Denon's DHT-FS5 is an unusually compact single-speaker surround-sound system with an similarly compact price of around £350 -- considerably less than its big brother, the up-market DHT-FS3. Even so, the two units are similar: they're almost the same size, and they share a similar design aesthetic and sound. The pricier model is finished to a much higher quality, has slightly better connectivity and comes with a subwoofer. Thanks to its more affordable price tag, however, the DHT-FS5 is easier to recommend for buyers who intend to use the system in a small bedroom, for example.
While Denon doesn't claim that the DHT-FS5 can replace a bona fide 5.1-channel speaker/subwoofer system, the DHT-FS5 does sound substantially better than the speakers built into any TV. Blu-rays and DVDs sounded spacious in our tests, though we were less impressed with the system's sound when playing CDs. Still, those looking for a quick and easy sound solution will appreciate that the DHT-FS5 is self-powered, removing the need to buy an AV receiver.
While the rather basic-looking DHT-FS5 won't be easily confused with its higher-end sibling, it's design is tastefully understated. The cabinet's front panel is covered by a black cloth grille, and there's a power/standby button, along with Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS indicators. A large, easy-to-read LCD screen lights up from behind the grille. The DHT-FS5 is smaller than average for sound-bar speakers, at 29 inches by 5 inches by 6 inches, and weighs 5.1kg.
While there's no auto-calibration mode, speaker set-up couldn't be much easier. You just use the remote to choose one of three room sizes, and the system engages a corresponding preset mode. We completed the set-up in less than a minute.
Thanks to the DHT-FS5's minimalist feature set, the remote control isn't cluttered with a forest of buttons. There's volume and input selector buttons, plus mode buttons for choosing from four sound options: stereo, movie, music and news. We experimented with the different types of sound produced by the last three options whenever we swapped Blu-ray, DVD and CD discs.
The remote also has mute, night-mode, set-up and 'Super Dynamic Bass' buttons. Super Dynamic Bass is a single-step bass boost that we found highly effective, adding neither too much nor too little bass to movies and music. It would have been good to see dedicated bass and treble controls as well.
The DHT-FS5 speaker features six 3-inch mid-bass drivers, driven by four 25W amplifiers, plus a 50W amplifier (presumably, the sixth driver is driven 'passively'). Denon's X-Space Surround technology works with Dolby- and DTS-encoded discs to produce remarkably spacious surround sound.
Connectivity options are limited to one stereo analogue and three digital inputs (one coaxial and two optical). The subwoofer output can be used to feed a powered subwoofer (hooking up a sub automatically limits the amount of bass coming from the speaker, which improves overall sound quality).
The DHT-FS5 doesn't offer any video switching at all. That means you'll have to run your sources' audio connections to the DHT-FS5, and the corresponding video outputs to the TV, and switch both inputs simultaneously (when moving from, say, a Blu-ray player to cable box). That can be accomplished automatically via a universal remote macro. It's an annoyance, to be sure, but it's less of an issue on this more affordable model than it is on the more expensive DHT-FS3.
Like most single-speaker audio systems, placing the DHT-FS5 in front of your TV will probably block the TV's remote infrared receiver. Instead, you'll want to mount the DHT-FS5 in a cabinet underneath, or wall mount it with the included metal wall brackets.
The DHT-FS5 handled our Sin City DVD well. The film's unrelenting gore and bloodletting sounded surprisingly visceral, and the macho narrations from Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke were big and full-sounding.
In movie mode, the sound was projected well out to the sides of the front wall of our listening room. Surround effects, such as police sirens and helicopters flying overhead, appeared far forward of the DHT-FS5. That was true as long as we sat directly in line with the speaker, but, if we moved over to the left or right side of the couch, the sound was far less spacious. The DHT-FS3 was more consistent in this regard, and the surround effects were almost as good on the sides of the couch as they were from the centre.
Switching over to stereo, we felt that the DHT-FS5's sound quality improved slightly, sounding less processed and tonally richer, although substantially less spacious.
Next, we played Lou Reed's Berlin concert DVD. The music's dynamics felt lacklustre, so we borrowed the ESW-CS8 subwoofer from the Energy RC-Micro 5.1 speaker system. That made a huge difference, not just because it added bass but because it also improved the sound of the DHT-FS5 overall. In some ways -- such as bass definition and general oomph -- this combination surpassed the more expensive DHT-FS3's overall sound quality. Bass definition and dynamics were closer to what you'd hear from a budget 5.1 satellite subwoofer package.