The Latest Developments in Soundbars for the Custom Channel

May 19, 2014

Triad’s Vladimir Yasinskiy puts his finishing touch on soundbar.
Love ’em or hate ’em, soundbars, by necessity, have become a staple on even the most sophisticated custom home integration projects. For every deluxe home theater with massive tower speakers hidden behind acoustically transparent scrim material, there’s an audio-deprived flat-panel TV in a guestroom with no room for a surround sound processor and in-wall speakers.

Fortunately, speaker manufacturers within the custom channel are doing their best to manufacture an evolving assortment of soundbars with the best audio possible for such a small footprint, while keeping aesthetic goals front of mind as well.

Always an innovator in the category, Leon transformed its soundbar lineup with a powered, ultra-thin, custom offering, called Horizon OTO. It’s the first active soundbar in the Horizon Series, which includes soundbars custom built to match flat-panel displays. Now, not only is the new Horizon OTO soundbar custom built to match the display, but it offers 50 watts of power and easily connects to the TV and subwoofer with digital optical inputs and wireless outputs.

Definitive Technology’s SoloCinema Studio features five discrete channels, high-performance speaker elements for each channel, and 120 watts of power complemented by a 200-watt wireless subwoofer.

At the heart of the Horizon HzOTO soundbar is a high-fidelity 2x50W on board amplifier. It features both an optical input (for Dolby Digital or PCM) and analog stereo inputs to easily integrate with other components. Its rear IR input jack and front panel IR receiver can be tied into any control system, while the front touchpanel and included remote provide auxiliary control.

At less than 2 inches deep and only 4.5 inches tall, the Horizon HzOTO (MSRP $2,895) is purposefully designed for ultra slim TVs. It also features an enhanced audio platform, pairing 3-inch aluminum cone woofers with cloth-dome tweeters. The rear-ported design allows the speaker to develop bass response down to 70Hz, and if more bass is a requirement, an internal wireless transmitter will pair with Leon’s new wireless subwoofer receiver (sold separately) to add any of Leon’s Aaros Series subs to the system.

Keeping up with the custom-built theme, Triad Speakers offers nearly a dozen soundbars in total, with styles ranging from 1.0 models that are single-channel, 2.0 models that are two-channel, and about a half-dozen 3.0 models that are three channels in one.

The most recent Triad soundbar offering is the super-slim Nano, which the company believes is the best performer in its ultra-slim class. Each speaker features a custom-applied high-gloss finish, via a proprietary process called EcoGloss. It consists of multiple layers of water based-paint and polishing compound done by hand. This adds another four to five man-hours to the build process. A gloss finish could be achieved faster by using solvent-and catalyst-based paints, but Triad is a green manufacturer, so the toxic nature of these chemicals does not meet with the company’s standards.

Leon’s Horizon OTO is the first active soundbar in the Horizon Series, which includes soundbars custom built to match flat-panel displays. PhaseTech’s Teatro TSB3.0 provides a wide, enveloping front stage in a low-profile enclosure.
Paradigm Electronics' Soundtrack 2
Atlantic Technology offers its full-range H-PAS PowerBar home theater soundbar that includes an advanced Bluetooth adaptor.
The Nano LCR 3.0 incorporates six specially designed Scan-Speak drivers and three soft dome SB tweeters in a fully damped and braced aluminum enclosure. The speaker is manufactured to order in Triad’s modern factory in Portland, Oregon.

With high performance left, right and center channels paired with two SFE (spatial field expanders), PhaseTech’s Teatro TSB3.0 provides a wide, enveloping front stage in a low-profile enclosure. The unit’s passive 8-ohm design allows users to integrate the soundbar seamlessly with their existing AV system. It incorporates two 3-inch mineral-filled polypropylene, ultra-long throw woofers with rubber surrounds per channel and one 0.75-inch silk/synthetic blend soft dome tweeter per channel. SFE 1-inch fullrange aluminum inverted drivers are mounted on the sides. Phase Technology’s signature Absolute Phase crossovers are employed to ensure smoother transitions and phase matching among all drivers. Another PhaseTech exclusive, EVT (Enhanced Voice Technology), is available via a front panel switch. When the switch is turned on, frequencies associated with human speech are augmented to provide crisp, clear dialogue.

The TSB3.0’s extruded aluminum, ported, mono-frame cabinet has a curved profile with a depth of only 1.5 inches at the TV; the total depth is 2.5 inches. It measures 43 inches wide and includes a powder-coated steel grille. Tabletop and wall mount options are included.

An Adjustable Width Option

At CEDIA EXPO last fall, Sonance introduced the first adjustable width soundbar. Two models of the patent-pending speakers, enable an integrator to match the width of any display between 50 and 80 inches.

Built using the materials developed for the next generation of the company’s Visual Performance Series, Sonance Soundbars utilize a three-way speaker design. Each channel features a coaxial 1-inch powder-coated aluminum tweeter and a 4-inch laminated Kevlar and Nomex Midrange, paired with dual 4.5-inch laminated Kevlar and Nomex high excursion woofers. The LCR configuration and passive design will allow the system integrator to utilize the amplifier or AV receiver of their choice.

The SB46 M (MSRP $1,750) is compatible with displays 50 to 65 inches and the SB46 L (MSRP $2,000) is compatible with displays 70 to 80 inches.

Improving Clarity and Depth

Atlantic Technology offers its full-range H-PAS PowerBar home theater soundbar that includes an advanced Bluetooth adaptor. Each PB-235-BT (MSRP $799) includes one of the company’s BTAA-50 Bluetooth adapters that features aptX processing for CD-quality audio streaming, “tap and pair” with NFC equipped devices, and AAC decoding. Users can stream content from any Bluetooth-enabled device, including an iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone.

Designed to be mounted above or below a flat-screen TV either on a shelf or via wall-mounting bracket, the PB-235-BT features Atlantic’s patented H-PAS bass system, which produces deep, distortion-free bass without a subwoofer– reaching down to 47 Hz at theater-level SPLs. The PowerBar also boasts a sophisticated DSP with Dolby Digital and DTS that delivers a two-, three- or five-channel experience.

Panorama 2 features completely new Bowers & Wilkins engineered drive units, which deliver an enhanced acoustic performance.

A further benefit of H-PAS technology, the company says, is its ability to improve dialogue clarity. This is due in part to the low bass distortion of the system’s compact drivers and the fact that the full range of sound is coming from where your brain expects it to come from–in front of the listener. Most conventional soundbars only go down to an audio frequency of 150-200 Hz, which requires the subwoofer in the corner or behind the sofa to carry some of the lower registers of human speech. These subtle fragments of dialog now arrive at the listener’s ears at the wrong time and from the wrong direction, making the dialog harder to understand.

Panorama 2 is the result of intensive research by Bowers & Wilkins renowned engineering team at its UK Research and Development division in Steyning, West Sussex. For $2,200 MSRP, it includes technologies originally developed for high-end speakers such as the 800 Series Diamond, and uses them to bring a new level of performance to soundbars.

Panorama 2 features completely new Bowers & Wilkins engineered drive units, which deliver an enhanced acoustic performance. The new low-frequency drivers have improved linearity for greater dynamic performance and lower resonance for deeper extension. The midrange drive units have wider dispersion characteristics, which helps to improve the virtual surround performance. The tweeter has been improved, too, for smoother integration with the midrange. The overall result is improved acoustics, the company says.

Because the vast majority of sound from even the most effect-heavy movie soundtrack is delivered through the center speaker in a surround sound system, and Bowers & Wilkins has worked hard to get this aspect of the Panorama 2 right. Of the nine drive units housed within Panorama 2’s casework, five are utilized in the active center speaker: two bass woofers, two midrange drivers, and an aluminum dome tweeter featuring Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus tube-loaded technology.

The other four drive units provide the rest of the sound, and each one is located within its own enclosure to maintain a purity of performance. All the drive units are powered by six class D amplifiers, providing a combined power output of 175Watts.

Three HDMI inputs and single HDMI output allows Panorama 2 to serve as the hub of a home entertainment system.

On its third anniversary at CEDIA EXPO last September, GoldenEar introduced three significant new products, including the SuperCinema 3D Array XL soundbar. The 3D Array XL is a larger version of the company’s 3D Array, designed for TVs 70 inches and larger. Like the 3D Array, the XL incorporates special 3D image optimization technology to achieve lifelike, wide, deep, and immersive 3D playback when used with or without rear/side surround speakers. This technology, pioneered by GoldenEar founder Sandy Gross, was meant to address certain problems that have been brought up recently in a 3D audio research project being conducted by Dr. Edgar Choueri at Princeton University. Dr. Choueiri points out that the crosstalk that exists between the left and right loudspeakers and contralateral ears, especially when the left and right channels are minimally separated in soundbar systems, is deleterious to a listener’s ability to fully experience and process the imaging cues necessary for 3D imaging perception.

The SuperCinema 3D Array XL (MSRP $1,499) incorporates left-, center- and right-channel speakers, plus a second set of drivers that utilize 3D Array Technology to effectively cancel out crosstalk distortion between the left and right channel. The result is a soundstage that Gross says stretches from wall to wall and beyond, with amazing height, width and depth that effectively envelops the listeners in a true 180-degree plus soundfield, even though the soundbar is only 62 inches wide. All this is contained within a 2.7-inch deep enclosure.

The SC3DAXL incorporates eight of GoldenEar Technology’s cast spiderleg-basket 4.5-inch bass-midrange drivers with the company’s Multi-Vaned Phase Plugs (MVPP). In addition, there are three of GoldenEar’s High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeters (HVFR). The center channel section of the array has the four bass/midrange drivers arranged around the HVFR tweeter in a two-stage D’Appolito array, where the two drivers closest to the tweeter go all the way up to meet the tweeter and the other two roll-off at 800 Hz.

Where Wireless Matters

Last September, Definitive Technology introduced the SoloCinema Studio active soundbar ($1,199 MSRP), which joins the company’s first active soundbar product, the SoloCinema XTR ($1999 MSRP) introduced in 2012.

SoloCinema Studio features five discrete channels, high-performance speaker elements for each channel, and 120 watts of power complemented by a 200-watt wireless subwoofer. Its audio feature package differentiates by offering high-performance HDMI inputs, Bluetooth wireless audio, as well as true 5.1-channel DTS and Dolby surround processing. Definitive’s proprietary Spatial Array technology frees sonic images from the enclosure to envelope the listener in a totally immersive spatial sphere of life-like sound–from a single convenient speaker.

Bluetooth devices equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) such as those with Android and Blackberry operating systems are especially easy to pair with SoloCinema Studio simply by touching the device to the soundbar. Non-NFC Bluetooth devices are paired via on-screen display. SoloCinema gets near-CD sound quality from Bluetooth streams by supporting aptX and AAC codecs, the company says.

Other than power cords, minimal wires are required–only connectors from the soundbar to the TV and DVD/Blu-ray player. The subwoofer is linked to the surround bar wirelessly with no pairing procedures required. Additionally, Definitive Technology provides hardware (feet and brackets), so the soundbar can be placed in one of three places: on a shelf under the flat-panel, raised above a protruding TV table stand, or mounted on a wall.

The compact wireless subwoofer features a downward firing 8-inch woofer, bass port, and 200- watt amplifier.

At CEDIA EXPO last fall, Sonance introduced the first adjustable width soundbar. Two models of the patent-pending speakers, enable an integrator to match the width of any display between 50 and 80 inches.
Paradigm Electronics began shipping its 2.1 Millenia CT 2, a soundbar system designed for easy connection to popular networked audio devices, such as Apple TV or Airport Express. The system hosts an onboard control box interface and controls are recessed to allow for stacking of the control module and Apple TV without interference.

Dedicated Music Mode, Movie Mode, Paradigm Virtual Surround and Dolby Digital are included.

MartinLogan’s Motion Vision delivers five-channel surround sound from an all-in-one system that’s designed to be stylish yet unobtrusive, simple to install, and easy to operate. Three advanced-resolution Folded Motion tweeters, four 4-inch high-performance woofers, and seven dedicated amplifiers deliver 100 watts of total system power.

The Motion Vision was engineered with a bass performance in mind, paired with precisely etched mid and high frequencies. Advanced DSP technology and surround sound decoding allow MartinLogan to replace five separate home theater speakers with a one piece solution that reproduces multi-channel recordings.

Motion Vision delivers front left/right and center channels via dedicated Folded Motion tweeters and high-performance woofers and simulates rear left/ right effects channels. Dual rear-firing bass ports reinforce the bass extension and can be adjusted plus or minus 10dB to custom tailor bass performance. A built-in SWT-2 transmitter allows, at the touch of a button, the addition of a compatible wireless MartinLogan subwoofer. For those that desire a non-wireless subwoofer, Motion Vision offers simple wired connectivity.

Paradigm's Soundscape

Millenia CT 2 speakers feature 1-inch S-PAL satin-anodized pure-aluminum domes and 4-inch S-PAL satin-anodized pure-aluminum bass/ midrange cones. Brackets for wall mounting the speakers are available as optional system accessories. The low-profile subwoofer features an 8-inch reinforced polymer composite cone with 1.5-inch high-temperature voice coil.

The Millenia CT 2 system is available in Black Gloss for $899.99 (MSRP), but an upgrade kit for current Millenia CT owners is available and it includes a control box for instant connection to your audio/video equipment, as well as a new remote control with three AAA batteries for $199.99.

TruAudio’s SLIM-PWR44 was recently added to the company’s SLIM series. This self-powered stereo soundbar, will not require a separate amp, yet it has been designed to produce “top-of-the-line sound,” according to the company. The same thin design as prior models will now feature 4-inch woofers along with larger drivers. Because of this extra focus on low-end frequencies, the SLIM-PWR44 no longer requires a subwoofer. However, a 5.8 GHz wireless subwoofer transmitter is available, just in case, for connection to any sub. The three different EQ settings complement the 4.0 Apt-X Bluetooth to enable excellent quality from any device.

Jeremy Glowacki is editorial director of Residential Systems.

OmniMount's Soundbar Mounting Solution

At International CES in January, OmniMount introduced an accessory designed to attach a soundbar to a wall-mounted TV, eliminating the need to put holes in the wall. The universal design attaches to an existing TV wall mount to hang a soundbar below it, regardless of the mount’s fixed, tilt, full motion, or interactive functionality.

The OCSBA is ideal for medium and large TVs, typically 32 inches or larger, and works with most brands or styles of TV mounts (fixed, tilt, full motion, interactive), offering residential installers another add-on opportunity. The OCSBA supports up to 30 lbs and is available for $49.95 (MSRP).

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