CES 2018 Best Sound Bars Roundup
- Product Name: Ambeo, Shockwafe Ultra 9.2 Soundsystem, Commandbar, Alto Smart Soundbar
- Manufacturer: Sennheiser, Nakamichi, Polk, TCL-Roku
- Review Date: February 07, 2018 00:00
- MSRP: $3,000 est. - Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar; $1,099 - Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2 Soundsystem; $299 - Polk Commandbar; $TBD - TCL Roku Alto Smart Soundbar
- First Impression: Pretty Cool
So, you bought a brand new UHD TV for Christmas now you realize the built-in speakers are not up to your audioholic caliber. Some say this is intentional from the TV manufacturers to get you to buy a separate piece of equipment and spend more money. In any case, we’re still seeing a growing market for high-end soundbars as a simple and clean, albeit more costly solution to your problem. We saw hundreds of soundbars at the 2018 CES show in Las Vegas, Nevada earlier this year and in this article and related YouTube video, we’ve narrowed them down to some of the more interesting ones to help solve your lack of audio prowess for your new UHD display.
CES 2018 Recap - Best Sound Bars Comparison YouTube Video Discussion
Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar
MSRP: $3k (est)
Nicknamed the "bazooka" by the Audioholics crew, the Sennheiser Ambeo is a brick of a soundbar with all its guts and glory displayed. No petite, refined solution here, but depending on the situation that’s exactly how we want it! The Ambeo does not come with a separate subwoofer, but instead, it incorporates 8 midbass drivers to handle the mids and low-level sounds without a sub. Almost as tall as it is deep the Ambeo won’t win any points for subtle integration into a room, but if you’re looking for pure unadulterated sound this is the soundbar for you. The auto setup uses the reflection of sound through your room without using DSP. The calibration software will not only setup front and side channels but rear sound and FOUR overhead channels as well. Sennheizer says this soundbar works best in a room that is roughly square, is a maximum of 26 feet by 26 feet and has a 12-foot ceiling or less. In addition, in order to hear the rear channels the room has to have a back wall.
Like most other higher end soundbars, the Ambeo comes with 3 HDMI, optical in, analog, Bluetooth, and wi-fi. As far as sound goes, this was the best soundbar without peripheral speakers we head at CES this year for recreating separate channels and 3D immersive sound. The price will be determined upon its release, but the Ambeo looks to be in the $3k range which is pretty high for a soundbar. But if you want Dolby Atmos or DTS:X sound and you want it set up in minutes instead of days, this might be an option if you have deep pockets.
Nakamichi Shockwafe Ultra 9.2 Soundsystem
The Nakamichi Soundsystem is a blend between a soundbar and a full surround home theater. Not only does the system come with 2 subs, but also 4 separate surround speakers in addition to the front soundbar itself. Nakamichi did one of the coolest demos we’ve seen by pitting their soundbar against the higher priced and popular Samsung HW-K950 soundbar which retails for $1,499 with a street price about $100 more than the Nakamichi. They also played their bar against the X-Fi Sonic Carrier Soundbar which retails for a whopping $6,000. Nakamichi claims that listeners can evaluate the Nakamichi soundbar against the competition to see what works and what needs improvement and Nakamichi will adjust the software in a firmware update. In our evaluation of the three soundbars, the lack of discreet speakers from the $6,000 X-Fi Sonic Carrier was apparent from the get-go. The Nakamichi was a great comparison to the slightly more expensive Samsung, but in the end, the Nakamichi had better out of the box sound for proper surround effects recreating what the director wanted you to hear.
At around $1,100 it falls right in line with other soundbars of its caliber, but the placement of 4 surround speakers and two subs might eliminate many soundbar buyers from even considering this product. We always encourage discreet speakers for surround effects and dual subs for better bass integration across a larger listening area. The lack of Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos support may also be a sore spot for some buyers. But will it's inclusion of DTS:X Neural be enough to satisfy immersive audio fanatics?
Check out our Nakamichi Shockwafe Soundbar Preview for more info and stay tuned for our full-featured review coming soon.
We did a preview of the Polk Commandbar early at CES, and after listening to it we wanted to revisit some other features not mentioned in the preview. For $299 you get Amazon Alexa integrated into a soundbar. Home automation was a hot topic at CES this year and Polk wanted to get in early for this up and coming trend. As mentioned earlier, one of the appeals of soundbars is the ease of setup right out of the box, and with basically an Amazon Dot installed right in the middle of the soundbar people who are already familiar with these products have the technology they immediately recognize. It also means that this one soundbar can control all the Amazon connected devices in your house. It comes with a wireless sub similar to the Polk Magnifi Mini and Magnifi Max which we reviewed last year.
TCL Roku Alto Smart Soundbar
TCL shocked the home theater community by producing high-quality displays for less money than well-known competitors. Now they are trying their hand at soundbars for their TVs. Users of Roku love the fact that it will send you to the best streaming service it has available to it rather than being brand specific. Google devices send you to Google Play. Amazon sends you to Amazon Music, Apple sends you to Apple related services, but Roku sends you to whichever one works best for you. We see this with their soundbar as well. Rather than trying to control your whole house, the Roku enabled AI is focused on what Audiophiles love best, audio and video interface.
The TCL Roku Alto Soundbar will most likely come with a wireless sub, but pricing, availability, or even a suspected launch date are not available at this time, but we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on TCL’s new line of soundbars suspected to be coming out in the near future.
This year we saw a big shift in the soundbar market from trying to recreate 3D sound through reflections to recreating 3D sound through discrete speakers. Also with the popularity of affordable home automation systems like products from Amazon, Google, and Roku, we’re seeing a push towards incorporation these products right into the soundbar. Who knows what next year will bring, but you know Audioholics will keep you abreast of all the newest audio trends.
Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.