There's small and then there are the satellite speakers from Sony's latest DAV-IS10 home cinema system. Each of the five speakers is only the size of a tennis ball, which guarantees that this £500 system remains heard but not necessarily seen.
The system also features an equally compact upscaling DVD player plus an integrated digital amplifier hidden in the subwoofer. It's sure to please anxious partners upset about having their living rooms taken over by oversized boxes. Surely something this small can't sound good, can it?
It's impossible not to be overwhelmed by the forceful sound quality from these ridiculously small speakers. Despite their size, they deliver a surprisingly powerful performance with superb dynamics and tightly controlled low frequencies that almost seem to defy science.
It's all made possible by the comparably large powered subwoofer, which features dual drivers to take care of the midrange frequencies that the satellites can't manage. You do have to place the sub fairly close to the front speakers and leave the volume right up, but excellent integration and precise steering of ambient effects create an immersive sound stage that's undeniably impressive. The system had no problem unearthing the subtleties of the after-life sequence in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean before exploding into life like the cannons in the following sea battle.
Elsewhere, image quality is excellent with distinctive black levels encouraging depth-defining contrast without losing detail, as seen in the dark cave scenes from Beowulf. Colours are rich and vibrant without overwhelming natural tones and there is very little noise, especially with upscaled images.
Equally impressive is the stylish design, although we've come to expect that from Sony. The compact main unit measures only 210mm wide and features touch-sensitive controls and a front-loading disc slot. These are all homogenously finished in a distinctive lacquered black.
Installing the system couldn't be easier with all speakers wired to the sub using colour-coded terminals. Only a single cable is required between the sub and the main unit. There's also an extremely accurate automatic calibration system that will correctly adjust your levels within a minute.
The full range of connections includes a single HDMI output that supports internally upscaled high-definition quality images, and a choice of digital inputs for connecting alternative devices such as a Sky+ receiver. There's also a so-called Digital Media Port that can be connected to a variety of adaptors for portable media players and Bluetooth or network wireless audio adaptors.
You can play a variety of discs, including those carrying encoded DivX video or digital music files. There's standard integrated decoding for Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Pro Logic I formats as well as several preset sound modes, including one that enhances the performance of portable media players.
There's very little not to like about the DAV-IS10. Sure, larger cabinets might be able to unearth more midrange depth and detail but this system has been designed with ultimate discretion in mind.
We would have liked to have seen 1080p video upscaling, especially since upscaled 1080i movement occasionally stutters across the screen, and its omission might dissuade those with an HD screen. That's about it.
Sony's DAV-IS10 offers the ideal balance between discreet aesthetics and outstanding performance. Your better half will no longer be able to make excuses for not allowing you a decent surround sound system in your living room.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday