To many audiophiles around the globe the Nakamichi name represents the pinnacle in audio performance. So you can imagine the anticipation while the industry awaited the release of Niro Nakamichi's latest creation – the NIRO 1.1 Pro.
• Read more about Niro's founding company Nakamichi.
• Read bookshelf and 5.1 speaker system reviews from the like of Polk, Klipsch, Def Tech and many others.
Meanwhile, many consumers are feeling overwhelmed and somewhat abandoned by manufacturers as more and more formats are introduced requiring more speakers, more connections and more surround options. Indeed, abandoned is the feeling of many, with setup being one headache and operation another.
The NIRO product line takes simplicity to the extreme. I must admit I was still quite surprised to learn that the new offering was actually a "quasi-surround" component. Though not so surprising, NIRO has inspired half a decade of engineering by thinking outside of the proverbial box.
I was impressed with the sound during my first experience with the NIRO 1.1, however, I was still skeptical. (Sure there's no additional speakers hidden in here?)
NIRO was quick to put their product where their claims were and offered us the first review samples available.
Unique Features - Early counterparts to the NIRO 1.1 Pro included a version with one speaker placed in the front center and one placed in the rear center with a single subwoofer. 6.1 "surround" was born of two speakers and the challenge then became to achieve the same success with just one speaker front and center, plus the subwoofer.
When it comes to unique features, I can say that the NIRO 1.1 Pro certainly qualifies as the only "virtual" surround system that actually employs six independent speakers--five in the "center" speaker, plus the sub itself. (Whereas, the 1.1 only employs three speakers in the "center," plus the sub.)
What's more, the NIRO 1.1 Pro features a progressive scan DVD player, Dolby Digital and DTS decoders/processing and amplification in one high quality chassis. The DVD player and pre/pro is surprisingly slim at 2.1-inches tall, but hefty at over nine pounds.
The back panel of the pre/pro features one composite, one S-Video and one component video (Y/Cb/Cr) output, along with two line-level (RCA) analog inputs (L/R) and one RCA output (L/R). There is also a coaxial antenna connection for the AM/FM tuner.
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The internal Class-D (digital) amplifieroutputs 30 watts per channel (x 5) to the main speakers and 50 watts to the 8-inch bass reflex subwoofer. The main speaker and subwoofer are connected via a simple multi-pin connector and roughly 14 feet of wire hardwired to each speaker.
The progressive scan DVD player supports both. PAL and NTSC formats and DVD, SVCD, VCD, CD, CD-R and CD-RW discs. Additionally, it plays MP3 files.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
One of the most common errors consumers make when they install their speakers is inadvertently wiring the speakers out of phase. (Ibis is when the positive output is connected to the negative speaker connection of one or many speakers and vice versa.) This will cause big problems in the soundstage during playback.
The NIRO circumvents this error by hardwiring the wire to the speaker and featuring pin-style connectivity on the back panel of the pre/pro amplifier. The 14-foot wire to both the subwoofer and the main speaker are long enough to accommodate installations even in larger rooms.
After connecting the speakers, I placed the subwoofer in the corner of the room and the speaker directly in front of my Runco PL-50 plasma. I connected the component video output of the NIRO directly into my plasma using a Tributaries component video cable. Then I inserted a DVD and let it play several times to properly break the speakers in.
The remote control for the NIRO 1.1 Pro is mediocre at best. The buttons are small and close together. This inhibits the setup and operation. With as high quality as the pre/pro DVD player is in its look and to the touch, I cannot imagine why NIRO chose this remote platform--the one item that you will interact with upon every use. Unlike other separate components, the NIRO 1.1 Pro is all-in-one. One would think a remote would have been designed around this unique component.
Once in the setup menu, features are easy to read and understand with quality graphics. Although the surround algorithms are pre-calibrated, users must still select the level of Effect. I started with the setting at 1/2, then worked my way to the Full Effect level later.
Final Take - As the editor of two leading magazines in the home entertainment category, I find myself tom between accepting a product for its entertainment value or disregarding a product because it happens to hurt the sales of other A/V products. NIRO is basically saying one doesn't need five or six speakers. I am a big proponent of products that are intuitive and get consumers excited about DVD entertainment, and the NIRO 1.1 Pro certainly does that.
With this in mind I put the NIRO 1.1 Pro though its paces, pulling no punches. I started first with Jimmy Neutron because there is a lot of rear channel information and side-to-side movement.
Here's where I moved the Effect level from Half to Full. The sound from the center and left to right was excellent in clarity and movement. With the surround effects, I kept asking myself, "Did I really hear that or just imagine I did?" his took some getting used to. Keep in mind that in a traditional surround system (in my traditional surround system) the rear channel speakers are directly to the left and right of the listening area, delivering on-axis response to the listener--me. But in the NIRO, the surround effects are "thrown" to the back of the room.
The effects were impressive, but the off-axis response took some getting used to. Most buyers of this product will not be transitioning between on- and off-axis responding systems – so this won't be a factor.
The bass for the system was adequate, though I believe it could have hit harder. Here again, I'm transitioning from a system with 18-inch and 12-inch subwoofers. For maximum bass response I placed the subwoofer into a comer to load it up.
I was actually very impressed with this little subwoofer during passages from The Matrix Reloaded Even at very high volume levels the sub did not break up--nor did its counterpart. Dialogue was crisp and well balanced with a hint of brightness at times. I particularly enjoyed music playback from CDs on the NIRO 1.1 Pro. Excellent detail, ambient sound and tight bass, what more could one want?
The DVD player performed flawlessly. The pick up and deinterlacing capability was superb with excellent resolution and detail.
In the end, the consumer looking for simplicity and high performance on a budget is the real winner here. I believe the NIRO 1.1 Pro can meet or surpass the performance of tradition home theater in-a-box packages up to $1,000. The NIRO is offered at much less, due to its direct outlet via the Web.
It's obvious that NIRO has put a lot of effort into the performance of the 1.1 Pro, now I'd like to see them put an equal amount of effort in designing a new remote.
NIRO 1.1 Pro
Speaker: 5 full range shielded
Dimensions: 19"W x 4.3"H x 7.9"D
Weight: 9.5 lbs.
Subwoofer: 8-inch Bass Reflex
Dimensions: 11.7"W x 12.9"H x 11.7"D
Weight: 14.3 lbs.
Dimensions: 16.9"W x 2.1"H x 13.2"D
Weight: 9.2 lbs.
Audio Inputs: RCA L/R x 2
Audio Output: RCA L/R x 1
Power: 30 watts x 5 (main) 50 watts x 1 (sub)
Video Outputs: 1 component video,
1 composite, 1 S-Video
DVD: Progressive Scan, Dolby Digital, DTS
AM/FM Tuner: Yes