When soundbars first arrived on the market, I was not a fan. Most of the soundbars I heard weren't much better than the cheap built-in speakers on the sides of the average TV. To top it off, those early soundbars cost just about as much as a basic home theater speaker setup. I just didn't see much value in them. Sure, they saved space, but the audiophile in me rebelled against the thought of sacrificing so much sound quality.
When I think of our readers, though, I know that many don't have dedicated home theater rooms, so they must accommodate various space and decor constraints. We are talking about "home" theaters, after all--not commercial ones. With that in mind, my goal when exploring soundbars has always been to find the ones that sacrifice the least sound quality while delivering on the space, economic, and ease-of-use considerations that are the soundbar's raison d'etre. It's fair to say that a lot more soundbars fit that bill than in the category's early days.
One example is the Integra DLB-5. At $1,200 suggested retail, this 3.1.2-channel soundbar system proposes a unique combination of benefits--too many to cover exhaustively in this review. Here's what I think are the most compelling highlights. To start, instead of putting the AV processing and connection options directly in the soundbar itself, Integra opted to include a standalone AV receiver as part of the system, packaged alongside the soundbar and subwoofer in one shipping box that weighs slightly shy of 40 pounds. The subwoofer is powered with 50 watts and equipped with a 6.5-inch driver. Oh, and did I mention that it's wireless? Find a convenient space for it near an outlet, and you're done--there's no long subwoofer cable to tether back to the AV receiver (which does include a subwoofer pre out, in case one day you want to upgrade to a beefier model than the one included here).
The soundbar itself is features six forward-facing cone drivers, two each for the left, right, and center channels, plus two up-firing drivers for use with object-based sound formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Naturally, the slimline receiver, which weighs less than nine pounds, can decode both of those formats. It also features AccuEQ room correction, the ability to pass through 4K/HDR video, easy connectivity to almost any streaming music service you could want, and the variety of custom integration options that you would expect from an Integra product.
The goal of any soundbar setup is to make it as painless as possible. Even though the Integra system includes a standalone receiver, Integra has made simplicity a priority. There are very few cables involved. One proprietary cable connects the receiver to the soundbar, with no option to add additional speakers for the surround/rear channels. As I mentioned before, the subwoofer connects wirelessly to the receiver.
The receiver's connection panel sports four HDMI 2.0a inputs and one output with ARC support, plus one optical digital input, one analog audio input, one FM tuner port, one headphone output, and one USB port that supports hi-res audio files. I ran one Wireworld Starlight 7 HDMI cable from my Oppo BDP-105 universal disc player to the receiver and one from the receiver to my TV. That was it.
The receiver supports wired and wireless (802.11a/b/g/n) network connectivity, as well as Bluetooth 4.1+LE. DTS Play-Fi, AirPlay, and FireConnect are built-in, as are the Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, and TuneIn streaming services. The system comes with an IR remote, or you can control it via the Integra Control Pro app, which I downloaded to my Samsung Note 5 phone in just seconds. Running the built-in room correction using the included microphone took another few minutes. Then I was ready to go.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...