Soundbars are all the rage these days, representing one of the most cost effective ways to get into the home theater game. However, a lot of soundbars rely on trick DSP and internal amplification, which makes them impossible to upgrade and/or build a system around as technology and your tastes change. Thankfully, soundbars are usually cheap enough that if you were forced to replace one down the road it wouldn't be the end of the world. But like every good infomercialsays, "There has to be a better way."
Introducing the P400 three-channel soundbar speaker from Boston Acoustics. Retailing for $899 the P400 is technically a soundbar; however it features no internal amplification nor does it have any trick DSP or surround sound processing. The P400 is essentially a home theater's front three speakers, left-center-right, in a single soundbar chassis. This means that the P400 is treated like any other home theater speaker, drawing power from a receiver or amplifier via its three pairs of five way binding posts located centrally on the P400's backside.
The P400 measures in at nearly six inches high by 40 inches long and four and three quarter inches deep and tips the scales at 14 pounds give or take. The P400 is the perfect size to fit comfortably and stylishly under any moderate to large HDTV available today. Speaking of stylish, the P400 comes in two colors: gloss piano black and aluminum/silver. Both look stunning especially when wall mounted. Speaking of wall mounting, the P400 comes with the required bracket to mount it to a wall as well as with a table stand for those wanting to rest it on a shelf or credenza.
Inside the P400 are three identical speakers in one chassis; removing the P400's grill will verify what I'm talking about. Each speaker features a single, one-inch, aluminum dome tweeter that rests between a single four and a half inch bass/midrange driver and a four and a half inch passive bass radiator. Count them up and the P400 has nine total drivers, giving it a reported frequency response of 80Hz to 20kHz with a sensitivity rating of 90dB into a standard eight-Ohm load. Power gets to the speakers via three pairs of gold plated five-way binding posts, which rest, centrally, along the P400's back panel and can accept bare wire or spade lugs.
In terms of sound the P400 was built to be a home theater speaker. While capable of playing back music surprisingly well, it shines when given a properly mixed Dolby Digital or better yet a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack to play with. The nice thing about the P400, because it is essentially three speakers with no internal DSP, is that it will play the latest surround sound formats provided your receiver or amplifier will decode the signals. The P400's sound is a bit lively which isn't a bad thing. It's very clear, dynamic and can handle volume pretty well. It does a surprisingly good job at sounding a bit larger than it really is as well as being more spatially open then one would expect from a single chassis design without tricky internal DSP. It does need a subwoofer for true full range sound, which is to be expected.
Read about the high points and low points on Page 2.
• The P400's fit and finish is quite stylish and sturdy and should fit with a wide variety of decors.
• The P400 is the best of both worlds, a soundbar that you can treat like three separate left, center, right main speakers. The P400 can grow with you and your system instead of becoming obsolete whenever Dolby or DTS releases a new surround sound format.
• The P400 shines at being an all-in-one home theater speaker and should fit the bill nicely for enthusiasts with space constraints and budget concerns. It may not be the best speaker for larger home theater or living spaces though.
• The P400 has a lively, upbeat, dynamic sound that is fun and engaging to listen to without becoming harsh or grainy. Keep the volume within reason and the P400 won't disappoint; push it to hard and it can and will begin to breakup.
• Not so much a low point as it is stating the obvious, but if you want a true home theater experience with the P400 as the center piece then you're going to need to pop for a separate subwoofer (or two) and a pair of rear channel speakers. Again, not the end of the world but it will drive the total system cost up a bit.
• Because the P400 doesn't have any internal amplification or surround sound processing it does require the consumer to purchase a receiver and a source like a Blu-ray player to drive them, which may or may not be defeating the purpose of it being a soundbar. Personally, I love that the P400 is essentially three speakers in one chassis for I find it increases its long-term value to the consumer by not becoming obsolete every time there is a new format introduced.
• The P400's sound can fill small to medium sized rooms nicely. However if you're rocking a great room or large media room you may want to step up to some dedicated on-walls or better still some floorstanding speakers.
I like soundbars, I think they're cool and a great way to get into the home theater space without having to spend tons of money. What I don't like about them is that they're usually limiting in terms of an upgrade path, which may render them obsolete when a new sound format is introduced. What I love about the P400 is that it gives the consumer all of the benefits of a soundbar, sleek design, various mounting options, single chassis design and more with none of the drawbacks I mentioned earlier because it is three speakers in one. I dig it and I would strongly urge anyone considering purchasing a "traditional" soundbar to audition the P400 before making your final decision.