7 Soundbars; Simple to Luxe

7 Soundbars: Simple to Lux 690283470999 Boston Acoustics Model 2 Think back to a time long ago (to a living room far, far away), and you might remember when TVs came in big, bulky cabinets. You might even have such a television in your guest room. More likely, you've seen them in trash piles outside of people's homes. But then, in one of the most dramatic, and rapid, transformations in consumer electronics, millions and millions of TVs were rendered unacceptable by flat-panel displays. Overnight, thick was out, and thin was in. Most speakers, on the other hand, are still distinctly boxy. There are some laws of physics that argue for that geometry. Among other things, speakers perform best when placed in enclosures. As a result, when fielding 5.1 (or more) speakers, it's still common to have six boxes in your home theater. But they can seem anachronistic in the company of your futuristic-looking flat screen. Clearly, it would be desirable to have speakers that are as unobtrusive and flush to the wall as TV displays. Moreover, it would be nice to consolidate all those sound sources into a smaller, perhaps single unit, and eliminate all those wires. But we'd still like to have some spatial response beyond a mere stereo image - and of course, we still want excellent sound quality. That wish list, coupled with the difficulty of getting flat-panel buyers to install full-tilt home theaters, has generated a new product category. Commonly called "soundbars," these combo speaker systems typically have a slim, horizontal cabinet that's easily placed on a shelf or mounted on the wall beneath a flat-panel TV. The drivers in a soundbar reproduce at least the two main left/right channels. But clever engineers have devised many variations on this theme. Some soundbars have passive satellite speakers, some add subwoofers, some are self-powered - some even have Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.
7 Soundbars: Simple to Lux 81757507547 Denon B00UP6MU2 Think back to a time long ago (to a living room far, far away), and you might remember when TVs came in big, bulky cabinets. You might even have such a television in your guest room. More likely, you've seen them in trash piles outside of people's homes. But then, in one of the most dramatic, and rapid, transformations in consumer electronics, millions and millions of TVs were rendered unacceptable by flat-panel displays. Overnight, thick was out, and thin was in. Most speakers, on the other hand, are still distinctly boxy. There are some laws of physics that argue for that geometry. Among other things, speakers perform best when placed in enclosures. As a result, when fielding 5.1 (or more) speakers, it's still common to have six boxes in your home theater. But they can seem anachronistic in the company of your futuristic-looking flat screen. Clearly, it would be desirable to have speakers that are as unobtrusive and flush to the wall as TV displays. Moreover, it would be nice to consolidate all those sound sources into a smaller, perhaps single unit, and eliminate all those wires. But we'd still like to have some spatial response beyond a mere stereo image - and of course, we still want excellent sound quality. That wish list, coupled with the difficulty of getting flat-panel buyers to install full-tilt home theaters, has generated a new product category. Commonly called "soundbars," these combo speaker systems typically have a slim, horizontal cabinet that's easily placed on a shelf or mounted on the wall beneath a flat-panel TV. The drivers in a soundbar reproduce at least the two main left/right channels. But clever engineers have devised many variations on this theme. Some soundbars have passive satellite speakers, some add subwoofers, some are self-powered - some even have Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.
7 Soundbars: Simple to Lux Think back to a time long ago (to a living room far, far away), and you might remember when TVs came in big, bulky cabinets. You might even have such a television in your guest room. More likely, you've seen them in trash piles outside of people's homes. But then, in one of the most dramatic, and rapid, transformations in consumer electronics, millions and millions of TVs were rendered unacceptable by flat-panel displays. Overnight, thick was out, and thin was in. Most speakers, on the other hand, are still distinctly boxy. There are some laws of physics that argue for that geometry. Among other things, speakers perform best when placed in enclosures. As a result, when fielding 5.1 (or more) speakers, it's still common to have six boxes in your home theater. But they can seem anachronistic in the company of your futuristic-looking flat screen. Clearly, it would be desirable to have speakers that are as unobtrusive and flush to the wall as TV displays. Moreover, it would be nice to consolidate all those sound sources into a smaller, perhaps single unit, and eliminate all those wires. But we'd still like to have some spatial response beyond a mere stereo image - and of course, we still want excellent sound quality. That wish list, coupled with the difficulty of getting flat-panel buyers to install full-tilt home theaters, has generated a new product category. Commonly called "soundbars," these combo speaker systems typically have a slim, horizontal cabinet that's easily placed on a shelf or mounted on the wall beneath a flat-panel TV. The drivers in a soundbar reproduce at least the two main left/right channels. But clever engineers have devised many variations on this theme. Some soundbars have passive satellite speakers, some add subwoofers, some are self-powered - some even have Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.
7 Soundbars: Simple to Lux 699927740450 Marantz ES7001SSX Think back to a time long ago (to a living room far, far away), and you might remember when TVs came in big, bulky cabinets. You might even have such a television in your guest room. More likely, you've seen them in trash piles outside of people's homes. But then, in one of the most dramatic, and rapid, transformations in consumer electronics, millions and millions of TVs were rendered unacceptable by flat-panel displays. Overnight, thick was out, and thin was in. Most speakers, on the other hand, are still distinctly boxy. There are some laws of physics that argue for that geometry. Among other things, speakers perform best when placed in enclosures. As a result, when fielding 5.1 (or more) speakers, it's still common to have six boxes in your home theater. But they can seem anachronistic in the company of your futuristic-looking flat screen. Clearly, it would be desirable to have speakers that are as unobtrusive and flush to the wall as TV displays. Moreover, it would be nice to consolidate all those sound sources into a smaller, perhaps single unit, and eliminate all those wires. But we'd still like to have some spatial response beyond a mere stereo image - and of course, we still want excellent sound quality. That wish list, coupled with the difficulty of getting flat-panel buyers to install full-tilt home theaters, has generated a new product category. Commonly called "soundbars," these combo speaker systems typically have a slim, horizontal cabinet that's easily placed on a shelf or mounted on the wall beneath a flat-panel TV. The drivers in a soundbar reproduce at least the two main left/right channels. But clever engineers have devised many variations on this theme. Some soundbars have passive satellite speakers, some add subwoofers, some are self-powered - some even have Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.
7 Soundbars: Simple to Lux 609585127272 Philips HTS8100 Think back to a time long ago (to a living room far, far away), and you might remember when TVs came in big, bulky cabinets. You might even have such a television in your guest room. More likely, you've seen them in trash piles outside of people's homes. But then, in one of the most dramatic, and rapid, transformations in consumer electronics, millions and millions of TVs were rendered unacceptable by flat-panel displays. Overnight, thick was out, and thin was in. Most speakers, on the other hand, are still distinctly boxy. There are some laws of physics that argue for that geometry. Among other things, speakers perform best when placed in enclosures. As a result, when fielding 5.1 (or more) speakers, it's still common to have six boxes in your home theater. But they can seem anachronistic in the company of your futuristic-looking flat screen. Clearly, it would be desirable to have speakers that are as unobtrusive and flush to the wall as TV displays. Moreover, it would be nice to consolidate all those sound sources into a smaller, perhaps single unit, and eliminate all those wires. But we'd still like to have some spatial response beyond a mere stereo image - and of course, we still want excellent sound quality. That wish list, coupled with the difficulty of getting flat-panel buyers to install full-tilt home theaters, has generated a new product category. Commonly called "soundbars," these combo speaker systems typically have a slim, horizontal cabinet that's easily placed on a shelf or mounted on the wall beneath a flat-panel TV. The drivers in a soundbar reproduce at least the two main left/right channels. But clever engineers have devised many variations on this theme. Some soundbars have passive satellite speakers, some add subwoofers, some are self-powered - some even have Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.
7 Soundbars: Simple to Lux 747192113513 Polk Audio Soundbar 50 Think back to a time long ago (to a living room far, far away), and you might remember when TVs came in big, bulky cabinets. You might even have such a television in your guest room. More likely, you've seen them in trash piles outside of people's homes. But then, in one of the most dramatic, and rapid, transformations in consumer electronics, millions and millions of TVs were rendered unacceptable by flat-panel displays. Overnight, thick was out, and thin was in. Most speakers, on the other hand, are still distinctly boxy. There are some laws of physics that argue for that geometry. Among other things, speakers perform best when placed in enclosures. As a result, when fielding 5.1 (or more) speakers, it's still common to have six boxes in your home theater. But they can seem anachronistic in the company of your futuristic-looking flat screen. Clearly, it would be desirable to have speakers that are as unobtrusive and flush to the wall as TV displays. Moreover, it would be nice to consolidate all those sound sources into a smaller, perhaps single unit, and eliminate all those wires. But we'd still like to have some spatial response beyond a mere stereo image - and of course, we still want excellent sound quality. That wish list, coupled with the difficulty of getting flat-panel buyers to install full-tilt home theaters, has generated a new product category. Commonly called "soundbars," these combo speaker systems typically have a slim, horizontal cabinet that's easily placed on a shelf or mounted on the wall beneath a flat-panel TV. The drivers in a soundbar reproduce at least the two main left/right channels. But clever engineers have devised many variations on this theme. Some soundbars have passive satellite speakers, some add subwoofers, some are self-powered - some even have Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.
7 Soundbars: Simple to Lux 27108928760 Yamaha YSP-4000 Think back to a time long ago (to a living room far, far away), and you might remember when TVs came in big, bulky cabinets. You might even have such a television in your guest room. More likely, you've seen them in trash piles outside of people's homes. But then, in one of the most dramatic, and rapid, transformations in consumer electronics, millions and millions of TVs were rendered unacceptable by flat-panel displays. Overnight, thick was out, and thin was in. Most speakers, on the other hand, are still distinctly boxy. There are some laws of physics that argue for that geometry. Among other things, speakers perform best when placed in enclosures. As a result, when fielding 5.1 (or more) speakers, it's still common to have six boxes in your home theater. But they can seem anachronistic in the company of your futuristic-looking flat screen. Clearly, it would be desirable to have speakers that are as unobtrusive and flush to the wall as TV displays. Moreover, it would be nice to consolidate all those sound sources into a smaller, perhaps single unit, and eliminate all those wires. But we'd still like to have some spatial response beyond a mere stereo image - and of course, we still want excellent sound quality. That wish list, coupled with the difficulty of getting flat-panel buyers to install full-tilt home theaters, has generated a new product category. Commonly called "soundbars," these combo speaker systems typically have a slim, horizontal cabinet that's easily placed on a shelf or mounted on the wall beneath a flat-panel TV. The drivers in a soundbar reproduce at least the two main left/right channels. But clever engineers have devised many variations on this theme. Some soundbars have passive satellite speakers, some add subwoofers, some are self-powered - some even have Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.
7 Soundbars: Simple to Lux ZVOX425 Zvox Model 425 Think back to a time long ago (to a living room far, far away), and you might remember when TVs came in big, bulky cabinets. You might even have such a television in your guest room. More likely, you've seen them in trash piles outside of people's homes. But then, in one of the most dramatic, and rapid, transformations in consumer electronics, millions and millions of TVs were rendered unacceptable by flat-panel displays. Overnight, thick was out, and thin was in. Most speakers, on the other hand, are still distinctly boxy. There are some laws of physics that argue for that geometry. Among other things, speakers perform best when placed in enclosures. As a result, when fielding 5.1 (or more) speakers, it's still common to have six boxes in your home theater. But they can seem anachronistic in the company of your futuristic-looking flat screen. Clearly, it would be desirable to have speakers that are as unobtrusive and flush to the wall as TV displays. Moreover, it would be nice to consolidate all those sound sources into a smaller, perhaps single unit, and eliminate all those wires. But we'd still like to have some spatial response beyond a mere stereo image - and of course, we still want excellent sound quality. That wish list, coupled with the difficulty of getting flat-panel buyers to install full-tilt home theaters, has generated a new product category. Commonly called "soundbars," these combo speaker systems typically have a slim, horizontal cabinet that's easily placed on a shelf or mounted on the wall beneath a flat-panel TV. The drivers in a soundbar reproduce at least the two main left/right channels. But clever engineers have devised many variations on this theme. Some soundbars have passive satellite speakers, some add subwoofers, some are self-powered - some even have Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.

Think back to a time long ago (to a living room far, far away), and you might remember when TVs came in big, bulky cabinets. You might even have such a television in your guest room. More likely, you've seen them in trash piles outside of people's homes. But then, in one of the most dramatic, and rapid, transformations in consumer electronics, millions and millions of TVs were rendered unacceptable by flat-panel displays. Overnight, thick was out, and thin was in.

Most speakers, on the other hand, are still distinctly boxy. There are some laws of physics that argue for that geometry. Among other things, speakers perform best when placed in enclosures. As a result, when fielding 5.1 (or more) speakers, it's still common to have six boxes in your home theater. But they can seem anachronistic in the company of your futuristic-looking flat screen.

Clearly, it would be desirable to have speakers that are as unobtrusive and flush to the wall as TV displays. Moreover, it would be nice to consolidate all those sound sources into a smaller, perhaps single unit, and eliminate all those wires. But we'd still like to have some spatial response beyond a mere stereo image - and of course, we still want excellent sound quality.

That wish list, coupled with the difficulty of getting flat-panel buyers to install full-tilt home theaters, has generated a new product category. Commonly called "soundbars," these combo speaker systems typically have a slim, horizontal cabinet that's easily placed on a shelf or mounted on the wall beneath a flat-panel TV. The drivers in a soundbar reproduce at least the two main left/right channels. But clever engineers have devised many variations on this theme. Some soundbars have passive satellite speakers, some add subwoofers, some are self-powered - some even have Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.

We rounded up seven soundbars, ranging from the simple to the sophisticated. For all seven, we used the same music and movie test tracks, including some revealing songs by the Danish rock band Kashmir (from their albums No Balance Palace and Zitilites) and demanding multichannel material from Blue Man Group's The Complex and the DVD of Superman Returns. Our entries: Boston Acoustics TVee Model Two ($350), Denon DHT-FS3 ($1,199), Marantz ES7001 SSX ($1,300), Philips HTS8100 ($800), Polk Audio SurroundBar 50 ($1,100), Yamaha YSP-4000 ($1,800), and the Zvox Model 425 ($700).

We asked: How many channels do they reproduce? Do they convey a broad or even immersive spatial response? Most important, how is their essential sound quality? The answers opened our eyes and ears to the rapid evolution of a whole new kind of speaker system.

Boston Acoustics TVee Model Two

Manufacturers haven't unanimously agreed on usage of the term "soundbar." Boston Acoustics, for instance, prefers to call its offering a "television entertainment enhancement system." In any case, the TVee Model Two comprises a small stereo soundbar and a smallish subwoofer. The sub wirelessly receives the audio signal from the bar via a 2.4-GHz RF link. Also following in a minimalist vein, the system doesn't include a remote. You can either use the simple onboard controls or ask the soundbar to learn the commands from your TV's remote. The power supply is an external "brick" that connects to the bar via a cable.

From a functional standpoint, the TVee Model Two is very straightforward. The soundbar houses four 2[1/2]-inch drivers and two [1/2]-inch tweeters, and the sub has a 6-inch downward-firing driver with a port alongside. You feed the TVee a stereo analog signal via RCA jacks and it plays back 2.1 channels. There's virtual surround sound processing, but Boston Acoustics makes clear that the Tvee's not intended to replace a surround system. Instead, it's meant to provide solid stereo playback that improves on your TV's probably limited sound quality. And in keeping with that mission, its $350 price tag makes it by far the least expensive bar in our survey.

Setup The TVee Model Two has the barest of control sets: power, mute, and volume. There's also an indicator light that flashes in various colors to show when the soundbar has successfully learned and received remote commands. Using the wireless ID switch on the rear panel, I selected a position (and duplicated it on the subwoofer) that allowed the audio signal to go from the bar to the sub. (Having switchable frequencies is mainly useful if you have more than one TVee in your house and need to avoid crosstalk.) Usefully, the soundbar also has a three-position sensitivity switch to trim input levels and avoid overloads. Along with the wireless ID switch for mating with the bar, the sub also has a level control and an AC cord (still needed for power despite the sub's wireless bridge).

I placed the TVee under my HDTV, and positioned the sub along the front wall, to the left of the display. I then plugged in the two power cords and a stereo input from a DVD player - and appreciated not having to wire the sub. Next, I took a moment to adjust the sub's level for a consistent blend. For the heck of it, I set up the TVee to recognize my remote - which was no big deal since it only responds to mute and volume commands.

Price $350 / bostonacoustics.com / 978-538-5000
Soundbar •(4) 2.5-in midranges; (2) 0.5-in tweeters •Finishes: midnight with onyx grille; mist with silver grille •31 x 3.75 x 4 in; 8.75 lb Subwoofer •6-in driver; 2.4-GHz wireless link •Finish: same as for soundbar •11.5 x 9.5 x 11.5 in; 11 lbs

Music Performance I've had good luck in the past with speakers from Boston Acoustics, and the TVee didn't disappoint me. Kashmir's No Balance Palace and Zitilites have a certain sound that was immediately evident as playback started, indicating pretty accurate tonal balance. The particularly dark timbres of "Kalifornia" were well reproduced. The softly played organ in the intro had just the right harmonic overtones, and the rhythmic pattern was detailed and crisp. The vocals were a little pulled back, but passable. Also, the snare and hi-hat were crunchy, but also passable. The little sub was a bit boomy, but provided a solid foundation for the soundbar.

Blue Man Group's "Sing Along" is recorded in surround, but the TVee played the downmixed stereo version supplied by my DVD player. The stereo mix doesn't have the impact of the surround mix, but I appreciated the TVee's sound quality. Instruments sounded natural with a smooth satellite/subwoofer blend, and the sub provided enough kick to make it interesting. As with any small cabinet, it couldn't drive the lowest half-octave, but mid and upper bass was clean and fairly loud.

Movie Performance Turning to Superman Returns, the TVee successfully handled the Man of Steel. This action-packed surround soundtrack was neatly replayed in stereo, with all of its dialogue, effects, and music components intact in a clean and clear mix. The subwoofer pumped out some good LFE at modest volume levels, and I appreciated the separate volume control that let me dial up just a little more bass for movie playback (and a little less for music-only listening).

The TVee's manual recommends turning off the sound from your TV when you're using the bar. But it also suggests that you can leave your TV speakers on and use the TVee to "tremendously enhance" the TV's sound. Given the quality of the speakers built into most displays, I'm not sure I'd agree with that last piece of advice. Turn off the TV and stick with the TVee.

Bottom Line Compared with some other models reviewed here, the TVee Model Two offers modest features and makes no attempt to create any kind of surround soundfield. Its essential strong point, aside from simplicity, is its sound quality. Its a low-cost upgrade from the stereo speakers in your TV that will give you considerably improved sonics, thanks in part to a sub that adds at least an octave of bass that's completely missing from most TV speakers. If that's what you aspire to in a one-piece solution, the TVee Two won't let you down.

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