seconds. Of course, none of this alters for a minute the fact that most of you reading this wouldn’t dream of spending so much money on a 40in TV, but clearly there is a market of well-heeled AV aesthetes out there who can afford such a sum – and probably quite comfortably, at that.
And anyway, if these are the sort of prices Loewe needs to charge in order to keep offering something genuinely different from the sometimes rather grey and homogenous world of the mainstream TV market, so be it. For if the current obsession with price – however understandable – leads to a TV market devoid of innovative and original design thinking, the world will surely be a poorer place. So there!
Having tried to disarm the inevitable “it’s too expensive” cries, though, Loewe doesn’t exactly do me a favour by presenting just two HDMIs when I’d expect at least three on any TV these days, never mind one costing so much. Darn. Just as well there are one or two bits of good connection esoteria to improve my mood, such as digital audio inputs/outputs, a USB port and an RS-232 control port.
Thankfully, with one or two small exceptions, this rather dated feeling does not carry through into the White Compose 40’s performance. In fact, the sound quality from the Sound Projector and subwoofer system is nothing short of jaw-dropping compared with the sort of sound you get with a ‘normal’ TV.
For starters, the subwoofer proves a really quite excellent bit of kit, delivering levels of controlled, deep, well-integrated, thoroughly refined bass that make even the best standard speaker systems sound as tinny as hell.
The Sound Projector, too, enjoys pretty much all the strengths of a straight Yamaha Sound Projector, which means that – shock, horror – you really do get a genuine sense of surround sound from it, without the muddy, indistinct, vocal-spoiling lack of precision so common with traditional pseudo-surround processes. If you push the Sound Projector really loud then yes, its sound can distort and sort of collapse in on itself. But most people’s ears will have given up well before the TV has reached this sort of volume level!
Basically, the White Compose 40 system being reviewed here delivers the sort of sound heroics you might expect from a good separates system from a single, colour-matched speaker bar you can hang under your TV and a similarly colour-matched sub that could go behind a chair if you wanted it to. In other words, you get the quality of a separates system with none of the separates hassle, space wastage or aesthetic hassles. Outstanding.
The situation with pictures isn’t quite so clear cut, since although good, the White Compose 40’s pictures aren’t as state of the art as its audio. The good points about the pictures kick off with some terrific colours. Graphics and animated fare looks extremely fulsomely saturated and bright, with no noise, no ‘striping’ of colour blends, and only the slightest trace of colour seepage when the set’s portraying motion.
Talking of motion, the White Compose 40 also suffers relatively little from LCD’s still-common motion blur problem, handling action movie scenes and sports footage really quite cleanly – even in standard definition.
You can, if you wish, make motion on the White Compose 40 look more fluid by calling in Loewe’s ‘DMM’ Film Quality Improvement option. This works in tandem with the set’s 100Hz engine, interpolating extra frames of picture information to make motion float by more smoothly. Unfortunately, I found that it caused edge flickering and shimmering around moving objects when asked to deal with really fast motion, so it’s probably best left off for the majority of the time.
The White Compose 40’s pictures are likeably sharp, too. This is especially true with HD, as the set does a pretty much perfect job of producing all the lovely detailing associated with good HD sources, even perfectly judging the way the TV reveals the grain in Blu-ray sources. Clearly the set’s Full HD resolution is coming in handy here, along with Loewe’s generally impressive Image+ processing system.
Image+ comes to the fore even more with the TV’s predominately good standard definition performance. You have to be careful to rein in the TV’s contrast and brightness levels if you don’t want standard definition noise to start being exaggerated. But, follow these basic precautions, and standard def pictures look decently stable and sharp.
In some ways the TV does nicely with black levels, too. With the TV’s brightness setting again kept pretty low – around level six or even less – the set produces black colours that look only marginally affected by greyness. We’re not talking about anything to get close to the extraordinary black level profundity of Sony’s recently tested 55X4500 LED TV, but it’s good enough to let you get involved in dark pictures that actually appear to have some real three-dimensional depth.
That said the White Compose 40’s black levels are also the main reason we’ve only scored the TV an eight for picture. One problem is that they seem rather unstable, with the machinations of the set’s dynamic backlight (the system which reduces the picture’s brightness during dark scenes to boost black level response) being a touch sluggish and extreme, so that you’re occasionally distracted by obvious brightness ‘jumps’.
It also seemed to me that the screen’s brightness wasn’t completely uniform, with parts of the picture looking slightly brighter and greyer than others. This is possibly as a result of some very subtle backlight seepage, though obviously you’ll only notice this when watching almost pitch black images.
To finish on a high note, though, I should briefly mention the DR+ recording quality. As anticipated, Freeview recordings really do look completely indistinguishable from the original broadcasts and you can’t ask for much more than that. It’s a pity, perhaps, that the DR+ system isn’t built to Freeview + spec, so doesn’t support one or two key features, such as Series Link, but it’s still mightily impressive for a built-in recording system.
If you live on some sort of ‘normal’ wage, the white Loewe Compose 40 won’t be for you for obvious bank balance reasons. And, if you’re a die-hard AV enthusiast, the white Loewe Compose 40 probably won’t be for you either, given that a) you’ll probably have a separate ‘proper’ surround sound system and b) its pictures aren’t perfect. After all, you could instead get the talents of Sony’s huge 55in 55X4500 LED TV and still have enough cash left to build a very healthy collection of Blu-rays.
But, if you’re who Loewe wants you to be, namely a rather well to do sort with bags of disposable income and tastes which put artistic design, uncompromising build quality and freedom of choice above the last word in AV excellence, then the white Compose 40 is quite possibly a dream come true.
Score in detail
Image Quality 8
Sound Quality 10