SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Filed under
Daniel Kumin Posted: Oct 30, 2014 1 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?

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
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.

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.

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