Review: Samsung MX-HS8500 Giga System

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01
of 04

A Multicultural Mash-Up of an Audio System

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Samsung

The Samsung MX-HS8500 reminds me of a wonderful night I spent in Shanghai, where my hosts took me to a German restaurant and the entertainment was a group of Chinese musicians performing Eagles tunes. That night and this system represent compelling and fascinating cultural mish-moshes that simply couldn't have occurred a few decades ago.

While the MX-HS8500 was engineered at Samsung's Suwon, South Korea HQ, this big, bulky, flashy system clearly wasn't intended for that market. Samsung's marketing guys have told me that these Giga Systems do well in specific regions -- South America and Southeast Asia, in particular -- and have started to sell very well in the U.S.

That shouldn't come as a surprise because the system's a bargain. It's got a built-in CD player, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth, and jacks to play music from two USB sticks. The sound system itself comprises two three-way speakers -- each with a 15-inch woofer, a 7-inch midrange and a horn tweeter -- powered by Class D amps rated at 2,400 watts total power. Is that peak, RMS, or what? I don't know. But it's a lot of power, as we'll see shortly.

It's obvious Samsung designed the MX-HS8500 primarily for the Latin American market. How do I know? The first sound mode that comes up when you push the EQ button is Ranchera, followed closely by Cumbia, Meringue and Reggaeton. There's also a Goal button on the remote that immediately causes the unit's lights to flash, and triggers a brief sonic clip of celebratory drums and whistles. Of course, the MX-HS8500 isn't targeted solely at the Latin American market, but Samsung's intent is clear.

I may not be the right person to determine the suitability of the MX-HS8500's feature mix for its intended market. But I can tell you a lot about how it sounds.

02
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Samsung MX-HS8500: Features and Ergonomics

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Samsung

• CD player
• AM/FM tuner
• USB inputs play MP3 and WMA files from USB sticks
• RCA jacks for stereo aux line input
• 2,400 watts total rated Class D power
• One 15-inch woofer per speaker
• One 8-inch midrange per speaker
• One horn tweeter per speaker
• Karaoke mic input
• Remote control
• Panning, flanger, phaser, wah-wah and other sound effects
• 15 sound EQ modes
• Dimensions: HUGE and HEAVY

I got a very early production sample of the MX-HS8500, sent to me straight from Korea in a box about as big as a travel cage for a St. Bernard. It didn't include a manual, so I probably missed a few interesting features -- including, apparently, the ability to record on USB sticks, probably for preserving karaoke performances. 

Samsung designed the MX-HS8500 to look like a DJ sound system. It's nowhere near rugged enough for a real working DJ to use, but the speakers do have small wheels on the bottom that begrudgingly allow it to be rolled (at least on a very flat surface), and handles on the sides make them easier to lift.

All of the electronics are built into the right speaker. An umbilical cable provides audio and power for the lights to the left speaker. It's a long cable, too, so you can easily space the speakers far apart for parties.

Despite the colossal number of features packed into the MX-HS8500, I found it easy to figure out how the unit worked. One beef is that with only a basic alphanumeric readout on the front, browsing through music files from USB sticks is a little clumsy. But if you don't like it, just stream 'em from your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth.

Also, I found it annoying that every time I wanted to use Bluetooth with my Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone, I had to go into the phone's settings and manually mate it with the system. That's lame. Most of the cheap little Bluetooth speakers I've reviewed automatically mate with the phone when they're in close proximity. I mean, these are both Samsung products. Somebody in Suwon needs to talk to somebody else in Suwon.

03
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Samsung MX-HS8500: Sound Quality

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Brent Butterworth

Let's tame the elephant in the room right now: Yes, the MX-HS8500 has flashing lights on its control panel and its woofers. You can select from 20 different colors/patterns or light, and yes, you can turn them off. But listen, audiophiles, before you get your dander up: Light is composed of photons, which have no mass. So the light striking the woofer diaphragms does not affect the function of the woofers. The light can, of course, affect the perceived sound quality of the MX-HS8500, but that's a problem with you, not with the unit.

Now let's tame the 800-pound gorilla in the room: That Goal button has you worried, doesn't it? It gets worse. The Dance Time button interrupts whatever music you're playing with a random clip of electronic dance music accompanied by more flashing lights. Apropos of nothing, as they say. This got a huge laugh from visiting jazz saxophonist Terry Landry when I pushed the button right in the middle of Charles Lloyd's "Sweet Georgia Bright" from Rabo de Nube. He laughed even harder when, about 60 seconds later, the EDM clip ended and the MX-HS8500 innocently faded right back into "Sweet Georgia Bright" as if nothing had ever happened.

While an obvious market for this feature would be jazz fans looking to liven up those three-hour-long Keith Jarrett solo piano recordings, I'm not sure who else would want it. But of course, you don't have to use it.

Now let's tame the Godzilla in the room: You may have noticed that the MX-HS8500 includes panning, flanger, phaser, wah-wah and other effects. Who would use these? I can't even. (That's an Internet thing, right? And Internet things are called "memes," right? Whatever. Wait, is "whatever" a meme? It's so hard to keep up with this stuff.) 

OK, we both know you're assuming that the sound quality of this thing sucks, and sucks bad. You could be forgiven. Honestly, I thought the same thing, and I'm not even sure why I agreed to review it. Except that I believe if one is to understand the great mystery of audio, one must study all its aspects, not just the dogmatic, narrow view of The Absolute Sound and Stereophile.

But here's the surprise: The MX-HS8500 sounds shockingly good.

Products like this usually sound extremely colored, with huge swings in the midrange and treble response accompanying ridiculously overhyped bass. But the MX-HS8500 sounds as smooth and neutral as many of the speakers you'd hear at a high-end audio show. In fact, even smoother and more neutral than many.

Longer sessions in my listening room confirmed that the MX-HS8500 sounds much, much better than anyone would expect. Yep, the bass was louder than I wanted, something easily fixed by turning it down -6 dB with the User EQ function. The units strength is in the natural tonality and the superb integration of the three drivers, which is amazing because they were obviously placed for convenience rather than for best performance.

One of the toughest test tracks in my collection, the live version of "Shower the People" from James Taylor's Live at the Beacon Theatre sounded incredibly clear, with all the high-frequency subtleties of Taylor's acoustic guitar coming through clearly and without that ugly etched, edgy sound that so many audio systems produce on this cut. Taylor's rich voice also sounded smooth, with only a slight trace of sibilance.

Even with the bass turned down -6 dB, the 15-inch woofers produced incredible kick on another of my fave test tracks, Toto's "Rosanna." The bottom end sounded tight, though, with no booming or bloating, and I couldn't even hear any resonances coming from the cabinet sides, which surprised me because the enclosures are big and not all that well-braced. The whole presentation sounded exceptionally vivid and powerful -- far, far better than you'd expect to hear from any all-in-one system.

The only real downside to the sound is that the stereo imaging isn't particularly precise. Because I guess, of the way the drivers are arrayed on the front baffles, you don't get the kind of rock-solid center imaging that a good pair of conventional speakers gives you. And while all the little high-frequency details in recordings like Holly Cole's "Train Song" come through, they don't seem to dance back and forth in the space between the speakers they way they usually do with good speakers (and, of course, in a live performance with real percussionists).

One more thing: You can turn the MX-HS8500 up to full blast without getting significant distortion. How loud is that? Playing Band of Skulls' "Hoochie Coochie," the MX-HS8500 hit 120 dBC at 1 meter, loud enough that I needed to wear hearing protectors to measure it. That's the kind of volume you'd get from a good small P.A. system.

04
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Samsung MX-HS8500: Final Take

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Samsung

I know that most of the people who read this will probably never buy a system like this. But the people who would buy a system like this will be getting a terrific deal: the first sound system I've ever heard that works well for insane partying and for focused listening to high-quality recordings. Provided, of course, that you turn off all the lights, ignore the special effects and EQ modes, and do your best to forget that Goal button even exists.