Raising the bar
Everyone loves the idea of better sound in the home, but most of us can’t a%ord the space for multi-speaker setups. So what are you to do? Enter the humble soundbar, which are audio powerhouses today with their angled drivers and support for the latest au
The RSB-14 is listed by Klipsch as the most powerful model in its Klipsch Stream Wireless Multi-Room family, and is a simple 2.1 channel speaker system that eschews vertical channels (and hence Atmos support) for a more traditional approach. It leverages on their Klipsch Tractrix horns for detailed sound in the mids and highs, and of course, offers a standalone wireless subwoofer to take care of the low end.
Set-up is fairly simple. All we had to do was to plug both soundbar and subwoofer in and power them up. Pairing was taken care of automatically and all we had to do was to connect to our source via an Optical Digital (TOSLink) cable. Because the system is Play-Fi and Klipsch Stream certi ed, it can be mixed and matched with products from other brands that also support Play-Fi. In terms of audio, we’d say the RSB-14 is easily one of the most musical of the lot, with good naturalness in the mid-range and fairly good bass extension too. Vocals are presented with good clarity, and the speaker seems to have a good sense of imaging.
No surprise then that the system performed best on Hotel California by The Eagles during our formal audio testing. The soundbar manages to offer good stereo separation on this piece with a great amount of clarity, It’s clear that mids and highs are strengths with this system, while the lower ranges seem to come off as reserved rather than dry.
In our movie testing, we thought the set did best with the sample track from
Game of Thrones off the official Dolby Atmos Blu-Ray demo disc. This is a scene where archers onboard a ship are ordered to cock their arrows in preparation for battle. The sails of the ship are billowing in the wind and there’s a torch being lit that is thrown into the sea to signal the start of battle. All of these sound effects were captured with a good sense of naturalness, but where the soundbar suffered was in conveying the sense of movement overhead and the general imaging.
The LG SJ9 is the company’s very rst Dolby Atmos-capable model, and prominently features two up-ring speakers to go along with the ve forward ring drivers angled in di erent directions and a fairly large subwoofer.
This makes it perhaps the most minimal 5.1.2 speaker setup you can get at the moment; something that should be really enticing to homeowners with small spaces. As with the RSB-14, set-up was a simple a air, as the subwoofer and soundbar connected to each other wirelessly once turned on.
The LG SJ9 supports High Resolution Audio (HRA) playback, and comes with 24-bit upscaling capabilities that are said to bring 16bit/48kHz les to close to 24bit/192kHz quality. It also supports both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming, plus streaming services like Spotify. Listening to a recording of Under The
Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, we were impressed with the sense of naturalness the speaker imbued to the piece. The guitar solos sound great, and Anthony Kiedis’ vocals are front and center of the piece.
The soundbar also seemed to provide the most robust sound out of all the speakers in this shootout, with good delivery on the lower mid to the bass range. So, it’s no surprise that it did best with Tiesto’s Elements
of Life in our formal music testing. The system managed to create a nice mid-sized soundstage that shows o the expansiveness of the track without sacricing dynamics, and showed good capabilities with the higher mid sections too. This is denitely a speaker than can get you moving.
Movie testing is where the system’s up-ring speakers truly came into play, the soundbar manages to convey the directional sense of sound that’s so touted by Dolby. When watching the clip from Unbroken, we thought the speakers delivered good realism, though we did wish it did a bit of a better job of creating the illusion of being surrounded. Despite the presence of up-ring drivers, the sense of “overhead” audio was less pronounced than we would have liked.
One of Onkyo’s latest offerings for this year, the LS7200 offers both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio playback while also providing support for AirPlay, FireConnect and Play-Fi technologies. Of course, it also supports network streaming so your favorite network streaming services like Spotify will work out of the box too.
The LS7200 is the only soundbar system in this shootout to include an AV center, which acts both as the power source for the soundbar, and a hub for you to connect your inputs to. Of course, it also connects wirelessly to the subwoofer unit and ensures that both soundbar and woofer remain perfectly in sync. All in, it’s a fairly clean setup that keeps all the connections centralized at one spot – great if you don’t already have a receiver for your home.
In terms of audio quality, we thought the speaker excelled in the mid-range while delivering steady performance in the lower spectrum. However, we thought it could have done with better stereo separation. For example, there is a section in Bohemian Rhapsody right after the part where Brian May, Freddy Mercury, and Roger Taylor take turns screaming out “We will not let you go” and “Let me go”. On the LS7200, you don’t feel like the choir is alternately screaming at you from both sides, thus taking away from the piece some.
It seems the system performs better on the highs too. On our formal test tracks, it performed best on Tiesto’s Elements
of Life, expertly picking up the highs in the track. The mids could have done with more re nement and the bass felt slightly boomy, but the soundbar managed to create a wide, expansive soundstage that made for an enjoyable listen.
Moving on to our movie testing, we thought the system did best on the Phantom Menace track. While not an Atmos compatible track, we thought the LS7200 did well to pick out the individual whines and beeps of the droids in the piece, and managed to present the dialog nicely forward so that you could clearly hear what was being said.
One of the more expensive soundbars in this shootout, the HW-K950 was released last year and could be said to be the most complete set of the lot, as it features the most individual speakers in its package. Where the rest offer just a soundbar and a subwoofer, the HW-K950 offers a soundbar, a subwoofer, and two wireless rear up- ring speakers to better ful ll the Atmos promise, as this means you can physically have audio coming from above and behind you.
Thankfully, that didn’t make for more complicated setup, as all the speakers seemed to detect and sync with each other ne straight out of the box. Impressive, considering that the two rear speakers are wirelessly connected.
Needless to say, this makes a world of difference. We tested an Atmos demo track for Star Wars Battlefront which features lots of explosions and an assortment of tie ghters and x-wings ying overhead. And with the HW-K950, you truly do feel everything.
The extra speakers help with regular music playback too, as evidenced on the recording of Spanish Harlem. Rebecca Pidgeon’s vocals are reproduced with good naturalness, and the pianos and strings are rendered nicely too. Mids and highs are de nitely strengths with this system, though the lower end does seem a little dry. On our formal tracks, Hotel
California by The Eagles stands out. The HW-K950 produces nice clean highs, with just enough in the lower-mids and the bass sections to be enjoyable. The presentation here seems to be more reserved than what you might nd with LG’s SJ9, so you might nd yourself raising the volume to compensate a little. In terms of video performance, the system did well on all of the test tracks, largely because of the two extra rear speakers helped bring great positioning. For example, on the track Unbroken, the system did a good job rendering the various sound effects so you really felt like you were sitting in a plane with various parts shaking around you, and explosions all around.
The Sonos Playbase is the only system here without a subwoofer included. So, for the sake of this shootout, we paired it with the Sonos Sub, which then required Wi-Fi connectivity, as the Playbase has to be connected to a network so that the Sonos app can congure it along with any other Sonos speakers you intend to use.
You’ll also like to know that there’s no physical remote too; Sonos wants you to rely solely on their app for control. However, you can setup a generic IR remote for more convenience.
Design-wise, it’s meant to take the weight of your television so you can place the Playbase right underneath your television instead of in front of it. Because none of the sound is meant to go into your television cabinet, special care has been made in terms of alignment of drivers so all the sound is projected to the sides. Micro perforations of varying sizes cover the speaker from rear to front, allowing for optimal air and sound ow.
In our audio testing we found that the system has a pretty good sense of naturalness and a nice sense of imaging. For example, on a recording Correnteza by Ana Caram, the harpsicord that starts the track is nicely rendered, as are the sound e ects like the chirping of birds and the rustle of bells. There’s good depth in the bass too, and this is full and lush.
On our formal audio test tracks, this strength in the lower ranges again showed itself best with
Hotel California by The Eagles. There’s slightly less clarity in the strings here compared to the Samsung HW-K950, and the vocals can be slightly overpowered by the thumping bass at times, but the piece retains good energy throughout, making for an enjoyable listen.
In terms of our movie testing, the system did best on the Mad Max test track, with good clarity in the mids and lower bass ranges matching well with the main sound e ects in the clip – vocals, engine noises, and even the crunching noise of boots on rubble came through clearly. However, imaging wasn’t as strong as the other Atmos-enabled speakers in this shootout.
Simple buttons at the front of the soundbar let you switch sources.
The RSB-14 comes with a simple remote to switch modes
The rounded sides of the SJ9 make it stand out from the other soundbars.
The SJ9 features very obvious topring speakers.
The remote control is more complex as it controls both soundbar and receiver.
The receiver also allows for switching of sources.
The wireless rear speakers also feature upring drivers for full Atmos e"ect.
The only indicator on the HW-K950 is hidden behind the grill.
Even the Sonos logo is perforated for optimal transmission of sound.
Physical controls are very minimalistic on the Playbase.