Unless you’re a devout audiophile, the type of person who pays $1200 for a record clamp made from “extra heavy black ebony root immersed in the swamps of Africa for decades” (I’m not kidding), then you’ll probably think speakers should be heard and not seen. And you have a point – who needs living room décor dominated by big and sometimes seriously weird-looking boxes?

base 1No wonder soundbars have become so popular. They sit so unobtrusively below the screen that sometimes it’s hard to pick them from the screen’s own frame, and they pump out sound that is vastly superior to the tiny little drivers manufacturers are shoehorning into televisions these days.

Four years ago Bose introduced a clever idea it called the Solo. This is essentially a soundbar on steroids, a wide, flat box that’s strong enough to perch a smaller telly on. The Solo presents much the same appearance as a soundbar to the television viewer, but extends far deeper, and the extra space gives engineers a lot more room to work with. They were able to build in their patented Wave technology allowing very long wavelengths to be generated from very compact areas. The longer the wavelength the deeper the sound.

This gives the Solo a significant sonic advantage over soundbars; it doesn’t need a separate subwoofer to hit the sort of rumbling, low-range sound that creates so much excitement and atmosphere in movies. Separate subwoofers often create better and stronger bass than a Solo but they’re invariably big, ugly things and almost always black. I suspect speakers generally and subwoofers in particular have led to plenty of marital disputes.

But like lots of cabs that are first off the technological rank the Bose does have a few shortcomings, and the big one is its load bearing. The base of the television can be no larger than 50 cm by 26 cm and the television and stand can weigh no more than 18 kilograms. While Bose assures customers that a Solo will comfortably take the load of most televisions up to 106 cm, we Australians now regard 106 cm as small. If it ain’t 140 cm, and ideally 150, we’re not much interested.

Televisions have been getting lighter lately and you can now get a 140 cm telly with ultra-high definition and all the trimmings that weighs in at 18 kilograms. But the stand dimensions are still a problem for the Bose.

Other manufacturers have since unveiled their own interpretations of the Bose idea. One of them, the ZVox555 (around $700) is made with MDF and takes a television of up to 54 kilograms while the AudioXperts 4TV2112 is aluminium and glass and takes 80 kilograms, but costs more like two grand.

base 2Denon also has an attractive offering, the DHTT100, which takes up to 27 kilograms and costs about the same as the Bose. The difference in sound quality between it and the Bose would be marginal to many listeners, but load capacity could be the deal breaker.

Now these speaker systems, known in the industry as speaker bases or sound bases, have achieved a further degree of legitimacy. Sony, the big Kahuna, is making one.

It’s called the HTXT1 and it will support up to 30 kilograms. With a width of 72 cm and depth of 31 cm (the height is 7.2 cm) it’s significantly wider than the Bose so can take a much bigger screen stand. The Bose measures 52 cm wide by 31 cm deep and 7 cm high.

The Sony has the added advantage of being new, which means it offers near field communication, an optical input, Bluetooth and is controllable by a smartphone. It also has three HDMI inputs and a single HDMI out, meaning you can route a disc player and games console to the television by way of it. The Bose provides an optical input and RCA plugs, and not much more.

Personally I prefer the sound of the Bose. Although Sony has put a down-firing 10 cm bass reflex subwoofer in the HTXT1 the bass is not as clean and defined, and the Bose generally handles both music and movies better. But with far greater flexibility and a sharper price I’d have the Sony (at $449) over the Bose (at $549) in a flash.

Published July 2014

 

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