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SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Mar 03, 2013 0 comments

I've evaluated at least 57 soundbars. That experience has taught me there are two attributes a truly great soundbar should possess. First, it should sound good. Second, it should work like it's part of your TV-i.e., it should power up and shut down when your TV does, your TV's remote should control volume and mute on the soundbar, etc.

By this measure, there's never been a truly great soundbar.

Sonos-known for network-based audio devices such as the Play:3-has attempted to create a soundbar that would meet my definition of "truly great." How confident is Sonos that the new $699 Playbar will work perfectly in concert with your TV? Pretty confident: The Playbar doesn't come with a remote.

Filed under
Brent Butterworth Posted: Nov 13, 2013 2 comments
A Satisfying Substitute for Real Home Theater Sound?

I’ll assume that you, as a Sound & Vision reader, would prefer a conventional 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system to a soundbar. But I’ll also assume that you don’t have 5.1 or 7.1 in every room of your home. Or in your vacation home, or your parents’ home, or your kids’ rooms. For these situations, even the cognoscenti—that means you—might be tempted by the convenience and low cost of a soundbar. Still, though, you’re probably not going to risk your status as an audiophile by buying one of those bottom-of-the-barrel, $150 cheapies at Costco.

Filed under
Rob Sabin Posted: Apr 12, 2013 4 comments

Sonos Playbar Soundbar
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

Sonos SUB Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $699 At A Glance: Excellent sound quality for music and movies • Powerful optional subwoofer • Mixed surround-sound performance

Since its launch in 2005, the Sonos wireless music system has won accolades and an extensive fan base thanks to an early focus on tapping into the digital music libraries that consumers built after the iPod’s launch in 2001, and an evolving graphic interface that, in today’s version, brings the benefits of room, source, and track selection to intuitive touchscreen apps that run on smartphones and tablets.

For those unfamiliar, you start by plugging one Sonos component into your network router to create a bridge to the Internet and to your home PC or hard drive where your personal music is stored. It can be any component the company sells. Sonos offers several powered speaker systems (Play:5, Play:3, the SUB subwoofer) and two player modules that feed music into either an existing hi-fi system (the Connect) or into a pair of speakers (Connect: Amp). If none of these devices can be placed near a live Ethernet jack, you can plop the aptly named Bridge wireless adapter next to your router.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 10, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,299

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Well made metal bar
Wireless sub, Bluetooth
Solid performance
Minus
Pricey for a soundbar

THE VERDICT
A high-performing soundbar with HDMI connectivity and lossless-surround support.

Like a pilot fish feasting on a shark’s leftovers, the soundbar has occupied a secondary role since its inception. You might imagine a TV without a soundbar but never a soundbar without a TV. Even so, secondary doesn’t necessarily have to mean second-rate. What if your soundbar were as good at producing audio as your TV is at producing video? What if it were better than your TV?

Filed under
Brent Butterworth Posted: Feb 13, 2013 0 comments

Home theater nuts can never have enough subwoofers. But the average household isn’t run by a home theater nut. Usually, the decisions about what goes into the living room are made by someone for whom audio gear is only slightly more welcome than cockroaches. For that person, even one sub may be too many.

Atlantic Technology built its PowerBar 235 soundbar precisely for households split by the conflict over good sound versus bulky audio gear. The PowerBar 235 is one of only a couple of soundbars designed to deliver satisfying bass response without a subwoofer.

Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: Oct 19, 2011 0 comments

I have something that I must confess: I’ve got a love/hate thing with soundbars. On the love side, these one- or two-piece, flat-panel-pandering “surround” systems have rescued tens of thousands of innocent suburbanites from the horrors of tinny TV tintinnabulation.

Filed under
Brent Butterworth Posted: Jan 30, 2012 0 comments

Improving TV sound is easy: Add a soundbar. But getting the soundbar to work seamlessly with the TV? That’s hard.

Adrienne Maxwell Posted: May 12, 2008 0 comments
Can the all-in-one soundbar really replace a dedicated home theater system?

The emergence of the soundbar audio genre can be traced to two trends: 1) consumers’ desire to buy slender, space-saving speaker systems to match their slender, space-saving flat-panel HDTVs; and 2) consumers’ hatred of running speaker wire around the room. Studies show that people either leave their surrounds at the front of the room, which wreaks havoc with the soundstage, or they simply don’t hook them up at all, which is just a shame. To address the former, speaker companies began to incorporate the front three channels of a 5.1-channel system into one slender bar you could place above or below your TV. To address the latter, they took it one step further, putting all five channels into a single bar and using acoustic manipulation to create a sense of surround envelopment. It seems like every major speaker manufacturer is now jumping on the soundbar bandwagon, but does the technology really work? Can one speaker honestly re-create a 5.1-channel soundfield, and what kind of sacrifices must be made to do so? To find out, we brought in the latest soundbar models from Philips, Marantz, Yamaha, Denon, and Polk.

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 25, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $330

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dedicated surrounds for true 5.1-channel sound
Bluetooth connection to mobile sources
Effective DTS Volume mode
Minus
Less impressive performance with music

THE VERDICT
A surprisingly good-sounding, high-value choice for movie sound, though serious music lovers might need to look elsewhere

Home theater, as I’ve always defined it, is the union of big-screen TV and surround sound. At their best, they have the power to suspend disbelief and pull you into a cinematic narrative or musical experience. Sometimes soundbars make the cut, and sometimes they don’t. Any decent-sounding soundbar—whether it has 2.0, 2.1, or 5.1 channels—is likely to improve over the awful speakers built into most TVs. Making the evening news intelligible is no small contribution to household happiness. But few soundbars try to cross the barrier from convenience to full-bore 5.1-channel rapture. The Vizio S4251W-B4 is just such a product.

Filed under
Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jan 17, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $300

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Three-channel soundbar
Impressive soundstage width
Excellent price/performance ratio
Minus
May block your TV’s remote sensor
No supplied subwoofer

THE VERDICT
Vizio’s affordable S5430w-C2 sounds great with movies and music, and adding your own sub cranks it up a notch.

The sonics of soundbars have improved steadily over the years. It wasn’t that long ago that even the priciest flagship models were marginal performers, but Vizio’s affordably priced S5430w-C2 can provide a surprisingly satisfying home theater experience. That says a lot about Vizio’s commitment to push the limits of the category without straying too far from the entry-level price point. The all-plastic construction may be the most obvious price concession here, but since you’ll rarely touch the soundbar in use, I’d consider that a cost-effective design choice. Its understated appearance is easy on the eyes.

Filed under
Lawrence E. Ullman Posted: Mar 08, 2012 4 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $320 At A Glance: 2.1 channels with effective virtual surround • Wireless subwoofer • HDMI 1.4a connectors • Easy to set up and install

If Star Trek's Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott was handed one of today's ultra-thin flat-panel HDTVs and warned, "You have eight minutes to get decent sound quality out this thing or the Enterprise is going to burn up in the atmosphere!," he might take one look at it and once again utter those immortal words: "I canna change the laws of physics!"

Filed under
Mark Fleischmann Posted: May 31, 2011 0 comments
Price: $390 At A Glance: Three-channel soundbar with separate surrounds and wireless sub • SRS TruSurround HD and TruVolume processing • Designed to accompany 40-inch and larger HDTVs

A Moment of Tru

Vizio, how you’ve grown. When flatpanel HDTVs came along, you were among the first brands created especially to bring the new display technology to eager consumers. Now that butt-ugly direct-view and rear-pro sets are largely a bad memory, you’re at the forefront of a burgeoning business. Your market share is nothing to sneeze at, and your XVT553SV LED-backlit LCD set is a Home Theater Top Pick. What are you going to do for an encore?

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 15, 2009 0 comments
Price: $350 At A Glance: First soundbar to use SRS TruVolume audio processing • Operates on stereo signals • Wireless sub works with no setup hassles

High and Wide

Vizio is:
(a) a flat-panel video brand
(b) an audio brand
(c) a serotonin reuptake inhibitor
(d) a line of rimless eyeglasses
(e) a typographical error

If you guessed (a), you were wrong. The correct answer is (a)+(b).

Filed under
Chris Chiarella Posted: Jan 31, 2013 1 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $300 At a Glance: Renders 5.1 signals as "7.1" • Multiple digital inputs, no analog • An easy form factor to live with

The valley between most televisions' woeful onboard audio and the glory of a full-on 5.1-, 6.1-, or 7.1-channel audio system is a broad one indeed, and wending its way through the middle like some bittersweet creek is the much-maligned soundbar. Once dismissed by the techno-elite as home theater for the lazy, the soundbar has since evolved into a viable compromise bet ween…well, something great and nothing at all.

John Higgins Posted: Oct 15, 2005 Published: Oct 30, 2005 0 comments
Bouncing off the walls.

In a time when housing prices are rising at an exponential rate, making affordable square footage scarce, one of the major challenges to having a home theater system is space. The home-theater-in-a-box phenomenon has attacked this problem by packaging smaller, matched speakers together with a receiver, but there's still the issue of finding space for proper speaker placement and the messy wiring that follows. Yamaha offers the YSP-1 Digital Sound Projector to alleviate this problem.

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