Bass is important whether you’re watching movies or listening to music. You need a solid feeling of power when drums and bass kick in or when explosions go off. That’s why many soundbars come with wireless subwoofers that can add that low end when the soundbars themselves can’t. However, just because a soundbar comes with a wireless subwoofer doesn’t mean it’ll provide satisfying low end. The Toshiba SBX4250 Sound Bar Speaker System looks like a great soundbar on paper, with a wireless subwoofer, HDMI ports, and Bluetooth support, all for $349.99 (direct). It seems like it could rival our Editors’ Choice budget soundbar, the Sony HT-CT260 Home Theater Soundbar, but unfortunately, the SBX4250′s sound quality just isn’t up to snuff.
The SBX4250 looks very plain for a soundbar, with no real flourishes like chrome edging or a hexagonal cross-section. This simple, rectangular soundbar has a black metal grille that covers two midrange drivers and one tweeter on either side of the glossy black plastic display. A small row of buttons sit above the display, thin and rectangular to the point that you wouldn’t see them unless you squinted. The remote is similarly simple, with a cross-shaped volume and playback pad, Power, Mute, Input, CEC (for control over devices that support HDMI-CEC), and SRS (for enabling SRS TruSurround simulated surround sound) buttons, and an Equalizer button with up/down buttons for bass, subwoofer level, and treble.
The back of the soundbar holds a wealth of connections, including two optical audio inputs, two RCA audio inputs, a 3.5mm audio input, two HDMI inputs, and an HDMI output that supports Audio Return Channel (ARC) so you can connect it to your HDTV and get sound from three HDMI-connected devices including the screen. That’s a lot of connection options for a soundbar in this price range, and the HDMI inputs give it some flexibility the HT-CT260 lacks.
Like the HT-CT260, the SBX4250′s Bluetooth is easy to set up. The remote doesn’t have a dedicated Bluetooth button, but as soon as you set the input to Bluetooth you can pair it quickly. I had no trouble streaming music from my Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone to it. Also on the wireless front, the subwoofer paired automatically with the soundbar when I plugged both in, so they started working together without issue.
Unfortunately, the SBX4250′s subwoofer is anemic compared with other wireless subwoofers we’ve tested. The HT-CT260 put out a satisfying amount of thump with heavy bass tracks, but the subwoofer that comes with the Toshiba just doesn’t offer much kick. I had to put my hand against it to make sure it was putting out any bass, and while it certainly vibrated its own case slightly, it doesn’t come close to the floor-shaking (or at least table-shaking) bass the HT-CT260′s subwoofer put out, even with the subwoofer pumped up to maximum. The Yamaha YAS-101, which doesn’t feature a subwoofer and instead has a slightly larger soundbar unit to accommodate a full frequency range as one device, even put out more satisfying bass.
The SBX4250 fares slightly better in midrange performance, but that gets pinched in by overly bright treble and too much emphasis on bass through the soundbar itself, and everything feels just a little bit off-balance. I listened to Red Fang’s “Wires,” and while the opening riffs and drums sounded strong the song got muddled when the vocals kicked in. In this recording, the singer is already slightly indistinct in favor of the driving guitar, but he became downright drowned out by the drums and guitars. The Protomen’s “Light Up the Night” suffered from similar problems, but the much less bass-heavy track and more prominent (and higher register) vocals came through much more clearly, to the point of sounding slightly bright.
Our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” confirmed my fears: The soundbar puts too much bass pressure on the bar itself and not enough on the subwoofer. The bass notes in the beginning of the song rumbled, but mostly because the soundbar was working overtime to shake while the subwoofer offered very little response. Because of this, the notes distorted and sounded very hollow.
The soundbar fares better for watching television and movies, especially with the SRS TruSurround feature enabled—which doesn’t actually produce a surround-like effect, but it does satisfyingly widen the soundbar’s imaging. I watched the season premiere of Game of Thrones with the soundbar, and the howling wind of the north felt suitably imposing, and the dialogue of the men of the Night’s Watch came through clearly. However, when the opening sequence began and music started playing, it sounded hollow again.
The Toshiba SBX4250 Sound Bar Speaker System is a feature-filled, well-connected soundbar, but its sound quality just doesn’t live up to the standards set by the similarly priced Editors’ Choice Sony HT-CT260. Bluetooth and lots of connection options can’t make up for an anemic subwoofer and a hollow-sounding soundbar. If you want an inexpensive soundbar with a wireless subwoofer and Bluetooth, go with the Sony. The Yamaha YAS-101 is another compelling choice, because even though it lacks a subwoofer it still manages to put out better overall power and sound quality, though it lacks the Bluetooth of either of the other soundbars.
|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc