Boston Acoustics TVee Model Two Soundbar
Soundbar: What a word. I like it. It implies that audio-for-video can be simplified into an unprepossessing horizontal object. The Boston Acoustics TVee Model Two assumes that you'd rather have one speaker (and sub) than five (and sub). It also assumes you have a certain impatience with cables, and therefore sweetens the deal with a wireless link between soundbar and sub--though it still requires two power cords and two analog channels worth of cable between the soundbar and your signal sources. And it assumes you'll accept not 5.1 but 2.1 honest channels in its 1.1 sleek objects. No virtual-surround pretensions here.
This strains the very definition of home theater, the union of big-screen television and surround sound. But Boston Acoustics knows plenty of casual users will be comfortable with the union of a flat panel or RPTV (any size) and decent sound (any number of channels). So there you have it, the soundbar vision of the world. We'll just ignore the bullet point on the website that says "HDTV-quality sound."
The TVee Model Two is 31 inches wide, 3.75 high, and 4 deep. It contains four 2.5-inch midbass drivers and a pair of half-inch dome tweeters. Soundbar and sub receive a total of 100 watts. The soundbar should fit easily atop an RPTV or even a direct-view TV of 32 inches and up, and comes with a couple of right-angled rubber braces. For wall mounting above or below an LCD or plasma set, it has two keyhole mounts. At 8.4 pounds, it can probably hang on drywall with butterfly bolts--you needn't look for a stud as you would with a heavier product. The complementary sub is 9.4 by 11.5 by 11.5 inches and weighs 11 pounds. Because its six-inch down-firing driver has to produce higher bass than a conventional sub, you'll want to keep it as near the soundbar as possible.
As mentioned above, soundbar and sub talk to one another wirelessly. So installation requires only that you connect power for both devices, run analog cables to the soundbar, and select the wireless transfer frequency using one of four switch positions on the soundbar. I got it on the first try.
Because soundbar and sub are designed to work together, the sub has no controls other than volume and power--no crossover, phase, or bypass controls. And of course no hardwired inputs of any kind. The soundbar's back-panel controls are minimal--four frequencies, three trim settings to adjust for the signal-source output level, and power, plus RCA-type stereo analog-ins. A more accessible set of controls runs along the top of the soundbar. They include power, mute, volume up and down plus an LED indicator that glows red/off, green/on, and orange when the soundbar is learning the IR mute code for your signal source. The TVee does not come with a remote of its own. It can work with any source having two-channel analog outputs whether it's a cable box, TV set, DVD player, or iPod. There's only one set of stereo inputs, so forget about hooking up more than one source component, unless you're using some kind of receiver or preamp or switcher.
I connected my Integra DPS-10.5 universal player and fired up Sonatas with Richter, a collection of Brahms, Haydn, and Mozart violin and piano sonatas with Oleg Kagan on violin and Sviatoslav Richter on piano. It was just what I felt like listening to at the time. The TVee's pragmatically minimal high-frequency response kept the violin sounding silky and unfatiguing while sweetening the midrange with a bit of warmth. I could hear the left side of the piano coming out of the sub, and while it wasn't the most focused bass I've ever heard, it was appropriate and not annoying with the volume control halfway up.
As Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti got started--I was celebrating the reunion--I noticed the tonal balance changing as I moved around. The system was definitely location-dependent, with Robert Plant's voice rolling off noticeably as I moved off-axis. There were also limits to the size of the stereo image: the phase-shifted orchestral majesty of "Kashmir" was only modestly majestic. As you'd expect of a system that has to work with the often excruciating output of a cable box or other TV source, the TVee honorably avoided harshness, but it didn't reward potentially rich music or soundtracks with all the detail they'd muster in a larger system, or all the spatial information they might muster in a true 5.1-channel system.
The Boston Acoustics TVee Model Two is for casual TV watching. It is not intended to be a high-powered home theater system or a primary music listening system. Its goals are modest: to improve over the speakers built into a TV, with a pleasingly minimal form factor, and way fewer wires than a conventional system would require. For what it is, it sounds pretty good, and just may enliven your casual viewing/listening life with a minimum of fuss.
Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater and tastemaster of Happy Pig's Hot 100 New York Restaurants.