Phase Technology Teatro TSB3.0 Soundbar Review

PRICE $738

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

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.

The Phase Technology Teatro TSB3.0 is the kind of soundbar that requires an AVR. Because it has no built-in amp, it’s classified as a passive soundbar. Ironically, despite the general connotations of the words passive and active, an ampless passive bar opens up more possibilities than an amp-equipped active bar. By doing next to nothing, the passive bar gets more done, by allowing the rest of your system to do more. Maybe we should call it a passive-aggressive soundbar.

Great American Speaker Maker
Phase Technology is the storied American loudspeaker manufacturer founded by Bill Hecht in the 1950s and run by his son Ken. Among other innovations, Bill invented and patented the soft-dome tweeter in 1967, and his devotion to coherent phase response is celebrated in the company’s name. Phase Technology’s nine speaker lines cover a broad range of needs. One of those lines is Teatro, with three soundbar models, of which the TSB3.0 is the newest. All three models are passive bars, and each is the equivalent of three speakers built into a horizontal enclosure. The TSB3.0 ($738) and V3.0 ($1,272) have two-way driver arrays, while the PC3.0 ($1,696, reviewed in 2009) is three-way.

The TSB3.0 differs in woofer size, however, with 3-inch polypropylene cone drivers versus the 5.25-inch woofers in the other two models. That reduces the bar’s height by only a quarter of an inch, but the real difference is in the depth measurement, which is 2 inches less than that of the other models. In other words, this is a flatter bar that hugs the wall tighter. Each of the three channels is served by two woofers and one of Phase Tech’s famous 0.75-inch soft (silk) dome tweeters. To widen the soundstage, these drivers are augmented by two side-firing 1-inch drivers, which the company calls “full-range” Spatial Field Expanders. In previous models, these side-firing SFE drivers were soft domes that were easily damaged—as I proved by grabbing a bar at the sides and crumpling them. In the new model, evidently idiot-proofed for people like me, they are 1-inch aluminum inverted domes, not convex soft domes, and are protected by a guard structure.

With two woofers and a tweeter for each channel, complemented by the bar’s two SFE drivers, the Teatro might strike you as a tough load to drive. But its sensitivity seemed to be reasonable during the audition, and recommended amplifier power is 15 to 100 watts, within range of pretty much any AVR.

The bar is 43 inches wide, cosmetically suitable for a screen of 50-plus inches (though that isn’t a strict requirement). On the front of the extruded-aluminum enclosure is a perforated metal speaker grille that conceals the woofers and tweeters. The Spatial Field Expanders are on the ends along with the ports.

On the back are three speaker terminals using L-shaped Euroblock (often referred to as “Phoenix”) connectors. These accept bare wire, so I used my cable of last resort, an 18-gauge bare generic cord with banana plugs at one end and bare wire at the other. It wasn’t hard to slip the wire ends into the Euroblocks, tighten the screws, and snap them into the back of the soundbar. You can mount the bar to the wall (using the supplied hardware) or set it on a table in front of your TV. Nine threaded inserts (but no keyholes) are provided for wall mounting. I opted for table mounting.

Associated equipment included a Pioneer Elite VSX-53 A/V receiver along with the surround-channel speakers and subwoofer of my reference system: a pair of Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers for surround duties and a Seismic 110 subwoofer. Also in the loop was an Oppo BDP-83SE universal disc player. All movie demo material was on Blu-ray Disc, and all music demo material was on CD.

Like Three Speakers
This latest Teatro was the best-sounding passive soundbar I’ve heard, outpacing even my memories of Phase Technology’s own Teatro PC3.0 (which earned a five-star performance rating). Both behaved exactly like three top-quality loudspeakers built into a single enclosure. Due to woofer size, though, the new TSB3.0 was equivalent to three compact satellite speakers, whereas the PC3.0 was more akin to three monitors.

Phase Technology