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

HWM (Singapore) - - Test - By Mar­cus Wong · Photography by Dar­ren Chang

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 sacricing dy­nam­ics, and showed good ca­pa­bil­i­ties with the higher mid sec­tions too. This is denitely 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 congure 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 topring 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 upring 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.

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