I began my evaluation of the MagniFi Mini in my apartment living room, which is made up of bare, angled walls, sliding glass doors, and wood floors. There are a lot of signals reflecting around that room when I watch movies and TV shows, and oftentimes it's difficult for me to hear dialogue clearly, especially when I'm trying to keep the volume lower in the evenings. Male vocals, in particular, sound muffled and fuzzy, so I often resort to headphone use.
To see how the Mini would handle this environment, I binge-watched season three of Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle--a show that bounces between dialogue and classical music. Season three is also filled with a lot of operatic singing. I instantly liked what I heard from the MagniFi Mini. It presented a nicely balanced sound. With a couple clicks up on the VoiceAdjust function, male and female vocals were crisp and clear without sounding thin or overly artificial.
As with most small soundbars, the midrange was somewhat lean, but the blend between the subwoofer and soundbar was good. The sub filled in the lower registers nicely without drawing too much attention to itself, and I didn't hear male voices in the sub. As I've stated in the past, I don't like to hear a lot of bass boom with my TV shows, and the Polk sub exhibited good control over the bass. I didn't have to play the volume up/down game to keep dialogue and bass in balance. When I did feel the need for a little more bass, I could easily get it with a couple clicks of the remote's bass control. And in those moments when I did feel compelled to push the volume to hear the music in all its glory, the Mini showed off its dynamic prowess, with a bigger sound and a more spacious soundstage than you'd expect from a box so tiny.
The living room in the house is completely different type of room: a big, carpeted room that flows into the dining room, kitchen, and upstairs walkways. Yet the Mini had no problem filling this room, either--whether I watched movies or streamed music to it.
I did some direct A/B comparisons with VIZIO's SB3821-C6, a 2.1-channel soundbar that uses dual 2.75-inch drivers with a separate five-inch subwoofer. Brent Butterworth actually sent me this VIZIO as an example of a low-priced soundbar that performs well, so it's no slouch. With an episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the VIZIO soundbar had a little more meat in the midrange, but the Polk produced cleaner dialogue, and its soundstage was more spacious. Also, the Polk sub had more control over the pounding bass notes, whereas the VIZIO sub was pretty boomy.
In two of my favorite movie demos--the Lobby Shooting Spree in The Matrix and chapter 11 in Ironman--both the VIZIO and Polk had impressive dynamic ability. The VIZIO bar is three times bigger than the Polk, yet the Polk's SDA technology did a more convincing job of producing a broad soundstage. Bullets seemed to reach farther and wider out into the room.
Again the VIZIO had more midrange presence, but the Polk's bass performance was tighter and cleaner, and its high-frequency effects were clearer and more precise. The Mini definitely emphasizes high frequencies in order to deliver that clarity. If you prefer a more laidback sound, the Mini may not be the best choice, but I never felt that the high frequencies were bright, harsh, or grating. I just appreciated how clear and clean things sounded.
I also compared the MagniFi Mini with Fluance's $250 AB40 soundbase, which is a single-box solution that puts four 3-inch drivers and two tweeters into a flat cabinet designed to sit under your TV. The Fluance cabinet is almost larger than the Polk Mini soundbar and subwoofer cabinets combined.
I cued up chapter five from the San Andreas Blu-ray disc, the scene where the earthquake begins. This was an interesting comparison, as it really highlighted the differences between the one-piece soundbase and two-piece soundbar approaches. In terms of dynamic ability, the two products were quite similar--which speaks to the impressive prowess of the tiny Polk--but their sonic qualities were very different. Obviously, the Fluance's larger drivers and cabinet allowed to it reproduce a much fuller and richer midrange and give some space to all the scene's dense, chaotic sound effects. The higher frequencies were more subdued, and dialogue was a little less clear. With the Polk, the dialogue was easily discernible through all the chaos, and the dedicated subwoofer was better able to reproduce the lower-end rumbles of the falling building and explosions. But you do lose some weight and presence in those midrange effects.
As part of my music auditions, I streamed some AIFF files over Bluetooth, including Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage." This is a big-sounding recording, and the SDA technology did a nice job of conveying that sense of space, and the two-piece speaker/subwoofer combo allowed for a much fuller, more complete presentation than your typical Bluetooth speaker.
But I also appreciate that the SDA technology didn't make music sound too artificial or processed to achieve that bigger sound. More straightforward recordings like The Bad Plus's "1979 Semi-Finalist" and Tom Waits' "Long Way Home" still had a natural quality, albeit with the same high-frequency emphasis I heard with movies. The bass and VoiceAdjust controls on the remote do make it easy to tailor the low and high frequencies on the fly to obtain your preferred balance--and the bass notes in these tracks were tight and well controlled.
One thing I do want to point out is that the MagniFi Mini definitely has a sweet zone directly in front of it, where it sounds the best and most natural. Presumably due to the SDA technology and the way the drivers perform the crosstalk cancellation, if you're standing or sitting way off to the sides, you hear some odd effects. For me, this was most obvious when using the MagniFi Mini as a Bluetooth music speaker. With music sources, I was more inclined to be moving around the house as I listened--whereas with movies and TV, I was almost always positioned right in the sweet zone.
The Mini has a fairly limited number of connection options, but it's on par with--and in some cases better than--other similarly priced soundbars. Some competitors might provide two digital audio inputs, while the Mini substitutes the HDMI ARC port for one of them. True HDMI input/output pass-through is generally reserved for higher-priced soundbar systems.
The remote control works great and has a lot of helpful buttons, but I do wish it had a Bluetooth button. Whenever you want to enable a Bluetooth source, you have to walk over to the soundbar and hit the top-panel Bluetooth button. Other products I've tested, like the VIZIO and Fluance models, have a direct Blueooth button.
Comparison & Competition
There are a number of 2.1-channel soundbar options in the $200 to $300 price range. The VIZIO SB3821-D6 is the updated version of the model I used for comparison. Like the Polk, it's a 2.1-channel system with 2.75-inch drivers and a 5.25-inch subwoofer. It has both Bluetooth and Chromecast support, and it has more connections options--but no HDMI ARC support. Its MSRP is $219.99.
JBL Cinema's SB250 ($299.99) and Klipsch's Reference R-10B ($299.99) are 2.1-channel options with Bluetooth. The Bose Solo 5 TV soundbar ($249.99) has a larger cabinet design but no subwoofer. Zvox offers the one-piece AccuVoice TV speaker for $249.99 or its one-piece SoundBase.570 for $299.99. Yamaha's soundbar lineup includes one-piece bars like the YAS-106 that cost less than $200 and two-piece soundbar/sub combos like the YAS-203 that carry higher price tags than the MagniFi Mini.
Polk's own MagniFi One sells for the same price as the Mini but has the longer form factor of a traditional soundbar, with larger three-inch drivers and a seven-inch subwoofer--but no SDA or HDMI ARC connection.
I'm thoroughly impressed with Polk's MagniFi Mini. It delivers exactly what I want in a soundbar--clear dialogue, controlled bass, and great dynamics--in a very petite, easy-to-place package. It's also got a nice set of features for the price. Pretty much all the competitors in this range offer Bluetooth, but things like Chromecast and the HDMI ARC connection are harder to find.
Yes, the MagniFi Mini is a great choice for a smaller space like an apartment, dorm room, or bedroom, but don't let its small stature fool you into thinking that it can only perform well in really small spaces. This little guy punches far above its weight class and deserves a serious look from anyone shopping in the $300 soundbar category.
• Check out our Soundbar category page to read similar reviews.
• Visit the Polk website for more product information.
• Polk Introduces Signature Speaker Series at HomeTheaterReview.com.