HP joins with Bang & Olufsen for optimised notebook sound

Article

HP taps Bang & Olufsen for audio tech now that Apple has Beats | Engadget

HP Partnership With Apple’s Beats Officially Ends as HP Moves on to Bang & Olufsen | MacRumors

From the horse’s mouth

Bang & Olufsen

Press Release

Hewlett-Packard

Press Release

My Comments

B&O will start to appear in HP computers very soon

B&O will start to appear in HP computers very soon

Over the last many years, most of the Windows-based laptop manufacturers have been working with companies in the sound-recording and sound-reproduction space to improve the way these computers have sounded. This is whether through the integrated speakers or when they are connected to external speakers or headphones and was seen as a way to compete with Apple for music recording and reproduction.

The knowhow associated with this sound system will affect how the next HP laptop is designed

The knowhow associated with this sound system will affect how the next HP laptop is designed

As I have seen with the Hewlett-Packard laptops that I have reviewed, HP had partnered with Beats by Dr Dre, known for headphones and speakers with a very impressive bass response, to improve the sound from their laptops. But lately Apple bought out Beats and HP realised they couldn’t continue this partnership.

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones

Bang & Olufsen has been well known for some very impressive hi-fi and video equipment, speakers, and audio accessories that are works of art in themselves for a long time.  For example, I had cited their single-piece music systems such as the Beocenter 7000 series, the Beocenter 9000 series and Beosound 9000 CD changer as being above their peers for sound quality even in their days.

They also have designed the ICEPower power-amplification modules to allow sound to be amplified by a compact device that is efficient with power and heat. Of course, B&O has related to a wide range of music from the classics through jazz and classic rock to current popular music and made their brand have that same kind of appeal as the Jaguar or Range Rover cars. This is where a premium brand like these isn’t just about being a status symbol, but is about enjoying the legendary expertise that the brand is all about.

But they have dabbled with sound tuning for ASUS, initially on a project basis but had applied the technology to a larger range of laptops under this brand.

So B&O have decided to pick up the mantle and offer the sound-tuning expertise to HP. This will also be about sharing the design expertise that is associated with how the Beomaster 1900 or Beosound Ouverture were designed. This includes preventing audio-noise sources like the power supply or other control circuitry from adding noise to the signal path.

Let’s not forget the way they have designed their speakers, headphones and similar equipment where they use a special cubic room for measuring the acoustic characteristics for the device they are designing. Here, this could lead towards being able to answer the question about how a laptop or tablet’s integrated sound system can be improved upon, making for a product that is more listenable.

The “Bang & Olufsen” brand will appear on the premium HP computers such as the Envy, Omen and Spectre lineups while the B&O Play lifestyle-focused brand will appear on the Pavilion computers, the tablets and accessories. Here, the B&O influence will affect HP computers that are being released through this year onwards.

I would see this partnership celebrate the expertise that both HP and B&O are about when it comes to their proficiencies rather than the bragging rights that is associated with a particular brand. Could that newer HP Envy or Omen complement that Beocenter?

Send to Kindle

Legacy analogue audio to today’s needs–can this be done?

Problem

Linn Sondek LP12

You can bridge the old turntable to today’s digital needs

Most of you will be wanting to link legacy audio media like vinyl or cassette to today’s needs. This will be true for people who have lived through the time period between the 1950s to the 1990s where vinyl records, tapes in the open-reel, 8-track cartridge or cassette form, or newer digital-recording formats like DAT, DCC or MiniDisc were part of one’s music-listening life and you have built up a collection of music on one or more of these formats. On the other hand, you may have started to dabble in the classic audio formats such as participating in the return of vinyl courtesy of the recent “Record Store Day” effort or had shown interest in cassettes courtesy of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” with the Awesome Mix Vol 1 tape (CD at Amazon / JB Hi-Fi, Spotify, MP3 on iTunes / Google Play ) in the Star Lord’s Walkman.

An "on-ramp" digital media adaptor for a network-based multiroom audio setup

An “on-ramp” digital media adaptor for a network-based multiroom audio setup

Similarly, you may find that it is hard to acquire particular recordings or kinds of music on anything other than the aforementioned legacy media. This holds especially true for the “easy-listening” music of the 1950s to the 1970s which has been retroactively dubbed “lounge” or “space-age bachelor-pad” music, or some world or folk music that was turned out through that same era. This leads to you rummaging through second-hand music stores, charity-run thrift stores, eBay and the like for this content and picking it up on records, musicassettes, or similar media.

But there are the new trends like network-based multiroom audio or the ability to copy the music to a file-based audio format to enjoy on your smartphone or via a DLNA-capable home media network. Similarly, you may want to use a computer-based audio-editing program to digitally salvage an old recording before it goes to waste.

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium USB sound module press image courtesy of Creative Labs

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium USB sound module – useful for copying old media to your home network

What you want to be able to do is bridge these classic media to the new requirements, whether by operating a turntable to play records through your network-based multiroom system or copying that old open-reel tape to your computer to digitally salvage it and have in a ready-to-play form.

The multiroom system can be catered for through the use of an “on-ramp” module which may also be part of a speaker or network-media-player module. This device takes an incoming audio signal and converts it in to a bitstream that suits the multiroom system it is designed to work with. then presenting it to that system via the home network. Then you use the multiroom system’s control app to select that input and have it play through the speakers.

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

A Windows laptop can be used for “digitizing” old irreplaceable media

You could use a USB sound module, PCI sound card or an integrated sound module along with a recording program like Creative Media Toolbox, WavePad or Audacity to record from legacy media to file-based media. These tools have functionality to allow you to “clean up” recordings that had come through below par such as to clean out tape hiss or clicks and pops.

Solution

The classic vinyl record

Turntables that have an integrated preamplifier could be connected directly to equipment that has a line-level input but there is an increasing number of these, typically offered for peanuts, that aren’t really kind to records. These have flimsy construction for both the plinth and the tonearm and use a cheap moving-magnet cartridge. Their “automatics” (mechanisms associated with automatic arm return, automatic stylus cueing (fully-auto setups only) and stylus lift) may not behave properly placing undue pressure on the stylus or even permitting the stylus to drop on a spinning platter rather than the record. This also applies to a lot of USB turntables that are pitched as a way to “dump” records to file-based audio media.

VinylPlay - an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

VinylPlay – an integrated-phono-stage turntable that raises the bar for this class of turntable

There may be exceptions to this rule like an integrated music system like a 1970s-era “music centre” that has a turntable that you trusted with your records and have kept in good running order. Some of these systems, especially a lot of the good-quality music centres, will also have a line output, typically so you can connect an outboard tape deck. On the other hand, you may be able to have a good system modified to obtain a line output.

But you may want to use a good-quality turntable or a turntable that you have trusted with your vinyl for a long time especially when vinyl was the main audio medium. Here, you use a regular hi-fi amplifier or receiver that has a phono input and a tape loop that you customarily hooked up a tape deck to.  Even that old amplifier that used to be in your hi-fi system but you use for the computer or have left in the garage can do the job. On the other hand, you can purchase a dedicated phono preamplifier to do this job. As well, some USB sound modules like the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Digital Music Premium HD have an in-house phono stage.

You connect the turntable to the PHONO input on the amplifier and the sound module to that amplifier’s tape output and have the amplifier’s input selector set at PHONO. Here, the amplifier works simply as a phono preamplifier in the context the sound module or multiroom “on-ramp” module.

Tapes, digital media, etc

MiniDisc and cassette decks can also be used to bridge these formats to file-based computer audio or multiroom setups

MiniDisc and cassette decks can also be used to bridge these formats to file-based computer audio or multiroom setups

This is a simpler affair because you can connect the line output (playback output) of these devices directly to a line-level input on the sound module or multiroom “on-ramp” module. Most of the digital decks like that work with DAT, DCC or MiniDisc do expose a digital output which can be connected to the sound module’s digital input. For that matter, some DCC decks like the Philips DCC-900 do use this output even when playing standard cassettes.

In the context of the tape-based formats or MiniDisc, you may use them as a “workspace” when you are doing a recording effort. For example, you may find that these could work well in the “capture” context such as “how long is a length of tape” applying to reliably recording live or radio content. Then you would transfer the content to file-based media for post-production and network playback,

You may find that an amplifier can come in handy if you are feeding multiple sources of this kind to the one sound module or multiroom “on-ramp”. On the other hand, you can get away with a switch-box to select amongst the different sources of this kind. This is because they are typically used as the “switchboard” in a hi-fi system. Here, you connect the sound module up to the amplifier’s record output where you would typically connect up a tape deck to record and could even use an RCA “Y-adaptor” on the same outputs if you are serving a tape deck and the sound module from the same outputs.

Other concerns

You may have to be sure that the equipment you are dealing with is mechanically sound so that it doesn’t damage or destroy irreplaceable media. This is more so if you are playing the legacy media through the setup on a regular basis.

For tape equipment, this may also making sure that the heads are kept clean with an appropriate non-abrasive cleaning tape that is in good condition or, in the case of open-reel or some cassette equipment, using a cotton bud (Q-Tip) soaked in rubbing alcohol (methylated spirits) rubbed across the heads. For turntables, it would also mean that the stylus isn’t chipped or damaged in any other way and is kept clean; and the tonearm is set up properly to follow the record’s groove accurately with the right amount of pressure.

Conclusion

You can bridge the classic music media with today’s audio technology once you are sure that you are dealing with equipment that is in good order and know how to connect it to the modern equipment.

Send to Kindle

SanDisk releases the first USB memory key with a Type-C connection

Article

MWC 2015 : la toute première clé dotée de la prise USB réversible de demain ! | 01Net.fr (French language / Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

SanDisk

Press Release

Product Page (Dual Drive Type C)

My Comments

The USB Type C connector

SanDisk Dual Drive Type C memory key press picture courtesy of SanDisk

SanDisk Dual Drive Type C memory key

has been ratified as a small reversible connector for use with low-profile devices. It will start to appear primarily on the next wave of tablets, smartphones and, perhaps, ultraportable notebooks due to its small size.

But the device that ends up in most USB ports is the USB memory key, also known as a memory stick, thumb drive or jump drive. These are the same size as a typical house key or stick of chewing gum but contain an integrated flash drive that plugs in to a computer’s USB port, presenting itself to the operating system as a removeable disk.

SanDisk has anticipated the arrival of these devices and has launched at Mobile World Congress 2015 a USB memory key that can plug in to a USB Type-C socket. The 32Gb Dual Drive has on one end a Type A plug to plug in to most computers in operation and on the other end a Type C plug for the up-and-coming tablet or ultraportable. Of course, the USB 3.0 device will present itself logically as a removable disk like other memory keys.

This could cut out the need to carry around a Type-A to Type-C cable along with a memory key when you want to move data to your tablet or want to expand capacity on that same device. Who knows who will be the next kid off  the block to offer a peripheral for the USB Type-C connector.

Send to Kindle

Electrostatic speakers move out of the domain of esoteric hi-fi

Article

BenQ treVolo portable electrostatic speaker courtesy of BenQHands on review: BenQ treVolo electrostatic speaker | The Age (Australia)

From the horse’s mouth

BenQ

treVolo Portable Electrostatic Speaker

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

Speakers mostly turn electrical currents to sound using an electrical coil and a magnet or a piezoelectric ceramic transducer for higher frequencies and these vibrate a cone or dome to make the sound. But another method where a thin panel vibrated using an electrostatic field is used but this remains in the realm of esoteric audiophile hi-fi due to its high cost. Here, it has been valued for reproducing midrange and treble content clearly and distinctly and would play in to the hands of those of us who like jazz, acoustic pop, the classics or a lot of “new-age” and “chill-out” music.

The typical implementation has been a large floor-standing speaker that is connected to a special power supply connected to AC power. Some of these situations were of a design similar to an active speaker and required the use of a control amplifier connected between the source components whereas others required full amplification, usually with an integrated amplifier or a power amplifier connected to a control amplifier. These were setups you couldn’t take with you or have as a single-piece sound system.

But BenQ, along with in2uit, have offered portable single-piece electrostatic speakers that can work from a battery supply. These work with Bluetooth technology for playing audio from your phone or you could directly connect them to another sound system’s or playback device’s line-level audio output. The BenQ treVolo can also serve as USB computer speakers, offering a nicer way to dodge the crummy speakers that are part and parcel of portable computers. They are also optimised to handle different usage environments such as what the weather throws at us, something that a lot of the esoteric speakers wouldn’t handle.

The review pitched them as being suitable for those of us who value Mozart or Miles Davis over popular music and you have had your ears spoilt by you owning an esoteric audio setup with electrostatic speakers or hearing one of these setups in full flight at a boutique hi-fi shop or a hi-fi show like the Australian Audio And AV Shows.

Send to Kindle

Microsoft Hardware now offers a Bluetooth keyboard that works with all mobile platforms

Article

Microsoft’s Universal Keyboard has an Android home button, no Windows logo in sight  | Android Authority

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft Hardware

Universal Mobile Keyboard Product Page

Press Release

Video clip

My Comments

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard press image courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard

Microsoft have designed a Bluetooth keyboard that is intended for use with smartphones and tablets that run on the three main mobile platforms: Android, iOS and Windows 8. This is to cater for a reality where people may operate different computer devices on different platforms.

Microsoft have achieved a universal layout with platform-specific keys for Android and iOS, like the Command (snowflake) key that the Apple platforms need. The Windows or Android modes could work with devices like games consoles or Smart TVs that implement Bluetooth Human Interface Device Profile in the context of a full keyboard for text entry. What could this mean for using your smart TV’s social-network or content-search functionality without “hunt-and-peck” operation.

But you can select between the different operating systems and keyboard layouts using a three-position hardware switch. As well, the keyboard remembers Bluetooth pairings with 3 devices of the different platforms.There is even a rest for your tablet or smartphone so you can see what you are typing and this works as a lid for the keyboard.

Of course, it can run from its own battery for 6 months but can allow you to quickly charge the keyboard to gain 8 hours extra runtime.

But most of us who use keyboards with tablets typically head for those keyboards that are integrated in a case for the tablet and Microsoft could do better to offer this as a case for most 10” tablets.

Send to Kindle

Product Review – Braven BRV-X Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker which is effectively the “out-and-about” equivalent of the Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker. This unit is designed for rugged outdoor operation and even has a sound-optimisation mode for use when outdoors and you want to cover a large area. As well, it has the ability to charge other devices, mostly smartphones, Mi-Fi routers and the like, from its own battery as what most of the Braven speakers could do.

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax AUD $299.99

Form Factor

Single-piece speaker

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo socket
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth
Network  
Bluetooth A2DP and Hands-Free Profile with NFC setup

Speakers

Output Power Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout Not known Not known

The unit itself

 

Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker screw cap that covers connections

Rear view with screw cap that covers connections and NFC touch-to-pair area

The Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker is designed from the outset to be rugged and suitable for use outside. It is housed in a rubber enclosure with a metal perforated grille and some rubber pads act as the speaker’s control surface. The screw cap, which reminds you of a jar’s cap protects the sockets on the back of the speaker from water and other contaminants. These lead to another Bluetooth speaker that excels when it comes to build quality. As well, they supply a carry strap which you thread on to the speaker to make it easy to carry. Unlike the Braven 710, this unit is charged using a supplied “wall-wart” power transformer rather than being connected to a computer or USB charger.

 

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker connections - USB power out for phones, AUX IN for wired audio connections, battery level indication, INDOOR-OUTDOOR tone switch

Connections – USB power out for phones, AUX IN for wired audio connections, battery level indication, INDOOR-OUTDOOR tone switch

The unit is easy to set up and integrate with your phone, tablet or computer. Here, you can pair your Android or Windows NFC-capable device to the speaker using NFC-based “touch-to-pair” setup. On the other hand, you would have to pair Apple devices and other devices that don’t implement NFC by holding down the PLAY button until you hear a distinct tone before scanning for it using your device and the speaker will show up as “BRAVEN BRV-X” on the device list.

Like other Braven speakers such as the previously-reviewed Braven 710, you can pair the BRV-X with another Braven speaker to establish a wirelessly-linked stereo speaker pair for better stereo channel separation. As well, it can work as an external battery pack for most smartphones, “Mi-Fi”devices and the like, whether to offer “boost-charging” or extended run-time. This has the same power capabilities like the Braven 710 previously reviewed.

Sound quality

The Braven BRV-X speaker does sound clear but doesn’t come across with tight bass even for today’s bass-heavy popular music. It can be set for indoor or outdoor operation through a simple two-position switch. When set for indoor operation, it can come across as being a bit rich for bass while the outdoor position gives a brighter sound, apparently to cover a larger area.

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker rubberised control buttons

Rubberised control buttons for your smartphone, tablet or laptop

I can adjust the speaker to just about the maximum level before it sounds awful but this would cover a small room or be good enough for listening while you are close to that speaker. Most likely, I would say it comes across as sounding like a lot of mid-sized portable radios commonly available during the 1970s or like a lot of the Internet radios previously reviewed on this site.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

As I have said with the Braven 710, this could be released as a variant with an integrated radio tuner to serve as an FM or, perhaps, DAB+ digital radio.

Braven could implement an easy-to-attach carry-strap setup to improve on the useability of this unit with its carry strap. This could be achieved in a similar manner to the way the seatbelts work in your car where they clip in to place but are released when you push a button on the buckle.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker as a unit that would appeal to those of us who engage in a lot of outdoor activity and want to see it as a Bluetooth answer to the typical small portable radio that ends up being used outdoors.

Send to Kindle

APC releases a UPS targeted for your router

Article

This Compact Device Keeps Small Electronics Running On | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

APC

Product Page

My Comments

An uninterruptable power supply that I have previously recommended for use with routers, modems and the like was the APC Back-UPS ES series of UPS devices. This was typically for households who live in areas where the power supply may not be stable and they end up having to reset the equipment at the network’s edge in a certain manner every time the power goes down.

Now APC have issued a new and cheap UPS device specifically targeted at modems, routers, VoIP ATAs and the like in the form of the Back-UPS Connect 70. This 75-watt / 125 VA device is sold for US$50 and has enough power to service laptops or these other devices. You could even think of running more of these devices to allow you to support different loads such as one servicing a router, modem and VoIP ATA and another one servicing one or two consumer-tier NAS units.

At the moment, it is only available as a 120V unit for the North-American market, but personally I would like to see the arrival of a 240V unit targeted at the European market at least. This is more so with the French market where the Freebox and similar “n-boxes” are there to provide telephony and Internet service and are dependent on a reliable mains supply.

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Braven 710 Bluetooth Speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Braven 710 Bluetooth wireless speaker which is one of many Bluetooth speakers pitched at smartphone and tablet users who have these devices full of audio content. This one has a few features that make it stand out from the pack such as the ability to work as part of a stereo pair with a wireless link between the speakers as well as the ability to charge your gadgets from its own battery pack.

Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker

Price

The unit itself

RRP: AUD$229.99

Connections

Input
Audio Line Input 1 x 3.5mm stereo jack
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth wireless
Output
Audio Pre-out 1 x 3.5mm stereo jack
Bluetooth
Profiles Bluetooth A2DP
Bluetooth AVRCP
Bluetooth Hands Free Profile

Speakers

Output Power not published Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 not published

 

The unit itself

The Braven 710 is based around an aluminium tube with perforations on each side for the sound to escape. One of the rubberised sides is its control buttons while the other side has a peel-off end cap which exposes a standard USB output connection for charging gadgets, a micro USB input connection for when you charge the speaker’s battery or power it from external power, a 3.5mm stereo jack to connect a Walkman or Discman to it, another 3.5mm stereo jack so it works as a Bluetooth audio adaptor for other audio equipment. This is also where the battery-check button and bar-graph indicator exists so you check how much juice is remaining.

Braven 710 wireless speaker NFC surface

Touch here to pair your NFC-capable Android or Windows device with this speaker

You can pair your music-filled smartphone or tablet to the Braven 710 either using NFC “touch-and-go” pairing or the traditional push-to-pair method. For the former method, you touch your NFC-capable device to the underside of the device to start the pairing and connection routine. If you have to pair a device that doesn’t support NFC, you have to hold-down the PLAY button until you listen for a distinctive tone before you discover it on your device.

Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker control buttons

Rubberised control buttons on side of speaker

You have the ability to control your Bluetooth source device using the buttons on the “control side” of this speaker, with the ability to change tracks, start and stop playback or adjust the volume as you see fit.

It has enough sound output to fill a small room but has that similar sound quality to a small radio. Here, this would be enough if you are close to the speaker and there isn’t much noise around you beyond what is expected in the typical home or office. This is very similar to the Sony SBT-M8 that I previously reviewed and a lot of smaller “personal-sized” Bluetooth speakers.

Braven 710 wireless speaker connections on the other side - Standard USB for power, Micro USB power input, audio input jack, audio output jack

Connections on the other side – Standard USB for power, Micro USB power input, audio input jack, audio output jack

As a “power bank”, the Braven 710 can charge a large-display phone like the Samsung Galaxy Note II halfway, but could easily manage charging regular-sized smartphones and similar gadgets “all the way”.

Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker with end cap

The end cap covers the sockets on the speaker to mak it waterproof

If you have the rubber end-cap on the socket side of the Braven speaker, the device would be compliant to the IPx5 standard for being waterproof and dustproof. This would make it appeal to use in wet areas like the bathroom or beside the swimming pool.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One feature that I would like to see is one or two LEDs on the top to indicate whether the Braven 710 is powered on or not, or if it is Bluetooth-discoverable as part of the pairing routine. As well, Braven could work on a variant that has a built-in broadcast-radio tuner so the speaker can serve as a portable radio.

Conclusion

Personally, I would recommend the Braven 710 as a suitable Bluetooth speaker for applications like a bathroom speaker, beside the swimming pool or spa, or when you are alone doing some  “DIY” work. It would also appeal to individuals who want a personal amplified speaker where they place high value on a durable design.

Send to Kindle

Should I buy a soundbar rather than a surround sound system to improve my TV’s sound?

This article is about considering the idea of purchasing a soundbar or TV base speaker as an alternative to a multiple-speaker surround-sound system as a way of improving your flat-screen TV’s sound quality.

There is a desire to improve the sound quality for most flat-screen TVs because a lot of these sets use a very shallow housing and smaller speakers for their internal sound-reproduction needs. This is compared with CRT-based TVs which implemented a deep housing that wasn’t constrained thus allowing for a better sound flow from the speakers. As well, a lot of recent flat-screen TVs have the speakers behind the screen rather than behind a separate speaker grille and if they are mounted on the wall, they may sound more constrained.

Similarly, there is a desire amongst most TV viewers to hear a sound mix that is authentic to the nature of the content and is more so with people who watch good-quality drama content. For that matter, full-length feature content, especially movies that have been destined for the cinema, benefit from a lot of effort being put in to the sound mix with many highly-trained sound-engineers working the mixing desks in the dubbing stages during the post-production phase.

What are these soundbars and TV base speakers

These are a class of active external speakers made available to improve the sound of an existing flat-screen TV set.

They provide a focused stereo or virtual surround-sound “sound image” for the TV’s position, catering to a wide variety of TV-viewing setups. For example, they cater effectively to the traditional “TV in the corner” position where the TV is positioned in the corner of the living room so as not to contest with the view offered by a fireplace or feature window.

One fact to remember is that most of these soundbars or TV base speakers are not suited for use as a stereo system that is intended to reproduce music, but are intended to reproduce TV and video content that carries a lot of emphasis on dialogue and sound effects.

The two different form-factors

TV base speaker

Denon DHT-T100 TV pedestal speaker in use

Denon DHT-T100 TV base speaker

The TV base speaker, like the Denon DHT-T100, is a single-piece solution that is capable of reproducing its own bass. It is housed in a flat box that serves as a plinth for the TV set. Most of these speakers are best for resting a 32”-42” TV on them and can yield a decent sound with some bass depending on the unit.

Soundbar

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

The soundbar, like the Denon DHT-S514, is a two-piece solution that comes as a long “tube” that houses the device’s electronics along with the main stereo speakers alongside a separate subwoofer that reproduces the bass sounds. These are intended to be placed in front of the TV or can be mounted on the wall underneath a wall-mounted TV. If the TV is mounted on an adjustable bracket, it could be feasible to mount the soundbar on that bracket using a single-piece plate.

Where do these stand in relation to the traditional 5.1 surround-sound systems?

A traditional surround sound system has a receiver or centre unit that is capable of working as a music system alongside five speakers and a subwoofer. Two of these speakers have to be positioned behind the viewing area such as behind the couch or armchairs in order to provide the surround-sound effects.

These excel in the channel separation that is required for optimum stereo and surround-sound enjoyment but can be awkward to set up in certain situations. For example, for them to work well with maximum separation, the TV has to be poisitioned in the middle of the room’s wall with the front speakers flanking it. This makes it awkward for those of us who value the traditional “TV in the corner” setup because you may have to place the speakers closer, which may not appeal for music or, if you place them well apart, you will find the stereo balance biased towards where the set is. As well, the multiple speakers can be very aesthetically daunting especially when it comes to positioning them in an open-plan living area where you don’t use a room-divider to separate the living area from the dining area.

Music enthusiasts don’t find that a surround-sound system, especially those sold at a popular price point or from popular outlets, perform well for music reproduction. Typically, they would prefer to listen to music through a separate stereo music system, preferably bought from a boutique hi-fi store, optimised to the task for playing their music. This is underscored with the “back to basics, back to vinyl” movement where it is preferable to listen to music from the traditional vinyl record using a manually-operated turntable that is connected to a dedicated amplifier and speakers.

You would expect the traditional surround-sound systems to work well if you need a single setup to serve the role of all TV/video and music sound reproduction needs.

Where do I see the soundbars or TV base speakers fit in?

I would see these soundbars or TV base speakers fit in to environments where the multiple speakers associated with a traditional surround-sound system and surrounding the living area look out of place like open-plan living areas. Similarly, these devices would earn their keep with people who value the traditional “TV in the corner” layout for their living space, usually to preserve the role of an attraction like a fireplace / woodstove or picture window providing the space’s main focus.

Those of us who value good music and would rather have a hi-fi system optimised for the task of reproducing stereo music while placing less emphasis on movie and TV content would find the soundbar or TV base speaker as an appropriate method to “lift up” that flat-screen TV’s sound.

On the other hand, the traditional surround-sound system would fit in well with people who have the space to locate the many speakers around their living area and can allow the system to serve for both music and video content.

What features do I consider important in these devices

There are certain features that I consider important for a soundbar or TV base speaker setup from my experience with the Denon products I had reviewed. These lead to the most important requirement – a high-quality sound from the soundbar that is easy to operate on a day-to-day basis.

Digital signal path from the TV set to the soundbar

Denon DHT-S514 soundbarSPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

SPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections on a soundbar

The provision of a digital audio-signal path from the TV to the soundbar is important especially as good-quality soundbars can offer a better digital-analogue converter along with integrated surround-sound decoding to fulfill their job. This can be offered by an HDMI ARC connection or an SPDIF optical or coaxial connection.

An increasing number of these devices will implement a digital-to-the-speaker path where the sound is kept in a digital form with the speakers in the devices connected to digital amplifiers which convert the digital signal to an analogue waveform representing the sound while amplifying it for the speakers. They may implement a digital-crossover setup where separate digital amplifiers serve each speaker driver in the system with digital circuitry passing the appropriate frequencies to the appropriate drivers.

Denon DHT-S514 HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

HDMI (input and output) connections

This is liked due to efficiencies that are valued because of smaller amplifier designs that run cool while reducing the number of analogue-digital circuits needed in a product’s design.

Wireless subwoofer connections to be worth their salt

A soundbar that comes with a subwoofer could benefit from a wireless link to that subwoofer in order to allow these setups to be installed in a flexible and aesthetically-pleasing manner without dealing with unsightly wires draping down from the soundbar.

Separately-adjustable subwoofer level

Denon DHT-S514 subwoofer volume setting

An ideal position to have the subwoofer set so it doesn’t dominate too easily

A problem that can easily affect subwoofer setups is that the subwoofer can dominate the sound, not allowing it to be come “authentic” but be so “boomy” that it sounds like the old pub jukebox. When I was setting up the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar, I had to adjust the subwoofer to avoid it sounding too boomy. I wanted to have the sound come across with male voices and some sound-effects like gunshots as carrying some authenticity.

Equipping a soundbar’s subwoofer with a separately-adjustable level control is important to avoid the subwoofer sounding too boomy. Preferably, this could be adjusted at the soundbar or with its remote or the system could also implement a bass-optimisation feature to keep enough bass in the sound mix without letting it dominate no matter the program material or volume level. This is because some content, mainly recent movies that were targeted for the cinema or some American TV series, does have a bass-heavy soundmix where most other TV content doesn’t come across with a bass-heavy soundmix.

Ability to adjust the volume or mute the sound with the TV’s remote

A soundbar or TV base speaker should have the ability for you to adjust the volume or mute the sound  during the ads using the TV’s remote control so you don’t have to mess around with another remote control for this purpose. It is important if you connect all your video peripherals to your TV rather than via a soundbar, use a Smart TV or simply use the TV’s integrated tuner to watch broadcast TV,

This could be achieved through the use of HDMI-CEC functionality or the soundbar learning your TV’s remote-control commands for the volume and mute commands while preserving the digital audio link. It could also avoid the need for you to purchase a universal remote control to focus on “one-remote” operation.

HDMI-equipped soundbars to work smoothly with HDMI ARC TVs and cable boxes connected to the soundbar

A problem that can surface with HDMI-ARC setups is to handle a mix of HDMI-CEC sources and baseline HDMI sources like cable boxes or PVRs. In some situations, the HDMI-ARC connection may not work, thus not allowing you to hear the TV’s integrated sources if you connect a soundbar between your cable box and the TV or you may hear the cable box’s sound through the soundbar when you have the TV off.

The HDMI functionality could allow the source functions associated with the TV to be enumerated as part of the TV’s source list and use the HDMI-ARC path only for sound that emanates from sources integrated in or directly connected to the TV set.

Distinct indication between “midnight theatre” and “regular” mode

Since most soundbars and TV base speakers implement a “midnight theatre” mode with increased audio compression so you can easily operate them at low levels yet hear the programme content, there could be a distinct visual way to determine whether they are in this mode or not. This is to avoid you turning up the device while watching TV but lose the dynamics that you want/

Implementation of sound-management algorithms

Increasing a lot of home-theatre receivers are implementing sound-management algorithms like Audyssey or Dolby Volume which optimise the system’s volume or bass level as you watch different programmes or sources. They can, for example, level the volume between the programme material and promotional or advertising material or tame savage-sounding bass to avoid it “creeping” next door in to your neighbour’s apartment or someone’s bedroom while preserving that authenticity in the TV sound.

Conclusion

Personally, I would consider the use of a soundbar or TV base speaker as an option for improving the sound quality that most flat-screen TVs put up. The main circumstances that would have me prefer these devices would be people who value a separate hi-fi for stereo music reproduction or want to position the TV in a more flexible manner like the traditional “TV-in-the-corner” location.

Send to Kindle

Product Review–Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

Introduction

Previously, I reviewed the Denon DHT-T100 TV speaker base which was the first of the “TV extension speaker” products which are to improve an existing flat-screen TV’s sound output without the need for a full-on many-speaker surround-sound system. It was in the form of a speaker-equipped “plinth” which the TV sits on,

Now I am reviewing the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar which is in the other form-factor for this class of device. Here, it is a long tube or bar that has the speakers and is placed in front of the TV or mounted underneath the TV if it is wall-mounted. These devices also need to use a subwoofer to reproduce the bass notes due to the small size of the speakers and enclosure.

IMG_1852

Price

RRP: AUD$999

Specifications

Connections

TV
Analogue 1 x 3.5mm stereo input jack
Digital SPDIF PCM or Bitstream (Dolby AC-3)
Optical via Toslink socket,
Coaxial via RCA socket
HDMI ARC return feed
Other sources
Video peripheral HDMI input
Aux Input Bluetooth A2DP

Sound Decoding

Surround Sound Dolby Digital AC-3
Stereo PCM

Amplifier And Speakers

Arrangement Single-piece unit with 2 channels plus external active subwoofer
Amplifiers
Speakers – per channel 14mm tweeter,
51x127mm midrange
Speakers – subwoofer 2 x 133mm woofers

 The soundbar itself

Setup

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar unit

The soundbar unit

It can use HDMI connectivity but the ARC functionality isn’t all that polished especially whein I tried to connect this soundbar between a TiVo PVR and the HDMI-ARC-equipped Samsung Smart TV. Here, it preferred to play the TiVo’s audio rather than the Samsung TV’s audio when I selected the Samsung TV’s integrated tuner using the TV’s remote.

Denon DHT-S514 wireless subwoofer

The wireless subwoofer – handles all the bass

What really worked well in a surefire manner was to connect the Denon soundbar to the TV’s SPDIF digital output and have it learn the TV remote’s volume and mute commands for regulating its sound level. The soundbar also comes with an infra-red repeater which can work well with very-low-slung TVs where installing the unit gets in the way of the TV’s remote “eye”.

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar controls

Simple controls on the soundbar

Installing the subwoofer was effectively a simple “plug and play” operation where there was no need to “pair” it with the soundbar. This is due to an automatic routine that takes place when it is first powered up while the soundbar is on.

Sound response

Denon DHT-S514 HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

I found that the Denon DHT-S514, like the Denon DHT-T100, worked well on the “Movie” mode which provided the “focused” dialogue while music and effects were placed “further out”. This appealed to most TV content that we watched including some “studio-based” TV content like “The Voice” as well as some good-quality British and European drama content.

Denon DHT-S514 soundbarSPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

SPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

The subwoofer was very effective with the bass response and I found that having its level control set between 45-50% yielded a certain amount of punch to the sound without it being excessively boomy. Sometimes you may have to roll its level control back slightly when you are playing bass-rich content through the soundbar at very high levels. As well, you may have to increase the subwoofer volume in a room replete with plenty of soft furnishings like wall-to-wall carpeting or heavy drapes.

With audio equipment, I turn the volume up with music-based content to see how loud it can go before it starts to clip and sound awful. I can run the Denon DHT-S514 at 80% volume and find it fills the large open area with clear sound before it starts to sound awful.

Denon DHT-S514 subwoofer volume setting

An ideal position to have the subwoofer set so it doesn’t dominate too easily

The “night mode”, which is accessible by you pressing on the “sound mode” button for a long time until the lights dim, does provide a compressed sound and contain the bass. This would be effective for people who watch content late at night without disturbing others.

I had noticed that the sound came across clearly across all TV content requirements with the voices having that bit of “fullness” in them. Sound effects came across with a distinct “punch” and this wasn’t just limited to the highly dramatic effects associated with stunts. Even ambient sound gained a bit of that “fullness” while hearing someone knock on a door or a door closing in the movie had that sense of authenticity about it.  It didn’t treat music like a second-class citizen but gave it that full “hi-fi” sound even for someone singing in “The Voice”.

There is also that apparent wide sound separation even if you are viewing “from the wings” when you are watching the TV content through the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

There are a few items that Denon could work on when refining their soundbar products especially to improve their useability.

One would be to improve the HDMI behaviour so that you can use the remote control for an HDMI-ARC-enabled TV to switch between the TV’s sources and any HDMI sources connected directly to the Denon soundbar. This could make things easier if you connect the soundbar between a cable box, Blu-Ray player or other video peripheral and the TV because all of the available HDMI sockets on that set are occupied by your video peripherals.

Another would be to provide an improved “night-mode” indication such as on-unit LEDs that light a different colour while in this mode rather than dimming, which may be hard to notice visually. Similarly, the “night mode” could be made accessible through a separate button on the soundbar itself because most of us will drive this system with the TV’s remote rather than juggling two or more remotes.

As for the subwoofer, an improvement that could come for this setup could be the ability to adjust its volume at the soundbar or its remote control rather than adjusting a small knob on the subwoofer itself. This could effectively make it easier to adjust the bass response to your liking.

Use of advanced sound-management technologies like those offered by Audyssey or Dolby in these soundbars can go a long way in providing consistent volume or bass levels when you are watching different video content.

The Bluetooth could also support A2DP source functionality so the soundbar can be used with a Bluetooth headset for late-night listening or to help a person with hearing limitations hear the TV content.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

The Denon DHT-S514 soundbar could become a more powerful alternative to the DHT-T100 speaker base when you are thinking of a dedicated-device solution to improve your TV’s sound reproduction. These are especially important for those of us who use a stereo system to play our music and don’t want to head down the path of the “full-on” surround-sound system. They are also important for those of us who find it difficult to cope with different operating procedures or juggling different remote controls when it comes to watching TV.

This would come in handy with larger lounge areas or lounge areas that are replete with heavy soft furnishings that absorb the sound too easily because of its increased output power. As well, it would work well with larger TVs or sets that are mounted on the wall or on an adjustable bracket because of the lightweight soundbar that can be mounted on the wall under the TV or anchored to the adjustable bracket along with the TV using appropriate mounting strips.

Send to Kindle

Page 1 of 6123456»

Sponsors

HomeNetworking01.Info

Latest PDF issue
Homenetworking01.info website reputation