As gaming consoles become integrated into virtually every corner of your living space, the demands for better audio continue to be felt. The problem is that a console is just as likely to be in the family room as it is a child’s bedroom, dad’s office or the dorm room of your big brother. In order to meet the needs for high-end audio in any application, Polk Audio has brought about a direct successor to the well-received SurroundBar SDA Instant Home Theater
(SB IHT) that we reviewed about a year ago
. We were very happy with the performance if the SB IHT and it opened our eyes to how well a bar speaker system can perform in a gaming rig or home theater setup.
Polk’s newest incarnation in the Instant Home Theater lineup is the SurroundBar 6000 IHT
(SB 6000) and it appears Polk was able to take a great product in the SB IHT and make it even better. Not only were improvements made to all of the things we nitpicked about (no remote, no digital input), Polk also made other areas of the product (design) even better as well. Unlike the review of the SB IHT that was conducted in a family room setting, tests for the SurroundBar 6000 were performed in more intimate setting such as a home office and master bedroom.
|| Polk Audio SurroundBar SDA Instant Home Theater
Total System Watts
130w Continuous; 260w Peak
35w x 2
Sub Low end at 40 Hz
On Chassis Command Center
17.8 lbs system: 8.7 lbs SurroundBar, 9.1 lbs Sub
2 – 13mm Dynamic Balance® Polyimide tweeters
4 - 2-1/2" DB composite fiber stereo bass midrange drivers – shielded
6-1/2” DB composite cone with butyl rubber surround
4" H x 31-3/4” W x 4-5/8" D
10" H x 10-1/4” W x 10-1/4” D
1-year Amp and Electronics; 3-year on speakers, crossover and enclosure
Out of the Box
Like most Polk Audio products I have reviewed, the SurroundBar 6000 made a great impression as soon as the box was opened. The surround bar itself was neatly packaged in a soft-cloth bag, which was itself wrapped in a plastic bag. It was securely supported by multiple cardboard braces and each end was capped with cardboard. The paperwork and accessories were also packaged neatly, with the former laid on top of the bar and the latter in their own cardboard box tucked into a corner of the package. The sub itself was centered in the middle of the box (which made for a balanced, albeit long package) and was also double-wrapped like the bar. Included accessories are a remote, power cords for the bar and sub, a 6’ mini-to-mini analog cable, 6’ digital optical cable, mini-jack to analog adapter, quick start guide, owner’s manual and registration card and remote programming guide.
As much as I liked the look and lines of the SB IHT from last year, the first thing that struck me was how sleek and sexy the SurroundBar 6000 IHT was when I pulled it out of the box. Unlike its predecessor, the SB 6000 does not have the shape and feel of a traditional center channel speaker. The new design is slimmer and features a metal mesh grill instead of cloth. The overall look and feel works really well with flat-panel TVs that have gone to a more high-gloss black finish in recent years.
In addition to the changes in the design, the back of the main bar is now flush (as opposed to a round back) and has two keyhole slots near the outer edges to wall mount. Another change (for the better) is that the back panel now accepts cabling from underneath the bar instead of being recessed on the back panel. This helps immensely when trying to access the connections once it is installed.
Even the sub has gone more stylish, with a taped design on all sides instead of the 12” cube that the SB IHT had last year. It still sports the classic satin black finish with the Polk logo prominently displayed in the top center, but has a more updated and cooler look. You will also find that the back has a power switch and an AC plug input, and that is it. All other controls (volume) have been integrated into the remote and command center of the SB 6000. Initially I wasn’t so sure about this, but after reviewing the SB 6000 in full, I really like this change.
The command center on the SurroundBar 6000 is a touch-control system that is centrally located on the top of the front panel of the main bar. It has buttons for power, mute, source, learn and up and down for volume and the sub level. It also has a three-led display that shows which source is being used as well as an LED around the power button that lights up to indicate the status of the bar. Because they are touch-controls, everything is flush, so none of the buttons stick out and the LED lights are bright and easily visible. It does pick up some finger-prints if you use the command center more than the remote, but a quick wipe with screen cleaner and the surface will look pristine again.
The remote is pretty basic and features buttons for power, mute, source (1, 2 & 3), bar volume up and down as well as sub volume up and down. The fact that it exists was a huge win to start with, but its simplicity and direct approach is much appreciated.
There is one very important note regarding controlling the sub volume that needs to be passed along. Out of the box, it appears that the included remote is the only way to control the volume of the sub (without a physical volume knob on the back of it.) Fortunately, you can easily control the sub volume by tapping the “learn” button on the bar command center, and once the led turns orange, use the up and down arrow buttons to change the sub volume. Once it is set, tap the “learn” button again to reset the command buttons to their primary function. This info is actually found on page 10 of the manual in the FAQ section.
After setting up the SurroundBar IHT last year, I didn’t think setting up a speaker bar system could get much easier. Apparently, I couldn’t have been more wrong as the SurroundBar 6000 was up and running in less than two minutes after I had it unboxed laid out. One of the key additions to the unit is also the driving force for a quick install. The included fiber optic cable allows you to hook anything with fiber out directly into the bar for a digital audio connection in the blink of an eye. You can also use either the 6’ mini-to-mini analog or the mini-to-analog audio adapter to hook up additional audio sources in any of the three input jacks (one optic and two mini jacks.)
Once the audio source is hooked up, just hit the “synch” button on the back of the bar, turn on the sub power and they will connect on their own. Somewhat surprisingly, everything is controlled from the bar command center or from the remote provided by Polk Audio. There are no frequency switches on the bar or sub, and you do not have manual controls on the sub other than a power switch located on the back. To move the volume up and down, you can either use the included remote or adjust it through the command center on the bar. I actually like this method, as there is one less thing on the back of the sub to get accidentally “adjusted” or possibly get broken if it is located in a high-traffic area.
There are a few ways to “install” the main speaker bar of the SB 6000. The easiest is probably a table-top position as the SB 6000 bar has two rubber “feet” built right in to the bottom of it. This allows it to be placed on just about any surface. Due to how thin it is, that could be in front of a TV, or on a shelf or mantle. As far as wall mounting, the main bar has a couple of keyhole slots (25” apart) on the far outer edges of each end to easily place it on most wall surfaces. As far as placement, the sub only has a couple of restrictions in that it needs to be plugged into an AC wall outlet and should be within 50’ of the main speaker bar. Otherwise, individual sub placement preferences (such as putting in a corner to enhance bass or place behind furniture to conceal) should be followed.
Setup with the SurroundBar 6000 was such a breeze, that I would be surprised to find another unit on the market that would be easier and quicker to get running out of the box. Polk has done a fabulous of of not just making the audio experience top notch, but making sure that the setup experience is as painless as possible.
One key aspect of any surround bar system is not how well it does with movie playback, but how well it performs from a variety of sources. Keeping this in mind, I tested the SurroundBar 6000 audio playback from real-world sources such as music through my iPod, time surfing the Last.fm stations on my Xbox 360 as well as just watching plain old TV shows in hi-definition with surround audio. I have to say, the SB 6000 exceeded my expectation at every turn, bringing great sound from every song, show or movie regardless of the source. What I like most is that the SB 6000 filled the entire room with audio and worked flawlessly with the subwoofer to create a nice blend of mid range, highs and bass.
While I spent a lot of time with the setup in my office just streaming music through Last.fm and video through Netflix on my Xbox 360, I wanted to focus on movie playback. This generation of consoles has become synonymous with Blu-Ray and streaming video, so this seems like the most logical approach to take.
The main movie I wanted to test it out on was the Blu-Ray version of Toy Story 3, which has many great scenes that give full audio a workout. However, there is about a minute and a half of absolute total chaos in the chapter called “Rough Play.” This is one of my favorite sequences in the movie which starts off with all of Andy’s toys (sans Woody) get their first meeting with the kids of the Caterpillar Room. The entire sequence starts when the recess bell rings and all hell breaks loose as the small children poor back into the room and grab whatever toys they can find and start playing extremely rough with them. The SB 600o filled my office with the squeaks, beeps and children’s laughter from onscreen and created a soundfield such that these sounds were floating all around the room.
Also during this scene, the musical score is highlighted by an orchestra going from the extreme high end (while the toys are lining up) all the way down to deep bass (when Buzz is being used as a hammer.) The SB 6000 handled these highs and lows, as well as the deafening noise transitioning to silence (when Buzz gets tossed on the window sill and looks across the courtyard at the Butterfly room) with ease. I did not experience any issues from one to the other, and the SB 6000 filled the entire room with all of the sounds the movies soundtrack had to offer. One other piece of Toy Story 3 really highlights how well the SurroundBar 6000 performs. As the toys are being carried into the dump, the dump truck enters from back to front on screen and the SB 6000 created a perfect soundfield, highlighting the sound moving from front to back. In the very next scene, the dump trick starts dumping its trash and the bar once again perfectly executed the sound of the trash sliding out of the truck on either side of the listening area.
I played these same sequences through surround headphones as well as my reference 7.1 Surround system prior to playing it through the SurroundBar 6000 to see if there were any noticeable differences. I was pleased to discover that other than some pinpointing of specific sounds (usually heard only with 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 systems), the SurroundBar 6000 created an ample and detailed surround field that was apparent to me as performing better than last year’s IHT at the same price point. I think one reason for the improvement in sound is a direct result of changes between the speakers in the SB IHT from last year and the SB 6000. Gone are the four 2 ½ drivers in the bar, replaced by four 2 ¾ midrange drivers. Also, the sub has been upgraded both in power (100w to 120w) and size (6 ½ sub to a 7” sub) and the enclosure is now ported. The end result to me is a broader and cleaner sound regardless of the source. It also seems like the prominent “sweet spot” that I heard in the IHT from last year is no longer there.
Game Audio Testing
During the time frame I had to test the SurroundBar 6000, I decided my two best choices for test games also were two of the newest to hit the market. Call of Duty: Black Ops and Rock Band 3 were simply no-brainers as my primary test titles, as they both offered the full audio range I was looking for. In addition, they both are multiple titles deep into a series, so the developers have a very mature audio development cycle already in place to deliver as realistic sound as possible. These two reasons alone would justify these titles, but in both instances, I knew that the SB 6000 would be tested thoroughly and provide the most up-to-date game audio test environment.
In CoD Black Ops, it was quite clear that my audio wasn’t coming from your basic TV Speakers or some cheap home theater in a box. Whether it was online play or working my way through the campaign, the room was constantly filled with booming explosions, bullets whizzing by everywhere and battle cries resonating from all corners. The whole sequence where you are escaping across the Kowloon City rooftops with Dr Clarke was an amazing audio experience. Between the rain, environment (tin roofs) and Spetsnaz forces chasing you, the games soundtrack was always challenging the SurroundBar 6000 to produce some incredibly intense game audio. I was very impressed with how well the SurroundBar 6000 performed during all of my Call of Duty: Black Ops gameplay. The game audio is not easy to reproduce, yet the SB 6000 gave me excellent playback and better pinpoint accuracy (especially during multiplayer) than I was expecting.As far as Rock Band 3 on the SurroundBar 6000…I was in complete heaven. I have spent most of my RB 3 gameplay in my office having sacrificed the main Home Theater to my wife and kids. So although I have had a few glimpses of RB 3 with great audio, the majority of the time has been spent using stereo TV speakers. Getting a chance to play RB 3 with the SB 6000 finally allowed me to hear the game as it was meant to be for long stretches of playback, and I was not disappointed. Similar to my experience last year with the SB IHT, the music from Rock Band 3 just wrapped around the room and pulled you into the game. I particularly enjoyed the keyboard aspect, because it was not just a part of the background music anymore, but was at the forefront as you played that part in the game. The SB 6000 also allowed all of the music to “pop” out of the game and into the room to the point you felt like you were attending a concert. We also got a kick out of my wife, daughter and I singing harmonies on Rock Band: The Beatles. Because we all hit different pitches when singing, TV speakers really can’t distinguish each person’s vocals, but the SB 6000 allowed all of to know who was the good, bad and ugly of singing Rock Band.
Much like last year’s Surround Bar Instant Home Theater, the SurroundBar 6000 is a fantastic option for gamers to add to their gaming rig. The pricing point of $499 allows anyone to add great gaming audio to a bedroom or dorm room without a huge investment. The size to sound ration is incredible, as the slim bar and smallish sub provide big time sound with little space used. From my perspective, after spending many hours testing the SurroundBar 6000 IHT I think that this may be the best surround bar system on the market. Regardless of what I asked the SB 6000 to do, I was impressed with the depth, clarity and quality of the sound and audio range it produced.
Miscellaneous Items of Note
• MSRP of $499
• Wireless Sub range up to 50 feet
• Very Thin and easy to mount
• Remote included
• Sub volume can be controlled from bar
• RF remotes will not work, IR only
• Powers self off after 15 minutes w/p audio signal
Items utilized in the testing of the Polk Audio SDA Instant Home Theater included, but not limited to:
Xbox 360 Elite, PS3, Netflix, Last.fm, cable TV
The Polk Audio SurroundBar 6000 is one of the best audio products I have tested to date, whether it is for gaming, home theater or your office or bedroom. The SB 6000 provides the perfect blend of quality, sound and price to suit the needs of a wide range of audio users. If I had to nitpick on any one thing with the SB 6000, it would be that a second digital fiber optic connection would be a nice-to-have. Having said that, in my opinion Polk Audio delivered a perfect follow-up product to last year’s SurroundBar IHT that has everything any gamer or home theater enthusiast could want when it comes to sound quality, functionality and ease of use.