Recently, immersive audio formats have proliferated, necessitating an increasing number of speakers to produce a true surround sound experience. Conversely, it gets harder and harder to fit any reasonable speakers into TV sets as they get thinner. A soundbar makes perfect sense in this regard as it is a reasonably small device with nearly full-featured audio. We’ve gathered the best models for this review, some of which even have rear channels that are connected “over the air”.
JBL Bar 9.1 with Wireless Technology
The flagship soundbar from JBL debuted at the Las Vegas show in January of last year. The first 10-channel device in this form factor was the unassumingly named Bar 9.1. It goes without saying that this many amplifiers were needed to support the Dolby Atmos format. The system’s amplifiers have a combined power of over 800 watts. Not only is a wireless subwoofer with a 10-inch speaker employed here, but wireless rear channels are also utilized. They are directly charged in the central unit and have enough batteries for ten hours of use, barely allowing you to watch movies for longer periods of time without interruption. A good picture can be said to come with premium sound since the soundbar supports 4K and Dolby Vision in addition to Atmos. Cinema is by no means the sole benefit of the novelty. You won’t be without music in any form because the soundbar comes equipped with Bluetooth, Google Chromecast, and Apple Airplay 2 as standard features.
An additional crucial aspect is the layout. The model, whose appearance truly embodies thoughtful simplicity and elegance, went on to win the coveted Red Dot award. Nothing unnecessary, but also not overly technologically advanced—after all, it will be in typical homes and apartments. It’s funny that the devices weigh more than 16 kg combined, even with their useful openwork design. We have a fully functional movie theater system in a small package in front of us. There are planes flying, tanks rumbling, sounds of every kind coming from the deep forest, and the vast ocean all around. Bar 9.1 adds just the right amount of sound to any picture. It requires a minimal amount of space and is simple to install and connect.
Polk Audio MagniFi MAX SR Wireless Soundbar System
To be blunt, Matthew Polk’s company is an old hand in the audio industry and will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. One example of modern technology’s triumph is the MagniFi MAX SR. First off, the 5.1 configuration in this case is built right into the base and is not the result of add-ons. That is to say, wireless rear channels are included right away in addition to the front panel and wireless subwoofer. In addition to supporting 4K, this HDMI switcher has three inputs and an output with a return audio channel. Additionally, there is an integrated Google Chromecast that allows you to connect to other speakers in the same network, stream your preferred music over Wi-Fi, and even control playback with voice commands. The acoustic setup is similar to that of the flagship, with an 8-inch subwoofer driver, two 3-inch wide-band drivers in the surround channels, and four 3-inch oval woofers and three tweeters in the main panel. Presets for night mode, music, movies, and sports are among the processor settings.
With integrated rear speakers, complete HDMI connectivity, and Google Chromecast functionality in its most basic configuration, this set can serve as more than just a fantastic TV upgrade—it can also serve as the multimedia focal point of your living room, study, or bedroom. Polk Audio is therefore available to you if you want everything at once.
Cinema 1200 by Klipsch
Paul Klipsch started his business just one year after World War II ended. Under this brand, the Shorthorn T model—basically a TV cabinet with integrated speakers—was introduced in 1957. The speaker’s total distribution was limited to fifty copies, as the world was not prepared for such a drastic integration. The business currently provides a comprehensive flagship solution. Cinema 1200, which included a panel, subwoofer, and rear channels that could all be wirelessly switched between at a frequency of 2.4 GHz, as well as an entire HDMI cable that included a return audio channel for the TV. Despite its sleek design, the Bar 54 is made of wood, and at just 75mm in height, it can easily fit under a TV that is wall-hung or stand-mounted. Three pairs of 3-inch composite fiber oval cone woofers and three-inch soft dome tweeters are mounted in the sound bar’s audiophile closed cabinet. The speakers are mounted on Tractrix horns that open at a 90-degree angle and 90-degree angle. Notably, these horns are also a proprietary Klipsch invention, dating back thirty years, and are intended to lessen acoustic resonances and the corresponding impedance drops that weaken the connection between the isolation filter and the driver.
Along with the standard speakers, there are height channels built into the panel itself. In total, there are two additional pairs of 3-inch broadband drivers with Cerametallic cones and a pair of composite speakers of comparable quality. Although there is a wireless connection and a 12-inch bass driver used by the subwoofer, the panel has a conventional wired output. Apart from HDMI that supports Bluetooth 5.0, HDCP 2.3, and 8K HDR, you can also connect to the panel using a conventional optical input. It has a backlit remote control, supports immersive audio channels, and has Wi-Fi with Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa. There is no reason to question the model’s quality potential, given that its amplifiers have a combined power of 1200 W and a weight of nearly 15 kg.
With as many as 22 radiators, the Samsung flagship model may have the most radiators of any device of this kind. You have three tweeters and twelve woofers mounted in the front panel, three wireless rear speakers, and a subwoofer. The integrated amplifiers’ combined power surpasses 600 W, and the system’s overall weight is roughly 20 kg. With support for DTS:X and Dolby Atmos, the 11.1.4 multichannel scheme is thus realized here, naturally. Furthermore, the TV speakers can be used to produce even more immersive sound because the Q Symphony feature allows the soundbar to synchronize with them. For more accurate tuning, the exclusive SpaceFit Sound+ auto-calibration system is employed. All you need to do to enjoy music from your phone is to place it against the soundbar and it will automatically connect. Compatibility with Apple devices is guaranteed by AirPlay 2 support, and even though the soundbar comes with a remote, you can operate it with the regular Samsung TV remote. The SmartThings app for mobile devices is another option.
Yamaha’s MusicCast 20 and BAR 400
The YSP-1 sound projector, introduced by Yamaha in 2004, is considered to mark the inception of the soundbar era. And a year prior, MusicCAST technology—which functions as a multiroom system—was introduced into its product line. It enables the fusion of various devices into a single network and gives you control over them. It was completely redesigned in 2015 and is currently accessible under the name MusicCast. Sound panels, wireless speakers, receivers, amplifiers, and other parts are among the gadgets that support this standard. They can function in stereo pairs and multichannel sets, be combined and dispersed across zones, and be connected via wired or wireless networks.
AV panel featuring a wireless subwoofer BAR 400 has hardware sound equipment that is more than serious for a device this small. Two pairs of inch tweeters and two pairs of 46 mm caliber midrange drivers are housed in the panel, which is only 60 mm high and weighs about 3 kg. Their output power is supplied by a Qualcomm DDFA digital amplifier, which has 100 watts. The wireless subwoofer that comes with the package is nearly 10 kg in weight and has a 16 cm woofer along with an additional 100 Watt amplifier.
Here, the software is just as strong as the hardware component. Apart from the “city-forming” MusicCast (which we will discuss subsequently), a DTS Virtual:X decoder is utilized here. This decoder is essentially an algorithm that processes the original signal and produces surround sound based on the available stereo-base, or the sound panel. In addition to supporting 4K, HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, and 4:4:4:4 color scheme—of course with HDCP2.2—the panel has an HDMI input/output with an audio return channel. That has to do with movies. The maximum possible signal resolution for music streaming services, such as Spotify, TIDAL, Deezer, Qobuz, etc., is 24 bits/192 kHz.
Both the Google Assistant voice assistant and the proprietary application can be used to control the panel. Through Bluetooth, AirPlay, and dual-band Wi-Fi, wireless connections can be established. Not to be overlooked are the traditional analog and digital optical inputs.
It appears that the full set is finally here, allowing you to watch movies, listen to music, check the weather, and read the most recent news. That’s it, too? Indeed, but not. Although the set is essentially self-sufficient, there is always a chance that things will change—perhaps there will be an additional room or you want to record in another room. One of the main benefits of MusicCast, then, is that different devices that support it can be added to or combined into stereo pairs or multi-channel systems. For instance, it can be used to arrange wireless rear channels in a traditional wired set.
A 3cm soft dome tweeter and a 9cm midrange driver mounted on a pair of passive radiators are features shared by all MusicCast 20 wireless speakers. The integrated amplifiers have respective power outputs of 25W and 15W. It functions similarly to the sound bar in terms of wireless switching and streaming. Such speakers are capable of operating in stereo pair mode. Even more intriguing, though, is their ability to function as wireless rear channels when used in conjunction with the BAR 400 previously mentioned.