KitSound’s Upstage is a soundbar and compact wireless subwoofer. At around £200, it sits at the affordable end of the soundbar market, making it a cost-effective way to upgrade the sound quality of your TV while keeping clutter to a minimum.
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The soundbar itself is attractive but low-key. The curvy back-end is fashioned from gloss-black plastic, while the front is covered in black cloth encased in a dark-grey frame. From the sofa it simply blends into the background, allowing the attention to be on your TV.
At 960mm wide, it’s probably best teamed with TVs of 40 to 50in – it looked a tad small below our 55in screen. You can mount the soundbar onto the wall using the keyholes on its rear, or simply stand it on the rubber pads.
Build quality is fine, but the plasticky bodywork gives a slightly hollow sound when you tap it. Given the price, however, this comes as no great surprise or disappointment.
The only visible details are a discreet "KS" logo on the front and a trio of small lights acting as Bluetooth, remote and subwoofer indicators. A text display would have been more helpful, since the LEDs are quite tricky to see from the sofa. On top you’ll find a row of four hard buttons that control standby, input selection and volume.
The rear panel brings some pleasant surprises. There are two HDMI inputs and an ARC-compatible output, allowing you to pass your Blu-ray deck and another device through the soundbar to your TV. The inclusion of a single HDMI input is practically unheard of at this price, so two counts in the KitSound’s favour. What’s more, ARC support means you can listen to programmes from the TV’s tuner without having to rig up a separate optical cable.
There’s an optical input too, which provides a single-cable connection to your TV if you prefer. On the analogue side are stereo RCA and 3.5mm, which again goes beyond what most soundbars would offer at this price.
The black subwoofer might not be the prettiest, but it makes up for it with its incredibly compact dimensions (270 x 205 x 240mm). You'll be able to tuck it away in a tight space, plus its wireless connection to the soundbar means you can place it wherever you like. It's sturdily built, but the vinyl finish feels cheap.
Upstage comes equipped with Bluetooth 4, for easy music streaming, and four sound modes to suit different types of material – Music, Movie, Game and Night.
Night mode removes all low frequencies so you can listen after hours without disturbing anyone else, while Movie mode adds a virtual surround effect for a wider soundstage. Game offers a "punchier" gaming experience and Music is optimised for day-to-day music or TV use.
The soundbar delivers 2 x 15W of power, with the sub contributing 50W – a total of 80W.
Upstage is easy to install – we had it rigged up in minutes. The optical input provides the simplest method of connection, but hooking up equipment to the HDMI inputs is a little trickier. The sockets face downwards, which is fine if you're mounting it on the wall, but tabletop placement will require the use of the supplied 90º HDMI adapters.
To use ARC, you’ll need to activate the feature in your TV’s setup menu. We had no trouble getting it to work with our Samsung TV, passing on sound from equipment connected to the TV’s other HDMI inputs.
The subwoofer pairs with the soundbar automatically, but there’s a reset on the back if the connection drops out.
Manufacturers of budget soundbars usually throw in a low-quality, off-the-peg remote as an afterthought, but not KitSound. Its bespoke remote sports an ergonomic shape and clearly labelled rubber keys. Dedicated keys provide direct access to sound modes and inputs, while the main/sub-volume controls are perfectly placed under the thumb.
Great work, but it’s a shame that the system of blinking lights on the front is so cryptic and hard to see from the sofa.
It might lack the wow-factor of our favourite soundbars, but we’re rather impressed by the KitSound’s performance. Its British-engineered sound quality is clear and open, with plenty of bass supplied by the surprisingly punchy subwoofer.
With our Blu-ray deck rigged up to the HDMI input, Upstage offered a crisp and lively presentation of The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s opening truck chase. Treble reproduction was impressive, allowing you to pick out the tinkle of breaking glass as the truck ploughs into police cars, and the delicate rustle as Spidey slings his webs.
Dialogue comes through clearly too – even Paul Giamatti’s dodgy Russian accent can be heard over the rumble of the truck – and there’s a wide spread of sound across the front of the room in Movie mode.
Making it all tick is the enthusiastic little subwoofer, which underpins the sound with tight, agile bass. It lends weight to the scene’s driving rock soundtrack and thuds dutifully when gunshots are fired. It’s the gel that holds everything together, demonstrated by the thin, lightweight sound you get when you turn it off.
Upstage could do with a bit more power and scale, however. It’s certainly much louder than most slim TVs and there’s a good sense of dynamism, but even after turning the volume up to maximum we kept wishing it would go louder.
Oddly, this is only the case through the HDMI and optical inputs; switch to Bluetooth and the sound is much louder. As a result, music playback is enjoyable, with a nice balance across the frequencies. It fills the room more easily too. There isn’t enough finesse here to make your spine tingle, but as a day-to-day music player it does a decent job.
One final observation – when we switched to the HDMI inputs, there was a rather disconcerting hiss that disappears once the signal starts coming through.
The KitSound Upstage is an appealing proposition for the money. It boasts a stylish, discreet design and enjoyable sound quality, with punchy bass, crisp detail and clear dialogue.
But the biggest bonus is the presence of two HDMI inputs, which is rare at this price. The inclusion of Bluetooth, four sound modes and a wireless sub complete a good-looking feature list.
That said, we’re a tad disappointed by the lack of oomph through the HDMI/optical inputs, which puts a limit on its room-filling abilities with movies and TV. With a little more horsepower we might have been more impressed, but as it stands it just falls short of our full recommendation.
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A likeable soundbar and subwoofer that offers dual HDMI inputs, discreet design and pleasing performance, but it needs more power and presence to topple the best budget bars