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.