Sometimes it's great being proved wrong!
IntroductionWhen we reviewed the, very similar looking, Fidelio HTL9100, we were struck that it was just a cut above your typical soundbar, producing warm and precise audio with a satisfying touch of bass. And it’s there where the greatest difference between it and the HTL5120 lies. Where the 9100 is equipped with a separate subwoofer, the 5100 has one built-in. With that in mind, and the fact the 9100 is some £450 more costly at recommended price, we’re certainly not expecting it to compete with the flagship product. The real question is, can it match or better soundbar packages with similar pricing? Many in this class also include separate subwoofers so it might be some ask but given our experiences with the HTL9100, maybe we’re being pessimistic. Let’s find out if the licks can match the looks.
Design and InstallationWe were possibly expecting the HTL5120 to be a slightly shrunken down version of the 9100 but we were wrong with that. It is, in fact, quite a bit heavier and bulkier, owing to the integrated subwoofer inside. In fact, when arranged in its table-top configuration, i.e. laid flat in front of the TV, it has a depth of 16cm so make sure you have enough clearance. At only 8cm, in height, it’s not likely to get in the way of the bottom of the screen, however. The HTL5120 can also be wall-mounted, using the included brackets and there’s an in-built orientation sensor to make sure you’re getting optimal sound quality. We’re big fans of the airfoil design and we can’t imagine it looking anything other than lovely in most living rooms
The HTL5120 is a very well connected package with 2 HDMI inputs as well as an ‘out’ to take advantage of TVs with Audio Return Channel (ARC) compatibility, allowing the television to send audio ‘upstream’, cutting down on the number of cables behind the TV and also meaning you can use the TV’s remote to control the volume. There’s also a 3.5mm L/R stereo audio and both coaxial and optical digital audio connections to choose from. If that’s not enough, the 5120 will also communicate with your Bluetooth enabled PC, Smartphone or Tablet to stream your music collection or even as an accompaniment to games and other apps. With all those connections available, keeping everything neat and tidy is a concern and Philips has gone some way in addressing that by including a cable tidy clip for wire management. In practice, if you do utilise every connection, it’s going to be difficult not to have things poking out.
The Phlips HTL5120 doesn’t doesn’t feature any OSD (on-screen display), despite the HDMI out connection so it’s through a combination of the elliptically shaped remote control and indicator from where all operations must be marshalled. The remote is quite nice to handle but a touch on the slippy side and the contours aren’t ideally shaped to sit in the hand. The buttons are well planned and presented, however, with plenty of space between one another. The handset has controls for input selection, volume, bass and treble as well as standby and an activation of the virtual surround mode.
We like that Philips has thought to put an Audio Sync (both negative and positive) on the remote as some other manufacturers don’t and there’s nothing more annoying than lip sync issues. The indicator panel isn’t that much use unless you’re up close and personal with it. Even then, the lettering is very difficult to read but if you can make it out, you will see there are lights for all the inputs as well as notification for when the surround mode is active, the detachable speakers are paired and the power on or off.
FeaturesThe Fidelio HTL9100 certainly sits toward the top of the soundbar price range and so we would expect it to not shy away from providing plenty of talking points here. As we’ve seen in other solutions, Philips has included orientation detection, meaning it will adjust its output dependent on whether it’s in table-top ‘mode’ or wall-mounted, on the supplied brackets. The HTL5120 is capable of decoding Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio, as well as being able to apply Dolby Pro Logic II processing to stereo sources to create a pseudo-surround experience. As well as the previously mentioned ARC compliance, the 5120 is also HDMI CEC friendly meaning, in effect, you could use its remote to control your TVs volume but that seems to defeat the object in having a soundbar. It’s much more likely you’ll be dong the reverse but if you have a TV with an ARC enabled HDMI port, we’d recommend that route.
Audio QualityWe try and enter all reviews with an open mind but we have to admit we had some concerns going into this one. How was a ‘sub-less’ speaker package going to compete with one ‘with-woofer’? The short answer is, very nicely thank you and for the second time in the process, we’d been proved flatly incorrect. The HTL5120 can at least hold its own with most of the others in this price class which leads us to wonder why the rest aren’t utilising the separate subwoofers to better effect. The HTL5120 conceals two bass drivers in its casing and the ‘double bass’ effect is surprisingly full and rich. Not to mention punchy; in fact, as I type, with the Philips delivering streamed music (John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts, as it happens) on the table in front of me, it’s actually proving difficult due to the reverberations. Withers had best have his best proof-reading monocle deployed for this one.
The effect is as good with TV and movies as it is with music too. The HTL5120 inherits much of the sonic signature of the higher-end Fidelio range, meaning it’s warm and full, yet still reasonably transparent. The soundstage is also wider when than one might expect with audio radiating from the teardrop sides, as well as frontwards from the mid-range drivers and downwards from the dual subs. It all adds up to something quite compelling and we applaud Philip’s feat of engineering here. It’s certainly possible to push those bass drivers too hard, however, and it’s likely that some surfaces might rattle more than others but the HTL5120 is undoubtedly more than capable of immersing the average living room in highly satisfying sound. We guess the only other minor negative we can come up with is that the DSP Virtual Surround mode is a waste of time but you don’t have to use it!
- Lovely, room-filling audio
- As good with music as it is movies & TV
- Gorgeous, compact design
- Loads of connections
- A doddle to set up
- Outstanding value
- Bass can distort when pushed too hard
- Remote is a bit slippy in the hand
- No OSD set up
Philips HTL5120 Soundbar ReviewThe Philips HTL5120 is both bigger and heavier than one might expect. Its near 16cm depth will mean you'll need a fair bit of clearance on your unit unless you choose to wall-mount using the included brackets. Either way it's a very good looking speaker bar that marries design with connectivity, featuring 2 HDMI inputs, ARC compatibility, Bluetooth as well as a couple of digital audio inputs. That should me most bases covered in the typical living room. The package couldn't really be any simpler to set up and operate, either. Plug in your source, choose the input and then use the remote to adjust the volume.
It's child's play really, although we're not fully sold on the remote which is a bit like a bar of soap but not quite so slippery. Once you're happy with your sound levels, you can then sit back to enjoy the warm - and surprisingly big - sound of the HTL5120. Philips has engineered an enveloping soundstage from this rather modest looking system and also full credit for the in-built bass drivers that will give any subwoofer, in this price-class, a run for their money. You'll be surprised what Philip's has managed to accomplish with this compact little system. We certainly know we were!
Ease of Use9
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
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