SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Nov 20, 2012 1 comments

Soundbar System
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ForceField 3 Subwoofer
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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.

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Oct 12, 2012 1 comments

Performance
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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.

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Lawrence E. Ullman Posted: May 30, 2012 0 comments
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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.

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Lawrence E. Ullman Posted: Mar 08, 2012 4 comments
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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!"

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

Performance
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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.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 24, 2011 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
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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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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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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?

Michael Fremer Posted: Aug 30, 2010 0 comments
toppick.jpgPrice: $600 At A Glance: Dual powered subs go low • Single-box analog domain “virtual surround” • Ultra-clear vocal presentation

A Base With Good Bass

Despite the predictable claims that manufacturers make—and the breathless, indefensible hyperbolic shrieks made by computer geeks posing as audio reviewers—no one-box-solution soundbar can really replace a discrete 5.1-channel surround sound system. ZVOX founder and former Cambridge SoundWorks marketing executive Tom Hannaher knows that, and the ZVOX Website says it. Bravo.

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.

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.

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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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Feb 08, 2010 0 comments
Price: $1,100 At A Glance: Built-in keyhole brackets • Triple-voice-coil side-firing surround drivers • World’s first seven-channel soundbar

Seven Channels Plus

When you hear that we can now add a seven-channel soundbar to the list of the many technological wonders in the world today, your first inclination might be to ask, “Dude, it’s a flippin’ soundbar. What’s the point?” And I might respond, “Uh, marketing?” So you can imagine that when the new Atlantic Technology FS-7.0—the world’s first seven-channel soundbar—arrived, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic to set it up. After all, I would need to remove my current in-wall center-channel speaker, replace it with a blank panel on which to mount the new all-in-one system, and then run seven speaker wires across the floor. I don’t know whether it was the titillation that comes with undressing a new piece of gear or the surreptitious sniffing of Styrofoam packaging, but for some reason, I began to warm up to the idea of a seven-channel soundbar. After all, I’ve never known Atlantic Technology to be the kind of company that would do something simply because it would make good copy in an ad, so the thing just might sound good. If nothing else, it certainly would have plenty of cool drivers scattered all over the cabinet and lots of settings to fiddle with.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 27, 2009 0 comments
Price: $2,200 At A Glance: 5.1-channel decoding in a single soundbar • Decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS, not lossless • Strong bass even when subwoofer output is not used

5.1 Channels in One

Why shouldn’t respectability and innovation be on speaking terms? In loudspeakers, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Much of the recent audio innovation in home theater has come in products that are designed to complement flat-panel TVs. These products are morphing before our eyes—into soundbars, on-walls, and ever-smaller satellites. They are also moving beyond the standard five-speakers-and-sub configuration in their deployment of surround’s 5.1-channel array. This makes for a striking contrast when you look at the high-end speakers that grace audiophile short lists. These include a staid group of medium-density fiber-board boxes whose fundamentals, in many cases, haven’t changed in decades. Traditional speakers can sound great, but that’s not often enough to make people buy them.

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