How can a $300 soundbar sound better than $700? Just demoed at Best Buy.

bizmord

bizmord

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17 1 2
#1
Just came back from a BestBuy local store and I demoed 3 soundbars.

Sony HTZ9F vs Sonos PLAYBAR vs Sony HTCT800.

Now, I don't claim to be the guru of audio. I do have a dedicated home theater with a full 5.1 system and not one of these bars can touch it.

When I demoed these 3 bars I was shocked that the $299 Sony HTCT800 sounded better to me than the other more expensive bars. So, the details.

My situation. A living room, poorly treated for sound, currently using TV speakers which sound horrible. I wanted better sound specifically for music, not movies as for movies I'll go downstairs and enjoy the theater like sound. So, my main goal is a nice bar for when I want to watch some music videos 80% of the time. The rest can be movies, shows, sports.

Sonos PLAYBAR - I demoed this first. Salesman was tricky. He turned it on with the $700 Sonos sub and it sounded decent. Once he turned the sub off ... ehh, was not impressed. A bid muddy sound, specifically music.

Sony HTCT800 - Next I heard this one playing and I walked over to it. Impressive low frequency which made music sound very nice. Very ballanced. No crazy high frequencies that would be painful to your ears. Just well rounded full sound.

Sony HTZ9F - Right above the HTCT800 I see the HTZ9F and I was researching this model and so obviously I want to hear what it sounds like. I shut off the HTCT800 and turn this one on. .... Hmmm, why is it so high pitched? Music is now living in the higher frequencies, does not sound full. I turn on a movie and I can see that the center channel is working hard and is producing lots of volume on the dialog but overall it just sounds like a pain to listen to. No depth would be a good way to describe it.

I stand back. There is another shopper who comes by. He stands there with me as I jump between the 2 Sony soundbars. He agrees that the cheaper $299 Sony sound better, ESPECIALLY for music ... Bingo ... that's what I am looking for. HTCT800 is also on sale, $299 .... done. Purchased and it's in the trunk of my car waiting until I get home to demo it at the house.

So ... is anyone surprised? Maybe for a movie watching experience a 2.1 system (HTCT800) is not good but for music, a 2.1 is just perfect?
Again, at my home theater I have Rythmik F12 $1000 sub which sounds amazing. This Sony sub ... not bad, not bad.
 
Montucky

Montucky

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#2
I do believe that something must've been "off" with Best Buy's setup (no surprise there). If it's not how they set it up to begin with, Best Buy demos often suffer from simply the acoustics of the showroom, or the lack thereof. The HT-Z9F should trounce the HT-CT800.

That said, if you got a great price and you're happy in the end, that's all that matters. Like you said, you already have another proper setup, so whatevs. It's all good. :)
 
KEW

KEW

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#3
Yeah, I was thiunking the same thing. It may have been something simple like one being set for "stadium EQ" to give you the sound of a big concrete bowl!;)
The BestBuy sales guy may not have been "tricky"; just as likely, he was "clueless" and had no idea there was a sub connected! Not sure which is worse!
 
bizmord

bizmord

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#4
Yeah, I was thiunking the same thing. It may have been something simple like one being set for "stadium EQ" to give you the sound of a big concrete bowl!;)
The BestBuy sales guy may not have been "tricky"; just as likely, he was "clueless" and had no idea there was a sub connected! Not sure which is worse!
Yep ... like when he assured me that Sonos One does have Bluetooth :)
 
everettT

everettT

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#5
Yeah, I was thiunking the same thing. It may have been something simple like one being set for "stadium EQ" to give you the sound of a big concrete bowl!;)
The BestBuy sales guy may not have been "tricky"; just as likely, he was "clueless" and had no idea there was a sub connected! Not sure which is worse!
With displays, soundbar and HTIB products, manufactures set them default to brighter settings on displays and most exaggerated sound setting on the others. Others ship with "demo" mode, doing the same as above.
 
lovinthehd

lovinthehd

Audioholic Overlord
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4,025 16 36
#6
@bizmord did you go into settings on each bar? Or just play them as is for the most part? Except for the sub on/off on the one? I've never found any demo in a BB to be very useful....
 
S

Steve81

Moderator
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2,835 18
#7
Obviously how BB had the soundbars set up can have a big influence on the end result. Still, I'm not entirely surprised. IME, some higher end sound bars focus so much on defying physics via virtual surround fields and getting big bass from a small package that basic sound quality suffers. Cheaper models tend to suffer less from such delusions of grandeur.

In my case, I've got an el-cheapo (<$100) Vizio sound bar in the house. It's nothing special by any stretch of the imagination, with limited low end output, no virtual surround options, etc. That said, its FR is reasonably well balanced, and it doesn't distract/offend for casual listening/TV watching. I can't say that about a lot of sound bars that cost a hell of a lot more.
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

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#8
Obviously how BB had the soundbars set up can have a big influence on the end result. Still, I'm not entirely surprised. IME, some higher end sound bars focus so much on defying physics via virtual surround fields and getting big bass from a small package that basic sound quality suffers. Cheaper models tend to suffer less from such delusions of grandeur.

In my case, I've got an el-cheapo (<$100) Vizio sound bar in the house. It's nothing special by any stretch of the imagination, with limited low end output, no virtual surround options, etc. That said, its FR is reasonably well balanced, and it doesn't distract/offend for casual listening/TV watching. I can't say that about a lot of sound bars that cost a hell of a lot more.
When I demoed some at BB a while back the Vizio sounded best to me. Soundbars are a crapshoot for all the reasons you posted. I just want to find one that is 2.1 or 3.1 that sounds decent. It's for a bedroom so it doesn't have to be great.
 
highfigh

highfigh

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#9
Whatever you liked, it won't sound the same at home. It can't, unless your room is the same.

BB droids rarely have been trained in AV equipment details, going by my experiences. I went recently to find out if they had the new Sonos Beam soundbar- they do, but it wasn't set up for demo. The guy said "I guess Sonos needs to send someone out to set it up", as if they actually send people out to do anything. Didn't know that it might be possible to set it up using a smart phone, either. Never got a chance to hear it, so I left. However, their display is set up to choose sound bars, add the sub and raise/lower the volume- the sales person should have started with the VC at minimum, then raised it after making sure of what was selected.
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

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#10
Whatever you liked, it won't sound the same at home. It can't, unless your room is the same.

BB droids rarely have been trained in AV equipment details, going by my experiences. I went recently to find out if they had the new Sonos Beam soundbar- they do, but it wasn't set up for demo. The guy said "I guess Sonos needs to send someone out to set it up", as if they actually send people out to do anything. Didn't know that it might be possible to set it up using a smart phone, either. Never got a chance to hear it, so I left. However, their display is set up to choose sound bars, add the sub and raise/lower the volume- the sales person should have started with the VC at minimum, then raised it after making sure of what was selected.
FWIW lots of manufacturers require their reps to go out to set up demos and don't even provide stores "demo units". Bose was one of these (shocker) as well as certain Denon products like Heos. There are tons more than that. One of the reasons is so the manufacturer can control the demo, but also so they can make sure it's set up "properly".
 
highfigh

highfigh

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#11
FWIW lots of manufacturers require their reps to go out to set up demos and don't even provide stores "demo units". Bose was one of these (shocker) as well as certain Denon products like Heos. There are tons more than that. One of the reasons is so the manufacturer can control the demo, but also so they can make sure it's set up "properly".
You really think Sonos is going to send people to all of the Best Buy stores? IIRC, Geek Squad maintains their displays, as they should- why have redundant employees? It makes more sense to have GS do it, so they're familiar with the equipment they sell, IMO. Bose, I get. The Sonos demo software would be easy enough to update and once that's done and the Beam is connected to the network, which it was, it should work as it did before, with another option. I don't know why they would spend the money to send someone out for that when it was already in position and connected to the store's network.

Personally, if I was hired by a manufacturer to make sure the displays were "set up properly", I may find they're physically set up, but I'm not sure I would be reporting much that's good about product training at a lot of stores.
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

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#12
You really think Sonos is going to send people to all of the Best Buy stores? IIRC, Geek Squad maintains their displays, as they should- why have redundant employees? It makes more sense to have GS do it, so they're familiar with the equipment they sell, IMO. Bose, I get. The Sonos demo software would be easy enough to update and once that's done and the Beam is connected to the network, which it was, it should work as it did before, with another option. I don't know why they would spend the money to send someone out for that when it was already in position and connected to the store's network.

Personally, if I was hired by a manufacturer to make sure the displays were "set up properly", I may find they're physically set up, but I'm not sure I would be reporting much that's good about product training at a lot of stores.
You misunderstand. I'm not making assumptions, just saying that may be why it isn't set up. I have no clue which manufacturers still do this. I do know one of the guys at the BB near me told me they don't have a "store feed" that shows on all their TVs and that some of the manufacturers have specific demo material required to be shown on them. My old store had a feed that all of the tvs showed a the same time.

I do know that our Panasonic rep came to our store quite often to make sure the TVs were calibrated properly in our demo room as opposed to the "store mode" used on the main floor. Others never stepped foot into our store. If we set up a store demo (Sound Bars weren't really a thing then) we had VERY specific instructions we had to follow and reps got pissed if we didn't.

You are correct on training of most employees. They either get the bare minimum, or are expected to learn on their own. I remember when we went to a training held my Monster Cable and at the end I told all of my guys that pretty much everything said was BS and to ignore it.

Each store will only be as good as the management. My local store's audio selection is horrific. I don't know how they sell anything with how bad things are set up.

FWIW I've heard from folks that have heard the Sonos soundbars and they say they sound terrible.
 
KEW

KEW

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#13
When I demoed some at BB a while back the Vizio sounded best to me. Soundbars are a crapshoot for all the reasons you posted. I just want to find one that is 2.1 or 3.1 that sounds decent. It's for a bedroom so it doesn't have to be great.
You might not have considered A4L for soundbars:
https://www.accessories4less.com/?t...h_query=&category=&thumb_sort=store_price.asc

I've only heard one Harman Audio Soundbar, but it was nice (for having the speakers only 2' apart - ie a soundbar). There are several soundbars scattered about the Harman Outlet:
https://www.harmanaudio.com/refurbished-home-audio/

Happy hunting!
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

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#14
You might not have considered A4L for soundbars:
https://www.accessories4less.com/?t...h_query=&category=&thumb_sort=store_price.asc

I've only heard one Harman Audio Soundbar, but it was nice (for having the speakers only 2' apart - ie a soundbar). There are several soundbars scattered about the Harman Outlet:
https://www.harmanaudio.com/refurbished-home-audio/

Happy hunting!
Thanks, I need to see if I can try to hear some of these.

I happened to be in a Magnolia BB and heard one of the Heos soundbars and couldn't believe they were charging $800 for that POS. It was horrible. Most of the soundbars I've heard are pretty bad, but I've never really gone out of my way to listen to a wide variety. I'd be interested in Yamaha due to how good their studio monitors sound.
 
Johnny2Bad

Johnny2Bad

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#15
I'm not trying to diss your choices or options / budget, but at those prices at retail there are a lot of compromises needed to design, manufacture, ship and retail a product like a soundbar. I don't find it at all surprising that you preferred a less expensive option. Good sound is more than just throwing dollars at a problem, some do more with less than others.

All I would add is trust your ears. If you gave it a solid audition and you prefer the less expensive option, I see no reason why you shouldn't buy it. You need to shake your anxiety regarding the price and just buy what you like.
 
highfigh

highfigh

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#16
You misunderstand. I'm not making assumptions, just saying that may be why it isn't set up. I have no clue which manufacturers still do this. I do know one of the guys at the BB near me told me they don't have a "store feed" that shows on all their TVs and that some of the manufacturers have specific demo material required to be shown on them. My old store had a feed that all of the tvs showed a the same time.

I do know that our Panasonic rep came to our store quite often to make sure the TVs were calibrated properly in our demo room as opposed to the "store mode" used on the main floor. Others never stepped foot into our store. If we set up a store demo (Sound Bars weren't really a thing then) we had VERY specific instructions we had to follow and reps got pissed if we didn't.

You are correct on training of most employees. They either get the bare minimum, or are expected to learn on their own. I remember when we went to a training held my Monster Cable and at the end I told all of my guys that pretty much everything said was BS and to ignore it.

Each store will only be as good as the management. My local store's audio selection is horrific. I don't know how they sell anything with how bad things are set up.

FWIW I've heard from folks that have heard the Sonos soundbars and they say they sound terrible.
ALL manufacturers have cut costs-

Fewer provide a paper owner's manual
Fewer send people out to train dealers, although distributors have events for their independent dealers/contractors (who tend to do more creative and exaggerated systems)
Fewer use people on this continent for tech support
NO manufacturers hold training for service techs- this used to take days and they needed to hold this at hotels and motels in major cities.
Some manufacturers no longer go to CES- even in Vegas, it has become too expensive and they moved because the cost in Chicago was ridiculous.


I don't know if the lack of a store feed is company-wide, but the one near me does have this. The closest WalMart has one, too- it's possible to see the distribution pieces behind the TVs.

Sonos' model is to sell as many pieces as possible, which means that at a minimum for a TV, a Play Bar and Sub will be sold together and they say some dealers connect the sub and leave it, so the customer can decide if they want to keep it. When it's turned off, the customer tells them to turn it on again. How true this is, I don't know but it doesn't sound bad, in the right room. Just don't expect it to sound best at Best Buy or some other giant store.
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

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#17
You might not have considered A4L for soundbars:
https://www.accessories4less.com/?t...h_query=&category=&thumb_sort=store_price.asc

I've only heard one Harman Audio Soundbar, but it was nice (for having the speakers only 2' apart - ie a soundbar). There are several soundbars scattered about the Harman Outlet:
https://www.harmanaudio.com/refurbished-home-audio/

Happy hunting!
I went ahead and ordered the Yamaha from A4L for $150. Reviews of it are pretty great and it supports a bit more than the Pioneer I was considering. I'm still skeptical that it will sound decent, but for the price I'll probably be happy with it.
 
Montucky

Montucky

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#18
I went ahead and ordered the Yamaha from A4L for $150. Reviews of it are pretty great and it supports a bit more than the Pioneer I was considering. I'm still skeptical that it will sound decent, but for the price I'll probably be happy with it.
Don't expect much (doesn't sound like you are so that's good). What it WILL be though, is a fair improvement over your TV's built-in speakers, which I suppose is the point for a budget soundbar to begin with.
 
panteragstk

panteragstk

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#19
Don't expect much (doesn't sound like you are so that's good). What it WILL be though, is a fair improvement over your TV's built-in speakers, which I suppose is the point for a budget soundbar to begin with.
Yep. My old Panny plasma is decent enough (it's one of the larger bezel ones that have speakers under the screen),but I do want an improvement. Especially when it comes to bass. The reviews say it's got a decent sound stage and that music playback is nice. If they are to be believed then I think it will be good enough.

I really can't find myself spending over $150 on a soundbar. I just don't think they can sound good no matter the price. We'll see in a few days I guess.
 
Montucky

Montucky

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#20
I just don't think they can sound good no matter the price. We'll see in a few days I guess.
Oh, they can, but in my opinion they're best once you step up to a passive bar. I have immensely enjoyed the RBH Ultra-3, the GoldenEar SuperCinema 3D Array XL, and I'm also hearing good things about the KEF bar. Triad also makes some good ones I've worked with too. Anyway, if you go passive, you might be quite suprised at the performance. Of course, you're also throwing hundreds of watts at 'em versus the built-in puny amps that most sound bars contain.

That said, I have also REALLY liked the Yamaha YSP-5600. That one kind of blew me away at times with its simulated Atmos and surround. Shockingly convincing under the right room conditions and with a sub can sound pretty good. Not cheap, though.

Overall though, I will still almost always prefer a proper discrete setup, but don't completely discount the concept of a bar. Right tool for the job sometimes for sure. I've achieved great results for the format, but those great results didn't come cheap. It took the price of the bar, plus a good amp, plus good subs. Rocked the house, though! Even I walked away pretty surprised with the results. I remember trying to keep mine and the customers expectations in check (I always attempt to underpromise, overdeliver),but when I demo'd it, customer and I were both like "WOH!", jaws on the floor. That was with the Ultra-3 as a massive center, flanked by two Ultra-1's as the L/Rs. Emotiva amps. Dual SVS PC-12s. Yeah, that did the trick. ^_^
 

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