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Home Electronics: It Takes Two

Outside the audio industry, the name Niro Nakamichi may not be recognized, but within the business, he is held in the highest esteem. For nearly three decades his family’s company has been producing high-end electronics, including the first true hi-fi cassette deck in 1972. So when a relatively new company announced that it had created true surround sound with as many as 6.1 channels from two small traditional-looking speakers, no one in the industry paid much attention—until they realized that the company was headed by Nakamichi.

Working under the Nirotek company name, Nakamichi devised a multichannel system consisting of a central amplifier/processor/tuner that drives front and rear 22-inch-wide, 8-inch-deep, and 7-inch-tall speakers and a subwoofer. Because both speakers contain three tweeters and three midrange woofers, the Niro TWO6.1 can deliver discrete left, center, and right channels. Although the aural quality does not match that of conventional, space-eating surround systems, the 360-degree sound is impressive enough to do justice to blockbusters such as Twister and The Lord of the Rings. “There are so many people who want to enjoy DVD movies, but it’s very difficult to make the proper [speaker] settings,” says Nakamichi, explaining what he saw as a challenge to not only reduce the number of necessary speakers but to also produce a simple interface for achieving theaterlike performance.

The TWO6.1 system succeeds on both levels. Most notably, you no longer have to configure individual speakers according to the unique parameters of a particular room. As for ease of setup and use, the rear speaker is wall-mountable, and the front speaker is fashioned so that it can sit atop a plasma screen. The front speaker also contains the IR receiver, so that you can aim the remote toward the screen and install the main unit out of the way. Additionally, the remote comes preprogrammed with the commands for virtually every TV, VCR, and DVD player available.

The system, priced at $2,199, is neither complicated nor intimidating, but it is far from a simple device. Nakamichi used a specially developed robot to plot the path of sound reflections and then assigned them to the corresponding speaker—the right speaker’s reflections on the left wall were fed to the left speaker and vice versa. That data was used to create digital signal processing algorithms that, when combined with a patented loudspeaker design, re-create the multichannel experience through two speakers.

The second major innovation that enabled him to extract six channels of sound from two speakers is a processing method called Niroson Cinema. “I didn’t compare [my research] too much with conventional hi-fi products,” explains Nakamichi. “I spent a lot of time going to the movie theater in California, and then I visited one of the THX-certified mixing studios famous for post-production work for the final software tuning.” This proprietary programming is crucial to how Niro TWO6.1 produces surround sound, which means that you cannot substitute an alternative receiver or speakers. Using other components, after all, would defeat the purpose of delivering six channels of sound in locations that for space or aesthetic concerns cannot accommodate more speakers. In fact, the only gear that you must supply to create a complete home theater is the DVD player and monitor—Nirotek even included special flat cables that can be installed under carpets or behind molding.

“Up until about 2000, hi-fi had been very complicated,” Nakamichi says. “Now, home theater doesn’t have to be a specialist hobby.” With the Niro TWO6.1, Nakamichi gives the term home theater in a box a good name.

Nirotek, 310.533.6000, www.niro.net

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