Soundbars are all the rage these days and for good reason, for as home theaters become increasingly complicated, soundbars have gotten better and easier to use. Not to mention, soundbars are exceedingly affordable compared to their home theater counterparts, in some instances costing less than a mid-fi Blu-ray player or a two meter length of HDMI cable. Take for instance the Polk Audio SurroundBar 6000 reviewed here, retailing for $499.95 and sold direct through Polk's own website as well as major big-box retailers.
The Polk Audio SurroundBar 6000 is an all-in-one solution so to speak, featuring a compact speaker array and a wireless subwoofer. The main soundbar measures 35 inches wide by three and three quarter inches high and just under two inches deep and weighs a trim four and a half pounds. Because of its shallow depth the SurroundBar 6000 is an ideal mate for today's latest crop of super thin LED based HDTVs. The included wireless subwoofer measures in at 11 inches high by 10 and a quarter inches wide by 12 inches deep. The subwoofer tips the scales at surprising 10 and a half pounds, which is surprisingly lightweight, given that many modern subwoofers can weigh in excess of 50 pounds.
The SurroundBar features four, two and three quarter inch polypropylene drivers, which handle both high frequencies and midrange with the bass duties falling to the SurroundBar 6000 wireless subwoofer's seven inch downward firing driver. An internal 160-Watt amplifier powers the SurroundBar while an internal 120-Watt amplifier drives the wireless subwoofer. The reported frequency response of both the SurroundBar and matching subwoofer is 40Hz to 20kHz. As for inputs, the SurroundBar features a single optical input and two eight inch analog inputs for which Polk supplies adaptors, enabling customers to use their traditional RCA style analog cables with the SurroundBar 6000.
In terms of features, beyond being simply compact and lifestyle friendly the SurroundBar 6000 features a number of processing modes, including Polk's own Digital Logic, SDA Surround sound technology and 3D Audio. SDA Surround is Polk's patented surround sound algorithm that works in conjunction with their Digital Logic technology (Polk's proprietary DSP software) to reproduce multiple channels without having to use multiple speakers- creating a 3D or surround sound-like aural performance from a single speaker, or in this case a soundbar. The SurroundBar 6000 also features on-board Dolby Digital decoding and playback.
The SurroundBar 6000 comes equipped with all the necessary cables and/or adaptors needed to set it up and enjoy straight out of the box as well as small remote control, which controls the SurroundBar 6000's volume, source selection, mute and subwoofer volume.
The SurroundBar 6000 arrived at my home packaged in its factory box, which houses the SurroundBar, wireless subwoofer and accessories. Unpacking the system is easy enough for one person and setup can take anywhere from five to ten minutes, with no real need to consult the very well written manual or quick start guide.
I installed the SurroundBar 6000 in two drastically different systems beginning with my reference home theater for a kick off and later in my bedroom system, which was probably more appropriate. I connected the SurroundBar to my Sony Blu-ray player via the included optical cable and to my Cambridge Audio DacMagic for two channel playback via a pair of Transparent interconnects using the included eighth inch to RCA adaptor. I plugged both the SurroundBar and wireless subwoofer into the wall and powered them on via their respective power switches and that was it. There are no onscreen menus or DSP settings needed with the SurroundBar 6000, the only thing I had to adjust was the subwoofer level, which I did via the included remote and the bass heavy track "Angel" from Massive Attack.
For my bedroom system I repeated the above mentioned steps; however instead of connecting the SurroundBar directly to my source I opted for my Samsung HDTV's optical audio out. I recalibrated the subwoofer's level using the same track from Massive Attack and was off and running in less than five minutes.
I should mention that because of the SurroundBar's lack of physical depth you pretty much have to use the supplied optical cable, which is very thin and flexible. My third party optical cables from the likes of Transparent, Monster and XLO were too thick and cumbersome to allow for the SurroundBar to sit level on its attached feet atop my Omni+ Vent credenza or Sanus Accurate Series rack in my bedroom.
While the SurroundBar is equipped out of the box to sit on a rack or table below or in front of your HDTV, it can also be wall mounted via a pair of keyhole slots, which allow you to hang the SurroundBar below your wall mounted HDTV much like you would a picture. I recommend using drywall anchors capable of supporting 10 pounds or more if you're unable to mount the SurroundBar directly to the studs in your wall. Keep in mind that Polk does not supply any mounting hardware so if you're looking for an on-wall installation you'll need to make a trip to your local hardware store before you get started.
Performance: Reference Room
I kicked things off with a little two channel music playback understanding full well that the SurroundBar 6000 was designed primarily as a television and movie playback device; however I've always been a firm believer that if a product can reproduce music convincingly then it generally can handle movies too.
I fired up my AppleTV (connected to the SurroundBar via my DacMagic) and pulled up Alanis Morissette's album So-Called Chaos and the track "Doth I Protest Too Much" (Maverick). The opening guitars had a nice tone to them that I wouldn't classify as full bodied or anything that would make me believe I was listening to a live guitar, but for a soundbar designed to replace your HDTV's internal speakers it was very good. Morissette's vocals were well placed, with a decent amount of air and nuance about them that made the performance more enjoyable than what I was expecting. The upper frequencies seemed a bit rolled off and lacked extension while the midrange possessed a surprising amount of body, though I'd still classify it as a touch lean or cool. The lower frequencies, which in this case meant the lower midbass and bass, were ample, with enough detail, speed and weight to anchor the performance and allow the SurroundBar to sound decidedly more full-range than it actually is. With the SurroundBar and wireless subwoofer working in concert, the performance was large, a touch forward and very rhythmic, which in the case of "Doth I Protest Too Much" meant it didn't rob Morissette of her trademark sound.
In terms of soundstage the SurroundBar 6000 produced a surprisingly wide soundstage that did a respectable job separating the individual instruments from one another in the space, but didn't do it with the sort of focus you'd expect from a traditional two channel setup, but nevertheless I was impressed. Dynamically the SurroundBar 6000 proved to be up to the task, though if I got carried away with the volume, the sound, especially the upper midrange and treble, would compress allowing the subwoofer to overpower the performance. I wasn't expecting the SurroundBar 6000 system to play in excess of 100dB, which it won't, but if you keep it within the speed limits it does an admirable job with two-channel music.
Next, I cued up "Hella Good" from No Doubt's Rock Steady album (Interscope Records). "Hella Good" is a bass head's dream and while the SurroundBar 6000 may only be packing a seven-inch driver it didn't disappoint. The opening drum hits and kick drum strikes had an immediacy to them, showcasing the SurroundBar and wireless sub's ability to work in seamless unison, which was quite impressive and wholly enjoyable. When the lower bass guitar riffs enter the fray the sub wasn't entirely able to resolve all that was going on, but it got the essence of the performance correct, which is more than I can say for a lot of other soundbar subwoofer combos in its price range. Stefani's vocals were forward and stood out in stark contrast to the various bass heavy elements happening around her.
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 hometheaterequipment.com. Find your nearest Polk dealer.
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.
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.