SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 25, 2016 0 comments

LCR3 Speaker
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SB-900 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value

FS3 Soundbar
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,550 to $2,075 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Slim-profile passive soundbar, or...
Compact LCRs in front, with...
One sub or two
Minus
AVR required for passive bar
Inherent limits of 8-inch sub

THE VERDICT
Whether configured with a three-channel soundbar up front or compact LCRs all around, this system delivers deeply satisfying performance for the price, with plenty of listening comfort.

How should your 5.1-channel system handle the three channels in front? You might use the traditional approach of three separate speakers. Then again, you might simply use a passive soundbar with left, center, and right drivers. We’ve reviewed both kinds of systems—but until now, we haven’t reviewed both options at once. In this Test Report, that’s just what we’re going to do. We’ll start with Atlantic Technology’s new FS3 soundbar in the front and two voice-matched LCR3 satellites in the surround positions. Then we’ll swap out the soundbar for three more satellites to see what that brings to the table. To make it even more interesting, we’ll start with a single 8-inch SB-900 subwoofer, then contemplate the advantages of adding a second one.

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Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Aug 11, 2016 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos and (via future upgrade) DTS: X
MusicCast, AirPlay, Bluetooth (both in and out), and Wi-Fi for music streaming
Minus
Larger than most soundbars
Remote control isn’t backlit

THE VERDICT
It’s pricey, but outstanding sonic performance and an impressive list of useful features makes the Yamaha YSP-5600 one of the best overall soundbar values on the market.

It had to happen: Somebody took Dolby Atmos and superglued it to a soundbar. It looks like Dolby Atmos in a Bar (DAIB) is the new Home Theater in a Box (HTIB). Oh, joy of joys.

I jest, of course. I’ve reviewed some really great soundbars—and Yamaha, the company behind this groundbreaking Atmos-enabled model, is no slouch when it comes to all-in-one theater systems. At $1,700, the new YSP-5600 is the most expensive, and most extensively featured, soundbar in Yamaha’s lineup. Measuring in at 43.25 inches wide x 8.38 high x 3.63 deep (without its stand), it looks to be the largest, too. From the size, heft (almost 26 pounds), and quality of construction (including a metal—not cloth—grille), it should be obvious to even the most unshakable soundbar skeptic that this aspires to be a serious speaker system, with or without the Atmos-enabling bits.

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John Sciacca Posted: Feb 17, 2016 4 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $899

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Ultra-thin form factor
Triple-threat with movies, music, and wholehouse audio
Great sound
Minus
Awkward handling of network media

THE VERDICT
The W Studio Micro’s strong performance and tons of streaming music features make it an easy recommendation.

The soundbar is one of the fastest-growing market segments in recent years, and that’s no surprise. As consumer demand grows for ultra-thin TVs with virtually zero bezel, display manufacturers are in the quandary of where to put the built-in speakers. The answer for most has been placing shallow speakers behind the screen, firing away from listeners. Obviously, these sonic compromises make it increasingly difficult to understand dialogue— let alone actually enjoy the wider dynamics of movies or music— and the simple solution is adding a soundbar.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 14, 2016 1 comments

PSB Alpha VS21 VisionSound Soundbase
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

PSB SubSeries 150 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,098 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Sound that transcends genre
Subtle surround and dialogue modes
Flat sub hugs the wall
Minus
No front-panel controls
No tone controls
Too small for larger TVs

THE VERDICT
The PSB Alpha VS21 and SubSeries 150 might change your mind about whether soundbases and compact subs are suitable for music.

Soundbases and bars help the audio industry stay relevant to consumers. Maybe not everyone is interested in traditional loudspeakers and receivers, but most people have a flat-panel TV, and all but the least observant of those people have noticed that the built-in speakers produce sound that is less than coherent. Many of those consumers may not know that PSB has been producing great-sounding audio products for decades, so we have a fundamental disconnect between a brand that is (relatively) unrecognized by newbies and a product category that attracts them. What will it take to bring a PSB soundbase to the newbies? Maybe their better-informed friends who read Sound & Vision should have a word with them—especially when they’re seen pulling a big flat-panel TV box out of the hatchback. Just sayin’.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 10, 2015 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $300 (updated 1/20/16)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Good sound quality for movies and music
Solid fiberboard enclosure
Bass and treble controls
Learns IR codes from your TV remote
Minus
AccuVoice Dialogue enhancer can sound tinny

THE VERDICT
Simplicity and well-balanced sound make this affordable TV base sound system a natural for those seeking a no-fuss solution to the awful speakers built into flat-panel displays.

The speakers built into TVs continue to be dreadful. But many people find component systems an intimidating solution. According to the folks at Zvox, “there are too many boxes, too many cords, too many remote controls, and too many owner’s manuals in the world today.” If you feel the same, you may be a candidate for a soundbar. If you want your TV to sit atop your audio system, make that a soundbase. Zvox pioneered this product category (they actually trademarked the SoundBase name) and offers models from $250 to $500. The SoundBase 570 ($300, reduced from $350) falls somewhere around the middle.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 23, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $799

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Impressive bass without external sub
Smooth, unfussy top end
Suitable for TVs up to 100 pounds
Minus
Passive design requires use of an AV receiver

THE VERDICT
Atlantic Technology’s 3.1 HSB uses H-PAS bass technology to deliver real bass response along with enviable smoothness and dynamics.

Visualize, if you will, a home theater system with a flat-panel TV and 5.1-channel surround sound. For many readers, this is nirvana. For others, it’s too much stuff—a TV, three speakers in front, two surrounds, and a subwoofer. How do you reduce the intrusion into the room? Wall-mounting the TV is a no-brainer. Now imagine that the three front speakers have disappeared, along with that pesky sub. What’s left, you’re probably thinking, is some kind of typical soundbase or bar. It offers bass hardly worthy of the name, fake surround, and a fraction of the features of a receiver-based system. For this Atlantic Technology model, you got the first part right—the 3.1 HSB is a soundbase—but the rest is wrong.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 20, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,500 (updated 10/14/15)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
HDMI, lossless surround decoding
UHD-capable video passthrough
Minus
High-end pricing
No HDCP 2.2 DRM for UHD

THE VERDICT
If you close your eyes, the Arcam Solo Bar and Solo Sub sound more like a decent component system than a soundbar.

Soundbars take three forms. The main distinction among them is what serves as the heart of your system. With a passive soundbar, the A/V receiver—with all its features, joys, and woes—is the clearinghouse, and all signal sources go through it. With a less expensive active soundbar, the TV often replaces the receiver, and all signals go through the TV into the bar. But the Arcam Solo Bar is the type of active soundbar that replaces both the receiver and the TV as the heart of your system.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 05, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $738

AT A GLANCE
Plus
It’s like having three top-drawer speakers
Balanced performance
Passive design allows benefits of an AVR
Minus
Passive design requires an AVR

THE VERDICT
Phase Technology’s Teatro TSB3.0 soundbar dispenses with the fancy stuff and provides the performance you’d expect from three well-engineered and great-sounding speakers.

This might seem a radical concept, but what if a soundbar were just a speaker, or two or three? What if it had no internal amplifiers, just some really good drivers, a thoughtfully engineered crossover, and sets of speaker terminals, like any other quality loudspeaker?

Is this kind of soundbar a good idea? That depends on what kind of system you want—or, more specifically, whether you want a standalone audio/video receiver in your system. For some people, the AVR is like the guy you’d cross the street to avoid, someone who confuses and bedevils you. For others, the AVR is the key to a cornucopia of features, the cornerstone of a system that unlocks all your desires.

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Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Apr 01, 2015 11 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,019

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Line array is audio perfection
Perfect bass
Incredible smart-home features
Minus
Design is a little common
Adds red tint to images

THE VERDICT
The Lirpa Labs MZ1-949r soundbar offers a new level of features and sound that everyone will love.

A few years ago, we reviewed the Lirpa Labs 1776, a speaker unlike any other, and a true statement in the audio world. Sadly, despite critical acclaim—it was widely considered to be the best speaker of all time—the 1776 was a commercial failure. Lirpa Labs held on briefly, with some, shall we say, “eccentric” headphones, but the company was nearly bankrupt. An ill-advised and poorly implemented app was a step too far.

John Sciacca Posted: Mar 13, 2015 1 comments

W Studio Soundbar System
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
W9 Wireless Speaker
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
W7 Wireless Speaker
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
W Amp Amplifier
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,295 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Stellar audio quality
Sleek-looking components

Minus
Android app is pretty basic
iOS app very limited
Doesn’t currently support true high-res listening

THE VERDICT
The speakers sound amazing and the W Studio soundbar is a home run even without its multiroom capabilities, but the limited Play-Fi app for streaming leaves Def Tech’s W system lagging behind the best multiroom systems.

For a while, audio manufacturers seemed resigned to give it the ol’ “lie back and think of England” routine when it came to accepting Sonos as the dominant force in the wireless audio world. Sure, they might not have liked it, but they weren’t offering any compelling alternatives of their own. And while there had been some challengers in the past, most fell well short of the Sonos benchmark and quickly faded.

This tide has changed lately, however, and the war for wireless audio is heating up. Multiple systems are now offering their spin on wireless music distribution and hoping to take a bite out of the Wi-Fi audio pie. And unlike past attempts, several of these new solutions are not only good, they’re great. Darryl Wilkinson recently reviewed two top rivals for Sonos’ throne, Bluesound (S&V, June 2014) and Denon’s HEOS (S&V, January 2015). Now, well-regarded speaker manufacturer Definitive Technology is throwing its hat into the ring by embracing Play-Fi in its new Wireless Collection.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Jan 26, 2015 0 comments
Ever since I left the world of car stereos, Pyle Audio has fallen off my radar. When offered an opportunity to listen to their latest soundbar, the PSBV600BT ($300), I have to admit that I was intrigued. I knew this company had a long history of making good speakers for the automotive world, but haven’t heard any of their home products. This was going to be interesting.

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 22, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Horn-loaded tweeters
Bluetooth with aptX
Wireless sub
Minus
No HDMI
Membrane remote

THE VERDICT
The Klipsch R-10B is a great-sounding 2.1-channel bar with a good-sounding sub, legacy connectivity, and Bluetooth.

After all this time, it still amazes me, as a speaker and receiver guy, that setup of an audio-for-video product can be as painless as it was with the Klipsch R-10B soundbar. I connected one optical digital cable and two power cables. The bar established diplomatic relations with its wireless subwoofer without any intervention on my part. Bluetooth pairing was just a matter of selecting the Klipsch as playback device in iTunes. This is the setup routine for people who hate setup routines.

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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 4 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
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Michael Trei Posted: Dec 10, 2014 1 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.

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