Earlier this year we tested Denon’s entry into the fairly crowded multi-room home audio market. We like the Heos system, albeit with a few caveats. Denon has expanded the Heos line and I had the opportunity to test the compact Denon HEOS 1 speaker coupled with the optional GO Pack. While a little pricey at $300 for the set, I found the HEOS 1/GO Pack package to be an incredibly capable little speaker offering good sound in the right set-up, and great flexibility for moving around to wherever you need music. (more…)
Review Types Archives: Speaker Reviews
Reviews of Speakers and Subwoofers
Paradigm has released two subwoofers in its Reference Collection Prestige Series, the 1000SW and 2000SW. In for review is the smaller 1000SW which features a 1000 watt amp and 12” driver compared to the 2000SW’s 2000 watt amp and 15” driver. Each Prestige Series subwoofer includes the Paradigm PBK (Perfect Bass Kit) for automated room tuning and optimal bass performance.
Solid construction, a great looking design, and powerful bass you can hear and feel translate into a top performing subwoofer. The extra investment pays off when you hear how tight and detailed the low end sonics are from the Paradigm Prestige 1000SW. (more…)
Curiously as you spend more money on a sound bar, you often wind up with fewer features. You can find $300 sound bars with multiple HDMI inputs, Bluetooth, and an IR repeater. Once you get to more expensive, and often better sounding, sound bars that sell for $1,000 and up you find ones without any of those. The Arcam Solo Sound Bar is a sound bar designed by an audiophile company that comes with every feature you want. Four HDMI inputs, Bluetooth with AptX, ARC, an IR repeater, AutoEQ, and an optional wireless subwoofer make the Solo full-featured. It also is designed around high-end audio quality just like all other Arcam products are.
For the most part, the Arcam Solo delivers. It sounds very good with both stereo music and with movies. It has four HDMI inputs so you can use it for all your devices to get the lossless audio from them. The IR repeater works well and the AutoEQ system does a good job of optimizing audio for your listening position. The downsides are that it is rather large for a sound bar and without the optional subwoofer the sound is very thin.
|Outputs:||1x HDMI 1.4a with ARC|
|Inputs:||4x HDMI 1.4a, 1x Optical, 1x 3.5mm, 1x Stereo RCA|
|Review Date:||July 13, 2015|
|Price:||Check on Amazon|
I’ve spend a lot of time going back-and-forth on if HDMI in a soundbar is really important, or if it can be skipped. At first you’d think it is an easy decision, since HDMI can handle the lossless audio formats off Blu-ray and it provides more inputs. But is this against the goal of a sound bar? I always thought of a sound bar as a cost-effective solution to improve upon the audio from your TV. Not as your main audio system, but as something you’d install in a second room or bedroom so the audio didn’t suck.
Over time the role of the sound bar has changed a bit. More and more people don’t want a big, complex system in their living room. People want something that sounds good, works well, and doesn’t draw attention to itself. While many of the first sound bars were cheap (and often cheap sounding) because of this, now you have sound bars aiming for the high-end. Having listened to dozens of them in the past few years, there are sound bars on the market that do provide a real high-end listening experience. They all have some faults compared to the traditional speakers and receiver approach, as you can’t just change physics, but they can sound great.
Easy Setup and Use
For the most part, setup of the Arcam Solo Bar is very straight forward. You plug-in all your HDMI devices as you would with a receiver, connect it to the TV, and you’re basically done. The subwoofer paired automatically for me and then I inserted the microphone and ran the AutoEQ routine. This adjusted the levels to be appropriate for my seated position and I was ready to go.
Since the Arcam Solo Bar supports HDMI CEC, in theory it should automatically switch input and turn on devices as appropriate. In some cases, this worked very well. If I pushed Eject on my Oppo BDP-103D Blu-ray player to insert a movie, the Solo and my TV both turned on and went to the correct inputs. HDMI CEC lets the TV remote control the volume of the Solo Bar and the IR Pass-thru let my TV remote work even as the IR receiver is blocked. In this case it works flawlessly.
Watching TV, which uses HDMI-ARC to send audio from my TV to the sound bar, did not go as smoothly. Sometimes I’d turn on the TV and the Arcam would switch to the correct input, but often it would not. It would sometimes go to the wrong input, or just not recognize the audio stream coming correctly. This isn’t limited to the Arcam, HDMI ARC seems to work correctly around 10% of the time with any device I have tested, but it makes it harder to use without a universal remote.
The Solo Bar can be controlled with your iOS or Android device thanks to an app that communicates over Bluetooth. It doesn’t offer anything over the standard remote, but might be more convenient for people. Built-in Bluetooth also means you can easily stream all your music directly to the Arcam from any Bluetooth device you have.
To get the most out of the Arcam Solo Bar, it really needs to be paired with a subwoofer. Each channel has dual 4” drivers for bass, but they only can reach so low. Rated to 170Hz, this leaves a lot of lower octaves uncovered by the Solo. While the music sounds very clear and detailed with a tweeter and the dual 4” drivers. It can sound a bit thin and hollow because of the lack of low-end. Adding on the subwoofer fixes this issue, but increases by price by nearly 50%.
With the subwoofer connected music sounds very good through the Arcam. Voices are clear with good stereo separation. You are able to locate instruments and singers in complex mixes while the sound bar and subwoofer integration is well done. The overall sound is a tad darker that the Paradigm Soundscape, but still very accurate overall.
Movies perform better than music on the Arcam Solo. Compared to the Paradigm I was unable to prefer one to the other. The Paradigm has a separate center channel to help with dialogue but I never had trouble with the Arcam. Fed surround sound over HDMI the Arcam creates a very wide soundstage that comes back on the side walls to be equal with me.
Using the Arcam in the living room for a few weeks I was never disappointed in its performance. It sounds far better than my TV and then the Vizio sound bar that usually lives there. I would stream audio from my phone to the Arcam over Bluetooth to listen to Spotify and my favorite podcasts. TV and movies both benefit from the much better sound when compared to my TVs speakers. Perhaps most importantly for people, it integrated into my living room easily.
The main issue with the Arcam in usability is the HDMI ARC issues. I don’t think this is just a problem for Arcam, but instead something that is inherent to HDMI ARC. You could get a more reliable connection by using Optical instead of HDMI, which is what I did, but then you lose the automated input switching that HDMI should offer. A universal remote will let you do both of these fine, but you shouldn’t need one.
I also ran into a weird issue with Bluetooth on my iPhone. If I was watching something on TV and had sound going through the Arcam, my phone would also automatically connect to it over Bluetooth. Many sound bars don’t have Bluetooth enabled unless that input is selected, so your phone won’t connect to it unless you are using it for listening to music. Since the Arcam lets your phone control it over Bluetooth with an app, Bluetooth is always on. Most people might not have something on TV while also watching or listening to something on their phone, but be aware of this if you do.
Good Sound, Fair Value
The Arcam Solo Bar sounds very good, and is very loaded when it comes to features. The main area where it comes up short is value. The Paradigm Soundscape sounds as good, with much deeper bass, for the same price. You can add-on a subwoofer to fix the bass issues but then you’re spending $700-1,000 more than with the Paradigm. What the Arcam does offer is far more features than the Paradigm: IR repeater, HDMI inputs and output, an EQ system, Bluetooth control, and even more drivers per channel.
The Arcam Solo Bar is a very nice high-end sound bar. I wish it was a little bit more affordable to compete directly with the Paradigm but with all its features it will work for more people. If you want high-end sound with the simplicity of a sound bar, the Arcam Solo Bar fits the bill nicely.
|Product:||Arcam Solo Bar|
|Pros:||More features than any other sound bar, good stereo sound, great with movies.|
|Cons:||Really needs the optional subwoofer to fill in the bottom end, HDMI ARC still prone to issues.|
|Summary:||The Arcam Solo Bar is a full featured sound bar that produces very good overall sound quality. I would budget in the optional subwoofer because the bottom end can use it.|
SVS has been known for their subwoofers but not associated with other speakers. Their Ultra line, released 2012, is a push to handle all the audio duties in a theater and not just the bass. Designed by Mark Mason, formerly of PSB and now head designer for Thiel, the Ultra Bookshelf speaker offers a lot for the money. A very large bookshelf speaker finished in a beautiful piano black, the Ultra Bookshelf has no trouble filling a room. For $1,000 a pair it is a very impressive speaker, even when compared to those costing 50% more. (more…)
SVS has revamped their cylinder series of subwoofers with the new PC-2000: a 34” tall, downward firing room shaker. About the only thing in common with its predecessors is the cylindrical cabinet design. The PC-2000 features a new 12” driver from their 2000 series, 500 watt Sledge STA-500D Class D amp, and a rear firing port. Propping up this new design are the elastomer feet of the SoundPath Isolation System. These decouple the subwoofer cabinet from the floor, allowing for better bass performance.
Atmos was the break-out technology of the 2014 CEDIA Expo. Over a dozen companies were showcasing it in some manner with two distinct approaches. Many companies were using in-ceiling speakers, which being a custom install show should not be a surprise. Yet how many people do you know that are eager to drill and install four more speakers into the ceiling of their AV rooms? Another approach from companies like KEF, Definitive Technology and Pioneer was a reflective approach. Extra drivers on top of the front and surround speakers reflect off the ceiling to create the height channels. This means you can install Atmos into your room without needing any more speakers.
Denon is the latest player in the wireless home audio market with their HEOS system. Featuring three speakers of varying sizes, the HEOS 3, 5, and 7, Denon’s lineup has something for the most common room sizes. It also offers two more models for use with an existing system or with passive speakers. With pricing from $299 for the HEOS 3, $399 for the 5 and up to $599 for the 7, there is something for every budget.
SVS built their reputation selling subwoofers, like the previously reviewed PB-2000, that are known to offer impressive performance at attractive prices. The company was able accomplish this by moving manufacturing overseas and marketing their equipment directly to consumers over the internet. Several years ago, SVS branched out from subwoofers and began offering speakers with the based on the same principles of competent design, overseas manufacture and direct marketing. The Prime Series represents the companies first foray into a more approachable priced, entry level speaker. Was SVS able to maintain their reputation for terrific bang for the buck? Our take was a resounding yes.
When you think MartinLogan, you probably think of giant electrostatic panels. As wonderful as those speakers sound, many people have neither the room nor the budget for a full sized electrostatic speaker. MartinLogan has addressed this market with their Motion line of speakers. Using an Air Motion Transformer (AMT) for the tweeter instead of a conventional dome, the Motion series looks like what most people think of when they think of a speaker.
The largest model in the Motion series, and the newest, is the four driver, $3,000/pair 60XT tower. It pairs the MartinLogan’s largest AMT driver, the Folded Motion XT Driver, with a 6.5” midrange driver and dual 8” woofers. This lets the 60XT play full-range in a room, with frequency response hitting down to 20Hz. With a couple of considerations, the MartinLogan Motion 60XT is a dynamic loudspeaker that pairs clear treble with room filling bass.
Moving houses is awful. You have to pack everything from your life inside of a box, live without it for a while, and then unpack it and set it back up. I had to go through this again this year and part of packing up means no audio system. The speakers go away, the Sonos system gets boxed up, and you try to live with headphones or, egads, the speaker output of your smartphone. Except right as I was moving this year, the Archt One speaker arrived for review.
The Archt One is an omnidirectional speaker that uses WiFi, AirPlay or Bluetooth to stream music from your devices. You can use a Line In jack on the rear as well for wired sources, but most people are going to use it for wireless audio. Unlike most speakers, the Archt One sends out music in an omni-directional pattern so no matter where you are sitting relative to it, you are getting the same sound. For what it aims to do, the Archt One does a good job of creating music that is enjoyable to listen to with a couple of features that are unique to it compared to other wireless speakers.