Home Theater Review

 

Polk Audio SurroundBar 6000 Instant Home Theater Reviewed

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HTR Product Rating

Performance
4.5 Stars
Value
4.5 Stars
Overall
4.5 Stars

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When it came time for the chorus and for things to get even more raucous the SurroundBar 6000 stood its ground though if I pushed beyond its happy place things quickly got out of hand, compressing again in the upper frequencies with the lower registers getting all tubby. Again, I'm not trying to criticize the SurroundBar 6000 for being vague or unable to handle the load when the going gets rough, not at all, I'm simply stating that there is only so much a super thin, four driver speaker can do even when mated to a seven inch powered subwoofer. If you want more composure at higher volumes or the ability to fill larger rooms with copious amounts of sound I recommend looking at some of Polk Audio's larger soundbar options.

Satisfied with my two channel findings I cued up Avatar on Blu-ray disc (20th Century Fox). Well knock me over with a feather, for within five minutes of watching Avatar on Blu-ray with its Dolby Digital soundtrack it became immediately apparent what the SurroundBar 6000 was truly designed for - movies. Across the board everything about the SurroundBar 6000's performance, from its high frequency response on down to the lower bass notes improved dramatically. Spatially, the entire performance was larger, more enveloping and befitting of an epic such as Avatar. However, despite the added vigor and resolution provided by the film's Dolby Digital soundtrack, the SurroundBar 6000 was unable to fully envelope me in sound; stopping half way between my listening position and the soundbar itself. I'm not complaining, for I have yet to encounter any soundbar that truly achieves a full 360-degree sound field from a single speaker, there are some that do it better than the SurroundBar 6000 and there are ones that do it far worse; for the price and place within the market I'd say the SurroundBar 6000 is above average.

Next, I cued up The Taking of Pelham 123 starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta on Blu-ray disc (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). While Pelham has its fair share of action, I focused more on the film's more subtle moments such as the Metro Control Center and the vacant tunnels of New York's vast subway network. Via the SurroundBar 6000, the subway tunnels were a hollow, lonely space rife with subtle sonic cues and textures such as leaking pipes and the occasional rodent squeak. In contrast the control center was a barrage of distant telephone calls, computer key strikes and monitor hum, all of which were reproduced beautifully via the SurroundBar 6000 system. The SurroundBar 6000's ability to shine light upon the subtlest of sonic cues and nuances is impressive and a feat few soundbars can match in its price range. Dialog was crisp with tremendous presence though it was still a bit lean and cool - though not distractingly so. When the action heated up the SurroundBar 6000 dished out a wholly enjoyable performance, complete with suitable low-end grunt and explosive dynamic capabilities. The surround sound performance on Pelham 123 was equal to that of Avatar in that they were both presented within a very wide and deep soundstage but one that didn't manage to fully envelope my listening position.

Performance: Master Bedroom
As I stated earlier, I utilized the SurroundBar 6000 in two drastically different environments: my reference home theater and my master bedroom. My master bedroom features no custom or professional acoustic treatments, nor does it even feature a high-end system. It's just my bedroom, complete with a simple 32-inch Vizio LCD HDTV, Sherwood Blu-ray player and Dish Network HD DVR. That's it. Installed in my bedroom system, amidst my hardwood floors, bare walls and minimal furniture, the SurroundBar 6000 sounded... better. Clearly the smaller venue, reflective surfaces and placement on my wall suited the SurroundBar 6000 better than my reference audiophile-oriented space in the other room. The performance across the board benefited from a slightly enhanced top end, which improved detail and attack, be it with music or movies. The midrange was still on the cool side, as were the upper frequencies, and a touch more forward but it wasn't overtly so nor was it unbearable. The bass seemed to be a bit lighter, though the sub's output seemed to increase, causing me to recalibrate its level to match the SurroundBar itself. Overall, the SurroundBar 6000 was able to do more with less, less volume and less space. More importantly, because of the reflective surfaces in my bedroom, the SurroundBar 6000 lived up to its name by providing a nearly convincing surround sound performance from a single speaker. Instead of the sound stopping half way between the sound bar and my ears it traveled 90 percent of the way there and was far more immersive and convincing in allowing me to believe there were rear channel speakers present.

Bottom line, because of its size and driver compliment, including the included wireless subwoofer, the SurroundBar 6000 is better suited for small dens, living room and of course bedrooms. If given too much real estate to play with, the SurroundBar 6000 simply cannot energize the air appropriately before reaching its limits. Like I said earlier, if you want a soundbar that can play in a large room you're going to want to look elsewhere in the Polk Audio lineup. However, if you're looking for a solid, entry-level soundbar to compliment your 30 to 42-inch HDTV that's easy to use and sounds great in a more intimate setting, then the SurroundBar 6000 is definitely for you.

Comparison and Competition
Soundbars are a hot topic these days and the competition is fierce, with virtually every manufacturer big and small offering some sort of all-in-one solution. At around the SurroundBar 6000's asking price of $499 there are a few worthy adversaries worth checking out before making your final decision. One such competitor is the Vizio VSB210WS, which like the SurroundBar 6000, is a soundbar and wireless subwoofer combo that retails for $349. Also worth checking out is the Aperion SLIMstage 30 by Soundmatters soundbar which retails for $799 and includes DSP and a more robust subwoofer. Obviously, you can go a bit more up market and take a peek at Bowers & Wilkins' Panorama Soundbar for $2,200. Of course you can also look within Polk Audio's own lineup of soundbars, which retain the SurroundBar 6000's enticing sound but just give you more of it. For more information on soundbars please visit Home Theater Review's soundbar page.
  Discuss soundbars at HomeTheaterSpot.com.  Find your nearest Polk dealer.

The Downside
As far as soundbars go there is little not to like about the SurroundBar 6000. It's easy to setup, easy to use, sounds good for the money and performs as advertised. That being said, because of its smaller size and driver compliment, it won't re-create that home theater experience in larger rooms, for that you're going to want a larger soundbar. In bedrooms, dens or offices the SurroundBar 6000 should perform nicely.

The SurroundBar 6000 benefits from having a few extra reflective surfaces around, especially sidewalls, which flies in the face of conventional audiophile wisdom. If your room is too dead or treated, the surround sound effect the SurroundBar 6000 is capable of producing is going to be diminished.

At high volumes the SurroundBar 6000 will compress, especially in the top end, causing the bass to sound bloated and overbearing. Also, there is no way to have multiple settings stored within the SurroundBar 6000's settings, meaning what may sound good in terms of subwoofer level for music may not be ideal for movies. Thankfully, you can increase or decrease the wireless subwoofer's level via remote versus having to mess with an analog dial.

Lastly, while the SurroundBar 6000 will decode and playback Dolby Digital soundtracks from your favorite DVDs and/or Blu-ray discs (no Dolby TrueHD support) it has no user selectable DSP for two-channel music or problem rooms, which isn't a deal breaker but it's something a few soundbars in the 6000's class do offer.

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Conclusion
I'm amazed at how quickly soundbars have advanced and how good they sound considering their obvious limitations and budget status. The soundbar market around the $500 price point seems to be the most competitive of the lot, with more manufacturers offering capable soundbars at or around that price point than any other. The SurroundBar 6000 from Polk Audio has stepped into the ring welcoming all challengers with its super slim design, wireless subwoofer and Dolby Digital decoding and playback all for $499.

Is the SurroundBar 6000 perfect? No, but no product, let alone a soundbar is. The SurroundBar 6000 is a little bit better than average with two-channel material but excels when you can feed it Dolby Digital soundtracks, for that seems to transform the SurroundBar 6000 from a run-of-the-mill soundbar into something a bit more special. If you're looking to add a soundbar system to a bedroom, den or office system to give your HDTV and movie watching experience a bit more heft and sophistication, then the SurroundBar 6000 is worth your consideration and possibly your hard earned money.

Additional Resources
• Read more soundbar reviews from the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Find a plasma HDTV to pair with the SurroundBar 6000.

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