We can put a man on the moon but we can't put metal in the microwave. - Frasier Crane
One of the negatives about being a technology reviewer is that friends and family constantly ask me for advice in regard to products. It has become so ridiculous that I was recently asked while standing in front of the congregation of my synagogue reciting a prayer over the Torah, if I thought Bose made better loudspeakers than Polk Audio. Standing before G-d makes me nervous as it is (I suspect he saw me steal that Vachon cake when I was 7), so I ignored such an idiotic question and finished praying. When it was my turn to return to my seat (I sit in the row closest to the food), the questioner looked at me and said "So Nu? Which One?" As tempted as I was to respond with a line from Airplane ("That's right, I had the lasagna."), I bit my lip and responded Boston Acoustics. The TVee Model 30 to be more precise.
Soundbars are all the rage right now in the world of home theater; and before you laugh at that statement you should be aware that a number of the largest loudspeaker manufacturers are currently engaged in a Battle Royale (if you've seen the Japanese movie, you'll understand what I am talking about) for supremacy in that category. In case you missed it, folks don't have a lot of disposable income right now to devote to massive 5.1 or 7.1 channel surround rigs, so HTiBs and soundbars are selling faster than "A Little Rebellion Now and Then Is a Good Thing " t-shirts in Benghazi.
The problem with soundbars, even the good ones like the Polk Audio SurroundBar 6000 that I reviewed last year, is that they really can't replicate the immersive sound quality of a true 5.1 channel surround system -- regardless of any claims made by the manufacturer. They can certainly reproduce a wide soundstage and even offer decent bass response, but I have yet to hear a soundbar that fooled me into thinking that there was sound coming from behind my listening seat.
The Millenia 20 Trio from Paradigm is one of the better soundbar products that I have heard, but it also runs almost double the price of the TVee Model 30 so a comparison between the the two products isn't entirely fair. That being said, they both offer the widest soundstage of any products that I have heard within the category and that I think that says a lot about the quality of the Boston Acoustics product. Both products do require a subwoofer and thankfully, the TVee Model 30 comes with one.
Now batting...Manny Motta, Motta, Motta...
I may be deaf (marriage will do that to you), but I'm not blind. The first thing I noticed about the TVee Model 30 was the packaging and while that may seem like a trivial thing to mention, I have to tip my hat to the folks at Boston Acoustics for being one of the first loudspeaker manufacturers to actually state what their products do on the box. Yes, even reviewers can be idiots standing in the aisle at their local Best Buy or CostCo trying to explain to their doubting friend what a product actually does. The terminology on the box actually made me excited to crack it open. Give your marketing department a raise.
You know what? Their explanation is pretty damn convincing.
People are sick of remotes. I recently ditched seven remotes in my home theater for an iPad; although G-d save me if I ever misplace that. The TVee Model 30 can be controlled by one of your existing remotes and it should only take you about five minutes to program it. I'm a reviewer so it took about two days. You simply push the designated buttons (volume up/down, mute, input) on the front panel of the soundbar and hit the same buttons on your existing remote (I used the remote from my Panasonic Blu-ray player) and voila -- you are in business. Of course, you may need to make other adjustments to your system to accomodate this, like disabling your TV speakers so they don't also increase in volume while the soundbar is doing the same thing.
The wonderful world of wireless...
The TVee Model 30 includes a Bluetooth feature that can pair it to the portable media player of your choice for wireless music streaming. This is even easier to set-up than the remote: I paired up my iPod Touch with the TVee Model 30 in under 20 seconds. You can use your portable player (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, smartphone) to select the track and adjust the volume and everything will work seamlessly -- at leasy it did for me. To test the sensitivity of the system which I set-up in the master bedroom, I closed the door and walked down the staircase to our front hallway which is about 40 feet away. Not only was the music still playing, but I could change tracks as well. I did experience a few disruptions as I walked around downstairs, but I was quite amazed by the ability of the system to play with my iPod Touch on another floor. For the majority of the review, I left my iPod Touch on my desk which is located 25 feet from my bedroom home theater set-up and had no interruptions.
The soundbar itself is a rather hefty loudspeaker and I highly suggest mounting it on the wall under your television; as opposed to leaving it perched on a dresser as it may prove far too tempting for the little ones to knock over. One thing I didn't like about the set-up is that the supplied optical cable (yes, I'm complaining about free stuff included in the box) is on the short side and I had to rearrange some hardware to avoid bending it too severely. Eventually, I gave up trying to fight with it and inserted my own (longer) AudioQuest optical cable which worked better in my scenario.
The soundbar is 5" High x 38" Wide x 3" Deep, making it a perfect match for a flat-panel HDTV in the 40-50" range. On the rear of the panel is a switch for "table" or "wall" placement; placing a loudspeaker on a wall provides some additional bass reinforcement and I suspect that when you move the switch to "table", it adds some meat to the midrange and below. Both scenarios sound great, but I left the TVee Model 30 on my wall for the vast majority of the review period.
The TVee Model 30 utilizes three 3 1/2" mid-bass drivers and three 3/4" dome tweeters to offer a true 3 channel set-up.
The rear panel also includes one analog audio input (cable is provided), one digital optical input, and a wireless ID switch (so that you can select the proper channel to match the soundbar up with the wireless subwoofer). On the side of the soundbar, is an additional analog input which is meant to be used with an iPod or smartphone or other temporary visitor to your A/V system. My only other complaint about the soundbar is the grille cover; it comes off way to easily and I know that some annoying kid is going to knock it off if you leave it on a dresser.
The wireless subwoofer is 14"H x 6"W x 15"D (there is a 7" woofer inside) and that means you can hide it under a bed, sofa, or dresser if your significant other objects to seeing a black box in the corner of your room. My wife didn't even notice it under the pile of laundry that usually sits next to her dresser so who I am to bring it to her attention? Boston Acoustic claims that the subwoofer can be placed up to 50 feet from the soundbar, but I can't imagine too many people using it in that scenario. I positioned the subwoofer to the right of the soundbar, in the front corner of our bedroom -- about 13 feet from where my head sits on my pillows. I did move it under the bed (don't get any ideas), but found that it didn't help out the bass response.
The TVee Model 30 supports Dolby Digital decoding to recreate the illusion of surround sound without rear speakers. This makes it a great match for a cable or satellite set top box, or the ATSC tuner built into your HDTV, but not as great a match for Blu-ray players. In fact, you will probably have to switch the audio settings on your player to decode DTS soundtracks (which are plentiful on Blu-ray) to 2-channel PCM output in order to get sound from many or most of your Blu-ray titles.
And if you run the optical cable from the digital output on your HDTV, you may be limited to 2-channel PCM sound from connected sources. If you use the TV's built-in ATSC tuner, you will be able to pass Dolby Digital 5.1 sound to the soundbar, and some TVs (like the VIZIOs) have an option to pass-through Dolby Digital sound from source through the TV's optical output. So if you're connecting your sources through the TV to the bar, then check your TV's set-up menus for a Dolby Digital passthrough option (which, unfortunately is still not all that common).
Our recommendation is to connect the source you care most about or watch most often (DVD player, Blu-ray player or set-top box) directly to the unit's fiberoptic digital input. You can always use your TV's analog outputs to connect to the TVee Model 30's rear analog input as most TVs do offer analog audio outputs. And this will make sure you get sound from everything connected to your TV.
Of course, the soundbar also does not support decoding of the lossless surround sound tracks on Blu-ray (DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD) as it would need an HDMI input for that. Bummer. But what this thing does with standard Dolby Digital, two-channel PCM and analog inputs is pretty impressive.
Fear and loathing...
Over the past couple of months, I have watched at least 40 films through the TVee Model 30; everything from TRON: Legacy to Fat Girl, and in almost every case the system surprised me with its sonics. Why do I say that? When the folks from Denon and Boston Acoustics invited us to their Spring Showcase, they demonstrated the TVee Model 30 with a clip that really didn't (in my opinion) blow my socks off. I suspected that the product had a lot more potential than we were hearing, but I didn't expect it to be that much better than the Polk system that I reviewed last year. How good could a soundbar be?
While not a replacement for a true 5.1 surround system, the TVee Model 30's three front channels are as close to neutral sounding as they need to be, without robbing movie soundtracks of the midrange punch required to really sell the experience. Sorry Polk -- and everyone else -- but we have a new winner in the soundbar category, as far as sound quality is concerned.
The Sinister Minister
It has been years since I was fortunate to catch Bela Fleck and the Flecktones live, but this track has always been a favorite and the TVee Model 30 did not disappoint at all. Victor Wooten's bass had a surprising amount of snap, crackle, and pop; lesser loudspeakers always sound so anemic with this track and I was surprised by how loud I could crank it on the BA bar.
Madeleine Peyroux has been a recent find and I loaded up my iPod Touch with a number of her tracks. The title track from "Careless Love" has a Billie Holiday-esque feel to it and the TVee Model 30 conveyed the energy and punch of the track quite convincingly.
The TVee Model 30 can handle rock, but I think its strength lies with jazz, pop, blues, and classical music; it handles well-recorded vocals with aplomb and has a surprising level of midrange resolution for such an inexpensive product. My local barista has an almost obsessive crush on Adele and Marc Cohn so in her honor I played both through the TVee Model 30. Cohn's signature track, "Walking in Memphis," has a wonderfully recorded piano and I've heard it sound pretty awful over the years on some pricey gear. The TVee Model 30 was a tad analytical sounding for my taste, but I've heard speakers four times the price of the soundbar make this recording sound rather anemic, so I would have to give the edge to the Model 30 which at least breathed some life into the track for a lot less money.
Adele's "Turning Tables" off her latest release was surprisingly airy and full-bodied; you don't usually hear products in this price range sound this good in the midrange without sacrificing the top end. Chalk another one up to the model 30.
The TVee Model 30 features a choice of movie/music listening modes. In theory, music mode offers a more natural sounding presentation of 2-channel music material by lowering the center channel speaker output by about 10 dB and widening the stereo separation ever so slightly. But personally I preferred the fuller richer sound of movie mode with all channels fully driven on almost every music track that I selected. Experiment and let your ears be your guide.
The wireless subwoofer won't pound your floorboards like the one included with the Polk Audio system, but it did provide a nice foundation for every track when called upon. It's a more subtle presentation than many of the models out there that can overpower your listening room.
Between movies and music, I think the Tvee Model 30 excels with both; but I'll take a stand and say that it's surprisingly better than I expected with music.
Soundbar systems are one of the fastest growing categories for home theater loudspeaker manufacturers and it is clear the consumers are looking for products that offer the most bang for their hard earned shekels along with simpler set-up. If you are looking for a true 5.1 experience, this product category is not going to deliver what you want. However, if you are in the market for a truly high-end sounding 3.1 home theater set-up that will also work with your wireless portable device delivering first-rate musical playback, the Boston Acoustics TVee Model 30 Soundbar system is the system to beat in 2011 for a ridiculously low price. Despite the lack of DTS decoding and single digital input ths one still gets my highest possible recommendation.
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