- Review Price: £299.99
We’ve reviewed several good-looking 2.1-channel systems lately, but few have been as outrageously stunning as this effort from Samsung. It should come as no surprise given the company’s track record of making affordably priced but drop-dead gorgeous gear, but we were still taken aback by the sheer beauty of the HT-X720G.
In the box are four components – two ‘half tallboy’ front speakers, a DVD/receiver unit and a cube-shaped passive subwoofer that stands just 256mm high. The sleek and fashionable DVD unit and front speakers are clad in Samsung’s trademark ‘platinum black crystal’ design – a decadent gloss-black finish framed by a transparent border.
Most eye-catching is the distinctive main unit, which stands up vertically on its flat underside and looks uncannily like the BD-P4600 Blu-ray player. There’s a discreet disc slot and a row of touch-sensitive buttons along the top that instantly boosts its coolness factor, and when powered up a large dot matrix display appears in the centre to provide all the key information. It really is one of the most attractive one-box home cinema hubs we’ve come across, and if you’ve already got a Samsung TV at home then this system is the perfect partner.
The half tallboy speakers, which stand 605mm high, are surprisingly slim and slot onto circular stands, giving them a funky, futuristic vibe. But most significantly they boast speaker cones made of ‘Bio Kelp’ (aka seaweed), which Samsung reckons has a fast response time and a natural tonal balance thanks to the high tissue density. We’ll find out in due course.
Unlike the HB354BS system from Korean compatriot LG, the HT-X720G doesn’t play Blu-ray discs – it’s a straight up DVD affair. But like any system worth its salt it’ll upscale your SD discs to 1080p over the HDMI v1.3 connection, giving you near hi-def pictures until you decide the time is right to upgrade.
But if you fancy upgrading this system to 5.1 in the future you’re out of luck, as the main unit only sports 2.1-channel speaker terminals on the back. Thankfully these are plugs as opposed to springclips and each one is colour-coded to minimise confusion when rigging it up. The fronts and sub feature tiny springclips though, making it a little fiddly to feed in the cables.
Elsewhere the socket selection is par for the course, including HDMI, component and composite video outs, plus an optical digital audio input (handy for hooking up a Sky + box), a set of analogue stereo inputs and an FM radio antenna input. It’s a shame Samsung couldn’t have included a couple of HDMI inputs but cost was obviously a limiting factor.
However, iPod and iPhone owners will be delighted to learn that the system is supplied with a cradle that plugs into the port on the side. You can control iPods using the remote and onscreen GUI, plus it’ll even let you playback videos on your TV. The iPod port is joined on the side panel by a USB port for flash memory drives (but not hard-disks), a 3.5mm minijack input for other MP3 players and a headphones output.
One of the system’s funkiest features is its ability to rip tracks from CD into MP3 directly to a USB memory device, but the lack of Gracenote means you’ll need to name them manually on a PC afterwards. Naturally for a Samsung system you’ll find loads of other features on board.
There are Dolby Digital and DTS decoders, plus several sound modes designed to enhance audio performance. Chief among these is the V-Sound mode, which aims to replicate a 5.1 effect through the two speakers, and there’s a similar mode for headphone listening. It’s joined by P.Bass, which adds extra punch to low-frequency effects, and Audio Upscale, which boosts MP3 and WMA playback up to CD quality. Finally, Smart Volume levels out the audio frequencies during dramatic changes in volume, primarily when watching TV.
After plugging in a USB stick full of digital media, we found that the system happily plays DivX, XviD, MP3, WMA, WMV (version 7) and JPEG but not DivX HD or WMV9.
The system comes with an excellent remote, with helpful button organisation and clear labelling, and we also like the way the playback buttons are coloured blue to set them apart. The onscreen menus are rudimentary but simple to navigate.
According to the specs the HT-X720G can fire out 400W of audio power, with 133W supplied to the fronts and 135W sent to the sub (OK that’s 401W but what’s a watt between friends?). And during playback of ”The Return of the King” on DVD, it certainly delivers a hearty racket, filling the room with the clanking cacophony of battles and Howard Shore’s sweeping score. It’s not as naturally powerful as the LG HB354BS but boasts the necessary dynamism to make an impact.
Power is one thing, but the ability to harness it is quite another, and sadly these speakers don’t show the level of control needed at loud volumes to really blow us away. Top-end frequencies have a hard edge, most notably the screeching cries of the Fell Beasts as they swoop overhead, and Gollum’s voice is raspier than usual.
As a result, loud battle scenes make for an uncomfortable listen, a bit like someone putting a saucepan over your head and bashing it with a metal stick, and on this evidence we suggest throwing those Bio Kelp cones back in the sea. To be fair the sound does improve once you’ve turned V-Sound off, but in doing so you lose the more expansive soundstage it offers.
There is some good stuff to report though. The sub generates a decent amount of low-end rumble, making the thud of marching armies and the erupting Mount Doom sound suitably weighty. And away from the action-packed stuff, it’s not too bad – dialogue is competently handled, and gentle background effects are conveyed with reasonable detail.
With CD playback it’s not quite the disaster we were expecting either. In straight stereo, ”Flamenco Sketches” by Miles Davis sounds surprisingly smooth, with Coltrane’s sax work sounding rich and mellifluous and Davis’ trumpet being delivered with a far less grating tone than some one-box systems.
The system’s DVD picture quality is above average, particularly when delivered via HDMI at 1080p. Edges are well defined and mostly free from jaggies, detail retrieval is superb and our test movie’s varied colour palette looks strong and natural.
It’s hard not to be seduced by this system’s gorgeous looks. The distinctive speakers and attention-grabbing main unit will add a splash of cutting-edge class to any living room, particularly when paired with a Samsung flatpanel TV. Equally attractive is the amount of features on board for the money, with the iPod cradle being a particularly generous addition.
But sadly the HT-X720G is like your average page 3 model – looks great but not particularly talented. Behind that glamorous exterior the HT-X720G is a flawed performer, with harsh and unrefined sound quality that makes movies much less enjoyable than they should be. Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected miracles from a £300 system, but we’ve heard better for the money (from some of Samsung’s other 2.1 systems, in fact) and the decent music playback and DVD picture quality aren’t enough to redeem it.
Score in detail
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