A year ago I reviewed Infinity's terrific- sounding $749 TSS-750 surround speaker system, and it quickly became one of my favorites in its price class—a surefire recommendation for entry-level surround sound systems. But much though I admired that little system, I eventually began itching to find out how an upscale TSS system might sound. Evidently, Infinity's designers were thinking along similar lines, because they recently released a new flagship system called the TSS- 4000, pricing for which starts around $3994 suggested retail for a 5.1-channel system (prices vary depending on number of channels supported and speaker mounting options chosen). Like all Infinity TSS (Total Solutions) packages, the TSS-4000 system is targeted toward the "lifestyle" market, where customers expect speakers with fresh, contemporary styling that complements the aesthetics of flat panel displays, yet that sound great. As we shall see, this "looks good/sounds good" balancing act is tougher to pull off than you might think.
The 5.1-channel TSS-4000 system is comprised of four TSS-SAT4000 L/R/surround satellites, a dedicated TSS-CENTER4000 center channel, and a TSS-SUB4000 powered subwoofer. The satellite and center channel speakers (which, except for small detail differences, are essentially identical) are housed in sleek extruded aluminum enclosures that can be mounted on walls or on tabletop stands; hardware for both mounting options is included as standard. Everywhere you look, you'll see evidence that Infinity has paid attention to the smallest of installation details; the satellites' tablet o p stands, for example, come with three differently-sized vertical risers, one that positions the speaker at the height of a typical 42" plasma/LCD set, the others to match the height of a 30” and 50" set. Thoughtful touches, no? Going further, Infinity offers optional satellite floor stands ($249 each) and inwall mounting kits ($49 each). No other "lifestyle" speaker system I'm aware of offers a more comprehensive or better thought-out set of installation options.
The slender TSS-4000 satellite/center channel speakers use a three-way design based on an array of, count 'em, seven Infinity MMD (metal matrix diaphragm) drive units, which are said to be light, responsive, and inherently low in resonance. Each speaker uses a centrally positioned .75" tweeter flanked by two pairs of 3.5" mid-range drivers, which are in turn flanked by two more 3.5" low-mid drivers. By basing the design on a comparatively large number of small-diameter drivers, Infinity creates satellite/center speakers that sound crisp and articulate, offer excellent dispersion, and that can play surprisingly loudly, yet are extremely compact. The design makes sense in light of the goal of providing satellite speakers that match the slim profiles of typical flatpanel displays. One minor drawback, however, is that the modules cannot reproduce frequencies much lower than 120Hz. Ordinarily this relatively high cutoff frequency is not a problem, but it can pose difficulties for THX playback or for listening to DVDAudio or SACD music through disc players with limited bass-management options; in either case, it would be desirable to have satellite/center channel speakers that went down to 80Hz.
The TSS-SUB4000 subwoofer is a medium-sized bass reflex design that is equipped with a 400W amplifier and a side-firing 12" MMD woofer, and that incorporates Infinity's R.A.B.O.S. (Room Adaptive Bass Optimization System) technology, initially developed for the firm's top-of-the-line Prelude MTS speaker. Even without R.A.B.O.S., the subwoofer delivered clean and powerful bass that extended down to the mid-20 Hz range, but it sounded even clearer and better balanced with R.A.B.O.S. equalization enabled. I provide a sidebar, below, to explain R.A.B.O.S. in more detail, but in a nutshell the intent of the system is to help users compensate for room resonance peaks that could otherwise cause "loose" or exaggerated bass at certain frequencies.
As you can see, the TSS-4000 system juggles design parameters with an eye toward delivering genuinely good sound within the framework of a design whose compact dimensions are—at least in part—dictated by the size and proportions of typical flat panel displays. Perhaps for this reason I found myself unconsciously using two quite different frames of reference as I evaluated the system's sound. On the one hand, I compared the TSS- 4000 system against other good "lifestyle" systems on the market (that is, against systems designed under the same basic styling and dimensional constraints that apply for the TSS- 4000 system). On the other hand, given that this is a fairly expensive speaker system, I also compared the TSS-4000 package against some of the best-sounding surround systems in its price range, regardless of type. We'll keep both frames of reference in mind as we talk about the system's sound.