SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 24, 2011 0 comments
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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: $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.

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.

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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.

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).

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.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 30, 2009 0 comments
Price: $500 At A Glance: Fits under flat panels that weigh 90 pounds or less • Five 2-inch drivers, one 5.25-inch woofer • Balanced sound with minimal surround

What’s in That Black Box?

What if you opened up your home-theater-in-a-box system only to find—another box? Would you suspect you had suddenly plunged into an unpublished chapter of Through the Looking Glass, a strange alternate universe where boxes contain boxes? Would you be afraid that inside the second box, there might be a third box? And inside the third, a fourth? Was dropping acid and going to the Museum of Modern Art in 1978 really such a good idea?

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.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Aug 25, 2008 0 comments
Surround sound—friend or faux?

When Definitive Technology originally introduced its Mythos line of speakers, the slender, curved, aluminum-cabinet tower models were matched by equally svelte, under-5-inch-deep on-wall and center-channel models using the same form and style turned horizontally. A while ago, the company literally expanded the Mythos center-channel speakers by packing the front LCR speakers

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