At my home we’re fighting clutter, which means taking a hard look at the stuff my wife and I have accumulated over our 40-plus years each and giving away what we no longer use. And that’s quite a lot. There’s something freeing about clearing out space and opening a room to feng shui it or you never knew. I also like the idea of passing something on that will be appreciated and used actively by others.
My collection of media is largely audio-related, but I’m lucky enough to have a dedicated room to house yards of records, compact discs and vintage and newer audio gear. The living room, however, is another matter. It’s cozy and smallish, with enough room for a TV stand and side speakers at most. There’s too much furniture and two dogs to make a 5.1 or bigger system feasible, so a virtual surround soundbar system is a good compromise. Such a setup offers an improved sound experience for movies, yet doesn’t send webs of wires across the space.
Boston Acoustics latest soundbar offering is the TVee Model 20, a soundbar/wireless subwoofer pair that can deliver 100 watts without electronic sprawl. The soundbar’s slim profile (3-3/4 by 31 by 4 inches) fits nicely with 32-inch TVs and larger. It can be placed in front of a TV or wall-mounted via a pair of keyhole brackets above or below a set, though no mounting hardware is included. A pair of 1-1/2 by 6-inch HHRT (Hyperbolic High Rigidity Transducer) drivers serve the soundbar.
The 6-inch down-firing subwoofer can be moved with ease, and its placement is limited only by the proximity of a power outlet. Boston Acoustics recommends keeping the sub within 15 feet of the soundbar, near a corner and on the same side of the room of the soundbar, which makes sense, particularly since the two speakers must work together to generate some simile of surround sound. The two make an easy-to-connect and use 2.1 system. Like so many home theater products, the Model 20 comes in black only.
The 20 offers quick setup, with just one pair of line-level inputs and a power cord. Boston supplies the RCA cables, which can be connected directly to a TV’s line-level outputs. You can then use your TV’s existing remote to control the Model 20, using the soundbar’s Learning Function. In a couple steps, the soundbar integrates with the remote providing control over volume and muting. Once powered up, the soundbar and subwoofer automatically establish a wireless connection.
For perspective, it’s important to remember that the Model 20 is not a surround unit; rather, think of it as an upgrade to an existing two-channel system – i.e., the crappy speakers built in to your existing TV set – with the added sonic boom of a subwoofer.
The Model 20 impressed me most playing back sports and movies with big soundtracks. 2010′s NCAA men’s basketball tournament was one for the ages, eventually pinning little-known Butler against perennial powerhouse Duke. That final game was just one piece of a remarkable puzzle, and I enjoyed the event even more as the sounds of collegiate hoops ran through my living room. The Model 20 brought out the bounce in the ball, the squeak of sneakers on wood and the between-play antics of numerous bands blasting horns and pounding drums to support their respective teams. The soundbar provides the sizzle while the sub gives it a beating heart. It’s lively and immediate but falls short of re-creating the holographic-like sound images of a true surround setup. That’s not a criticism, just an expected shortcoming of the design.
I try and reserve at least one day each spring to watch part of The Masters golf tournament. This year’s event could have been overshadowed by the much-anticipated return of Tiger Woods; instead, fans were treated to spectacular golf and plenty of back-and-forth lead changes until near the end. As I watched the tournament, I realized how much I enjoyed not just watching golf but listening to golf, too. The sounds of the game are often subtle: a driver striking a ball off the tee, an iron shot clipping grass, a golfer pleading for a wayward shot to straighten or the sound of a ball dropping into the cup all tantalize the ears as the eyes try to follow. Then there are the sounds from the gallery, as collective cheers, gasps and groans spring up from hundreds of fans as shots fall in or fall apart. Those sounds all give golf a buzz unlike any other sport and make watching an admittedly slow-moving event even more captivating. The Model 20 brought me closer to the event, letting me share the highs and lows with the players and spectators with a sense of immediacy and being there.
Kevin Spacey portrays the life of singer/songwriter Bobby Darin in the 2004 musical drama Beyond The Sea. The film features Spacey singing Darin’s parts with a style and delivery that sometimes goes beyond convincing and seems to conjure up the spirit and voice of Darin himself. The life of Darin, from teen star to Big Band vocalist to folk rocker, is spiced with a rich soundtrack that’s particularly tasty during the Big Band segments. Crisp highs and mids from the soundbar work nicely with the bass thump of the sub to extend what could be a ho-hum two-channel experience into something much more realistic and exciting. In fact, some scenes brought such a musical swell that I had to turn the volume down. The soundbar plays louder than I would ever require in a smaller space, but the sweet spot doesn’t really extend beyond its width.
The Model 20 has some downsides. With just one set of audio inputs – and no digital optical or digital coaxial inputs – you must connect to a TV with analog outputs. Also, the subwoofer works only with the supplied soundbar. Lastly, although you can connect a DVD or Blu-ray player to the Model 20 via the analog inputs, sound will be limited to two-channel audio regardless of the disc’s surround formatting.
I came away impressed with the Model 20′s easy-to-use design and platform and enjoyed the improved sonics. I recommend it as a low-cost solution for smaller living rooms, dens and even bedrooms. It will substantially improve the sound of your TV and movies, and you won’t have to sacrifice a room or a day to install it. The Model 20 is available for purchase ($299.99) direct from Boston Acoustics’ Web site, www.bostonacoustics.com. Along with Boston’s 30-day in-home trial, the company covers shipping both ways should you choose to return for any reason.