Arcam Solo Bar Plus & Solo Sub Review
One Solo is good but two Solos are even better
What is the Arcam Solo Bar Plus?The Solo Bar Plus is the latest version of Arcam's higher-end soundbar which was first released a year ago. Whilst the original Solo Bar proved popular, Arcam have taken on board feedback and created the Solo Bar Plus. This new version is identical, physically, but incorporates subtle re-voicing and various software tweaks to improve the overall sound quality. The really good news is that since these changes have been made in the firmware (v1.19), owners of the original Solo Bar can also benefit via a free update. The even better news is that the Solo Bar Plus has also been reduced in price and as at the time of writing (October 2015) it can be picked up for around £650. So let's start by taking a look at the design and connections on the Solo Bar and what new features are added via the Plus upgrade.
DesignThe first thing you'll notice when you get the Solo Bar Plus out of the box is that it's big and heavy - there's none of that slimline or curved nonsense here, just old-school soundbar design. From the point of sound quality that's undoubtedly good news but the downside is that installing the Solo Bar could be tricky. It measures 1000 x 130 x 110mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 6.4kg, so already you can see the problem. You won't find a TV these days with 13cm of clearance beneath the screen, so you're really only left with two alternatives - using a cabinet with enough space to fit the Solo Bar beneath the TV or wall mounting. Thankfully along with stable feet to stand the Solo Bar on, it also comes with brackets and a handy template for wall mounting.
Whilst the Solo Bar Plus might be quite big, it's also attractively styled, sensibly designed and well constructed, thus offering a superior soundbar experience. We really like the look of the Arcam, with its curved edges and black/dark grey styling. Once you have worked out where to actually put the Solo Bar, it will be relatively unobtrusive at the front of your room - despite its size. The soundbar, itself, consists of six drive units, with two 4" woofers and a 1" tweeter on either side, and 100W of built-in amplification. In the middle between the drivers there is a useful display that can be dimmed or turned off, if necessary, and some basic controls for input selection, volume and on/off.
Whilst the Solo Bar is big it combines an attractive design with great build quality and plenty of inputs.
Connections & ControlThe connections are all in a recess at the rear and it's a fairly comprehensive set with four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output that supports CEC and ARC (Audio Return Channel). However the HDMI inputs are HDMI 1.4, so they can pass 3D and 4K up to 30Hz at 4:4:4 and 60Hz at 4:2:0 but they don't support HDCP 2.2 which might limit their usefulness in the future. There's also an optical digital input and a coaxial digital input, along with a 3.5mm analogue audio input. There's an output for connecting an optional active subwoofer and a connection for the setup microphone. There's also a USB port for firmware updates, which is how owners of the original Solo Bar can upgrade to the Plus version. Finally there's built-in Bluetooth apt-X for a wireless connection and a two-pin connector for the power cable.
Aside from the basic controls on the unit itself, the Solo Bar Plus comes with a handy remote that is small but comfortable to hold and use. It has an on/off button, as well as volume up/down buttons, input selection and a mute button. There are menu, arrow and enter buttons for navigating the menu system and setting up the soundbar. There's a mode button for selecting the different sound modes and an ALC button for turning the automatic loudness control on and off. If you prefer, there is also a very good free remote app available for iOS and Android. The connection is made over Bluetooth and the app is very handy for using in the dark. It includes all the same controls found on the provided remote but also mirrors what's on the display at the top of the screen, which is handy if you've turned off the display.
Arcam Solo Bar Plus & Solo Sub Unboxing Video
How does the original Solo Bar differ from the Plus version?As we mentioned in the introduction, the Solo Bar Plus is physically the same as the original soundbar and the changes have been made via the firmware. So what exactly does the Plus version offer over the original Solo Bar? Well according to Arcam the Plus update adds more "slam and impact" (their words not ours) to the Movie mode. It also adds more "life and air" (again their words not ours) to music playback without adding sibilance or brightness. Finally the EQ modes have been revised and updated. So whilst the changes aren't huge, since the upgrade is free it makes sense for existing owners of the Solo Bar to update their firmware to v1.19 and take full advantage of the Plus experience.
What is the Arcam Solo Sub?Along with the Solo Bar Plus, Arcam also offer the Solo Sub subwoofer that has been designed to connect with the soundbar wirelessly (2.4GHz) and add greater low frequency power and scale. The Solo Sub is a sealed subwoofer that uses a downward-firing 10" woofer combined with 300W of built-in amplification. The subwoofer is well made, styled in black and has large rubber feet for stable support and better isolation, as well as providing room for the downward-firing driver. Whilst the design is obviously meant to compliment the Solo Bar, you can use the Solo Sub to handle the low frequencies in other AV systems. The Solo Sub currently retails for £499 but you can buy it with the Solo Bar Plus for £999, which is a combined saving of £150.
The Solo Sub can connect wirelessly with the Solo Bar but, if you prefer, you can use a wired connection instead with the sub output on the Solo Bar and the LFE input on the Solo Sub. The LFE input and L/R analogue inputs can also be used with other AV systems, so the Solo Sub is a versatile performer in its own right. At the rear you'll find controls for setting the crossover frequency (85dB is recommended), the crossover Q setting (the slope of the curve after the crossover with 1.1 recommended), the volume (a setting of 6 is recommended), the input (wireless, LFE or line), the phase (0 or 180 degrees) and standby (auto or manual). There's also a button for wireless pairing, indicators for power and wireless and a two-pin connector for the power cable.
The Solo Sub is a great subwoofer in its own right but also makes the ideal companion for the Solo Bar.
Features & SpecsIn terms of features the Solo Bar Plus offers decoding of both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD and includes three pre-configured audio modes - Stereo, Movie and Concert. There is a microphone included and the Solo Bar provides an automated setup procedure. Once this has been completed, there is a Room EQ feature that allows for further tweaking and there is also a control for setting the subwoofer level. The Solo Bar includes a Bluetooth apt-X receiver and it can also rebroadcast signals to Bluetooth-enabled headphones.
As already mentioned, the Solo Bar includes an automatic loudness control and comes with a remote control and brackets for wall mounting. There are four HDMI inputs with support for 3D and 4K passthrough, along with support for CEC and ARC on the HDMI output. The soundbar includes four 4" woofers and two 1" tweeters with 100W of built-in amplification. There's a lip-sync delay, a free remote app for iOS or Android and the Solo Bar has an IR repeater in case it's blocking the IR receiver of the TV, which is quite possible given its size.
Setup and TestingIn terms of setup, the Solo Bar Plus is very straightforward and once you have decided where to position the soundbar all you need to do is connect your various devices. Since the Arcam has four HDMI inputs, two digital inputs, an analogue input and built-in Bluetooth, that should cover the majority of sources found in the normal living room. In testing we connected a Freeview PVR, a Blu-ray player, a PS4 and an Apple TV to the HDMI inputs and we connected our iPhone 6 to the Solo Bar Plus using the Bluetooth receiver.
Once we had everything connected we plugged the setup microphone into the mic socket at the rear of soundbar and attached it to a tripod which we placed in the main listening position. We then ran the auto setup feature which generates special calibration tones that are picked up by the microphone. The Solo Bar then analyses these signals and computes speaker levels and any resonant frequencies in the room that need to be controlled via filters.
If you're using the Solo Sub, or any other subwoofer, then you should start by choosing the best position in the room. You will often find that placing the sub near a wall or in a corner will boost the efficiency and deliver a cleaner low frequency performance but every room is different so some experimentation may be required. Although the Solo Sub can connect wirelessly to the Solo Bar, it will still need a power socket, so bear that in mind, and it's often the case that you only have a limited number of places to actually position the sub anyway.
Once you have decided on the best place for the Solo Sub you can set the initial settings recommended by Arcam or, for another sub, set the level/gain control to the mid-way point and the crossover to around 80Hz. After that you just run the auto setup as before but this time the software will also take into account the crossover frequency of the sub, along with the speaker levels and room resonances. In terms of test material we had broadcast TV via the Freeview PVR, Blu-rays, DVDs and CDs via the Blu-ray player, games and NOW TV via the PS4, Netflix and music via the Apple TV and music via our iPhone 6.
Arcam Solo Bar Plus & Solo Sub Review Video
Sound QualityFirst off the Solo Bar Plus is a great sounding performer, although since we didn't get a chance to review the original Solo Bar we don't know how much difference the subtle re-voicing and firmware tweaks have made. However there's no denying that the larger size of the soundbar and thus the bigger drivers it uses definitely pay dividends. The Solo Bar has a wide and open front soundstage that allows it to handle music like a dedicated stereo system. The positioning of the drivers and tweeters, along with the overall width of the soundbar itself, results in a great sense of stereo separation. The four 4" woofers mean that the mid-range remains detailed and the overall sound has a nice sense of clarity, whilst the two 1" tweeters mean the higher frequencies are reproduced without sounding bright or sibilant.
The Solo Bar's ability to localise sounds and instruments across the front soundstage is impressive but it also kept dialogue both clear and centred. The result was that when listening to music the Solo Bar had an impressively audiophile quality, whilst TV programs remained nicely balanced. Squeeze's new album Cradle to the Grave sound lovely on the Solo Bar, regardless of whether we listened via CD, our home network or from our iPhone 6 over Bluetooth. The soundbar did a great job of delivering the music and picking out the subtle instrumentation. The same was true of Don Henley's new country-inspired album Cass County, where the singer's wonderfully melancholy vocals are delivered with a sense of grace. It's not often that a soundbar can hold its own as a method of listening to music but the Solo Bar Plus definitely falls into that category.
When it came to TV programmes the same was true, with music and any effects always being perfectly rendered whilst dialogue remained clear and cohesive with the overall soundstage. Once we moved on to movies, the performance was equally as impressive with great positioning of effects across the front soundstage, along with music and dialogue. Obviously given the nature of the Solo Bar there is little opportunity for sound effects, aside from unintended reflections, but the auto setup does do a good job of correcting for the resonances of the room. The two sound modes - Movies and Concert - worked reasonably well but we almost always ended up using the Stereo mode which delivered the most accurate performance.
However, once we added the Solo Sub, the whole system kicked up a gear. The Solo Bar had a reasonable amount of bass extension but there's no substitute for a good subwoofer. The auto setup did a great job of integrating the Solo Sub and it complimented the Solo Bar extremely well. As a result it wasn't only movies that benefited but also TV programmes and music. The whole soundstage just had a greater sense of depth to it and the added bass just merged with the lovely mid-range and high-end. Watching a film like Mad Max: Fury Road, the entire front soundstage came alive with greater clarity, scale and impact. However dialogue always remained intelligible and there was still plenty of detail within the sound mix. The Solo Bar and Solo Sub combination might not be the cheapest on the market but it delivers a wonderfully audiophile performance for a soundbar.
The Solo Bar/Sub combo delivered a fantastic audio performance with both movies and music.
- Excellent sound
- Solo Sub combines well
- Attractive design
- Great build quality
- Plenty of connections
- No HDCP2.2 support
- Quite large
Arcam Solo Bar Plus & Solo Sub Review
Should I buy one?
The Arcam Solo Bar Plus proved to be a great sounding performer on its own and even better once you add the Solo Sub. The large size of the soundbar, itself, might make installation tricky but it means that no compromises have been made in terms of sound quality. Despite its size, the understated but attractive design means that the Solo Bar won't draw attention to itself at the front of the room and the build quality is excellent. There's a nice display on the front - although no on-screen menus - and plenty of connections at the rear, although the lack of HDCP2.2 support might prove limited going forward. There's also built-in Bluetooth, a handy small remote control and an impressive free remote app for both iOS and Android. The soundbar comes with a bracket for wall mounting and a microphone for the auto setup feature. There are various sound modes, a room EQ feature, automatic loudness control, a lip sync delay and an IR repeater, which might be useful.
We initially tested the Solo Bar Plus on its own and we were impressed by its performance. The larger chassis and the use of four 4" woofers and two 1" tweeters, all powered by 100W of amplification, meant that the soundbar could produce a wide and open front soundstage. There was a lovely sense of stereo separation with music but at the same time dialogue remain clear and centred on the screen. The mid-range was very detailed and the higher frequencies were nicely reproduced without sounding bright or sibilant. The lower frequencies were also handled well, giving the Solo Bar a decent amount of bass energy. Of course, once you add the wireless Solo Sub with its 10" downward-firing woofer and 300W of amplification everything goes up a gear. The sub was effectively integrated with the soundbar producing deep bass that really gave depth to music and impact to movies. The Arcam Solo Bar Plus and Solo Sub combo aren't cheap but they definitely deliver an audiophile performance for a soundbar.
What are my alternatives?
It's fair to say that for £1,000 you could actually buy a decent AV receiver and sub/sat package, enabling you to have actual surround sound, which is obviously one of the Solo Bar Plus's only limitations. However, if we assume that you've got your mind set on a soundbar and the inherent ease of installation that entails, then what are your alternatives? Well the Paradigm Soundscape might be worth looking at, it delivers a similar audiophile performance for around the same price. If that isn't to your tastes then there's the equally impressive Focal Dimension which also delivers superior performance and plenty of bass. For those with a large curved screen TV, you might consider Samsung's HW-J8500 which is slightly cheaper but does deliver a suitably big sound and plenty of features. Finally, if you do fancy a more immersive surround experience but don't want to wire up speakers all over your lounge then Yamaha's YSP-2500 is a stellar performer which can be picked up for less than £700.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £699.00
Ease of use8
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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