SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: Dec 19, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,599 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Fine tonal balance with genuine deep bass
Very substantial level potential
Elegant appearance
Minus
A few operational and hookup quirks (it’s French!)
No remote-control learn/teach scheme

THE VERDICT
A 5.1-channel system in soundbar packaging that combines tonal accuracy with impressive low-frequency response and power, plus surround as effective as we’ve heard from an all-up-front affair.

As recently as a couple of years ago, anyone shopping for an “audiophile soundbar” was in danger of being laughed off the lot. The bar scene was dominated by price-driven, mass-market models sold in big-box stores, and most of these were plastic jobs from the mega-mills of the Pacific rim, with just a smattering of somewhat more upscale choices from a few more serious American and Canadian brands.

Rob Sabin Posted: Dec 11, 2014 2 comments
Home theater enthusiasts know that when it comes to performance there is no real substitute for an AV receiver connected to discrete speakers spread around the room. But soundbars, those popular standalone TV speaker systems, have been getting better and better with each passing year, and some very respectable options have been turning up in the premium category. Here’s our current list of the best you can buy, with recommendations under $500, from $500 to $1,000, and above $1,000. For the full review (where available), click on the title of each product. —Rob Sabin
Filed under
Michael Trei Posted: Dec 10, 2014 0 comments
It’s tough to be an audiophile these days. In the ongoing push by those pesky spouses and decorators to make our audio systems increasingly basic, simple, and invisible, some of us have felt the tug to hang our HDTVs on the wall and step down from a full-blown 5.1 surround sound home theater rig to a nice, slender soundbar. More often than not, that means having a subwoofer, typically supplied with the soundbar, just to fill in the bass, which inevitably goes missing during that slimming process. But, depending on how well the sub is integrated and its position in the room, that can often lead to other issues, including localization of deep male voices at the sub and possibly a gap in upper-bass frequency response that becomes most noticeable when playing music.
Filed under
Michael Trei Posted: Dec 10, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Detailed, focused sound with tuneful bass
Excellent connectivity and feature set
Nice display
Minus
Can’t disable surround mode
Credit card remote

THE VERDICT
The SoundBase.670 proved itself a great all-rounder that’s at its best for movies and regular TV watching.

ZVOX created the TV soundbase category over a decade ago, but they’ve not been sitting on their heels for the last ten years. While other companies have only just jumped on the bandwagon with a soundbase of their own, ZVOX has continued to expand its offerings and up its game on sound quality and now has eight different soundbase models available.

Filed under
Michael Trei Posted: Dec 10, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $350

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Clear, transparent sound
Well-thought-out feature set
Minus
Minimal display information
Credit-card membrane remote

THE VERDICT
Pioneer delivers a soundbase that puts good sound ahead of bells and whistles or sheer volume.

Over the last few years, Pioneer’s chief speaker designer Andrew Jones has become kind of a rock star in budget audio circles. Unlike some other companies that simply get a design committee to slap something together for their low-cost gear, Pioneer with Jones at the helm spends months tweaking and refining even the most modest speakers. At the other end of the scale, Jones also designs state-of-the-art speakers for Pioneer’s high-end TAD division, including the $80,000 Reference One, so the man clearly knows his way around a woofer cone.

Filed under
Michael Trei Posted: Dec 10, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $250

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Plays very loud
Lots of hookup options
Good remote
Minus
Sounds congested when pushed hard
Cryptic display
Minimal stereo separation

THE VERDICT
Vizio’s Sound Stand plays remarkably loud for such a small and affordable soundbase, but its sound lacks the finesse of even the company’s own budget soundbars.

With just a pair of 2.75-inch full-range drivers supplemented by a single 5.25-inch “subwoofer,” the Vizio Sound Stand has the most basic driver complement of the three soundbases under review. No amplifier power rating is specified, although, as you’ll read, it’s clear that the Sound Stand has been carefully tweaked to deliver the maximum possible volume.

Filed under
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.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Nov 24, 2014 0 comments
Home theater fashion comes and goes, with almost as much regularity as hemline heights and tie widths. Years ago, massive speaker arrays were in vogue, then tiny little home-theater-in-a-box cubes, and more recently, skinny little soundbars. The problem with soundbars was two-fold. First, they blocked the lower portion of some TV sets. Second, and more importantly, they tended to sound as thin as they looked—requiring a separate subwoofer to get any type of bass response. JBL has an elegant solution with the Cinema Base Soundbar with built-in subwoofer, Bluetooth, HDMI and optical inputs.

Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: Oct 30, 2014 2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
True 5.1-channel sonics from a soundbar system
Reasonably neutral tonal balance
Fairly deep response
Unexpectedly substantial volume
Minus
Restrained treble
No IR passthrough

THE VERDICT
This Vizio is a large, affordably priced, true 5.1-channel soundbar system that actually plays loud, with respectable bass extension and very presentable sound.

Vizio has come a long way from its roots in a small PC-monitor brand (Princeton) a decade or so ago. Depending on your metrics, the California firm is now the No. 1 brand in both LCD HDTVs and soundbars. Today, the soundbar has ridden the coattails of the big-screen explosion to become an important product category in its own right. And with many serious loudspeaker makers getting into the game (likely a matter of survival in some cases), the ante has been raised so that what was once a mere profit-sweetening sales-ticket afterthought to a TV sale is now a hotly competitive category where performance and features figure as prominently as price.

Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: Aug 22, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Impressive tonal balance
Unusually good dynamics and bass extension
Wired/wireless subwoofer hookups
Minus
Difficult-to-read display
Obscure menu structure
Modest “surround” effectiveness
No subwoofer supplied
Pricey

THE VERDICT
It’s priced among the most expensive soundbars and comes without a supplied sub. But if you value dynamics, bass extension, and overall sound quality first, you’ll be well rewarded.

The soundbar proposition is easy to understand: Plunk down some cash, open up one box, and you’ve got home theater, without the bulky speakers, messy wires, and painful expense. It’s all good, right?

You and I know better, of course— but just how close can you come?

Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: May 16, 2014 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Neutral tonal balance
Honest vocal and dialogue presentation
Handsome, understated looks
Minus
Limited volume output
Ergonomic shortcomings

THE VERDICT
Fine vocal and musical balance from an elegant, though not inexpensive, soundbar.

Pity the poor soundbar, the dancing bear of the audio world. (The audience applauds not how well the bear dances, but the fact that he dances at all.) And pity more the poor soundbar reviewer, tasked with saying something cogent about a not-inexpensive product that, while worlds better than any TV’s built-in speakers, is almost always demonstrably inferior to any number of affordable freestanding speaker suites, including the same manufacturer’s. Monitor Audio is a long-established, widely respected maker of just such speaker suites, a firm that presumably can read the handwriting on the wall just as well as the next guy: s-o-u-n-d-b-a-r-s-&-h-e-a-d-p-h-o-n-e-s.

Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: May 09, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Super-svelte dimensions
Natural voicing and excellent subwoofer blend
Surprising volume ability
Minus
Limited stereo image width
Mediocre remote-control range

THE VERDICT
Solid tonal balance, unusually good soundbar/subwoofer integration, and substantial volume for so slim a design make the SoloCinema Studio a fine performer in its category.

Love them or hate them, soundbars are a big part of what’s keeping audio manufacturers afloat these days—those, at least, that haven’t already repaired to Davy Jones’ Locker. Baltimore’s Definitive Technology, a firm whose “real” loudspeakers have for two decades and more set high standards of performance and value, is no newcomer to the bar scene. Its latest effort is the SoloCinema Studio, a two-piece job, and the bar half is tiny, quite literally a bar: just 3-plus inches square by 42-plus wide.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Mar 27, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,547

AT A GLANCE
Plus
A 55-inch horizontal soundbar that can be installed without modifying the wall studs
Can learn volume and mute IR codes from your TV’s remote
Excellent simulated
surround and music
processing
Minus
Really needs a subwoofer
Only one HDMI input

THE VERDICT
The Niles CSF55A is more expensive than a similarly performing active soundbar, but it’s well worth it for the person who wants the gear to disappear without giving up any sound quality.

It’s either the craziest flippin’ idea ever, or it’s absolutely brilliant. I mean, in-wall speakers are one thing. Soundbars, though, especially active soundbars, are completely different creatures. But somebody at Niles—whether inspired by an offhanded joke, an improbable Frankenstein-like engineering experiment, or an alcohol-infused haze after a tedious sales meeting—decided that what the world needs is an active, in-wall soundbar system to complement wall-mounted flat-panel TVs.

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
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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