Soundbar

Toshiba SBX4250 Sound Bar

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Toshiba SBX4250 Sound Bar In Use

Hooked up to an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player and Samsung plasma, I disabled my TV speakers and sent everything via optical to the Toshiba sound bar instead. The difference in sound quality was very apparent from the start. My plasma is a little over 3 years old now, so it is a bit thicker with larger speakers than many current models, but the difference was still big. There was greater depth to the sound, dialogue was clearer, and the experience was much better. Having speakers that fire straight at you instead of out of the back of the display was a huge improvement. The subwoofer was a bit low at the default setting but raising the level to +2 or +4 did a better job filling the room and matching the level of the vocals.

Watching Cars 2, while the subwoofer was small its impact was clearly heard with depth charges at the start of the film. The action moved across the soundstage well during a chase scene and sounds were more distinct than with the TVs internal speakers. Switching from Stereo to the SRS modes led to a far wider soundstage that did an even better job drawing me in. Without SRS the sound was confined to the width of the bar but with it enabled is seemed to fill my whole front wall.

On football those crowd sounds seemed to come from around then TV than directly from it while game sounds and dialogue remained anchored in the middle. Movies and TV were also improved with SRS I think, as it sounds more like a 3 channel front setup than a sound bar with a couple small speakers under my TV. I'm really not a big fan of things that seem like gimmicks, but SRS does a very good job with movies and TV.

Switching over to music, I felt the opposite about SRS. Just like with Audyssey, I found that SRS made the soundstage a little loose, and removes the ability to locate instruments and performers in the mix. Switching to stereo mode gives me sound that is decent, but behind what you would probably get from a $300 pair of bookshelf speakers for music. This comparison is a little unfair since those speakers may need a subwoofer or amplifier, but the sound bar does better with TV and video than music. The main loss is that the soundstage with music is trapped between the speakers in the sound bar, no wider or deeper than that. Recordings sounded compressed and restrained, a bit trapped by the dimensions of the sound bar.

Sea Change from Beck usually has a wide, deep soundstage where you can pinpoint the vocals and instruments with precision. From the Toshiba everything was coming from a small central space instead. The sound was good but it was clearly listening to a recording of music, feeling a bit small rather than large and expansive. The subwoofer usually played well, and did a good job filling in lower octaves, but was unable to keep up with the rapid fire drumming on One from Metallica. One shouldn't expect miracles from a 6.5" woofer, and the Toshiba was better than I thought it would be on this torture test.

Listening to Unplugged from 10,000 Maniacs and Automatic for the People by REM, vocals are very legible and clear, even with Michael Stipe's habit of mumbling through some words. The SBX4250 doesn't have the ability to produce the big dynamics that are on these albums, but you get a reasonably good reproduction. I wouldn't pick the Toshiba just for its music reproduction ability, but taken as a bonus to go with the movie and TV sound quality, the SBX4250 was better than a TV or a tiny iPod dock for listening to music, and doesn't require a TV to be on.