SOUNDBAR REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann  |  Aug 17, 2017  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
11 drivers in system, including side tweeters
Separate surround speakers
8-inch wireless sub
Minus
Cabinet resonance in sub and sats
No stereo mode
Odd remote volume-key positioning

THE VERDICT
The Shockwafe Pro 7.1 is a beautifully designed soundbar that delivers solid surround performance, especially with movies.

Founded in 1948, Nakamichi became best known in the 1970s for building the booming audio industry’s highest-end cassette decks, both under the company’s own name and for other brands. Nakamichi pioneered three-head decks, which used the extra head to read and monitor a recording in progress. The company has also dabbled in CD changers, A/V receivers, and even TVs, and they provided audio systems for the Toyota Lexus from 1989 to 2001.

Daniel Kumin  |  May 18, 2017  |  0 comments

Pulse Soundbar
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Pulse Sub
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,598 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent musical sound quality
Notable bass extension, with or without sub
Many streaming capabilities, including hi-res audio
Multiroom system architecture
Visually outstanding
Minus
Some level and dynamics limitations
Occasional cumbersome or inconsistent operation

THE VERDICT
Accurate, dynamic musical sound, lifelike stereo imaging, and remarkable bass extension and control—plus extensive multiroom streaming abilities—easily counterbalance the few ergonomic quirks of a lovely, ultra-compact design.

Don’t look now, but the soundbars are gaining on us. Hardcore home theater heads like you and me can scoff all we want, but consumer electronics’ all-inone answer to audio for video is getting better, smarter, bassier, and popular-er, by leaps and bounds. High-end-ier, too.

Michael Trei  |  May 10, 2017  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $300

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Big sound from a tiny speaker
Carefully voiced with neutral tonal balance
Minus
No HDMI video passthrough
Sub’s performance limited by its small size

THE VERDICT
Despite its diminutive size, the MagniFi Mini speaks with a loud and clear voice at a bargain price.

Why is it that every year, TVs seem to get bigger while speakers seem to get smaller? Back when Stereo Review became Sound & Vision, a nice home theater had a 34-inch tube TV and a decent 5.1channel surround sound system with floorstanding tower speakers. Now, many years later, the TV has grown to 65, 70, or even 80 inches, but the speakers have shrunk to the point where they’re small enough to get lost at the bottom of the massive screen.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  May 03, 2017  |  3 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Only 2.28 inches tall
Utilizes Sonos Trueplay acoustic tuning technology
Can be part of a Sonos multiroom audio system
Minus
No volume level indicator
Optical digital and network audio inputs only

THE VERDICT
For the folks who don’t mount their TV on a wall—that is, for the overwhelming majority of TV owners—the Sonos Playbase is an elegant way of creating an excellent-sounding home theater system that’s nearly invisible, super-easy to set up, and blessedly simple to use.

A surprisingly salient special survey by Sonos says that something like 70 percent of slender-TV owners select to stand their set on a flat surface rather than sticking it on a wall. (Say that silently seven times.) Seriously—OK, that’s enough of that—Sonos says that the vast majority of people who own a flat-screen TV don’t mount it on a wall. Instead, they set it on a cabinet, cart, table, shelf, the floor, or just about any other semi-sturdy, close-to-flat surface that isn’t already covered with useless sh-tuff.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Apr 28, 2017  |  0 comments
I have never been a fan of soundbars. How can a little row of speakers replace the full-range sound of a true home-theater speaker system? It just can’t. However, soundbars heavy-set cousin, the soundbase, provides an interesting middle ground. I was skeptical of the Fluance AB40 Wide Angle soundbase when it first showed up, but after spending some time getting to know it, my opinion has changed—dramatically.

Rob Sabin  |  Dec 08, 2016  |  0 comments
There was a time when audiophiles bemoaned “cheap” soundbars as the bane of our existence. We had good reason. Many early examples of the genre, sometimes from companies we’d most closely associate with clock radios, compromised the home theater experience in every way possible. Along with dramatically shrinking the front soundstage and sacrificing the discrete rear channels required for adequate reproduction of a surround field, they just sounded bad. By which I mean bright, boomy, fatiguing, and amusical. Frequently, “helpful” surround processing to enhance imaging just added echoey reverb and messed with the natural timbre of vocals and instruments.
Michael Trei  |  Oct 05, 2016  |  2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Full surround, including Dolby Atmos, from just four boxes
Rich, punchy sound
Minus
Limited connectivity
Pricey for a soundbar

THE VERDICT
A soundbar with Dolby Atmos may seem like an oxymoron, but Samsung has done a masterful job of pulling it off. The HW-K950 delivers a hefty slice of the performance you can get from a carefully tuned component system, but without most of the complexity or a room full of speakers.

Sometimes it seems like the people who develop new surround formats are completely out of touch with what real consumers actually want in their homes. Over the years, we have seen a seemingly endless parade of multichannel surround formats, such as Dolby Digital Surround EX, Dolby Pro Logic IIz, DTS-HD Master Audio, Audyssey DSX, and now Dolby Atmos—all guaranteed to strain your domestically acceptable loudspeaker limit. It’s no wonder that so many folks have decided to just pull out of this arms race and go instead with a simple soundbar. The good news: It appears that someone at Samsung is paying attention. The company’s latest top-of-the-range soundbar-based system tries to let you have it all, combining the compactness and simplicity of a soundbar with the tangible spatial effects that only really happen when you have discrete rear speakers and the vertical expansiveness of Dolby Atmos.

Mark Fleischmann  |  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.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  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.

John Sciacca  |  Feb 17, 2016  |  1 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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 14, 2016  |  0 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’.

Mark Fleischmann  |  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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  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.

Mark Fleischmann  |  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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