Niro Spherical Surround System - Almost Invisible Enveloping Audio!

      Date posted: March 19, 2009

Niro Spherical Surround System
Niro Spherical Surround System

Sugg. Retail: $1999 CAD, $1699 USD

The Niro Spherical Surround System, or SSS  for short, is a complete surround system that supports Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro logic II. It provides 6 channels of 30 watts rms, and complete surround reproduction from a 3-piece front-mounted minimal speaker/subwoofer array and an amplifier/controller with analog and digital inputs. It’s plug-and-play all the way, and offers a level of convenience that’s hard to resist. Custom 16.5-foot speaker cables are included, enough for a fairly large home theatre room, and connect quickly and directly to the appropriate outputs from the amp/controller and to the three speaker modules.

The Front speaker is designed to sit just below and in front of a flat screen TV, and has three 3.5-inch drivers in it, while the Top speaker sits on top of the TV and supplies the surround information from its two 2.5-inch drivers. Placement this way is quite critical because of the acoustic interaction that provides the surround illusion. The subwoofer can be placed nearby in a convenient spot, and it’s a bottom-ported box with an 8-inch driver.

The controller has 4 digital inputs, 3 optical Toslink, and 1 coaxial, with an additional pair of RCA stereo analog ins. There is also a headphone output, and the 6 digital amplifier channels, provide 30 watts for the 5 main channels, and unspecified power to the sub. The remote control is a universal type, and can control DVD players and video displays, a nice convenience feature.

The designer of the Spherical, and other Niro systems, is Niro Nakamichi, from the famous tape recorder family, who set up his own company for this new endeavour. One of the design criteria, he says, was to “update the software in the digital amplifier so that the sound wouldn’t be influenced by or depend on every user’s room conditions or set-up.” It is this signal processing that makes the Niro systems work, something I’ll enlarge on below.

I tried the SSS  first with my VuTec 92″ projection screen, but discovered that the surround effect was somewhat weak. Surmising that the vertical distance might be the limiting factor, I then put away the big screen, and set the system up with my resident 64″ Pioneer Elite PRO-710HD. This was better, and almost as effective as a demo I’d heard last summer in Kenora. The distribution company, DBI Inc., works out of this northern town near my cottage, and that’s where I encountered thiis product.
The analog inputs are for older 2-channel matrix surround systems like Dolby Pro Logic in its various versions, while digital inputs carry Dolby Digital and DTS signals. What actually goes to the speakers is processed in such a way as to create the multichannel sound through the interaction of the Front and Top speakers because of phase changes from the processing. It could be said that they are re-matrixed, but in a very clever and effective way by the DSP circuits.
SSS w/Flatscreen TV
And this makes the Niro system quite different from the ubiquitous surround “bars” that sit on the top of the display, and use adjacent room boundaries to create the phantom surround. As Niro Nakamichi notes above, it is interaction in air and off the viewing screen that provides the surround effect. That’s why the distance between Top and Front speaker clusters is quite important. My feeling is that my screen was just a bit too big for the full phase matrix trick, and 32-to-48-inch screens will work better. I had to run the surround level at its highest +6 position for full effect.

The other way in which the Niro SSS  is also superior to these bars from Yamaha and others is in its spatial realism and unity, since room boundaries do not colour the sound. It also has quite low coloration in frequency response, as well as a wider and deeper sound field. I also noted that the deep bass response was strong and clean down to about 40 Hz. Now, you can’t faithfully measure such a system as this, and we did not try; there is simply too much psycho-acoustic phase manipulation going on, and the measurements would have little meaning, except perhaps for the subwoofer, which was very powerful, and matched well with the overall system.

Also, the listening sweet spot was much wider than you’ll hear from sound bars, and the quality of the small drivers used by Niro is reflected in the clean sound, fast transient performance, and quite amazing dynamics for the system size. You can actually pay quite a bit more for some name-brand systems that are distinctly inferior; they sound like small speakers, but the Niro SSS sounds like a big surround system.

The surround image is, admittedly, more to the sides than the rear, but is still extremely effective and involving. And the integrated nature of the SSS  certainly shows in the quality of sound and the effortless dynamics I heard. Niro Spherical Surround  is, in my experience, superior to any ultra compact home theatre system I’ve heard, and the ability to do it with only 4 small boxes a true engineering triumph.

Andrew Marshall

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