In terms of surround sound decoding, the unit offers the standard solutions: DTS, Dolby Digital, Pro Logic, and both Pro Logic II Movies and Pro Logic II Music. It also offers stereo as a sound option for any source, with multichannel sources down mixed to the left and right front speakers. Additional audio features, including Advanced Surround with presets for specific surround sound effects, and dialogue enhancement are available on the slide-down portion of the remote.
While the design and feature selection are great additions to the HTS-GS1, as I’ve said before, it all comes down to the sound. And in terms of volume, the unit doesn’t disappoint, especially considering the size of the speakers. With the increasing number of audio products I test, I’ve begun to develop a routine for putting a unit through its paces. First, I watch Top Gun. The HTS-GS1 performed pretty well in this first test, and the surround sound was in full effect with the sound of the F-14’s and MIGs buzzing from left to right behind you and at times seemingly flying right overhead. The unit seemed strong with sharp, harsh sounds like engines, squealing air brakes, and missile explosions. The next test is Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, where the unit showed some weakness. It lacked the warmth or richness Lucasfilms’ THX audio provides, and my much older Koss KS5190 has no problem conveying. It also seemed in spots that the subwoofer was being maxed out, which sounded sort of thumpy during the opening space battle. The dialogue enhancement feature came in handy in a few points during this movie. (If the HTS-GS1 could actually enhance the dialogue Lucas wrote, there’d be no need to even review it before purchasing.)
Next, I got down to the brass tacks the HTS-GS1 is targeted for: gaming audio. Starting with Burnout Revenge, it was nice to hear the hum of the engine sounding alive and crisp, with the surround features accentuating the feeling of being right over the engine. Passing cars moved the appropriate directions through the speakers, and the volume of the cars crossing the intersection increased and decreased in volume appropriately. Sadly, the unit faired less well while I played Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It almost feels like the unit is designed for sound effects, but when it comes to the spoken word, there just isn’t that jump, that liveliness you expect out of a surround sound unit.
For the last test, I listened to a mix of music from Led Zeppelin to Ben Folds. Again, it seemed the unit performed best with loud, sharp, strong sounds while sounding a bit thin for vocal or acoustic numbers.
The HTS-GS1 has a lot going for it, in terms of features, design, and volume, but it also has a few failings as well. I ran the MCACC setup process 3 times, and could not increase the quality of the softer audio sounds coming through the receiver. Also, I noticed that there was not a noticeable increase in the depth of sound between connecting my DVD player with an optical cable versus the analog connection. In the effort to be “everything to everyone”, the remote control is overloaded, and yet somehow missing a mute button. While it may seem like a small issue, the easy connectors on the subwoofer end of the speaker cables mean that replacing them is not as easy as popping into Radio Shack for a new roll of speaker wire. Lastly, the HTS-GS1 is saddled with an issue I’ve never really had to comment on in a review before, and that’s price. The MSRP of the unit is a whopping $499, which is more than the console it’s designed to support. I was able to find the unit selling for around $379 at a couple of local stores, limiting but not eliminating the issue. Several units in that price range are generally regarded to provide better sound quality for the money than the HTS-GS1. In fact, the unit that the GS1 is based upon, Pioneers HTS-260 has most of the same features, and I found it selling in the $299-$329 range.
In conclusion, the HTS-GS1 is a decent little system. It provides plenty of volume, especially for only 600 watts total output. However, with the somewhat cold sound, and the pricing, I pretty hard to recommend this system gamers who aren’t under orders from their interior decorator to color coordinate their home theatre with their 360. You’d be far better off spending another $150 on Pioneers higher end HTS-560DV, and a can of flat white spray paint.
While the HTS-GS1 is a perfect visual compliment to the Xbox 360, in terms of audio, the picture isn’t quite as pretty. While it’s a decent small system, it is a tad overpriced, and not the warmest sounding unit on the market. Recommended only for those serious about complimenting their 360 with something that will catch the neighbors’ eye while skimping a bit on catching their ear.
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