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Upper Midrange & High End Soundbar Picks

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Outlaw Audio OSB-1 - MSRP: $799Outlaw OSB-1

The Outlaw OSB-1 and its twin brother/clone, the Atlantic Technology PB-235, represent a big bump in sound quality. Arguably these brothers are a lot closer to a pair of respectable bookshelf speakers than what we’ve seen thus far. Each flank of the OSB-1 boasts a conventional two way layout of a single 0.75” dome tweeter crossing over at 4kHz to a 4” woofer and backed by 40W RMS worth of amplification. The twins also boast a neat piece of enclosure technology known as H-PAS. H-PAS is advertised to be a merging of acoustic suspension, inverted horn, and bass reflex designs, though I’ll sum things up fairly concisely: H-PAS will allow the two 4” woofers to deliver bass that seems impossible for a sound bar. For those that like numbers, you’ll be pleased to know that Outlaw doesn’t play games with frequency response, and rates the OSB-1 from an impressively low 47Hz up to 20kHz with a +/- 3dB tolerance. So what does all this add up to? Audioholics’ very own Andrew Gash was pleasantly surprised by the bass extension and the natural soundstage of the OSB1 and when used in simulated 5 channel mode, found it offered good room filling sound.

Moving on to features, the OSB-1 does offer a useful array of connectivity options including a trio of digital inputs (one coaxial, two optical) and stereo RCA input on the rear panel, as well as a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack conveniently located on the front panel. As another indicator that the OSB-1 is geared towards top notch sound quality, it also sports a subwoofer port which comes complete with bass management. This is a big feature, as it means you can augment low end response and improve dynamic capability by relieving the 4” drivers of low bass duties. Take an OSB-1 and add an Outlaw LFM-1 Plus (the little brother of the well-reviewed LFM-1 EX) and suddenly you’ve got an attractive, high quality, and hard hitting soundbar based system for $1,350. What’s not to like?

Paradigm Soundtrack – MSRP: $800 Paradigm Soundtrack

If for some reason you’re not fond of the Outlaw OSB-1, maybe because of looks (we wouldn't blame you there) or that it doesn’t come with a subwoofer by default, the comparably priced Paradigm Soundtrack system is worth a look. At first glance, the driver compliment is similar, with a 1” tweeter mated to a 4” woofer backed by 25W RMS of amplification per side. Instead of H-PAS technology, the Soundtrack’s soundbar makes due with a pair of 4” passive radiators to extend bass response enough to blend with the included wireless subwoofer. Speaking of the subwoofer, it boasts an 8” driver and 100W RMS amplifier in a slick ported enclosure that looks like it can fit just about anywhere you’d try to place it. As a total package, Paradigm claims a frequency response of 40Hz-20kHz, but as per the norm, no tolerances are provided so I’d prescribe taking it with a grain of salt.

Aside from making sound, what else does Paradigm’s soundbar do? As you’d expect, you get a standard fare of inputs including a single digital input (optical), a stereo analog RCA input, and a 3.5mm mini-jack. In addition, the Soundtrack is made to work with Paradigm’s BD-1 Bluetooth adapter (an additional $60) to enable wireless streaming. It can also be controlled by your TV remote thanks to IR learning capabilities. Given the potent mix of useful features and respectable hardware, the Soundtrack could find itself right at home with those who want a simple all-in-one solution or conversely with folks who want a full featured soundbar based rig.

High End Soundbars

Martin Logan Motion Vision - MSRP: $1,499 Martin Logan Motion Vision

Now we’re getting into the big leagues. The Motion Vision is Martin Logan’s first foray into the high end soundbar market and has been a solid hit. Sporting a trio of 1” x 1.4” folded motion transducers to reproduce the high end as well as a quartet of 4” woofers, the Motion Vision effectively delivers three discrete channels of sound in an extremely attractive package. We were duly impressed with the quality of the implementation during our review, noting great overall sound (particularly with music) with high levels of detail and a wide soundstage that extended well beyond the boundaries of the enclosure. Like the Outlaw OSB-1, you can add a subwoofer via a conventional subwoofer output; however, the Motion Vision is also designed to operate seamlessly with Martin Logan’s wireless subwoofers. Add something like their Dynamo 1000 to the mix, and you’ve got a system that looks and sounds fantastic.

What about features? In this case, the main feature the Martin Logan is bringing to the party is top tier sound quality. This isn’t a soundbar that will stream music from the internet while it sends an included robot to vacuum the floors. Fortunately, the Motion Vision does still offer a useful set of connections including 3 digital inputs (1 coaxial, 2 optical) and a pair of stereo RCA jacks, and it offers a very good virtual surround mode. Of course, if you are looking for snazzy features like wireless streaming, the addition of a device like an Apple TV would turn the Motion Vision into a fully featured system.

Yamaha YSP-4300 – MSRP: $1,900 Yamaha YSP-4300

Last, but certainly not least in our little who’s who of soundbars is the Yamaha YSP-4300. Priced at $1,800 on the mean streets of Amazon, the YSP-4300 boasts a total of 22-2.8cm drivers, a pair of 6.5cm “full range” drivers, and also tosses a wireless subwoofer (read: bass module) with a 6.5” woofer in a vented enclosure into the mix. In addition, unlike any of the soundbars we’ve looked at thus far, the YSP-4300 is positioned to be a direct replacement for a full audio system, including a receiver, thanks to an array of connections including 4 HDMI inputs (which support 4K and 3D pass through) plus one output, three digital inputs (1 coaxial, 2 optical), and an analog stereo input. In terms of sound, Audioholics’ Marshall Guthrie was duly impressed by the YSP-4300’s surround capabilities. In terms of simulating surround sound, Yamaha is at the forefront of the field.

Of course, all is not perfect: sound quality was found wanting at higher levels and tended to become a bit midrange heavy. While this coloration was useful for understanding movie dialog, it wasn’t welcome for music reproduction. Then of course there’s the matter of the “subwoofer”. With a whopping 6.5” driver and 130W of “dynamic power”, it’s not exactly going to provide the output of even an entry level SVS PB1000, though it is significantly smaller and easier to place. All things considered though, if you want convincing surround effects without actually being surrounded by speakers and you’ve got the cash, the YSP-4300 is a solid choice.

Conclusion

Do you have a flat panel TV in desperate need of an audio upgrade, but don’t want the clutter of speakers in your room? One of the above soundbars might be right up your alley. While none are necessarily perfect performers, even the least of the systems highlighted here would provide a substantial boost in sound quality and output over the anemic speakers in the average flat panel TV. Of course, if you’re willing to step beyond low end models, into something like the Outlaw OSB1 or beyond up to a MartinLogan soundbar and swing for an additional subwoofer, you’d have the makings of a very capable, simple to use system that can blend into a living room without too much difficulty. If you’re in the mood for something a little bigger (why did you finish this article?), then checkout our recommended $2500 and $6500 surround sound systems.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

Tim DH posts on July 26, 2013 16:04
Solus Audio Soundbars

You should also check out the Solus Audio Speaker products designed by Philip Clements. I've been in A/V sales and installation for many years and am very impressed with their line of speakers! Very dynamic, efficient, great sound, good looks, and don't cost a fortune.

Their new H-Pas technology is in use by a couple speaker manufacturers already, I think we will be hearing a lot of good things about it in the future!!!

I've always enjoyed sharing and helping people find the truly great values in the A/V industry! The friends you make and the smiles on peoples faces make it so rewarding!!
boydzfv posts on July 24, 2013 03:37
For the same price as the Panorama 2 you could do the ML + a $700 stand alone sub.




Cliff_is posts on July 19, 2013 10:17
bootman, post: 978103
Any chance on doing a roundup on passive soundbars like the Goldenear SuperCinema, Phase Technology Teatro or Atlantic Technology FS-7.0?
Only way to currently get HD Audio is via a AVR.
One of the slim AVRs from marantz would pair up nicely but the overall price would be well above this group.
(but you do get much higher performance even rivaling in some cases separate speaker systems.

I agree with you on all counts

And that's a a good idea for an article.

Consider it added to the list.
bootman posts on July 19, 2013 10:04
Any chance on doing a roundup on passive soundbars like the Goldenear SuperCinema, Phase Technology Teatro or Atlantic Technology FS-7.0?
Only way to currently get HD Audio is via a AVR.
One of the slim AVRs from marantz would pair up nicely but the overall price would be well above this group.
(but you do get much higher performance even rivaling in some cases separate speaker systems.
Cliff_is posts on July 18, 2013 18:29
I actually just personally don't like the sound of the XTR lineup…that's why it didn't make it on there.

Granted, I haven't listened to their powered lineup, only their passive 3 and 5 ch. soundbars , and they look really cool.

The Panorma 2 is great, but it didn't make it for one reason. For the same price as the Panorama 2 you could do the ML + a $700 stand alone sub.
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