SpeakerCraft CS3 TV Speaker Review

SpeakerCraft CS3 TV Speaker - Front and Rear Views
SpeakerCraft CS3 TV Speaker - Front and Rear Views. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Sound Bars are definitely one way to get better sound for your TV for those that just don't want to put up with the clutter of a lot of speakers. However, a similar concept is also gaining steam, which is sometimes referred to as the "audio console" or "pedestal" or Under-TV audio system approach to a single unit audio system.

The difference between the SpeakerCraft CS3 and most sound bars is that it can not only serve as the audio system for the TV but can be used as a platform to set the TV on top of.

This approach not only saved space, but looks more attractive than a sound bar sitting in front of the TV.

Features and Specifications

1. Design: Bass reflex pedestal design with left and right channel speakers, two subwoofers, and four ports 2.2 channel amplifier/speaker/subwoofer configuration).

2. Tweeters: Two 1-inch Dome type (one for each channel).

3. Midrange: Four 3-inch treated paper cone midrange driver (two for each channel).

4. Subwoofers: Two 5-1/4-inch downfiring drivers (one for each channel).

5. Frequency Response (total system): 35Hz to 20kHz

6. Amplifier Power Output: 80 watts total (20 watts x 4) RMS, 4 ohms, less than .1% THD.

7. Audio Decoding: Accepts uncompressed two-channel PCM, analog stereo, and compatible Bluetooth audio formats. Not compatible with Dolby Digital or DTS Bitstream audio.

8. Audio Processing: Virtual Surround Surround

9. Audio Inputs: One digital optical One digital coaxial, One set of analog stereo (RCA analog stereo, Wireless Bluetooth connectivity (built-in Antenna).

10. Control: Via Included credit-card-size remote control.

11. Dimensions (HWD): 4 x 28 x 16-1/2 inches.

12. Weight: 25 pounds.

Set-up

For the purposes of this review, I placed the CS3 on a wood panel-reinforced rack shelf with a Panasonic 42-inch LED/LCD TV placed on top of it.

For audio testing, the Blu-ray Disc and DVD players were connected to the TV via HDMI outputs for both audio and video - so the sound from those sources reached the CS3 via the digital optical output from the TV.

In a second setup test session, the digital coaxial audio output of the Blu-ray Disc player was connected to the CS3 and the analog stereo audio outputs of the DVD player was connected to the CS3.

First, to make sure that the reinforced rack was not affecting the sound coming from the TV, I ran a "Buzz and Rattle" test using the audio test portion of the Digital Video Essentials Test Disc and there were no audible issues.

Performance

In listening tests conducted with the same content using each of the setup options, the CS3 provided very good sound quality, keeping in mind that the CS3 was only receiving a two-channel audio input signal from the TV, Blu-ray and DVD players.

The SpeakerCraft CS3 did a good job with both movie and music content, providing a well-centered anchor for dialog and vocals, despite the lack of an actual center-channel dedicated speaker. On the other hand, I found that when doing channel-specific audio tests using test tones with the virtual surround mode engaged, that the phantom center level was slightly lower that the all-left or all-right channel levels, which is understandable as the virtual surround processing changes the way sound is output from the left and right channels.

However, the center channel vocals and dialog do not get buried under the left and right channel information when using the virtual surround mode, thus providing a well-balanced listening experience for movies, or surround sound music.

Also, the CS3 also does well as a straight two-channel stereo playback system, if you prefer listening to your CDs or other music sources in a traditional two channel setup. However, the one thing you will notice in two-channel stereo mode is that the left and right sound stage is rather narrow. I found that the wider soundstage of the virtual surround mode added both depth and a wide soundstage for music-only listening that was beneficial.

Using the Digital Video Essentials Test Disc, I observed a listenable low point of about 45 Hz to a high point of at least 17kHz (my hearing gives out at about that point). However, there is audible low-frequency sound as low as 35Hz, as stated by SpeakerCraft in their published specifications.

In real world listening, I found that the CS3 delivered a solid punch for movie low-frequency effects as well as providing a tight response for both acoustic and electric bass music elements. However, depending on the source material, I did find that I had to increase the bass volume to get the desired low-frequency output.

What I Liked

1. Very Good Sound quality across a wide frequency range.

2. The design and size of the pedestal form factor match well with the appearance of LCD, Plasma, and OLED TVs. In fact, you can also use it with some video projectors - Find out how.

3. Wide soundstage when using Virtual Surround mode.

4. Incorporation of wireless streaming from compatible Bluetooth playback devices.

5. Well spaced and labeled rear panel connections.

6. Excellent build quality - very sturdy.

7. Magnetically fitted speaker grill.

What I didn't Like

1. No built-in Dolby Digital or DTS decoding.

2. No Subwoofer preamp output.

3. Remote control too small and hard to use in a dark room.

4. No real front panel status display, except for a couple of blinking LEDs - makes it difficult to know how you have set the volume and EQ levels.

5. A little pricey.

Final Take

There are a lot of sound bar-type products out there for consumers to choose from, and just as with any product category, there are good ones and bad ones.

The SpeakerCraft CS TV Speaker is definitely one of good ones. It has a very practical pedestal design that makes it easy to integrate with your TV, as well as a built-in speaker configuration, virtual surround sound processing, and enough output power can easily fill a small or medium size room (the room I used was 15x20 feet) with great sound for both movie and music listening.

However, no product is perfect. There were some things I didn't like about the CS3, namely the poorly designed remote control and the lack of a front panel status display. I also don't for the "TV Speaker" moniker tagged on the name of the CS3, as it doesn't really identify the unit properly. How about renaming it the "SpeakerCraft CS3 Pedestal TV Sound System" - now that sounds a little more descriptive. It is also pricier than some of its competition, carrying a suggested $599 price tag.

However, those negatives don't detract from the performance of the system. The CS3 provides a very good listening experience for both movies and music - it is definitely worth considering if you have an LCD or Plasma TV that ranges in screen size from about 32-50 inches, weighs 160 pounds or less, and its stand is the same size or smaller than the size of the CS3 pedestal.

For a closer look at, and perspective of, the SpeakerCraft CS3, also check out my supplementary Photo Profile.

Official Product Page

Also, for similar products from other brands, refer to my periodically updated listing of Sound Bars, Digital Sound Projectors, and Under-TV Audio Systems.

Additional Components Used in this Review

Blu-ray Disc Player: OPPO BDP-103.

DVD Player: OPPO DV-980H.

TV: Panasonic TC-L42E60 (on review loan).

Software Used

Blu-ray Discs: Battleship, Ben Hur, Cowboys and Aliens, The Hunger Games, Jaws, Jurassic Park Trilogy, Megamind, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, OZ The Great and Powerful, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Standard DVDs: The Cave, House of the Flying Daggers, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut), Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Outlander, U571, and V For Vendetta.

CDs: Al Stewart - A Beach Full of Shells, Beatles - LOVE, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Sade - Soldier of Love.