This TV/speaker solution promises to offer a sweet space rather than a sweet spot
Loewe's new 3D Orchestra IS speaker system sees the high-end German brand trying to tackle the 'problem' of integrating authentic 5.1 audio into a regular living space. And, reviewed here alongside the company's new Individual 55 Slim Frame LED TV, the results are somewhat mixed...
The Individual 55 is a high-end screen with high-end Loewe design. Although similar to the outgoing Individual range it does feature a slimmer 1cm-wide aluminium fame (hence the Slim Frame branding), with the screen also appearing closer to the frame edge thanks to a single sheet of glass that hides the 1cm black border when in standby. New colour options are available, including a titanium finish for the frame, as well as black, silver and high-gloss white. As with the previous Individual range, magnetic strips allow the end-user a degree of customisation to match their own décor. We've gone for lime green.
Customers opting for the Stereo 3D Orchestra speaker will find it fits beneath the screen and frames the large eye in the centre of the Individual’s bottom edge. In the centre of the eye is an iris that glows red, green or blue according to the TV’s status.
Loewe customers aren’t expected to remove the socket covers from the back of the TV once their installer has done their work, but if they do they’ll find most digital and analogue options, including four HDMIs. Less commonly found connections include a digital optical audio input, a bevy of speaker terminals and control sockets for the motorised stand and Orchestra speaker control box (which fits into its own slot).
Loewe says significant changes have been made to the screen’s insides, with refined picture processing, intelligently controlled LED illumination, a 400Hz picture refresh rate and anti-reflective contrast filter glass. The brand also says the Individual 55 meets its own ‘Image+’ benchmark, as found on its Reference ID models. It also offers a built-in HDD that can be used as a PVR with its Freeview HD or satellite tuners (but there’s no Freesat EPG).
The operating system has been completely redesigned over previous models, although aspects of the GUI are still rather dull and confusing, using white text on black, and sometimes simply describing a feature rather than how to change it. It’s annoying, too, that the picture is blanked out when selecting the sound menu. The standout feature is definitely the home screen, where large-sized channel and app icons appear. These can be edited and re-ordered to suit your preference; I quickly had BBC iPlayer and the HD channels in the most prominent place. BBC aside, the set’s Smart TV selection provides little excitement with Vimeo, Box Office 365 and the Cartoon Network providing scant reward in the absence of Netflix, LoveFilm and Blinkbox.
Most aspects of the screen’s picture are consistently good with one or two quirks. Backlighting is even with minor amounts of clouding in the corners and detail is generally excellent, especially with HD sources. The Individual 55 can iron out judder beautifully thanks to its DMM processor but when watching movies, such as Silver Linings Playbook on Blu-ray, it is best left off to avoid the inevitable artificial sheen and occasional artefact. And with 3D viewing, DMM kicks in automatically, causing my Transformers platter to lose its grainy patina and cinematic frame-rate until manually disabled.
Motion clarity is reasonable; fast pans of cricket pitches during the Ashes retained plenty of detail. Shadow detail is another strength, and I had no trouble distinguishing the subtleties of Batman’s black outfit on the rooftops in Batman Begins.
The 3D Orchestra IS (Integrated System) takes TV sound to an unusual place. Four actively powered cylindrical satellites receive decoded signals from the TV (there's no need for a separate AVR here) and work in conjunction with the centre speaker and wireless sub to create a 5.1 system. The USP here is that these four speakers do not require precise positioning; they can be placed to fit in with the layout of your room at different heights and at different distances on either side from the screen. Two separate bi-directional speakers inside each housing emit sound upwards and downwards, while shaped cones direct sound precisely and evenly around the speakers. The idea is to create a diffuse 360° ‘sweet space’ rather than a sweet spot. Aiding this omnidirectional effect is the supplied triangular microphone, which measures your room's dimensions, layout and materials in order to calibrate the system.
From an installation point of view the 3D Orchestra IS brings greater flexibility than conventional systems, especially for rooms that are employed as lounges rather than dedicated home cinemas. The speakers can also be customised visually, with a variety of different inserts available for the top of the cylinders. The package is available in 3.1 and 5.1 configurations, and additional speakers can be purchased to make a 7.1 system. Extra subwoofers can also be added (up to a maximum of four) for larger spaces.
But hang on a minute, isn’t the whole point of home cinema that it discretely places effects around the room rather than produce a homogenous sound? Indeed, hence Loewe allows you to vary the intensity of the spatial effect within the settings menu, minimising it if desired.
Unsurprisingly, the highest setting works best with music, yet I did find it surprisingly enjoyable with movies. In Rise of the Guardians' Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, Jack Frost’s dialogue clearly emits from the centre channel, but sounds such as the jingle of the elves’ bells, fairies’ fluttering wings and swirling sands as Pitch circles the globe seem to emanate all around the room. It's as full and involving as Loewe claims, altering very little as I prowled around. Switching to The Daily Politics on TV and keeping the spatial effect on high, however, and the system sounds strangely weak and echoey. And Andrew Neill is clearly not to blame, as there is no improvement with other daytime telly, until I set the spatial effect to its lowest position and selected mono rather than stereo or surround.
Overall the system is meaty and powerful, with the star of the show probably being the dinky, 200W subwoofer, which trades absolute low-end extension for a rich tone and considerable agility. The performance of the sultry-looking Orchestra IS cabinets, meanwhile, is clean and delicate. Yet the spatial effect is clearly better suited to certain material than others and accessing the menu to change it when things sound wrong is not a quick and easy process. A similar criticism extends to the Individual 55 screen, which can deliver knockout pictures but shares a similarly convoluted interface system.
So, as someone once sang, you can’t always get what you want. Although for those who want a living room system with premium looks, customsiation options and an immersive sound experience, this could fit the bill.
Loewe Orchestra 3D IS 5.1/Individual 55 Slim Frame TV
Price: £7,000 Approx
Highs: Picture performance; powerful, rich sound; high-end design; speaker placement flexibility
Lows: Hit and miss nature of spatial sound; convoluted menus; dull-looking GUI
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