From total outcast to begrudging, obligatory quasi-acceptance, to somewhat embracing while still pretending to hate, the custom install channel has finally come to authentically embrace the soundbar. The natural progression of this capricious relationship is to next determine how the under-TV speaker fits into an extended narrative in high-end home entertainment.
Artison’s top of the line Studio 55 LCR soundbar is housed in a rigid extruded aluminum enclosure with carbon fiber woofer/midranges, Vifa XT tweeters, and side firing stage tweeters.
Paving the path forward involves tipping a hat to the past for Leon Speakers, one of the earliest manufacturers to develop and promote high-end soundbars to the custom channel. “When you look back at early American television manufacturers like Zenith, Philco, and RCA, it used to be the norm to build high-quality amplifiers and speaker systems right into the TV. In fact, those sets also had free ‘wireless’ TV and radio, they could be purchased and installed with a single plug, and they were custom-crafted in America with furniture-grade finishes,” Noah Kaplan, president, Leon Speakers, noted. “We aim to bring back that simplicity and quality with OTO, which stands for one-to-one. One connection. One power cord and one speaker custom built to match one TV.
“Designing this product became an awesome artistic and scientific collaboration between our design/engineering team and our dealers,” Kaplan continued. “To seamlessly add it as an extension to our Horizon line, we needed to offer the same level of customization, quality, and cutting-edge technology that our integrators and their clients have come to expect. With an optical input, discrete IR controls, Dolby Digital and PCM decoding, built-in DSP and a wireless sub, all in a cabinet less than 2 inches deep, we are confident we've met that challenge."
As Leon’s first active soundbar in the Horizon series, the HzOTO features a 2x50-watt onboard amplifier, 3-inch aluminum cone woofers with cloth-dome tweeters. A rear-ported design allows the speaker to develop bass response down to 70Hz. Like other Leon soundbars, the cabinet is built to order and custom-tailored to match the size and finish of the display. The rear IR input jack and front-panel IR receiver ties the HzOTO to any control system. A front touchpanel and included remote provide auxiliary control.
Definitive Technology’s SoloCinema XTR is a fully powered 5.1-channel soundbar with a highly regarded wireless subwoofer.
For Zoltan Balla, product manager at Paradigm, the initial lack of interest in soundbars from integrators remains fresh in his memory in light of how much has changed since Paradigm’s first offering, the Soundtrack system, was introduced. The more recent surge in interest, Balla believes, stems from increases in both customer demand and profitability. “Now, we receive numerous requests for such things as integrated streaming technologies to further increase the convenience factor, IP control protocols, to allow complete integration for whole home control systems, dedicated music and movie modes with user-defined setting to further customize the experience, request for room correction, and more,” he said.
At CEDIA EXPO, Paradigm is introducing a new five-channel soundbar with user-defined dedicated music and movie modes. Soundscape was designed for easy installation with flexible placement, including DSP modes for on-wall and credenza placement. Both wired and wireless subwoofers are options with a wireless subwoofer receiver that is included.
Other features include Bluetooth and AptX streaming, as well as AVRCP (AV remote control profile), which controls Bluetooth control of sources directly from the soundbar and even charges the Bluetooth device remotely during playback. Discrete IR commands for all functions enhance the integration.
Setting the Custom Bar High
Now that custom installers have accepted soundbars, they have become rather ubiquitous in homes of all types, and they are available from audio companies of all stripes.
As Leon’s first active soundbar in the Horizon series, the HzOTO features a 2- by 50-watt onboard amplifier, 3-inch aluminum cone woofers with cloth-dome tweeters.
Artison is banking on the custom nature of its products by attaching soundbars directly to the display, as well as customizing designer grilles to match. “This way the audio disappears into the television, and the audio moves with the set,” explained Cary Christie, president and CEO, also noting that this helps with the AV integration.
Artison’s top-of-the-line Studio 55 LCR soundbar is housed in a rigid extruded aluminum enclosure with carbon fiber woofer/midranges, Vifa XT tweeters, and side-firing stage tweeters.
Triad Speakers is another made-to-order custom company. “Triad’s soundbars are available in custom lengths with veneer and gloss finishes,” said Paul Teixeira, marketing manager. “The company also has a custom paint-matching program,” he said, adding that Triad’s raw materials, including Scandinavian drivers, are a significantly higher quality than mass produced solutions.
Triad’s OnWall Mini 3.0 LCR SE is a special edition series and an example of the company’s most high-end soundbar. The LCR is made up of three separate audiophile speaker systems in one enclosure. It can be ordered in custom widths up to 66-inches in black paint, gloss, or veneer.
Paradigm’s Soundscape was designed for easy installation with flexible placement, including DSP modes for on-wall and credenza placement.
AudioXperts has turned heads with its 4TV soundbar consoles designed to rest underneath a flat-panel. “On aesthetics alone, the new 4TV AC121 breaks from the traditional soundbar design and provides an elegant, high-gloss console designed to complement today’s flat-panels,” said Eli Harary, president. “What also makes this design different is that it brings an entire home audio system into a single-piece console, including a built-in subwoofer.”
The advanced touch controls of the 4TV lineup were also designed to go above and beyond for integrators and their customers alike with bass and treble adjustment, as well as the ability for remote control by a rear-mounted IR signal input.
Audio engineering vet Sandy Gross founded GoldenEar to focus on affordable, yet high-end, performance products that require complete system integration. In the soundbar category, the GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array incorporates 3D imaging “to remove the standard pitfall of the soundbar,” said Jack Shafton, VP sales and marketing, referring to the left and right speakers being placed to close to each other. The SuperCinema 3D Array (SC3DA) requires an AV receiver and powered subwoofer to create a complete AV system. The SC3DA incorporates left-, center- and right-channel speakers, plus a second set of drivers that utilize 3D array technology to effectively cancel out this inter-aural crosstalk distortion between the left and right channel.
MartinLogan has also based its soundbar design on the acoustical deficiencies that a smaller form factor speaker presents. “Soundbars are meant to be an all-in-one solution, and when you decrease size, you compromise on low-frequency bass output,” said Devin Zell, product manager, MartinLogan. “We wanted to create a balanced sound solution for custom integrators to have in their tool belt, without compromising on sound quality.”
The result of this rationale is the Motion Vision, with advanced DSP, surround sound decoding, the ability to learn commands from most remotes, and wired and wireless subwoofer options. “Combine that with exotic folded motion tweeters, the resulting sound is a wide controlled sound dispersion with commanding bass performance that creates a realistic and carefully etched enveloping sound stage,” Zell said.
The Teatro TSB3.0 from Phase Technology pairs two SFE spatial field expanders with left, right, and center channels for a wide front stage in a low profile enclosure.
Definitive Technology’s SoloCinema XTR is a fully powered 5.1-channel soundbar with a highly regarded wireless subwoofer. It decodes lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD, including Dolby Volume technology, which levels the volume across video content. This is crucial for those moments when a program breaks for ads that often blast over the sound system. SoloCinema XTR features a full HDMI switching center with three HDMI inputs and a fourth source: one optical digital input, one analog audio input, which auto-sense which input is playing. It also has one HDMI output to a video source.
Polk Audio’s top-of-the-line soundbar is the SurroundBar 9000 HIT. Even thought it measures just 2.25 inches deep, Polk Digital Logic with SDA Surround ensures higher quality audio. There is discrete amplification of all eight channels with electronic crossovers, fitting each driver for efficiency, lower distortion and better dynamics. An optimized center array boosts the center channel for vocal and mid-range intelligibility, as well as higher SPL and improved off-axis response. Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 are both included. A wireless subwoofer can be placed up to 50-feet away. Dual-tuned ports blend the mid-range and subwoofer whether the bar is mounted on the wall or a shelf.
Integrator Friendly Charm
Appealing to both the consumers and integrators was a focus for Niles Audio in developing the Cynema Soundfield in-wall soundbars, using sleek aesthetics for the former and a unique mounting system for the latter’s benefit. “They are a radical departure from traditional soundbars featuring a revolutionary in-wall mounting system that allows them to be perfectly centered under flat-panel displays without the hassle of cutting or drilling wall studs,” said Mitch Witten, product marketing director, audio segment, Core Brands.
Wiring for the Cynema Soundfield is run through spaces in the mounting system, so installers don’t need to drill holes in the studs. There are three active models and one passive in 48-, 55-, and 65-inch versions.
Ambitious new product rollouts this year are how Klipsch Group is boosting support for integrators. “We recognize that our custom integrators need a full toolkit of innovative, high-performance, high-style products to truly take care of all customers’ AV requirements,” said Mark Casavant, senior VP of global product development for Klipsch Group. “As a result, we are effectively expanding our wireless and soundbar and sound base offerings through the fall and into early next year. Our Klipsch, Jamo, and Energy brands will be infused with all-new, leading products [for] our integrators.”
The new soundbars from Jamo will feature silk tweeters with waveguides, Bluetooth aptX, NFC, and soft touch controls. “The first Jamo model is called Torsten and offers attractive, modern Danish design, ease of use capabilities along with category-leading performance,” Casavant said.
Klipsch is also introducing the SB-120 sound base, a single cabinet, single connection solution that rests under a display on a stand, shelf, or other piece of furniture.
SpeakerCraft is expanding its Cinema Series CS3 TV speaker system with two new models at CEDIA EXPO by redesigning the original CS3 model and adding new features. The CS1 is a smaller version of the CS3 with the CS5 being a larger version.
All Cinema Series systems now offer IR command learning for remotes. SpeakerCraft has boosted its installer-focused features by providing discrete IR code library for all major functions, including power and source selection. So not only can the Cinema Series models learn a remote, but they can be programmed for other high-end universal remotes. Other advanced features will be exclusively available through this code library.
Phase Technology has a new soundbar set for CEDIA EXPO as well. The Teatro TSB3.0 pairs two SFE spatial field expanders with left, right, and center channels for a wide front stage in a low profile enclosure. An 8-ohm design incorporates two 3-inch mineral filled polypropylene, ultra-long throw woofers with rubber surrounds per channel, as well as a silk/synthetic blend soft dome tweeter per channel. The full range aluminum inverted drivers are side-mounted. Phase Technology’s EVT (enhanced voice technology) is available along a front-panel switch. Human speech frequencies are augmented once identified when the switch is turned on.
Offering features that appeal specifically to the integrator is especially critical for products that aren’t exclusively sold through the custom channel. Take B&W’s Panorama 2 soundbar, which is available through the retail and custom channels. “It has features that appeal to both,” said Doug Henderson, president, “such as easy set-up for DIYer and RS-232 control for the integrator.”
The Panorama 2 was updated from its predecessor with audio technologies developed for B&W’s flagship 800 Series Diamond loudspeakers.
Yamaha’s most recent Digital Sound Projectors, the YSP-3300 and YSP-4300, custom-friendly features like HDMI connectivity with 4K pass-through and 3D, memory functions for identifying favorite settings, and control features like IR in/out, extended IR, and RS-232C.
The Yamaha YSP-4300 connects directly to TVs for 7.1 channel audio, incorporating Yamaha’s front surround sound technology with 130-watt wireless active subwoofers. A front-panel USB port offers audio playback from various devices, as well as an FM tuner. A target mode feature aims sound to a specific listening position. There are 22 speaker drivers that each has its own digital amplifier. Two other woofers are placed in the center unit to enhance stereo audio and dialog.
Lindsey Adler is associate editor of Residential Systems, Systems Contractor News, and Healthcare AV.