a) Is it worth the money? Read on, but probably it is.
b) I can't find what I want, which is a soundbar without a bunch of digital crap inside trying to somehow simulate surround sound while instead sucking the life out of voice, music, and special effects, like happens with all cheap to medium priced digital equipment.
In fact, I want a soundbar that receives analog audio from my DAC and uses its analog amplifiers to send a reasonable quality two-channel signal to good quality speakers.
No one makes one; it seems what I really "want" is a passive soundbar?
My sad experience (sad is what happens when you hear something that sounds significantly better than the what-you-thought-was-decent equipment/speaker you currently own):
I had a cheap Boston Acoustics sound bar, the TV2, purchased maybe in 2009. Ultimately I let my parents have it as I moved to the second-from-top ZVOX sound base. Coming from a cumbersome but terrific two-channel system, but now with no room which would accommodate it, I wanted a simple one-piece solution, the looks of which pleased my wife, that sounded pretty good.
About a year ago I purchased a myDAC, running a digital coaxial cable from my DirecTV box and an optical cable from my Blu-Ray player. A nice improvement in sound. The DAC purchase is kind of an aside, but not entirely because the outboard DAC did offer an improvement over the DACs in my cable box and Blu-Ray player.
Recently I began my quest for a sound base or soundbar upgrade; I can find a hundred soundbars that have all the bells and whistles, like bluetooth, faux surround, and HDMI digital pass through (OK, maybe that isn't completely unnecessary). Sadly, I feel like each review should say, "It doesn't sound that great, but it sure has a lot of the extras you "need" or want. While the $600 soundbar sounds better than the $300 soundbar, this is what I have concluded, and why perhaps the passive soundbar, along with the abhorred but required separate surround processor/amplifier, is the solution:
You shouldn't expect the current crop of $600 soundbars to have anything near "good" sound (by good I mean lifelike and accurate, but bass light because by definition, without a subwoofer, expecting bass extension is unreasonable). Manufacturers have been trying to make the CD sound as good as an album for 30 years now without success, and my premise remains that cheap digital just sucks the life out of music, or movie soundtracks. And what kind of quality should you expect out of a $600 component that includes tweeters, mid-range speakers, digital amplifiers, a DAC, Bluetooth receiving capability, an Ethernet input and associated hardware that lets one update the firmware, some surround encoding capability, and some electronics that try and give some sense of spaciousness, which might possibly make you think a few sounds might be coming from behind, or at least from your sides?
The answer is, the more stuff you try and pack into a $600 component the cheaper you have to make each component. For me, listening to cheap digital components is unbearable.
OH, yes, the sad part is (the reason for my tirade), my Mom's getting a new OLED television which has (supposedly) an adequate sound system for someone in her 80s. By my standards, adequate is when you see a bass player in a band, on the television, and you also hear most of the bass notes he is playing. (The TV is the LG OLED E8; next week we'll see if the sound is tolerable). So when I visited over the weekend I brought home my old $299 Boston Acoustics TV2 soundbar with el-cheapo wireless subwoofer. No audio or video outputs, no HDMI in or out. WAIT!, no digital anything, only one set of analog RCA jacks for its sole audio input. I set the soundbar in front of my television, on top of my soundbase, and plugged it into the wall outlet, along with the subwoofer. Then I simply removed the (expensive) RCA interconnect from the back of my soundbase, coming from my tiny outboard DAC, and plugged the interconnect into the TV2, just to verify that the soundbase was more articulate and offered tighter bass (but not extending lower, since the soundbase has a built-in and smaller "sub" woofer) than my simple ten year-old soundbar.
That was a mistake.
The old cheap analog soundbar had width and depth and air and spaciousness to it, whereas the soundbase is like every digital soundbar I've ever heard: lifeless with a narrow soundstage, offering little in the way of an illusion that anything I'm hearing might be real, or somewhere in front of me. (Truth in advertising, or complaining, I've not heard the more expensive soundbars.) Now we aren't talking about high fidelity here, and the width I'm suggesting is six or at the most eight feet wide, compared to the 12" on either side that the soundbase offers. Additionally, where the soundbase offers 12" of depth (perceived), the old cheap soundbar extends (in some cases) to more like 12 feet. Listening to some live Blues on the DirecTV music channel was enlightening - a live recording played on the soundbar gave the illusion you were really watching the band, and singer, at a bar - albeit from the front porch, looking through the door, because no soundbar offers much width. But the depth of the halfway well-reproduced music was stunning (compared to the soundbase, not to a high-end two-channel system).
So, gasp, finally, in response to the OPs original question:
It seems very hard to get anything digital to sound "real", in a room, for small amounts of money.
There seem to be zero active soundbar or sound base offerings that allow for an analog input signal to be amplified by an old-fashioned analog amplifier, and thus sending the signal to decent quality speakers.
While I abhor the thought of having to buy a processor/amp, and spending another grand on a (though with an extremely high WAF) Martin Logan soundbar - and then adding a subwoofer, that if less expensive and not theirs may or may not mate up well - there seems to be no other option.
- If looks are important but you are particular about sound, a passive soundbar seems a great solution.
- If you can get by with a small quality attractive speaker (or three), for a 3.1 system, Gallo and Orb make not unattractive round speakers, the former for sure being of quite high quality. (The Gallo A'diva round speakers, or the A'diva SE, come to my mind.) Two price points, realistic holographic sound either way.
- I think, at the $800 price point (and with the backing of a large established speaker manufacturer), I could design a 50" wide 2.1 soundbase (all 55" TVs are about this wide) that would require nothing to get good sound but that a person send an analog signal via RCA interconnect from their cable box and/or Blu-Ray player. It would be tolerable to those discerning but realistic if used without a subwoofer. It would have one or two analog RCA input pairs, two decent (L and R) analog amplifiers, some good "regular" small speakers, along with two or three good short-throw (truthfully named) "mid-woofers" which would easily extend to 150 Hz or so, while passably attempting to go another 100 Hz lower. Perhaps we should offer two RCA subwoofer audio out jacks. No processing, no Bluetooth, no Ethernet connection to update the (non-existant) firmware. It would easily would trounce anything on the market for detail, accuracy, and soundstage - and wouldn't require an outboard amplifier, just plug in your cable box and Blu-Ray player and be done.
It would be spectacular for its price with unrivaled sound; but without digital inputs and Bluetooth and faux surround options we'd sell... a couple dozen.
Last edited by DelsFan; 08-01-2018 at 05:02 PM.