SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 03, 2014 2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $800 (updated 12/10/14)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
HDMI 2.0 and lossless surround decoding
7.1 channels of amplification
Fairly deep response
Upward-angled rubber feet
Minus
No HDCP 2.2 DRM

THE VERDICT
The Sony HT-ST5 provides up-to-date HDMI 2.0 connectivity along with great-for-a-bar sound, including excellent subwoofer integration.

OK, I admit it. When I signed up for audio-critic duty in the late 1980s, about a decade into my tech-journalism career, I envisioned a glamorous world of gleaming waxed wood-veneered speakers, precocious multitalented receivers, and dressed-to-kill home theaters designed by Theo Kalomirakis. Soundbars weren’t even on the horizon then. Even so, step by step, I have committed myself to the conceptual principles underlying soundbars: audio-for-video, compactness, minimal footprint, maybe a little surround magic, and user-friendliness, that last item being glaringly absent from AV receivers.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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