Review

10 soundbars comparison review

Review10 soundbars comparison review

Great TV Audio with streaming

Soundbars is the simplest way to having great TV audio. Choose one with a streaming and you'll get a stereo system with your purchase!

The television manufacturers are working diligently to improve their products, and continue to launch better products from year to year. Except for one point: the sound quality. In a world where flatter is better, there is no room to incorporate good quality speakers.

The simplest and most elegant solution to issues regarding audio is a soundbar. A separate speaker, in which all speaker drivers, amplification and processing of the digital audio signal from the film or music are built into a single chassis.

Bar or base?

A regular soundbar is fairly thin and long, and is designed to fit under a wall mounted TV. If, on the other hand, you have your TV on a table, you may prefer to select a sound base. This is deeper and narrower than a soundbar, and has the advantage of allowing you to have the TV placed on top of it, so that it doesn’t get in the way of the TV’s bottom edge, like a soundbar can do, if you place this on the table in front of the TV. Because of the larger chassis volume of the base, it often has more bass than a soundbar and manages fine without an additional subwoofer next to it. The soundbar does not have as deep bass of its own, and may often require a subwoofer to work optimally.
The sound base market has never completely taken off, so many manufacturers have stopped making them. For the same reason, we initially considered having soundbars in this test, but suddenly Sonos (the market leader within multi-room speakers) launched its first sound base, so we decided to include it. Other than that, the rest of the test subjects are soundbars.

What are we looking for?

A soundbar’s job is primarily to improve TV audio, while music becomes a bonus. More powerful sound is an important keyword, but we have learned that some producers have fallen for the temptation to provide a round and rich sound experience at the expense of openness and clarity in the dialogue. This is not acceptable. The soundbar must always be better than the TV. It shouldn’t be the case that when you watch the news, you use the TV’s built-in speakers because they render clearer speech than the soundbar. The soundbar should ALWAYS be the preferred choice. That means first and foremost that dialogue is in order.
Of course, we also want a rich and hefty sound rendition and also viable music experiences in stereo. The best soundbars can handle everything.

This is how we tested

All products have been tested by our hi-fi bench. For movies, we have connected the 4K Blu-ray player Panasonic DMP-UB900 with HDMI as this has been available. In other cases, the audio has been transmitted via the optical digital input. Where products have external subwoofers, they are positioned where it sounds best (usually somewhere on the floor by the wall, not far from the soundbar).
Music in stereo has been played over the wireless network. We have used Tidal with CD quality where this has been available, otherwise we have used Spotify.
We have tested with the movie Deadpool on 4K Blu-ray, while music in stereo has been an assorted selection.

Products in this test
Sony HT-NT5

This is designed to lie flat and point towards the ceiling, but nevertheless sounds good facing forward. It works pretty good.

Sony’s soundbar should be on the table with the front facing diagonally upwards. We have seen this principle in other soundbars before, and with mixed results. But on the Sony soundbar, the speaker drivers are inset in such a way that they point pretty much forward, so they don’t play up into the air but instead provide better forward focus. As far as the display is concerned, it points upward, so you hardly see it from the couch. It is easy getting accustomed to the on-screen display menu on the TV.
The wall mount comes with two small brackets that angle the soundbar slightly downwards, so that the loudspeaker drivers stay at an optimal angle to the listening position.
Three HDMI inputs have full support for 4K video with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, and to stream wireless music using Sony Google Cast. It’s a proven system that works well, and allows you to group other Google Cast products together in a multi-room system across brand names. You can have Sony in one room, Philips in another, and ChromeCast in a third, and they can all play the same music at the same time.

Sound quality

Lying flat on the bench, the Sony soundbar projects surprisingly well-balanced sound towards the sofa, in contrast to other flat soundbars we have heard. This is because the drivers point more straight ahead. Sony utilizes super trebles on their soundbar. These provide a more airy sound. It works out fairly well, because it resonates well up in the overtone area.
Dialogue in movies is clear, and if you want even clearer articulation at low volume, the “Voice Up” feature works fine. It becomes sharper and not as comforftable as having it turned off, but if you are watching TV late at night and do not want the sound on high, then it serves a purpose.
The movie feature provides a certain sense of surround sound. It is somewhat at the expense of the dialogue in the centre channel, which becomes a little thinner, but the compromise is worth having it on to enjoy an extraordinary soundscape.
The subwoofer is well integrated and the sound system works on the whole quite well for movies.
Music in stereo runs smoothly. The dynamics are not the best, but it sounds pretty clear and open. Sony is a little thinner in the mid-range than Sonos, Bluesound and Heos and is also not as balanced as Samsung, but it is not far behind. Overall, a decent music package, and definitely an option if you do not have a wall-mounted TV, but want a soundbar that should be on the TV table without blocking the bottom edge of the TV.

Conclusion

The Sony soundbar is flat and elegant. It works fine for movies and TV with a natural and open soundscape, and it is surprisingly okay for music for a soundbar that lies flat and plays upwards.
Streaming with Google Cast works great, and it is an advantage that the soundbar doesn’t block the bottom edge of the TV, while the disadvantage is being unable to see the display from the couch. But with the on-screen menu on the TV, you don’t have to give it another thought.

    • HDMI: 3 in/1 out (ARC)
    • Digital in: Optical, USB
    • Network: Wi-Fi, ethernet
    • Wireless: Google Cast, Bluetooth
    • Analogue in: 3.5 mm mini jack
    • Subwoofer: Wireless
    • W x H x D: 108 x 5.8 x 12.7 cm
    • Colour: Black
Pris: 6495 kr
PositiveThe most successful flat soundbar we have heard. Sounds both natural and open, and has good usability.
NegativeThe focus of the soundscape is better from the soundbar that play directly forward.
Samsung HW-MS660

Samsung’s soundbar sounds just as well on music as it does for movies.

With one HDMI input and output, it is natural to connect Samsung’s soundbar to the TV’s audio return channel, if you have more than one video source to connect to. The soundbar is relatively easy to connect to the wireless network, but in the manual it tells only how to do this if you have a compatible Samsung TV. It works best with Samsung’s own TVs, since it opens a few extra features like wireless rear speakers, and the multi-room feature becomes more seamless.
It is still quite possible to connect MS660 to your home network and stream music, even if your TV is not from Samsung. If you hold the Wi-Fi Setup button down, the soundbar is found as a wireless network on the mobile phone, and then press the “ADD Speaker” button on the back of the soundbar. The speaker is found in the Samsung app and you’re asked to enter the network password.
The soundbar, which should work on its own without a subwoofer, is a typical black box, but we like the display that pops up on the right side behind the grill. A small, cool detail.

Sound quality

We used a Sony TV during the test, and the audio from the optical cable is delayed in relation to the picture. With Samsung, you must therefore use HDMI, otherwise the sound does not match the lip movement in the dialogue. If you have a Samsung TV it should not be a problem, but we recommend using HDMI. You will then get better support for the surround sound formats.
The surround mode provides a large and immersive soundscape on movies. The dialogue becomes even clearer in stereo mode, but the sound is still more engaging with the surround feature. The whole thing sounds better than Bose and both of the Yamaha soundbars. In our ears, Samsung also sounds more natural in the timbre than Sonos and Heos. Without an external subwoofer, you cannot get the most powerful bass.
As you might expect, music sounds best in stereo mode. However, even with surround sound enabled, the soundbar does not do much more than create a larger soundscape. It does not ruin the rendition of vocals. This in itself is quite impressive.
Female vocals sound open and fine. Samsung sounds more tidy and dissolved than the other soundbars. Here you get a very balanced and decent sound, which accommodates the various instruments in the soundscape. There are clear overtones, a guitar sounds like a guitar and not like a ukulele. There is no rumbling or masking in the bass range. Sometimes bass instruments sound a little swollen, just turn down the bass with the remote control.

Samsung HW-MS660: Conclusion

Samsung has made a soundbar that sounds very clear and clean, and it is also fuller in the bass than you might think, considering that it has no external subwoofer. Very impressive.
We saw a prototype of a subwoofer at the CES in Las Vegas in January, so all indications are that a matching subwoofer will be included in the purchase.
Edit review: Samsung now also supplies a matching subwoofer for those who want extra bass: SWA-W700.

Photo: Samsung

    • HDMI: 1 input/1 output (ARC)
    • Digital input: Optical
    • Network: Wi-Fi
    • Wireless: Samsung Multiroom, Bluetooth
    • Analogue in: 3.5 mm minijack
    • Subwoofer: No
    • W x H x D: 106 x 7.8 x 13.1 cm
    • Colour: Black
Pris: 5990 kr
PositiveThe sound is very clear and clean, Samsung is in the forefront when it comes to natural sound.
NegativeThe bass can once in a while almost be too rich.
Klipsch RSB-14

Klipsch has the highest sound pressure in the test. But the soundbar disappoints on sound quality.

The RSB-14 is a very comprehensive soundbar, with three HDMI inputs that support all of the video formats, including the latest copy protection on Ultra HD Blu-ray movies. The wireless subwoofer is in place and the soundbar can be connected in a wireless multi-room setup thanks to DTS Play-Fi. This can be used across brands and can be grouped with similar products from MartinLogan, McIntosh, Onkyo and Pioneer, among others. The only thing required is that they support Play-Fi. Thus, this is a kind of competitor to Google Cast.
The soundbar is connected to the network by downloading the app Klipsch Stream. The user-friendliness of Play-Fi is very good, it’s easy to group several speakers into networks, and the Tidal interface is also very good, almost like the original Tidal app.

Sound quality

The surround sound feature on film is quite good. Here one gets a good impression of surround sound. And this is the test’s most powerful soundbar. It can project very loudly!
But there are some important problems. First, there is an audible whizzing sound from the speakers. But more importantly, the sound quality is not particularly good. The overtone area is fairly constricted, dialogue sounds coloured, and the bass area is particularly bombastic and masks the lower vocal ranges in the dialogue. Deadpool already sounds like he is mumbling as he talks behind his mask. It gets even worse when it is rendered by the Klipsch soundbar.
For film, we still want to assert that the RSB-14 works in an emergency. The big problem arises when you want to play music. Here, the bass range takes over, and it doesn’t help to mute the subwoofer, as there is a hump in midrange that colours the sound a lot. Do we hear an electric bass or a double bass? An electric piano or a grand piano? It’s not so easy to hear. It lacks overtones. It sounds quite simply woolly. It becomes somewhat clearer with the Dialogue button enabled for clearer speech. But acoustic music sounds hard, dark and not very engaging.
The soundbar can play almost absurdly loud, but that doesn’t help much. We don’t feel like throwing a party with this. Disappointing. Especially when we know that Klipsch makes so many other good products.

Conclusion

The soundbar from Klipsch is easy to connect and use, and three HDMI inputs are more than what most can boast. It is also the most powerful of the test. You can play very loudly with Klipsch RSB-14, and Play-Fi is not brand-dependent to work in multi-room.
It unfortunately doesn’t help much, because the soundbar simply does not sound good enough. The dialogue in film lacks resolution and music in stereo works poorly. The sound is quite simply woolly.

HDMI: 3 in/1 out (ARC)
Digital in: Optical
Network: Wi-Fi, ethernet
Wireless: DTS Play-Fi, Bluetooth (aptX)
Analogue in: 3.5 mm mini jack
Subwoofer: Wireless
W x H x D: 111.8 x 8.3 x 8.3 cm
Colour: Black

Pris: 8995 kr
PositiveWhen it comes to sound pressure, Klipsch is in a separate class. The user-friendliness of the Play-Fi multi-room is very good.
NegativeThe sound quality does not measure up.
Heos HomeCinema

Heos has endowed this with user-friendliness, and here one also gets tough, rich sound for one’s money.

Heos is Denon’s brand for multi-room products, and is one of Sonos’ direct competitors. It’s all about connections of the simplest kind, and everything is controlled with an app. That is to say, one can easily learn sound up and sound down just like the TV’s remote control, and just like Sonos.
Unlike Sonos and Bluesound, Heos has included a wireless subwoofer, and the soundbar also has an HDMI input and output on the back, where the output supports ARC. Since the input does not support the HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, which are necessary to display the latest Ultra HD Blu-ray movies, the solution is to connect all HDMI sources directly to the TV and tap the audio signal back out to the soundbar via the HDMI input on the TV that has an ARC. Alternatively, you can use an optical digital cable. We did not notice any problems with lip sync on this one.
Unlike Sonos and Bluesound, Heos actually has support for DTS, which means you effortlessly get audio no matter what type of source material you are looking at.
Connecting to wireless networks is very easy. Connect your mobile phone with the supplied 3.5 mm audio cable, and the app asks you to enter the password for the network. Then the soundbar is controlled with the Heos app. Select TV or one of the many streaming options. Spotify, Tidal and Deezer can be found here. Other services like Apple Music work with Bluetooth, but one such adapter is an accessory.

Sound quality

Film is rendered with a good punch, and the subwoofer is hooked nicely to the soundbar and becomes a natural part of the soundscape. The dialogue sounds large and rich, and bass effects sound mighty and tough.
The virtual surround sound at Heos is not as large and holographic as that of some other soundbars, but it is still entertaining to watch movies. What it lacks is a little more open dialogue, which can sound a little veiled due to a colouring in the midrange.
Music in stereo works okay with rich bass. It is not as rhythmic as desired, and again we crave more airy overtones. It lacks a little snap in the piano; female vocals sound woolly, and the timbre characteristics are largely too murky.

Conclusion

Heos HomeCinema is a very user-friendly soundbar. It becomes a natural extension of the Heos family with multi-room products and is one of Sonos’ direct competitors. The included subwoofer provides better bass pressure than Sonos and Bluesound, unless they are supplemented by an external subwoofer, which becomes very costly.
Soundwise, Heos has plenty of energy with rich and rich bass. The dialogue is huge with good downward weight. It just lacks some nuances in the upper register. The same applies to music in stereo, which can sound somewhat veiled.

HDMI: 1 in/1 out (ARC)
Digital in: Optical
Network: Wi-Fi, ethernet
Wireless: Heos Multiroom, Bluetooth (accessory)
Analogue in: 3.5 mm mini jack
Subwoofer: Wireless
W x H x D: 101.7x 8.2 x 9.4 cm
Colour: Black

Pris: 7498 kr
PositiveThe usability is top notch, many streaming services are supported, and with subwoofer included, the price is very favourable.
NegativeIt lacks some nuances in the overtones, especially for music in stereo.
Yamaha YSP-2700

The biggest problem with this soundbar is a huge hole in the soundscape.

Bluesound Pulse Soundbar

Bluesound’s soundbar costs a bit more, but pays off in the form of a much better experiences on both film and music.

Sonos PlayBase

Sonos’ new sound base PlayBase acts as a base for the TV. But did it arrive too late?

Yamaha YAS-306

If you are looking for an affordable option with multi-room, and do not want an extra bass crate, then this one is good.

Philips HTL5160

The Philips soundbar does its job, with crystal clear dialogue and a fairly balanced sound.

Bose SoundTouch 300

Bose has banked on user-friendliness, but has unfortunately forgotten about the sound quality.

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