SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Michael Trei Posted: Dec 10, 2014 0 comments
It’s tough to be an audiophile these days. In the ongoing push by those pesky spouses and decorators to make our audio systems increasingly basic, simple, and invisible, some of us have felt the tug to hang our HDTVs on the wall and step down from a full-blown 5.1 surround sound home theater rig to a nice, slender soundbar. More often than not, that means having a subwoofer, typically supplied with the soundbar, just to fill in the bass, which inevitably goes missing during that slimming process. But, depending on how well the sub is integrated and its position in the room, that can often lead to other issues, including localization of deep male voices at the sub and possibly a gap in upper-bass frequency response that becomes most noticeable when playing music.
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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Feb 08, 2010 0 comments
Price: $1,100 At A Glance: Built-in keyhole brackets • Triple-voice-coil side-firing surround drivers • World’s first seven-channel soundbar

Seven Channels Plus

When you hear that we can now add a seven-channel soundbar to the list of the many technological wonders in the world today, your first inclination might be to ask, “Dude, it’s a flippin’ soundbar. What’s the point?” And I might respond, “Uh, marketing?” So you can imagine that when the new Atlantic Technology FS-7.0—the world’s first seven-channel soundbar—arrived, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic to set it up. After all, I would need to remove my current in-wall center-channel speaker, replace it with a blank panel on which to mount the new all-in-one system, and then run seven speaker wires across the floor. I don’t know whether it was the titillation that comes with undressing a new piece of gear or the surreptitious sniffing of Styrofoam packaging, but for some reason, I began to warm up to the idea of a seven-channel soundbar. After all, I’ve never known Atlantic Technology to be the kind of company that would do something simply because it would make good copy in an ad, so the thing just might sound good. If nothing else, it certainly would have plenty of cool drivers scattered all over the cabinet and lots of settings to fiddle with.

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Chris Chiarella Posted: May 10, 2013 2 comments
FS-7.1 Soundbar
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SB-900-BLK Subwoofer
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Price: $1,300 At a Glance: Multichannel speaker reproduces all seven channels • No onboard amplification or processing • Optional subwoofer

Writing about consumer electronics for the past two decades has taught me a few things: Always take good notes, don’t believe everything you read in press releases, and at least try to keep an open mind. Case in point, the soundbar. The very idea of a single box containing the amplification, processing, and all of the loudspeakers necessary to adequately present home theater audio was met with early disdain. But hearing was believing, and now it’s a viable (and thriving) product category.

Then a crate recently arrived containing the Atlantic Technology FS-7.1, a redesigned, upgraded version of the company’s well-regarded FS-7.0 seven-channel home theater soundbar.

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 12, 2012 1 comments

Performance
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Price: $899 At A Glance: H-PAS bass enhancement technology • Multichannel DSP for two-, three-, or five-channel soundfield simulation • Switchable display for top or bottom orientation

Frank•en•bar [frang-kuhn-bahr]: noun 1) a soundbar with parts and pieces taken from traditional home theater systems—processor, switcher, amplifier, remote control, speaker drivers, etc.—which are bolted together into a single cabinet and shocked into life with one power cord. The typical Frankenbar has a dual purpose: a) to provide much-improved sound quality over that produced by the speakers built into modern televisions (such an easy task, by the way, that it could seemingly be accomplished by a couple of tin cans and a string); while at the same time b) significantly reducing the number of boxes in the system, as well as dramatically simplifying the installation process. 2) The ultimate example of an all-in-one integrated system, except for the fact that virtually every Frankenbar—or any soundbar, for that matter—usually requires a subwoofer in order to sound acceptable to the human ear. This mandatory subwoofer, by virtue of being a physical object that takes up floor space, is more often than not considered both an eyesore and may in some areas be legally acceptable grounds for divorce.

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Lawrence E. Ullman Posted: May 30, 2012 0 comments
Performance
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Price: $350 At a Glance: Disappointing sound quality • Minimal feature set • Awkward wall-mounting provisions

AudioSource might not be a household name, but anyone who has been involved in the world of custom A/V installation for any length of time will be familiar with the Oregon-based manufacturer's extensive line of in-wall speakers and multi-room audio-distribution electronics. Given AudioSource's expertise with compact speakers and amplifiers, combining the two in the form of a soundbar seems like a smart move for the company.

The S3D60 under review here is a single-piece, 2-channel soundbar, which means it must rely on virtual surround technology to impart a surround-sound experience. In this case, AudioSource is using a third-party solution called Sonic Emotion Absolute 3D. Given the S3D60's relatively hefty 5-inch cabinet depth (6 inches if wall mounted) and width of 38 inches, this soundbar is scaled to match TVs measuring roughly 46 inches and up.

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Aug 02, 2013 1 comments

Panorama 2 Soundbar
Audio Performance
Video Performance
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Ergonomics
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PV1D Subwoofer
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Price: $3,900 (Panorama 2, $2,200; PV1D, $1,700) At a Glance: Three HDMI inputs • Nautilus tube-loaded aluminum dome tweeter • Disappointing egg-shaped remote

There are some things that absolutely ooze sophistication and class—products that, even if you don’t happen to be interested in or have much knowledge of that particular sort of thing—can spontaneously elicit a feeling of admiration. For example, I’m not a big fan of high-end analog watches, yet I can’t help but respect the craftsmanship and attention to detail of a Tourneau or TAG Heuer sitting in a jewelry store’s display case. Ditto the “whatever” sentiment for automobiles. As long as it reliably gets me from where I am to where I want to be (although a nice sound system is a plus), I’m usually good with it. But I also think Tesla’s Model S all-electric sedan is to die for. Not surprisingly, the A/V world has its own share of companies that can be counted on to consistently raise an appreciative eyebrow or two. The iconic Bang & Olufsen—despite the company’s occasional forays into the realm of the bizarre—would no doubt find its way onto most people’s short list.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 27, 2009 0 comments
Price: $2,200 At A Glance: 5.1-channel decoding in a single soundbar • Decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS, not lossless • Strong bass even when subwoofer output is not used

5.1 Channels in One

Why shouldn’t respectability and innovation be on speaking terms? In loudspeakers, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Much of the recent audio innovation in home theater has come in products that are designed to complement flat-panel TVs. These products are morphing before our eyes—into soundbars, on-walls, and ever-smaller satellites. They are also moving beyond the standard five-speakers-and-sub configuration in their deployment of surround’s 5.1-channel array. This makes for a striking contrast when you look at the high-end speakers that grace audiophile short lists. These include a staid group of medium-density fiber-board boxes whose fundamentals, in many cases, haven’t changed in decades. Traditional speakers can sound great, but that’s not often enough to make people buy them.

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Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Aug 13, 2012 0 comments
TVs are lonely. A beer-soaked barstool at 2 a.m. kind of lonely. They cry out for companionship, their tinny, bass-less voices difficult to hear, even harder to enjoy. When they were young, they held so much promise: high definition, good times, low cost. How quickly came the onset of disappointment?
Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Aug 25, 2008 0 comments
Surround sound—friend or faux?

When Definitive Technology originally introduced its Mythos line of speakers, the slender, curved, aluminum-cabinet tower models were matched by equally svelte, under-5-inch-deep on-wall and center-channel models using the same form and style turned horizontally. A while ago, the company literally expanded the Mythos center-channel speakers by packing the front LCR speakers

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Daniel Kumin Posted: May 09, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Super-svelte dimensions
Natural voicing and excellent subwoofer blend
Surprising volume ability
Minus
Limited stereo image width
Mediocre remote-control range

THE VERDICT
Solid tonal balance, unusually good soundbar/subwoofer integration, and substantial volume for so slim a design make the SoloCinema Studio a fine performer in its category.

Love them or hate them, soundbars are a big part of what’s keeping audio manufacturers afloat these days—those, at least, that haven’t already repaired to Davy Jones’ Locker. Baltimore’s Definitive Technology, a firm whose “real” loudspeakers have for two decades and more set high standards of performance and value, is no newcomer to the bar scene. Its latest effort is the SoloCinema Studio, a two-piece job, and the bar half is tiny, quite literally a bar: just 3-plus inches square by 42-plus wide.

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Dec 21, 2012 0 comments
Soundbars promise to deliver a full home theater experience with much less complication and confusion—and usually at a much lower price—than a traditional home theater system with an A/V receiver and multiple speakers. But how close can a svelt 43-inch-wide cabinet with nine drivers crammed in it come to actually pulling it off? Veteran speaker reviewer Darryl Wilkinson hooks up Definitive Technology's new SoloCinema XTR to find out.
John Sciacca Posted: Mar 13, 2015 0 comments

W Studio Soundbar System
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Features
Ergonomics
Value
W9 Wireless Speaker
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W7 Wireless Speaker
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W Amp Amplifier
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Value
PRICE $3,295 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Stellar audio quality
Sleek-looking components

Minus
Android app is pretty basic
iOS app very limited
Doesn’t currently support true high-res listening

THE VERDICT
The speakers sound amazing and the W Studio soundbar is a home run even without its multiroom capabilities, but the limited Play-Fi app for streaming leaves Def Tech’s W system lagging behind the best multiroom systems.

For a while, audio manufacturers seemed resigned to give it the ol’ “lie back and think of England” routine when it came to accepting Sonos as the dominant force in the wireless audio world. Sure, they might not have liked it, but they weren’t offering any compelling alternatives of their own. And while there had been some challengers in the past, most fell well short of the Sonos benchmark and quickly faded.

This tide has changed lately, however, and the war for wireless audio is heating up. Multiple systems are now offering their spin on wireless music distribution and hoping to take a bite out of the Wi-Fi audio pie. And unlike past attempts, several of these new solutions are not only good, they’re great. Darryl Wilkinson recently reviewed two top rivals for Sonos’ throne, Bluesound (S&V, June 2014) and Denon’s HEOS (S&V, January 2015). Now, well-regarded speaker manufacturer Definitive Technology is throwing its hat into the ring by embracing Play-Fi in its new Wireless Collection.

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Daniel Kumin Posted: Dec 19, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,599 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Fine tonal balance with genuine deep bass
Very substantial level potential
Elegant appearance
Minus
A few operational and hookup quirks (it’s French!)
No remote-control learn/teach scheme

THE VERDICT
A 5.1-channel system in soundbar packaging that combines tonal accuracy with impressive low-frequency response and power, plus surround as effective as we’ve heard from an all-up-front affair.

As recently as a couple of years ago, anyone shopping for an “audiophile soundbar” was in danger of being laughed off the lot. The bar scene was dominated by price-driven, mass-market models sold in big-box stores, and most of these were plastic jobs from the mega-mills of the Pacific rim, with just a smattering of somewhat more upscale choices from a few more serious American and Canadian brands.

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Al Griffin Posted: Oct 16, 2012 0 comments

Say what you want about soundbars, but the category counts as one of the more active areas of speaker design. Sure, many products pumped out over the last few years are low-end ones designed to be sold as accessories for flat-panel TVs. But plenty of serious speaker companies have also gotten into the game, and the performance of the resulting products, while not yet at a level to make audiophiles toss out their tower speakers en masse, has proven more than sufficient for casual home theater use, as well as for background music listening.

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Nov 20, 2012 1 comments

Soundbar System
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ForceField 3 Subwoofer
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Build Quality
Value
Price: $2,000 At A Glance: 3D sonic-image optimization technology • Passive LCR design • Aerospace-grade extruded-aluminum cabinet

Women. They’re the problem. They’re the ones who have ruined home theater for all the manly men out there whose only vice was reclining in front of a set of towering speakers that dominated the room like a pair of long-faced Easter Island monoliths—speakers so masculine, they used testosterone instead of ferrofluid to cool the voice coils and were topped with skeleton-ugly horn tweeters so efficient Joshua could have used them to bring down the walls of Jericho the first day (before lunch!). For additional aural excitement, in a front corner of the room, openly begging for attention and not girlishly hiding behind a couch or doing double duty as a plant stand, would be a massive subwoofer with a magnet assembly so powerful that localized rooftop occurrences of the aurora borealis would happen from time to time. Techs from the local hospital would often bring patients to the house and use the subwoofer for testing when the lab’s MRI machine needed repair. But no more. The man cave has been emasculated and replaced by the female grotto, complete with bowls of potpourri and seating geometries that would make Euclid weep with grief. The coup de grâce, however, the fatal blow to any home theater’s manhood, is the now near-obligatory soundbar. Long and falsely phallic, it mocks the real men in the room as it preens itself under the flat-panel HDTV.

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