I’ve never been a label whore. Still, the hardest part about reviewing a product from a well-known manufacturer is setting aside the expectations that are associated with the big “name brand” and dealing strictly with the product in front of you. Doing that was one of the major challenges of reviewing the Pioneer HTS-GS1 surround sound system for the Xbox 360. I did my very best to evaluate this product on its merits, and discover where it does, and doesn’t, live up to the terrific reputation of Pioneer audio products.
For most reviews, I’d move immediately into features, and hit the aesthetics as small points throughout the article. But with a product targeted towards Xbox 360 owners specifically because of its form factor and façade, it would be stupid to start anywhere else. Pioneer did an outstanding job of finding a way to have this system fit with the 360 without making it look like the system. They could have put the subwoofer in a 360 case, with the volume dial where the power button goes, and it wouldn’t have been a better fit that it is.
The flat white paint and rounded speaker backs of the HTS-GS1 pay homage to the design work done by the folks in Redmond without tripping over itself. From the controls and LCD of the display unit to the large opening in front of the subwoofer indented and ringed in silver like the power button on the 360, the design of the unit is obvious and yet subtle at the same time.. The grey speaker grilles provide contrast without distracting the viewer from the visual theme at hand. In short, the styling of the unit is spot on and really couldn’t be much better built as a visual mate for the Microsoft gaming console.
In terms of size, the HTS-GS1 is pretty typical, if not a bit smaller than most boxed home theatre systems. The left, right, and both rear speakers measure 4 ½ by 4 by 4 ½ inches (HWD), with the center channel speaker at 4 ½ by 10 ½ by 4 inches. The largest component is of course the subwoofer cabinet, which comes it at 14 ¾ by 8 by 17 ½ inches.
Aside from the visual appeal of the unit, the most interesting aspect of the HTS-GS1 is the integration of the receiver into the subwoofer cabinet. This greatly reduces the size of the display unit to the point where it is basically a tethered remote control. It also makes for a single point of connection for all of the cords that need to reach out to the speakers and the display unit.
The receiver inputs and outputs are very well designed. The speaker connections are color coded and grouped logically. The unit offers two optical, one coaxial, and one analog input for external devices. One of the optical ports is dedicated to the 360, and Pioneer is thoughtful enough to include one in the box. (At least that’s what the instructions said. However the optical cable was missing from the unit I reviewed). The receiver also includes AM and FM tuners and the matching antennas.
Setting up the HTS-GS1 is very straightforward. The speaker cables have special plugs at on the end intended to connect to the subwoofer/receiver, which match the color-coding on speaker ports. The unit is then connected to the 360 via the optical cable. The audio is tuned simply using the included microphone and the Multichannel Acoustic Calibration (MCACC) system. The auto setup saves the user from a lot of headaches. Want to reposition the speakers? Simply put them where you want, set the microphone where you normally sit when playing games, and press the MCACC button. It takes all of 2 minutes and can be run at any time.
The remote included with the unit is the definition of the word complete. It includes buttons for nearly anything a user could possibly need or want. It seems to be designed for the standard user, but with a slide down panel that offers far more advanced audio tuning features, as well as most functions available on a standard multiple device remote. The remote features that stick out most are the Xbox 360 specific (X, Y, A, B, and power) buttons geared for operating the console as a DVD player.
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