There's something about a new piece of audio equipment that makes a gamer sit up and take notice, especially one that is specifically licensed for the Xbox 360. Polk Audio, who continues to make fantastic audio components to cover every part of a person's needs at home, in the office, at the gym, or anywhere else for that matter, has been catering to the gamer lately. One of the staples of the Polk Audio line has been their multiple versions of the SurroundBar Instant Home Theater. Last year, I did a review of the CHT 500 and talked about how a soundbar that sounded as good as that one could very well be the future of smaller homes, apartments, and those who simply cannot set up a surround sound system. The only knock on the CHT 500 with that catering to gamers, specifically ones that might be in college or fresh out of college, was the price. Well, the Surroundbar 5000 IHT is here, it's specifically aimed at gamers with the Xbox 360 stamp of approval, and the sound quality is great.
As per our custom when dealing with Audio/Video reviews, I always like to get the specifications of the system out right away, so here are the specs for the Surroundbar 5000 IHT:
|Total Frequency Response
||One optical; two .125 analog
|Total System Power
|Subwoofer Amplifier Warranty
Looking over the specifications, it's what one would expect from a quality soundbar. The frequency response allows for a wide range of lows to highs, and with the 8" subwoofer, the bar itself can focus on getting the mids and highs out without truly suffering with the lows. The 5000 also sports a digital optical connection, which can be used either with a TV that simply has the optical out from the TV, which allows for easy connection, or can be run through a separate receiver if using it with multiple devices that require different connections. Remember, there are people out there still using analog sound, and you should hold a moment of silence for them not knowing what beautiful sound should actually sound like. All joking aside, though, the bar has a nice clean look and fills a room nicely, but saying just that wouldn't be enough, so let's get to the tests.
Please note that the following equipment was used for these tests:
- 55" Panasonic ST30 3D Capable Plasma TV
- Xbox 360 (Component Video hookup, digital optical output)
- Cisco 8742 HD DVR (HDMI used for both audio and video)
- Nintendo Wii (Component video, analog audio)
- Samsung Galaxy S2 Smartphone (Bluetooth connection)
- Yamaha RX-661 Audio Receiver
The reason that I always list the equipment used is that I want to have a true breakdown of how the sound differs from various connections. Using four devices with four different ways of connecting gives the full range of the spectrum with testing. Also, a receiver was used simply to act as a hub for most of my devices, though the receiver basically would not allow analog sound as a pass-through and the setting could not be changed, so the Nintendo Wii test comes with the receiver bypassed. It also bears noting that, with the way it was hooked up, the volume control was still done via the soundbar because the power was self-contained. Turning the volume up and down on the receiver bore no effect whatsoever on the level.
Test #1: Cable Television
The first test came via the Cisco HD-DVR. Using just the HDMI cable going into the receiver for a digital connection and an optical cable going out of the receiver into the 5000 IHT. I always make it a point to try out several different channels with different programming just to get the feel of things. Deciding to make good use of video on demand technology, what better way to test out the sheer power of an audio system then firing up the storming of Normandy in Saving Private Ryan? The 5000 IHT really shined with simulating surround and the high level sounds. The mids were exactly what I expected, but didn't really jump out to me like the highs did. The lows, on the other hand, was a bit of a problem to start off. The 8" subwoofer is wireless and I placed it next to my couch about 15 feet away from the bar itself. Little to no sound was actually coming out of the subwoofer at first, but I found that moving it to a different location in my room yielded a better bass response. Now, it bears mentioning that this is a wireless 8" subwoofer so do not expect this to blow a hole in their floor. It's there for support, not to recreate the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. For what it provided, it was very good.
I moved on to one of the music stations on my cable box, opting to try out a variety of music genres to just sit back and listen to. Thanks to the clarity of the highs on the 5000 IHT, I found that jazz and orchestra sounded amazing, especially when I had the Trans-Siberian Orchestra playing one of their epic pieces. Rock and pop music sounded very good, but didn't truly shine in comparison to jazz and orchestra.
Lastly, I tested out the 5000 IHT with several sporting events, mainly while watching March Madness. Crowd noise is rather difficult to gauge for clarity, but it didn't sound muddled if that tells you anything. Surround simulation, on the other hand, was very good and provided a good effect in feeling like I was sitting at the game itself.
Test #2 - Xbox 360
Considering that the 5000 IHT is carrying the officially licensed stamp from Microsoft for the Xbox 360, this was truly the primary test. With plenty of great games having been released recently, there was no shortage of genres to test out. I felt that Tomb Raider truly shined above the rest with the 5000 IHT, with Lara's voice being very crisp and clear along with just about every movement that she made on the screen as I progressed through the game and during the test. FIFA 13 was another primary test, and I felt that the crowd noise factor was similar in comparison to the TV test with March Madness going on.
One of my favorites to always use as a test game is Ace Combat 6, simply because there is a stellar soundtrack along with plenty of opportunities to test out the surround simulation with missiles and bullets flying past. Engine sound from my aircraft gave a more realistic feel than I was expecting, but as I mentioned above, I was a little disappointed with the lack of a bass output from the subwoofer. Turning up the bass volume via the remote and pointing at the 5000 IHT is simple enough, but if the level goes too high without hearing much, the distortion from the subwoofer can get pretty rough. All in all, though, a fantastic experience through the Xbox 360.
Test #3 - Nintendo Wii
I have to admit: My Wii has been collecting a lot of dust lately. There has been one game, however, that was worth testing out the analog capabilities of the 5000 IHT with, and that's Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Of course, Nintendo didn't feel like digital sound was terribly important and stuck with analog sound only, which is no surprise from a system that only does 480p resolution. Still, even with it being analog sound going straight into the 5000 IHT (There are adapters included in the box to help with connections that aren't digital), the sound was clear and clean. The sound is nothing mind-blowing in analog mode, but sword slashes and attacks still sounded great. Bass output with analog was almost non-existent, however, but this comes as no surprise given the connection and the system.
Test #4 - Music streaming via Bluetooth
This was the most pleasant surprise out of all the tests conducted. In the past, I've found that Bluetooth-capable devices either have a ridiculous latency issue or interfere with other devices. Besides that, even going through Bluetooth, I've never been impressed with sound quality while using Bluetooth. The 5000 IHT has given me hope with home audio and Bluetooth, however. Connection between the two devices was seamless, turning on the Bluetooth with one press of a button on the remote control and simply turning on the Bluetooth on my smartphone. Once it paired up, which took maybe 15 seconds initially, turning on my music player was all that was left. While it wasn't as great as listening to music while on cable television, it was great to simply have it at the touch of a couple of buttons and still provided great quality with my music collection. This really sealed the deal for me on my overall impressions with the 5000 IHT.
Where to buy?
The Surroundbar 5000 IHT retails at $399.99 and can be purchased directly from Polk Audio's website, or local dealers can be searched for via the website as well in case one does not wish for it to be shipped.