Point of View: The bigger the better?

Richard Stevenson remembers when home cinema kit was big and dumb. A lot like himself, actually...

My home cinema system is just not looking good enough these days. Despite deploying the very latest hardware, mostly by not answering the phone when makers want their review samples back, its image is less impressive than it was some 10 years ago.

I wonder if I am alone in this. I ask you, fellow enthusiasts, do you care how your home cinema system looks? I don’t mean the crispness of your hi-def plasma or the colour depth of your projector picture, I mean the actual hardware itself. Would you care if your AV receiver was the cosmetic equivalent of Wayne Rooney or your projector hung from the ceiling with all the grace of a baboon’s butt? I could name amps and projectors that fall right into those categories.

Generally speaking, the path of technological development is one of increasing performance and decreasing size, and I think this is having a derogatory effect on the visual splendour of one’s pride and joy. Putting aside the mores of weirdoes who want a custom install with no visual indication that there is a cinema system in the room, AV kit is getting better, smaller and uglier. Current TVs have no features other than the screen itself, today’s BD players are the same size as a slice of Warburtons and Class D amplification will soon make AV receivers small enough to fit into a DVD case and still have room for a bag of Revels.

And don’t get me started on projectors. Oh, how I used to bristle with pride when visitors would stand in awe of my first Barco 3-gun CRT projector that hung from the ceiling like a gently glowing fridge. Now you can buy a 1080p projector that fits in your pocket. I have tried this and it offered much of what commercial multiplexes offer, namely an off-axis picture and hot nuts.

The product that has thrown me into this cosmetic quandary is Anthem’s stunning Statement M1 power amp. Regular readers will know that I have a predilection for monster amps, the sort that require a Boris Karloff-sized Van der Graff generator to power and single-handedly contribute to global warming. Big Krells, Mark Levinsons, Sony TA-N1s and recently a gaggle of Primare A32s all fit the bill perfectly – and I want at least one-per-channel for bi-amping. This is mainly for ultimate performance, but a very close second is people walking into the room and saying, ‘Wow that is the most awesome system I have ever seen’. This is usually followed by ‘What does it do?’ or ‘Is this all necessary?’ of course, but that’s not the point. I want my system to tell visitors that it, and by association me, is a well-hard home cinema aficionado.

What’s not to like?

The Statement M1 is a specification dream. A mono amp (if there were two channels in the same box a single 13-amp mains supply wouldn’t suffice) that can produce 1,000W into an 8ohm load. Into a typical 6ohm speaker it will deliver nearer 1.5kW. I love it! It’s bursting with technology that monitors every aspect of its performance to ensure peak clean current delivery and its fanless design runs perfectly silent. What’s not to like?

Well, it’s small, light, cool-running, incredibly energy-efficient and its satin-black stealth finish ensures it all but disappears in anything but full daylight. That is so wrong. Boris wouldn’t have bothered getting off the slab for that.

But as I see ever sleeker, ever smaller AV kit appearing monthly, I suspect I am in the same minority as hi-fi enthusiasts with turntables that look like space shuttle launch pads. Maybe it is time to give in and rebuild my AV system in the modern idiom? Or I could just dream about a stack of 22 Statement M1s and bi-amping the entire 11-channel system with 30kW of power.

Do you like AV gear to be small and sleek? Or do you prefer it big and beastly?

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The column first appeared in the April 2012 issue of Home Cinema Choice