Some people might consider the soundbar an invasive species threatening to overrun the native home theater environment. Indeed, soundbars are multiplying and popping up faster than the "flying" bighead Asian carp that are taking over the Mississippi River and cold-cocking fishermen in their boats. (Imagine if they were "cold-codding" fishermen instead. Now that would be a fish story ...) There are so many soundbars on the market nowadays that it's becoming difficult for manufacturers to incorporate unique functions and features in order to differentiate their offerings from every other soundbar out there.
At the moment, Monitor Audio makes one soundbar, the $1,649 ASB-2. It's certainly not the most expensive soundbar you can buy, but that price does put the ASB-2 into a category that's expected to be high-performance, especially since the ASB-2 does not include a dedicated subwoofer. It does, however, incorporate a unique auto-sensing LFE subwoofer output that changes the soundbar's filter/crossover settings when a subwoofer is connected to the ASB-2. With its long, elliptical curves and shiny, brushed-aluminum side panels, the word that comes to mind to describe the appearance of the ASB-2 is sporty or, maybe, modern chic. It's ... well ... you can see the pictures. Come up with your own hoity-toity term for the way it looks. I like the design. It's neutral enough to fit in with most decors, yet the chassis' curves and metal sides keep it from being boring.
In addition to proprietary drivers and DSP, Monitor Audio touts the ASB-2's built-in 28/56 bit, dual-precision DAC that's engaged when an iPod/iPhone is connected to the soundbar via the USB port. Further adding to the ASB-2's upscale nature is the inclusion of wireless AirPlay, DLNA, and UPnP music streaming capabilities.
Aside from an optional subwoofer, the Monitor Audio ASB-2 is an all-in-one system that includes a silicon rubber base for use when setting the ASB-2 on a shelf or the top of a TV, and Monitor Audio says that the ASB-2 is designed to fit Sanus TV mounting systems for walls and cabinets. For a soundbar, it's uncommonly rich in inputs, featuring three HDMI inputs and an HDMI output that supports 1080p/3D video pass-through, a digital coaxial input, a digital optical input, and two analog stereo inputs: one set of RCA jacks and one 3.5mm jack. To make the ASB-2 as simple and easy to use as possible, the soundbar can be configured to power up whenever it senses an incoming HDMI signal. In keeping with its simple nature, the ASB-2 includes ARC support on the HDMI output and allows compatible TVs to control the volume of the ASB-2.
The remote that comes with the soundbar is about half the size of a normal soundbar remote and has a limited number of buttons. Meanwhile, there's a full slate of controls located on the top of the ASB-2, including more than just the typical power, volume, and mute buttons found on a lot of other soundbars (if at all). For example, you'll find separate selection buttons for toggling through each source type - HDMI (1-3), digital (coax, optical), and analog (AUX1, AUX2) - as well as on/off toggle buttons for the wireless network connection, mute, and 3D audio.
In general, the build quality is excellent. The ASB-2 measures 39.6 inches long, 7.1 inches tall, and 6.6 inches deep and weighs a hefty 25.4 pounds. While the main chassis is very sturdy, the grille support structure behind the front grille cloth is made from a slightly flexible plastic. Everything else, though, is solid as a rock. In fact, the only reason why I noticed the grille's flexibility was because I was leaning the front of the ASB-2 against my padded belly while I was carrying the solid, heavy beast from one room to another.
Early on, I listened to the Monitor Audio ASB-2 positioned on a shelf in my office; for the most part, though, I used the ASB-2 resting on the top of the cabinet in front of a Samsung 58-inch plasma TV. Since the soundbar does not include Bluetooth, I connected a Monoprice Bluetooth Home Theater Music Receiver - which is quite an impressive piece, considering it's one of the least expensive Bluetooth receivers with an optical digital audio output - to the ASB-2's optical audio input. I also connected my iPhone 4S directly to the soundbar's USB input and tested out the AirPlay and DLNA capabilities with my computer.
Depending on your home network architecture, the wireless setup procedure for the ASB-2 can be either stupidly simple or a bit more intimidating. If your wireless router has WPS capability, then integrating the ASB-2 into your network is as simple as pressing the WPS button on your router and then pressing the wireless connection button on top of the ASB-2. If your router does not support WPS, an alternative method of setting up the ASB-2's wireless capabilities is to connect it to your iOS device via the ASB-2's USB port. An authorization request will pop up on your iOS device asking for permission to transfer the wireless security settings from the iOS device to the ASB-2. By the time your finger finishes touching the screen, the process is pretty much complete. A third method of setting up the ASB-2's wireless connectivity parameters is to put the ASB-2 in hotspot mode, wherein it creates its own temporary wireless network. You can then join your computer to the ASB-2's network and use your browser to manually enter the security key, etc.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Performance, the Downside, Competition and Comparison and Conclusion . . .