AVForums plays an international game of Five-a-Side to bring you 5 suggestions to enhance your in-home audio experience
We’ve already brought you guides on making a big screen purchase for the World Cup and how to ensure you don’t miss a game, now it’s time to turn our attentions to the audio sound of the equation.
It’s all very well seeing the best pictures but at least half of the enjoyment in watching a gripping game of football comes from soaking in the atmosphere of the crowd. The chances are the speakers fitted in to your flat panel TV aren’t really up to the task of doing it justice so here are five solutions that won’t cost the earth to implement.
Elipson Planet LW and Audio Bridge
These speakers even look like footballs! France may have only just squeaked their way on to the plane for Brazil but Elipson have been displaying some very impressive Gallic flare of late. The Planet LW are active speakers utilising 6.5 inch doped paper drivers and a soft dome tweeter. They can run ‘independently’ by means of hooking up by USB or a thirty pin Apple connector but to get them to work with your TV, you’ll need the bridge.
The Bridge gives you a pair of conventional inputs, one optical and one RCA analogue and also provided another convenience option in the form of Apt-X Bluetooth. The Bridge and the speakers top out at 16/48 which may be disappointing for some but that’s of no real concern as far as TV broadcasts are concerned and there is ample bandwidth for the Elipsons to do what they need to do, in terms of delivering a convincing stadium experience.
They even look like footballs.And boy do they deliver. The LW is not a bright or showy speaker but it sounds endlessly convincing and has far more bass extension then you would expect from a standmount. Neither is this a freak burst of low end bass detached from the rest of the frequency response but an impressive finale to a wide and even frequency response. In terms of day to day use, the Bridge is unobtrusive and generally effective and whilst it may not be the cheapest solution – MSRP is around £1,400 – it has all the class of the great French midfields from the mid 1980’s.
Pioneer SBX-300 Soundbar
For an even more compact solution, at a price significantly less than that of the Elipson’s, the Pioneer SBX-300 makes an excellent choice. There's a certain meatiness about this Pioneer soundbar that instils confidence, right from the first whistle, giving you the sense that this one won’t be shirking any challenges. There's not really much you can do with a soundbar, in terms of innovative design, but the SBX-300 is, nonetheless a good looking unit with its two-tone black/charcoal grey colour scheme.
Connecting up to your TV is best accomplished by using either one of the S/PDIF digital audio inputs or the one coaxial digital jack or, in case of emergency, there’s an auxiliary 3.5mm input provided too. The fact that the SBX-300 was delivered at the same time the SBX-N500 was picked up for return to Pioneer didn't allow us to do a direct head to head comparison but there is no mistaking that the two products sound exceedingly similar. And that is a good thing!
There aren't as many DSP (Digital Sound Processing) modes aboard the junior model, just 'Surround' to speak of, but its natural tendencies are very rewarding, in any case, meaning it delivers clean and crisp audio with a nice hint of warmth. The SBX-300 is quite expansive and enveloping in the Surround mode, which will really help mimic that stadium ambience and the twin subs certainly produce a surprising dynamism to the low-end performance. It might just lack a little of the clarity, with dialogue, than some of the more expensive soundbars on the market but when you factor in the price, there is very little to grumble about.
Japan were the first team to qualify for this year’s tournament and this model from the Land of the Rising Sun should be near the top of your list, if you’re looking for a budget solution.
Samsung HW-F850 Soundbar
South Korea might struggle to emerge from Group H, out in Brazil, but you can be sure they’ll go about their business with attacking verve and energy. And that’s precisely the qualities displayed by the Samsung HW-F850 Soundbar package. Unlike the Pioneer, above, the Samsung comes with a separate subwoofer unit, which naturally brings an added dimension of depth to proceedings.
The main speaker bar has all the connections you could ever ask for, and then some. There is an HDMI input and an HDMI output with ARC, allowing you to run audio from the TV back to the HW-F850 via the HDMI output, leaving the HDMI input free for another source like a Blu-ray player. There is also an optical digital input, an analogue 3.5mm input, a jack for the setup mic and, at the rear, you will find a USB port.
To add to the atmosphere, the F850 has a dedicated Sports mode which widens the soundstage and emphasises the chants of opposing supporters from the ends of the ground. You might not wish to use it, however, as the standard performance of the HW-F850 was superb, replicating the original sound so well that there was no need for any added processing. Dialogue is always clear and centred, the mid-range sounded smooth and well rendered and the high frequencies were also well served, never sounding shrill or forced. The real surprise came when listening to music, which was great, so we’ll nominate the HW-F850 as our samba soundbar of the World Cup!
The HW-F850 is our Samba Soundbar of the World CupNetherlands
Philips Fidelio E2
When they’re not falling out amongst themselves, the Dutch always bring an air of panache to any World Cup and the Fidelio E2 system is also a classy performer. OK, Philips audio couldn’t really be considered as a company hailing from Holland, any more, but most of the Dutch design team have been given a transfer to the new organisation and they’re being as reliable and innovative as ever. The Philips Fidelio E2 (BTS5700) system offers many of the conveniences of the soundbar but in a more traditional speaker configuration.
The left speaker houses all the connections to outside equipment, including an ARC (Audio Return Channel) compatible HDMI out/in, a 3.5mm aux jack and both coaxial and S/PDIF adigital audio inputs. The supplied cable that connects the two speakers has a length of 3 metres so you can achieve a good degree of separation between the two and it will span around all but the most enormous of TVs.
This system carries a suggested retail in the £300 region and will give any price-competitive soundbar a proverbial kicking, in terms of achieving a sense of separation. Audio tends towards the signature Fidelio warm side but boats depth and clarity too. We did occasionally notice some lack of detail in the low end but the price to performance ratio shames that of your run-of-the-mill speaker bar products so - go on - give it a demo. It would be Ruud not to! (somebody stop me!)
Cambridge Audio Minx TV
They think it’s all over – it is now, as we close with our first English product of the line-up. Cambridge might not be the hotbed of English Football but it has spawned more than its fair share of quality audio component manufacturers. The Cambridge Audio Minx TV has something of the Nobby Stiles about it. It’s fairly small and not the prettiest but it’s not afraid to slide in whether other soundbars dare not. In fact, it’s designed to slip in under your TVs base-stand to provide an incredibly tidy solution.
It’s a fairly unremarkable looking bit of kit but unobtrusiveness is the point of the exercise, here, so we’ve no real complaints on that front. Connectivity options comprise one S/PDIF digital audio, a 3.5mm auxiliary jack and RCA Stereo, as well as the option of Bluetooth streaming. So you don’t get the niceties of ARC but you should have no difficulty getting your TV connected with that selection and set up is simplicity itself.
The Minx has something of the Nobby Stiles about itDespite the fact the sides of the cabinet are sealed, you would swear blind that there is sound coming out of them, which certainly gives some credence to Cambridge’s claims that the Minx TVs BMR’s deliver a wider soundstage than competing soundbases. The Minx TV also packs in some fairly meaty bass performance, although it can be overpowering sometimes, but at less than £200 it certainly provides a decent value solution.
So there we have it. The final whistle is blown on our guide and we await the proceedings beginning on June 12th. What system will you be listening to the World Cup through?
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