Many audio enthusiasts - this one included - like having a big mishmash of gear and remotes strewn around the living room. We don't care much what it looks like as long as it sounds great. Sonance has always focused on a different customer, the kind who expects audio/video gear to integrate both operationally and visually, either complimenting the home decor or disappearing almost entirely. The company designed its new SB46 soundbars for exactly that kind of buyer.
No matter what kind of TV you have, as long as its screen size is somewhere from 50 to 80 inches, the SB46 soundbar can be made to look like it's part of the TV. Artison has been doing this for a while with soundbars, but its system requires ordering a specific grille size to suit your TV. The Sonance SB46 soundbars can be custom-sized to your TV by you or your A/V installer in seconds, thanks to its telescoping design. Just pull on the end of the soundbar, and the enclosure slides out to the length you need. No tools or extra parts required. It's as simple to adjust as, say, a microphone stand or a swingarm lamp.
Sonance makes the SB46 in two sizes: the $1,750 SB46 M for TVs ranging from 50 to 65 inches in screen size and the $2,000 SB46 L for TVs from 70 to 80 inches. One of the great things about the telescoping design is that, as long as your next TV is in the same size range, you can use the same soundbar and it'll fit perfectly.
Changing the size of the soundbar doesn't significantly change the acoustics. The actual speaker enclosure is fixed in size. The sections on the sides that slide out are hollow, formed from a cosmetic grille and a metal back panel. The whole unit looks surprisingly well-integrated; you can't tell by looking that the extensions are hollow and only there for looks.
Soundbars have a bad name among some home theater enthusiasts, who see them (or hear them) as nothing more than cheap plastic junk created to appeal to the Costco crowd. There are a lot of soundbars like that, but the Sonance SB46 has as much to do with those as a bottle of Rombauer chardonnay does with a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck. First, the SB46 is a passive soundbar, which means you need to connect it to an A/V receiver or a multi-channel amp. This might not be as convenient an arrangement as the simple, one-cable connection most inexpensive soundbars offer, but the combination of a passive soundbar and a receiver provides much, much better sound quality. Sure, some of those cheap soundbars say they're 300 watts, but that's hard to believe when you see they come with a 40-watt power supply. With a receiver, you're getting as least a few hundred watts of honest power, usually from traditional Class AB amps instead of the ultra-cheap, low-performance Class D amps used in most inexpensive soundbars.
Second, the SB46 is basically three "real" speakers combined in a single enclosure. The quality of the drivers and the rigidity of the enclosure rise far above what we see in inexpensive soundbars. Each channel is a three-way speaker, with dual 4.5-inch Kevlar/Nomex woofers, a four-inch Kevlar midrange, and a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter. This driver arrangement should give the SB46 much clearer voice reproduction and better bass response than most, or maybe all, inexpensive active soundbars can muster.
Because the SB46 has only left, center and right channels, you have to add your own surround speakers and subwoofer, in addition to the A/V receiver. Soup to nuts, you're talking about a typical total system cost of $4,000 to $6,000. At that kind of cost premium, the SB46 better sound a lot better. Let's find out if it does.
Sonance clearly intended the SB46 for use with wall-mounted TVs, because it includes lots of hardware that lets you attach it to a standard VESA TV mount rather than directly to the wall. This is a big plus if you have a fancy mount with an articulating arm, because the soundbar will travel along with the TV when you move it. At just 2.56 inches thick, the SB46 is slim enough to look right even with super-skinny TVs, and the mounting hardware allows the soundbar to fit a little further back, so that its face is flush with the TV. The soundbar does have a couple of keyhole mounts on the back if you want to do a traditional "bolt it to the studs" wall mount.
My only wall-mounted TV right now is a 37-incher, too small to use even with the smaller SB46 M. So I ordered the larger model, the SB46 L, for my review sample and used stands to push the soundbar right up under my Stewart 82-inch projection screen. Yep, that's a tad big for the soundbar, but the SB46 L was able to extend so that each end was just half an inch from the edge of the screen. This made it look pretty much like it was part of the screen. Incidentally, the SB46 sits flat on stands or a table or shelf, just in case for some reason you want to set it up that way.
I connected the SB46 L to the left, center, and right channels of my AudioControl Savoy seven-channel amp, which received its audio signals from a Denon AVR-2809Ci receiver (used as a surround processor/preamp only). The soundbar has spring-loaded metal spring terminals that are a little tight to get to, but that's usually the case with any type of on-wall speaker. I added a couple of Sunfire CRM-2BIP surround speakers for the rear channels, plus an SVS SB-2000 subwoofer.
The only place I had to think much during setup was in setting the subwoofer crossover frequency in the Denon receiver. I started at 80 Hz, thinking that the dual 4.5-inch woofers in each channel would have enough bass response to play that low, but no. When I played a few snippets of male dialogue - my favorite test for a subwoofer crossover point setting - the voices sounded a little thin, telling me that the soundbar's output at 80 Hz wasn't terribly powerful. Switching to a 100Hz crossover frequency fixed the problem entirely. Just be sure to put the subwoofer somewhere near the soundbar so that the two will blend properly and your ears won't localize the higher frequencies coming from the subwoofer.
Click over to page 2 for the Performance, the Downside, the Competition and Comparison and the Conclusion . . .