2016 CEDIA Surround Sound Bar Overview
Are you looking for emerging technologies in the home theater market? Audioholics has always been on the forefront of keeping its readers informed on what’s new. This year at the CEDIA home installers show in Dallas, Texas, the trending technology that all the major audio companies were demoing were wireless speaker systems and new and improved surround soundbars.
Soundbars aren’t a new technology which has always been to add a reasonable stereo effect from a single box source that would be an improvement on the dreaded sound from the internal HDTV speakers. With Polk, Yamaha, and Pioneer all making contributions in soundbar technology over the past 15 years, we thought it would be interesting to see what these companies had to offer to today’s consumers looking for 5.1 surround, but without having to run those pesky wires and extra speakers.
Polk Magnify Mini
Polk Audio had a method of widening a stereo image by cancelling crosstalk from the left speaker to the right ear and vice versa before soundbars. In 2005 they continued the surround effect from one cabinet which they called the “SurroundBar”. The tag-line was “Five channels. One speaker. Zero clutter.” It retailed for $950 without the optional (and much needed) $500 subwoofer.
Polk Magnify Mini
Polk Audio’s newest edition is the Polk MagniFi Mini and we listened to the Magnify Mini in a room full of talking people with horrible acoustics and were really impressed with the sound coming out of such a small system. For $299 you get both the mini soundbar AND the subwoofer! The 5.1 Dolby Digital system uses Polk’s patented Voice Adjust technology, for improved vocal clarity. Additionally, the MagniFi Mini is capable of wireless music streaming directly from a smartphone, tablet or other compatible device leveraging Google Cast or Bluetooth, making it a convenient sound bar for home entertainment. Polk’s new soundbar should be shipping this fall just in time for Christmas.
Pioneer FS-EB70 Soundbar, Sub, and Amplifier
Pioneer introduced the world to its first soundbar, the PDSP-1 in 2002. The PDSP-1 was the world’s first digital sound projector that utilizes a single-source speaker panel to deliver discreet 5.1 channel surround sound audio with more than 500 watts of power.
Pioneer Elite FS-EB70 Soundbar System
This spring Pioneer will introduce its Elite series FS-EB70. With upward firing Dolby Atmos enabled speakers and DTS:X. The new Pioneer FS-EB70 was by far the most enveloping soundbar of the bunch that we heard. We had a private listening test in a darkened acoustically controlled room designed to premiere several of Pioneers products but weren’t told which one we were listening to. When the lights came on we were surprised that the only source we listened to was the soundbar, separate amplifier, and 8” sub.
When released early next year it will include four HDMI inputs and be enabled with Fireconnect, Google Cast, and DTS Play-Fi. We love the way Pioneer decided not to commit to one way of wirelessly sending information from your phone to your speaker system, but just said “Screw it” and put all of them in. The FS-EB70 will be available in spring and although Pioneer hasn’t released a price point yet, rest assured the FS-EB70 will be comparable with other midpriced soundbar with sub combos (maybe even less).
Yamaha YAS706bl with Subwoofer
In 2005 Yamaha released their YSP-1 Digital Sound Projector and won the Best of Show award at the January 2005 Consumer Electronics Show. The large left and right drivers and phased array of 40 small center drivers were configured automatically by running a setup program with included test microphone to control sound reflected from the walls of the room to create a better sounding stereo experience.
Yamaha YAS-706 Soundbar
11 years later Yamaha released their YAS706bl with an included subwoofer. The YAS-706 has eight speaker drivers and two bass reflex ports to help deliver an immersive sound. The included wireless subwoofer works in conjunction with bass drivers built into the soundbar to produce deep bass and the sound equalization is automatically adjusted for tabletop or wall mount orientation. The YAS-706 also features separate amps for treble, midrange and bass frequencies. These dedicated amps are designed to reduce interference which should allow the soundbar to produce better sound. Yamaha touts this as a virtual 7.1-channel surround sound and at less than 3-inches tall, the YAS-706 will fit neatly in front of most TVs. Our private listening demo on a showroom floor was played at ear bleeding levels so it was hard to appreciate the subtle nuances of the virtual surround platform, but I can honestly say the system will play loud.
The Soundbar and sub combo is available now for $1000.
Bluesound Pulse Soundbar and Sub
With 6 Integrated high-performance speakers and 2 Passive Radiators The PULSE soundbar from Bluesound has LESS drivers than many other soundbars on the market, but that doesn’t mean that it’s less of a product. The sound we heard on a busy convention floor was as crisp and clean as the room would allow. Like many other audio companies, Bluesound is getting in on the wireless multi-room market with their Bluos app which allows Bluesound products to seamlessly work together all through your smartphone from room to room. The optional subwoofer has a compact, slim design that allows it to be hidden in a room. On the floor we listened to the soundbar with and without the sub. The imaging and separation of the channels was impressive and although I would like to hear the system in a more controlled environment, I was impressed by the rich deep bass of the soundbar without the help of the sub.
Bluesound Pulse Soundbar and Sub
The Pulse Soundbar is currently available with a retail at $1000 with the optional wireless subwoofer coming in at $600.
So if your TV sound has become as flat and thin as your new TV you might want to check out the new line of surround bars from companies like Bluesound, Polk, Yamaha, and Pioneer. They may not sound as good as your 9.1 channel DTS:X system, but as the technology gets better and better so does the sound they’re able to muster from such a small easy to install footprint.. Stay tuned as we line up reviews of these products and report on their performance from our own sound rooms.