The Hartford Courant The Electronic Jungle column [The Hartford Courant]
(Hartford Courant (CT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 01--The couple who once shared a stereo minisystem in a cozy, wood-paneled den are now more likely shopping for a pair of his-and-hers Dr. Dre headphones.
Listening to music has never been so lonesome. Yet the minisystem, for solitary or group listening, remains a bridge to an era when speakers, not headphones and portable music players, ruled.
The Onkyo CS-355 Colibrino looks very much like that old standby, with a compact receiver/CD player and AM/FM tuner, two undersized bookshelf speakers, an undersize remote control and, of course, a headphone input for private listening. The CS-355 has been updated modestly for contemporary tastes with Bluetooth (but not Apple's AirPlay) for wireless playback and a USB connector (but not a dock) for an iPod, iPhone or iPad.
At $329, it's perhaps too much to ask for AirPlay or a dock. A DVD player with HDMI -- instead of a CD-only player -- and a remote-control app might have been nice too. The CS-355 obviously does not want to scare off those wary of technology. Except for the Bluetooth and USB options, this system could be operated in the household that still thinks "The Cosby Show" is the most-watched television show in the country.
For a compact, all-in-one system, the CS-355 sounds quite good with the caveat that, historically, the generic speakers in these systems do not come close to name-brand speakers. .
But the CS-355 is not designed to play loudly and, powered by Class D amplification rated at only 15 watts per channel (at an ugly 10 percent distortion), it can't. Beneath the perforated-metal grille in each speaker are a 0.75-inch dome tweeter for the high frequencies and a 4-inch driver for the lower frequencies.
Put this system in the den, not on the deck, and it shouldn't disappoint unless you need Dr. Dre-type bass. The only way to get that is by adding a subwoofer -- the CS-355's receiver can accommodate both a subwoofer and another audio component like a gaming console or DVD player via back-panel connections.
Basic push-button controls are aligned atop the receiver/CD player, which is slightly more than 5 inches wide, 8 inches high and not quite 7 inches deep. (Weight: 3.5 pounds) Additional controls, like navigating an attached iPhone, are available on the remote.
The CS-355, available in black, red or white (I auditioned the Apple-white version), comes with everything the user needs, including short runs of speaker cable and AM/FM antennas.
Bluetooth is a mixed blessing here. Because of Bluetooth's limited range (30 feet) and fidelity, I prefer it for portable speakers. In the home I like AirPlay, which connects to a wireless network, has a much wider range and higher fidelity (up to CD quality).
But AirPlay, compatible only with Apple devices, excludes the many Android mobile device owners. With the CS-355, any Bluetooth-enabled device is welcome.
Although Onkyo included Bluetooth 2.1-EDR, which transmits data up to three times faster than previous Bluetooth versions, wireless connections too often were hit-or-miss during my evaluation. An iPod Touch routinely locked into the signal, but an iPhone frequently sputtered, skipped or lost the connection entirely.
In the latter case, I'd turn off the iPhone's Bluetooth, then reactivate it. Then it would reconnect with the CS-355. I did like the Bluetooth Standby mode, though, which automatically turned on the system whenever an in-range Bluetooth-enabled device was turned on.
Anyone who plans frequent use of the CS-355 Bluetooth feature should buy the system from a retailer with an appropriate return policy.
With an able Bluetooth connection, the CS-355 is a good reminder that music isn't always for a party of one.
What: Onkyo CS-355 Bluetooth minisystem
Price: $329, onkyousa.com
Hot: All-in-one system, easy setup, compact size. Decent sound for size.
Not: Spotty Bluetooth connection, system distortion at higher volumes, no DVD player.
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