SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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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
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
Brent Butterworth Posted: Oct 31, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,900

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Clean, dynamic sound with enveloping surround
A wealth of inputs and listening options
Key functions can be operated with TV remote
Minus
Voices can sound a little thin
Much more complicated and expensive than most soundbars

THE VERDICT
If you don’t mind a little complexity, the YSP-4300 is one of the best soundbars you can buy for movie and TV viewing.

Soundbars are supposed to be simple, right? The home theater sound system for people who can’t figure out an A/V receiver, right? Well, the Yamaha YSP-4300 isn’t simple. Its 24 speaker drivers, numerous inputs, 10 surround modes, 55-button remote, and 80-page manual make it almost as complex as one of Yamaha’s receivers. The only thing that’s simple about it is that there’s a lot less to hook up than with a full surround sound system.

Filed under
Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Aug 02, 2013 0 comments

Panorama 2 Soundbar
Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

PV1D Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
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.

Filed under
Chris Chiarella Posted: May 10, 2013 2 comments
FS-7.1 Soundbar
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
SB-900-BLK Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
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.

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
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.

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.

Filed under
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.
Filed under
Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Nov 20, 2012 1 comments

Soundbar System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
 
ForceField 3 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
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.

Filed under
Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 12, 2012 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
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.

Filed under
Lawrence E. Ullman Posted: May 30, 2012 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
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.

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
Lawrence E. Ullman Posted: Feb 24, 2012 6 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $500 At A Glance: Designed for use with stand-mounted TVs • Clean, powerful, well-balanced sound • Improved dialog intelligibility compared to TV speakers • Transparent operation via your TV or set-top box remote

One of the great things about the audio business is that it's still possible for new companies to appear seemingly out of nowhere and—thanks to a rare combination of creativity, skill, and luck—manage to carve out a comfortable niche for themselves. The rise of Zvox Audio is a case in point.

Filed under
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.

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