As I have touched on in my last review of AKAI's very latest USB Turntable, the company has been in the business of electronics for a long, long time. And like any large experienced company, they are moving with the times and offering technology for today's standards.
With so many different forms of media needing to be played back in the average home of today, it seems fitting that AKAI has designed an all-in-one entertainment unit that attempts to handle a large whack of them all at once.
Claiming support for MP3/iPod/CD/DVD/Up-sampled DVD/USB/SD Flash cards/FM radio/Karaoke along with a HDMI output for up-sampled DVDs, we certainly have a lot of support here.
On the downside, because the cost of the unit sits at a thousand dollars large, we do not get support for the biggest and most exciting standard of them all right now; Blu-ray. Was this just an oversight? - It's hard to say at this point.
Given the potential peril associated with trying to do everything at once, the result is that often things get forgotten and nothing gets done well. This is going to be the biggest hurdle for AKAI to overcome with this product right from the start.
Package and Contents
The Package and Contents
Right then, let's take a close look at the contents of the package and see what's included.
The sample I received did not come with its own final packaging scheme. So at this stage I cannot pass comment on how it will look in shops.
First up are the two subwoofers which when paired with the top piece of the unit become its legs.
Next up is the business end of things, which is the table top itself. Now, this unit contains the speakers, the amplifier and all other electronic devices needed to make the magic happen.
Also included in the package is a single sheet of glass which is mounted between the two legs of the table with the supplied mounting brackets.
Finally in the package are a number of accessories including basic cables in the form of composite audio and video, speaker cable for the subs, everything needed to connect FM radio, brackets for the glass shelf and iPod mounts. It should also be mentioned the retail box will of course include a detailed manual as well.
Speaking technically, this unit has some goodies inside, so let's start by looking at some specifications from AKAI.
Main Features and Functions
- Docks and charges iPod
- Compatible with CD/ DVD/CD-R/ CD-RW/MP3/WMA/VCD/JPEG/ DIVX/MPEG4
- AM/FM radio with digital readout
- HDMI 1080P
- Supports USB and card audio playing
- Built-in DVD player
- LCD clock display
- Composite video, S-video, Y, Cb, Cr video output
- Supports all iPods- Digital coaxial & optical audio output
- VFD Multi-function display
- Automatic age lock and screen protection function
- Remote control unit
- 2.1 + 1 track power output (double sub-woofer)
- 4" x 4 + 5" x2 bass speaker 40w + 20w*2 (RMS 10% THD
Starting with the audio aspect of the unit, we are given a selection of small 4" speakers along with two larger 5" drivers to handle the low end. Also included are two small silk covered dome tweeters.
The power rating for the smaller speakers is given at 40 watts peak and 20 watts x2 (peak) for the woofers with a hefty 10% total harmonic distortion. Unfortunately there are not any reliable RMS power figures given, so we have to work with the temperamental 'peak' offerings instead.
Now, I must make note here that this is a 2.1 setup with an extra .1 in the form of the second 5" woofer. This is not a 5.1 surround system and does not feature any surround speakers or Dolby Labs/DTS decoding support.
What is of interest here is the up-sampling of DVDs to be output in 1080p.
An up-sampling DVD player is the latest generation of devices that bridges the gap between the old generation of DVD video (low-def) and the new high-def generation of video we are getting now with Blu-ray and HDTV.
So what does it actually do? Well, put very simply it takes the digital media on the DVD disc and over-samples the data for the best possible results. Over-sampling is just like reading a paragraph in a book twice to make sure you get all the information.
Once this is done the signal is kept in its digital form and output digitally in 1080p pixels via a HDMI output connected to a 1080p HDMI TV.
The result? High Definition; at least, in a sense. I say that because DVDs were never meant to be over-sampled and output in 1080p. They are standard definition content at only 60Hz. The 'Hz' refers to screen refresh rates where higher is better (smoother video). For comparison, today's HDTVs are around 120Hz, going right up to Sony's latest 240Hz model. However, that may seem like overkill when you consider the fact that a large whack of media actually falls well below that figure natively, such as Playstation 3 games on Blu-ray which are only 60Hz.
Moreover, you can still connect a DVD player to a high definition TV with perfectly acceptable results without actually buying a bridging device like an up-sampling DVD player.
Or you could simply buy a Blu-ray player for $400 which does this anyway, thus negating the need for these up-sampling players completely in the first place.
Confusing? - Just a bit.
Setup and Installation
My first impression of this unit was simply how large it was to maneuver inside my doorway. There are two quite large boxes; the first containing the top of the table housing, the speakers and all of the controls for the system.
The second box contains the two legs of the table which are considerably lighter than the other package. Honestly, I thought for a moment that this second box may have had something missing due to how incredibly light it actually was. I say this because I have seen many subwoofers over the years and these were just too light in my experience for what they are meant to accomplish.
Not to mention that they actually double as legs which are meant to bear some considerable weight (of the table top itself). And that's before a 42" LCD plus extras gets put on as well.
Why not use MDF for these dual purpose legs which is an incredibly cheap and effective material used in 99% of these sorts of subwoofer applications? - It sounds better, is louder, strong, cheap and it's light weight.
Once everything is out of the packaging and ready to go, it's a quite simple task of placing the two legs where you want the table, then taking the top of the table and locating it on the four locating dowls on top of each leg and maneuvering it into place.
As I have mentioned earlier, there is a large (heavy) piece of glass which is used for a lower shelf. This mates to the unit with the aid of a couple of shelf brackets.
Now that the table is in place, the next job is to wire up the legs to their respective speaker terminals directly above on the top of the table.
Once this is done, find an empty outlet to plug the system in and you're ready to rock and roll.
The review system I received did not have any remote batteries so I had to use my own, but I would think final retail boxes would have them included.
This is a great chance now to not only set the digital clock time, which I know would be the first thing on everyone's mind, but also to calibrate the systems tone controls, starting with the sub level which I would keep on the lower side. Next is treble which is quite low on the factory setting and lastly is bass which controls upper bass frequencies that are sent to the smaller woofers.
Of course, the connection of other devices is also quite straight forward, with all of the connections clearly labeled. I really see no difficulties you might encounter in connecting any of the specified devices to this unit.
The hardest thing to do now is decide what to listen to first, or watch as the case may be, depending on the user.
I decided to use my little USB flash drive first to test out some musical prowess to get the ball rolling, but quickly moved to CD for the higher bit rate.
I loaded up some fairly demanding acoustic material as well as some heavy on the low-end dance music. First up was the natural acoustic music to get a feel for the nature of the speakers chosen here by AKAI.
During my testing I found the two silk dome tweeters used within this unit to be of quite a marginal quality. First using the factory setting, I found the treble to be really quite absent from the mix, so I altered the setting to allow for more high-end frequencies and found that the quality of the high-end diminished further as I increased this value.
For the mid-range frequencies AKAI has chosen to use small 4" drivers, which should be enough in theory.
I found the mid frequencies to be very mechanical and brash, really not bringing any of the timbre of the percussion instruments out in the mix. These all important mid frequencies were also not being projected out into my test room; rather they felt confined and trapped somewhat.
With stereo imaging being confined to the shape and height of the unit rather than being projected out into the room, I did not feel greatly involved in what I was hearing; more like I was standing on a balcony watching the performance below me instead of being front row center.
The bass frequencies were also very fluffy and loose with a really boomy disconcerting feel, like I was testing a factory car stereo. In complete honesty I cannot add anything positive about these two 5" woofers, I have heard much better for a whole lot less. They simply are not value for money period.
Unfortunately my results were not ideal, but that is not to say that the audio of this unit cannot be enjoyed by some people. It's just that these people will probably struggle to justify the price of it.
When it came to testing the other features of the unit I did not encounter any problems at all. Connections and buttons are laid out logically and are all easy to find. The remote control really brings it all together with a touch of a button.
The video up sampling does look a whole lot nicer than standard DVDs, but you will of course require a high definition TV as well, so add another two and half thousand to the price if you want a full HD big screen, thank you very much.
It's a hard road to walk designing a product that does it all. Considering all the different variables, will the user actually appreciate quality speakers? Is it worth including Blu-ray if it becomes more trouble than it's worth because discs are locking up? What features do these people want? And most importantly, what are they willing to pay for them?
They're all difficult questions which become difficult decisions in time. And honestly, I do not think AKAI has made a whole bunch of really bad ones, it's just that they sort of missed the boat when choosing a target audience, because unfortunately the people willing to spend such a large chunk of money on something like this really do want good speakers and a Blu-ray player inside.
Right then, it's time to tie this one up.
The AKAI all-in-one entertainment unit is a curious beast, if nothing else.
The list of features and support are undoubtedly impressive, with the included speakers a bonus. However, the devil is in the detail and this is where things start to fray at the seams.
While the support is exhausting, it's not by any means all encompassing.
Offering up-sampling is a great start; I've already mentioned that. However, now being in the third quarter of 2009 Blu-ray cannot be left out of any product seriously looking to cement itself as an "all-in-one" entertainment center in today's market.
But with that said, there will be people out there who find this a great product that ticks enough boxes to warrant a thousand big ones and I'm sure AKAI knew this when they made it. Similarly, there will also be a lot of people that do not.
Just as always, be careful before laying down a lot of money on anything and please, go for a test drive before you take it home to meet the family.
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