SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Leslie Shapiro Posted: Nov 24, 2014 0 comments
Home theater fashion comes and goes, with almost as much regularity as hemline heights and tie widths. Years ago, massive speaker arrays were in vogue, then tiny little home-theater-in-a-box cubes, and more recently, skinny little soundbars. The problem with soundbars was two-fold. First, they blocked the lower portion of some TV sets. Second, and more importantly, they tended to sound as thin as they looked—requiring a separate subwoofer to get any type of bass response. JBL has an elegant solution with the Cinema Base Soundbar with built-in subwoofer, Bluetooth, HDMI and optical inputs.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Jan 26, 2015 0 comments
Ever since I left the world of car stereos, Pyle Audio has fallen off my radar. When offered an opportunity to listen to their latest soundbar, the PSBV600BT ($300), I have to admit that I was intrigued. I knew this company had a long history of making good speakers for the automotive world, but haven’t heard any of their home products. This was going to be interesting.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 24, 2011 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Build Quality
Price: $200 At a Glance: 2.1-channel soundbar with bottom-firing bass drivers • Dynamic Volume and other Audyssey features • No surround processing, analog input only

Home theater is the union of big-screen picture and surround sound. Flat-panel HDTVs have made the first half of the equation irresistible even for consumers of modest means. But the sound-related half has suffered in comparison. In fact, it has suffered in response: The thinner the HDTV gets, the less hospitable its pencil-thin enclosure becomes to speakers. Things have gotten to the point where an HDTV’s built-in speakers aren’t even up to the task of delivering a weather report, let alone a high-caliber movie experience or decent music playback. Ultra-flat HDTVs are like anorexic supermodels who starve their puppies because they want pets as fashionably thin as they are.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 14, 2010 0 comments
Price: $400 At A Glance: Wireless sub goes any place with a power outlet • Soundbar contains four full-range drivers • Dolby Digital, DPLII, and DTS 5.1 surround processing

One Less Cable

Do you become a different person when you walk into a different room? For many people, the answer is yes. They’ll endure the rigors of component matching and system setup to equip the family room with a big phat flat screen and an AVR-based surround system. But they don’t want to repeat the process in every bedroom. Outside the main system, it might be OK for the screen to be 720p instead of 1080p if it’ll save a few bucks (especially if you don’t wear glasses in bed). And it may be OK to substitute a no-hassle soundbar speaker for a discrete speaker system. But that doesn’t mean you should go without surround—we’re not going to extremes here.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 14, 2010 0 comments
Price: $2,500 At A Glance: Three-channel soundbar with coaxial drivers • Satellite surrounds, also with coaxial drivers • 10-inch wireless sub with distinctive round enclosure

Slim Bar, Wireless Sub

It goes without saying that the soundbar and satellite/subwoofer categories have grown in stature along with the overwhelming popularity of flat-panel displays. As those displays have become rigorously slimmer, their skinny bezels have provided less room for speakers—not just home-theater-worthy speakers, but even something adequate for watching the news. Thus, it’s created a desperate urgency for a flat-panel-friendly audio solution.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 22, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Horn-loaded tweeters
Bluetooth with aptX
Wireless sub
Minus
No HDMI
Membrane remote

THE VERDICT
The Klipsch R-10B is a great-sounding 2.1-channel bar with a good-sounding sub, legacy connectivity, and Bluetooth.

After all this time, it still amazes me, as a speaker and receiver guy, that setup of an audio-for-video product can be as painless as it was with the Klipsch R-10B soundbar. I connected one optical digital cable and two power cables. The bar established diplomatic relations with its wireless subwoofer without any intervention on my part. Bluetooth pairing was just a matter of selecting the Klipsch as playback device in iTunes. This is the setup routine for people who hate setup routines.

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.

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Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Apr 01, 2015 11 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,019

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Line array is audio perfection
Perfect bass
Incredible smart-home features
Minus
Design is a little common
Adds red tint to images

THE VERDICT
The Lirpa Labs MZ1-949r soundbar offers a new level of features and sound that everyone will love.

A few years ago, we reviewed the Lirpa Labs 1776, a speaker unlike any other, and a true statement in the audio world. Sadly, despite critical acclaim—it was widely considered to be the best speaker of all time—the 1776 was a commercial failure. Lirpa Labs held on briefly, with some, shall we say, “eccentric” headphones, but the company was nearly bankrupt. An ill-advised and poorly implemented app was a step too far.

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.

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