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Hardcore home theater buffs typically see product names like “sound bar” and yell “run for the hills!” At the very least, a solid two channel set-up (even one comprised of better known budget products) is preferred to any kind of all-in-one option. However, the vast majority of buyers are anything but “buffs,” and willingly seek-out audio gear that is simple and fitted for their desired application; plug-and-play, ease of installation, and minimalist attributes to compliment room décor can easily drive a decision to buy. As for buffs? Even they have rooms (with a small TV perhaps) that they’d like to inject with better sound without much effort or investment.


Yamaha's SRT-1000 sound base system.

Over the past several years we’ve seen nearly every popular AV manufacturer bring some kind of sound bar product to market. From high end (Martin Logan’s Motion Vision) to low end (Philips HTL2101A), companies are attacking a market segment looking for just a little bit more audio oomph for their television viewing experience. Some sound bars, however, are bulky in their own right, requiring spare tabletop room or extra wall space. Here’s where an alternative design enters the picture: the sound base. These single unit audio solutions consist of a slim cabinet and are primarily designed for televisions that aren’t wall mounted. To save space, the unit sits under your television stand, thus eliminating the need to eat-up valuable space with a free-floating sound bar. Today we’ll preview two new sound base systems from Pioneer and Yamaha.


Pioneer Taps Andrew Jones
First up to bat is Pioneer’s SP-SB03 Speaker Base Audio System, designed by Pioneer’s award winning Andrew Jones. The Pioneer team constructed the unit’s 28-inch x 4 ¾ x 16 (W x H x D) cabinet from composite wood, providing improved fidelity over plastic enclosures while providing enough strength to accommodate televisions as large as 55-inches. The rear of the cabinet features two ports, analog RCA inputs, and an optical port. HDMI connectivity is absent, which eliminates HDMI supported Audio Return Channel (transfer of audio from the television to the unit) and video pass through features; this complicates set-ups featuring multiple sources (such as cable boxes and Blu-ray players) and televisions that lack analog audio output jacks. One nice touch, however, is the inclusion of Bluetooth wireless connectivity for streaming music.


The Andrew Jones designed SP-SB03.

The SB03 has a 6 speaker array, consisting of two 1” soft dome tweeters, two 3” mid-range drivers, and two 4” woofers. Its amplification section cranks-out 168 Watts of power (6 x 28W, 4 Ohms). The unit has onboard Dolby Digital Decoding and three sound modes including music, movie, and dialog (which emphasizes dialog while minimizing loud sounds for a more pleasant late night experience). Pioneer also includes a 3D Audio Expansion mode that simulates a wider sound field.

The SP-SB03 is slated to be released in October 2014 for $349.99.


Yamaha Pushes “True Surround Sound”
Several days ago, Yamaha entered its own horse in the race with the SRT-100, a unit it says is the “World’s first TV speaker base system to offer true 5.1-channel surround sound.” Smoke and mirrors? Well…sort of. Yamaha claims their SRT-1000 benefits from a proprietary Digital Sound Projector technology that sends five discrete “sound beams” into the listening area. This is achieved by using directional speakers to bounce sound off of various walls in a room. Therefore the unit does feature discrete channels that simulate 5.1 sound, but the speakers are centrally located.


The SRT-1000 relies on angled drivers to simulate 5.1 surround sound.

"The SRT-1000 brings an unprecedented high level of surround sound performance to this form factor," said Bob Goedken, general manager, AV Products, Yamaha Corporation of America. "Unlike the current leading model in this category, the surround experience you get from our sound beam technology is the next best thing to a multi-speaker home theater—with none of the complications. No one else in America offers it."

Similar to the Pioneer offering, Yamaha’s 30 ¾-inch x 3 x 14 5/8 unit is constructed of MDF materials capable of holding a 55-inch display. It features a total of 12 speakers, eight of which are “sound beam” drivers (in addition to two mids and two woofers). For those users looking for added bass, Yamaha includes a sub-out on the rear of the unit.

Once again, HDMI is missing from the equation and users have the option of one digital optical and two RCA inputs; Bluetooth streaming is also included. Onboard, the unit has four Cinema DSP programs (Movie, Music, Sports, and Game) to enhance sound for specific uses, and is compatible with Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround for multichannel effects.

The SRT-1000 is available now for $499.95 MSRP.

Image Credits: Pioneer, Yamaha
 

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How low can a 4" woofer go? Most tweeters are that size. Also no option for connecting a sub woofer.
You're referencing the Pioneer unit...they claim it has output down to 58Hz. One would assume there is a decent drop in dB before that number. It is ported, so that should help give it a little more punch. But your point is well taken.

The Yamaha does have a sub out...so you could opt for a subwoofer with that unit.
 

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I'm sure these will be piled high at sams club and walmart for the holiday season...

...this is why low def hulu/roku/netflix streaming and 32k bit streaming music is just fine for "90%" of americans.

just sayin....
 

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Sound bars are a tough step to take. Todd, I totally agree with your point that some of us just want to add a little punch to a bedroom or other small display we have somewhere. The problem is I've heard sound bars that sound worse than the TV speakers. The added component/remote/switching can complicate viewing (especially for those not really "into" the hobby), and to shell out your hard earned money to make things more difficult AND get equal or worse sound is shameful.

Now these seem to be toward the higher end of the category, and I don't doubt that they will sound good. Just wanted to point out that one of the barriers to entry for this segment is extreme mediocrity, and these products will have to overcome it to even get a chance.
 

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My Mom recently purchased the Bose Wave radio. The first time I heard this radio was probably 18 years ago, and hearing it again, it actually sounds great. She is 75, and really just doesn't care much about how it sounds, but every time I am at her house, I am thankful I don't have to listen to the Vizio TV speakers anymore.

That being said, I am sure that these systems sound much better than ordinary sound bars, but I don't see much of a point to virtual surround sound. It may produce a fuller sound by adding some natural reverberation, but not many of the people who purchase these are going to be sitting in the center of their room anyway, so it really seems like a gimmick.
 

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Sound bars are a tough step to take. Todd, I totally agree with your point that some of us just want to add a little punch to a bedroom or other small display we have somewhere. The problem is I've heard sound bars that sound worse than the TV speakers. The added component/remote/switching can complicate viewing (especially for those not really "into" the hobby), and to shell out your hard earned money to make things more difficult AND get equal or worse sound is shameful.

Now these seem to be toward the higher end of the category, and I don't doubt that they will sound good. Just wanted to point out that one of the barriers to entry for this segment is extreme mediocrity, and these products will have to overcome it to even get a chance.
Owen, these products definitely walk a tight rope in terms of quality versus value. You're right. In my own experience, I've heard a few supplementary speaker systems (sound bars or what have you) that have sounded quite good. But they've all been closer to the $1K range. There's definitely a sacrifice one must make when buying a sound bar, but for many the ultimate goal is convenience and form factor/footprint...and they're willing to accept lower quality sound in favor of those factors. The market is definitely there...just look at how many models are available...it's staggering!
 
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