Do you find the sound from your TV thin, tinny and indistinct? Then it’s time to hit the bar. Or rather upgrade the sound experience with a soundbar!
TV manufacturer have become good at giving their screens great design, but the sound experience usually comes second. The slim TV chassis leaves little room for decent speakers. Therefore, even a simple, free-standing soundbar can provide massive sound improvement.
In our experience, Chinese TCL has achieved quite usable sound in several of its TV models. Models like the X10 and C815 come with audio solutions from Onkyo. But some models also have significantly lesser audio equipment, and that’s what the TS8111 TVs are meant for!
This model is TCL’s bid for an affordable soundbbar without any unnecessary features. The 100 centimeter wide soundbar is a fully integrated solution without a separate subwoofer. It can thus be placed on the bench or mounted on the wall, without too many wires.
The TCL bar supposedly supports 3D sound in the form of Dolby Atmos, but in this case it is the virtual variant. The speaker configuration is of type 2.1 (stereo plus bass channel). It does not have its own height channels (speakers that reflect sound via the ceiling) or center channel. Rather, it is based on some DSP tricks to achieve some of the effect.
As mentioned, the TS8111 must also do without a separate subwoofer: TCL claims instead that their built-in subwoofers should provide a good experience.
Easy to set up
TCL TS8111 is a medium-sized soundbar, about the size of the now discontinued Sonos Playbar, and matches well with TVs that are 50″ or larger. Like the Sonos speaker, it is upholstered in black fabric, which makes it look discreet and pretty (no mirror-polished plastic here). At the top are practical touch buttons. There is also a small LED screen in the middle in front, which lights up when you make settings, volume adjustment and the like, but turns off again shortly after.
The bar is relatively slender in shape, but also quite long/wide (exactly one meter). Therefore, it is worth checking that it actually fits in front of or under the TV, and possibly between the legs of the stand. In our case, we tried to pair it with a TCL 55P815 that we also had inside for testing. Here we experienced that the bar clashed slighgtly with the plinth, but this can be solved by putting it a little further in front or mountin it on the wall. Wall brackets are also included in the box.
TCL TS8111 is a relatively simple soundbart in terms of equipment: apart from Bluetooth, it has no wireless connection options, such as Wi-Fi, AirPlay or the like. On the other hand, the physical connection options are good: There are both HDMI input and output, so you can connect an external audio source (eg Blu-ray player) via the soundbar.
The setup is quick, and the soundbar immediately synced with the TV when we connected it via the HDMI output. As long as you have HDMI CEC enabled, the volume control will also work via the TV’s remote control. It also comes with a separate remote control for the bar, but this is mostly for making fine adjustments and source selection.
– I hear you paint houses, says union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) with a characteristic, authoritarian voice to mafia henchman Frank (Robert De Niro) over the phone. We watch the Netflix blockbuster The Irishman, which is served in sparkling Dolby Atmos audio format! It is a real pleasure to both see and hear the exchanges between De Niro, Pacino and Pesci. The action under the direction of Martin Scorsese places great emphasis on the dialogue between the characters. Precisely for this reason, clear and distinct sound is especially important!
Here we immediately get a positive first impression of the TCL bar: The sound from TS8111 is both strong and clear, with a rich and fine midrange that contributes to good speech comprehension. Although this soundboard has no dedicated center channel, we think that the dialogues are clearly located in the middle. The synchronization between the sound and the image on the screen (lip sync) is also very good.
We initially found the sound a bit dark at the top, but solved this by going a few notches up on the treble adjustment. The TCL board also has three different EQ sound settings (Movie/Music/TV), and here we found that it was the movie setting that gave the best sound balance.
As mentioned, the TS8111 must do without a separate subwoofer, but instead relies on two small, built-in woofers (plus two passive radiators) to provide a sufficient foundation.
Here in the L&B editorial office, we are generally skeptical of soundbars that claim to do well without a subwoofer, as deep bass is an important dimension in both film and music contexts. The laws of physics also dictate that two tiny woofers will never be able to replace a dedicated subwoofer with its own cabinet and large bass diaphragm. After all, bass is about moving air!
That said, we think TCL has achieved a good result in this case. The TS8111 does not go deep into the bass, but has plenty of impact in the sound effects when it really matters. Admittedly, it will not make you pants flutter when Frank blows up some taxis, but the bass it is definitely noticeable, and makes the TV shelf rattle. The bass also has a positive effect on music listening, where synth bass and drums get a firm and nice weight.
Limited 3D effect
The TCL board must be said to work surprisingly well for speech, music and general sound effects: here we actually think it sounds just as good as the more expensive TS9030 Ray-Danz from the same manufacturer.
On the other hand, it lacks a bit of the surround effect: While the overall sound quality is full and nice, we do not find that the TS8111 has a particularly all-encompassing sound. Which should not be expected either, given the fairly basic 2.1 speaker configuration.
The Formula 1 documentary Drive to Survive is full of breathtaking sound effects. At its best, you should experience that the sound image fills the room and moves physically when the camera pans or the F1 cars whiz past. Here we experience that the TCL TS8111 sounds a bit flat, especially compared to more expensive Atmos bars with dedicated height and side drivers. The soundscape is fairly large, clear and distinct, but does not fill the room as a real Atmos bar with height channels can do. That said, it sounds far better than a regular TV can even dream of!
The market is rather crowded with soundbars, also in the relatively reasonable price range – but the really good ones ar few a far between. Sonos Beam is our compact favorite around GBP350: it can offer good, distinct sound in a more compact shape than TCL. It also has built-in multi-room functionality via the Sonos system. On the other hand, it lacks TCL’s powerful bass, nor can it boast Atmos support. And it is more than twice the price of the TS8111! Which only emphasizes that TCL has managed to make a bar at a very competitive price.
The TS8111 is meant to be a cheap upgrade from the TV’s built-in sound system, and here we think TCL has hit the spot. For a remarkably low price you get a soundbar that literally gives the TV sound a new dimension. TS8111 has a large and clear sound image with clean and full voice reproduction. Thanks to dedicated woofers, it also manages to achieve a usable bass reproduction. It does not fill the room as a thoroughbred Atmos plank with height channels can do, but at this price we have to say that we are very satisfied.