SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 23, 2010 0 comments
Price: $5,385 At A Glance: Ultra-thin bar for skinny flat panel display • Passive sub can fire forward or down • Sub amp offers lots of adjustability

Looking for Mr. Goodbar

There’s one basic truth about home theater that I can never repeat often enough: It is the union of big-screen television and surround sound. They do not operate in isolation from each other. Instead, successive waves of video technology have affected the way people think about audio for video.

Daniel Kumin Posted: Nov 20, 2012 0 comments

Here are two words I never thought I’d use together in a sentence: audiophile soundbar. Yet MartinLogan’s new Motion Vision model indisputably qualifies.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 26, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $1,500 At A Glance: Three folded-diaphragm tweeters, four woofers • 5.1 Dolby Digital, DTS processing • Wide dispersion, limited dynamics

My system is perpetually a work in progress. The speaker stands are always serving new guests (with martinis). Surround receivers slide in and out of the rack’s guest-receiver berth to bedevil me with the GUI of the week. But once in a while, I can’t resist the temptation to yank every cable out of every back panel, throw them onto the middle of the floor, and marvel as the mountain of copper snakes gets higher and higher. Last year, my system spring cleaning yielded a record haul: More than half the cables I pulled out didn’t go back in.

Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 18, 2005 0 comments
It's three omnidirectional speakers in one.

Here's a tip for home theater newbies: Don't shop for speakers using just your eyes. That advice holds true for any speaker, regardless of size or price; when it comes to what we euphemistically refer to as "lifestyle" speakers, though, please try to listen before you make a purchase, or you'll deserve what you get. Lifestyle-inflicted design compromises too often exact a toll on performance—skinny towers can sound undernourished, wall-mounted speakers can produce pancake-flat imaging, and pint-size satellites can come up short.

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Daniel Kumin Posted: May 16, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Neutral tonal balance
Honest vocal and dialogue presentation
Handsome, understated looks
Minus
Limited volume output
Ergonomic shortcomings

THE VERDICT
Fine vocal and musical balance from an elegant, though not inexpensive, soundbar.

Pity the poor soundbar, the dancing bear of the audio world. (The audience applauds not how well the bear dances, but the fact that he dances at all.) And pity more the poor soundbar reviewer, tasked with saying something cogent about a not-inexpensive product that, while worlds better than any TV’s built-in speakers, is almost always demonstrably inferior to any number of affordable freestanding speaker suites, including the same manufacturer’s. Monitor Audio is a long-established, widely respected maker of just such speaker suites, a firm that presumably can read the handwriting on the wall just as well as the next guy: s-o-u-n-d-b-a-r-s-&-h-e-a-d-p-h-o-n-e-s.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Mar 27, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,547

AT A GLANCE
Plus
A 55-inch horizontal soundbar that can be installed without modifying the wall studs
Can learn volume and mute IR codes from your TV’s remote
Excellent simulated
surround and music
processing
Minus
Really needs a subwoofer
Only one HDMI input

THE VERDICT
The Niles CSF55A is more expensive than a similarly performing active soundbar, but it’s well worth it for the person who wants the gear to disappear without giving up any sound quality.

It’s either the craziest flippin’ idea ever, or it’s absolutely brilliant. I mean, in-wall speakers are one thing. Soundbars, though, especially active soundbars, are completely different creatures. But somebody at Niles—whether inspired by an offhanded joke, an improbable Frankenstein-like engineering experiment, or an alcohol-infused haze after a tedious sales meeting—decided that what the world needs is an active, in-wall soundbar system to complement wall-mounted flat-panel TVs.

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Daniel Kumin Posted: Aug 22, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Impressive tonal balance
Unusually good dynamics and bass extension
Wired/wireless subwoofer hookups
Minus
Difficult-to-read display
Obscure menu structure
Modest “surround” effectiveness
No subwoofer supplied
Pricey

THE VERDICT
It’s priced among the most expensive soundbars and comes without a supplied sub. But if you value dynamics, bass extension, and overall sound quality first, you’ll be well rewarded.

The soundbar proposition is easy to understand: Plunk down some cash, open up one box, and you’ve got home theater, without the bulky speakers, messy wires, and painful expense. It’s all good, right?

You and I know better, of course— but just how close can you come?

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 20, 2009 0 comments
Price: $2,400 At A Glance: 40-inch-wide soundbar speaker includes front left, center, and right channels • Surrounds and sub are extra-cost options • Refined sound

Stars and Bars and L-C-R

Two bars walk into a guy. Sorry to be so gender-specific, but that’s generally how these jokes begin. One bar says, “I’ve got 5.1 channels, including fake surround, to add to the grandeur of your studio apartment.” The other bar says, “I’ve got the front three channels of good, honest sound to accompany the luster of your flat-panel TV.” What does the guy say? Frankly, I haven’t got the slightest idea. The interesting thing is that he has a choice.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jan 11, 2006 0 comments
Home Theater in a (Very Narrow) Box.

Thanks to plasma TVs, everyone is convinced that skinny and flat are where it's at when it comes to home theater—and those now-out-of-work robotic assembly lines that used to crank out CRTs by the boatload haven't been the only ones affected by the slender-is-better trend. You can't throw a crumbled-up extended-warranty brochure in an electronics store nowadays without hitting some sort of sleek, on-wall, "plasma-friendly" home theater speaker. Some manufacturers, fully embracing the slim trend, have created three-in-one (left front, center, and right front) single-cabinet on-wall speakers designed to be mounted above or below your flat-panel TV—or set on top of a rear-projection TV. Boston Acoustics, Definitive Technology, Atlantic Technology, and Mirage, for example, have all come up with their own variations of three channels coexisting in one narrow box.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 12, 2009 0 comments
Price: $1,200 At A Glance: DVD-processor console contains all amplification • Single cable connection • Doesn’t accept HD video or lossless audio from Blu-ray

Do You Believe in Magic?

Bar-type speaker systems like the Polk SurroundBar 360˚ are a logical response to the flat-paneling of modern homes. The form factor of a single horizontal speaker makes sense to use below the bottom edge of a flat screen (or perched atop a rear projector). But surround, by its nature, likes to spread itself around the room. And it does so for the same reason that pictures like to be big—to engulf the senses and take the viewer/listener to another place. But how can a single bar speaker spread itself around when it’s confined to a single enclosure? That’s the question Matthew Polk set out to answer with this product.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 29, 2011 0 comments
Price: $500 At A Glance: Self-contained soundbar with wireless sub • Proprietary Polk SDA and Digital Logic processing • Relatively few user controls

Mellow Bar

As I’ve noted so many times in the recent past, soundbars are a viable step up from horrific built-in HDTV speakers, which have only gotten worse as flatpanel HDTVs have gotten flatter. Soundbars are especially suitable for people who don’t like component audio systems, with their speaker-placement requirements, cabling, and—perhaps the ultimate deal breaker for the flat-panel-owning Luddite—the need to be mated with one of those scary man-eating A/V receivers. But what if there’s a second deal breaker lurking in the bushes?

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Mar 26, 2013 2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $800 At A Glance: Learns commands from your TV’s or other remote control • Wireless subwoofer with automatic pairing • Built-in Dolby Digital and DTS decoding

Addicted, as millions of us are, to the near instantaneous gratification of loaded DVRs and streaming services capable of providing lifetimes of mindless entertainment, it’s no surprise that we want speed and simplicity to apply to the entire process of watching TV. In fact, digging the remote control out from under the couch cushions ought to be about the limit of the physical and mental effort involved.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 09, 2010 0 comments
Price: $2,350 At A Glance: 41-inch-wide soundbar contains three front channels • Remote-controlled sub with presets • A smooth, warm, unhyped, high-fidelity sound

Genius Bar

Quad is one of those great speaker companies whose pedigree encapsulates some of the fascinating and significant parts of audio history. The name is an acronym for Quality Unit Amplifier Domestic. Born in London in 1936, the company first produced publicaddress equipment, then moved into hi-fi after World War II. It eventually became known for producing relatively thin electrostatic floorstanding speakers that are considered classics—heirlooms, even—and are still produced today. That our sister publication Stereophile named the Quad ESL-2805 Product of the Year for 2007 should indicate how much Quad’s current owner, IAG, venerates this Anglo-Chinese brand. It produces its products at a state-of-the-art factory in Shenzhen and ardently defends its historic reputation. Have I mentioned that Quad also produces both tube and solid-state electronics for the two-channel market? Now get ready to change gears.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Dec 28, 2011 0 comments

“It looks like a car ran over it,” a visiting friend said. But I doubt Definitive Technology employed that technique in the creation of the Mythos XTR-SSA3 soundbar.

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Jun 10, 2013 0 comments

Calling the PSB Imagine W3 a soundbar is like calling the Red Bull RB6 F1 racer a car. Technically, the description is correct. But the item in question differs so much from most in its category that the comparison seems silly.

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