The HTL9100 is operated using a large oval-shaped remote that sits comfortably in the hand. The buttons are all clearly labelled and give a satisfying click when pressed.
The layout is thoughtful, with individual controls for volume, treble, bass and audio delay, while a cluster of keys at the top lets you jump straight to your desired input. It’s simple but effective and will look great on your coffee table.
When using the HTL9100 you’re reliant on the front panel lights to tell which settings and inputs are selected, which is fairly difficult from the sofa as they’re so small. When adjusting the volume, bass or treble, the row of LEDs light up to indicate the level, which is a bit old school but works fine.
Setup is easy – the wireless speakers slot into each end of the main unit snugly, and they’re easy to detach when the multichannel mood takes you.
The sockets on the back are housed in a recess, which allows the cables to stick out of the back. That’s fine when placed on a flat surface but when wall-mounted they face upwards – HDMI leads could look quite ungainly sticking out the top.
The wireless speakers and subwoofer pair with the main unit automatically, and Bluetooth setup is similarly quick and painless.
The HTL9100’s sound quality is impressive. Whether you’re playing music or movies, it offers a remarkably crisp and detailed presentation, which immediately gives the impression of refinement and openness.
So when you’re watching a movie, every scene sounds intricate and textured, with minute noises emanating from every corner of the soundstage.
And we mean every corner – when detached, the wireless speakers and Virtual Surround create a wide soundstage with precise, purposeful surround effects within it. The speakers boast excellent detail reproduction too, which means there’s no variation in tone across the system.
A great example of this is the extraordinary Troll Market scene in Hellboy II: The Golden Army – the fluttering fairies, shuffling footsteps, squeaking creatures and background chatter are reproduced with satisfying clarity.
This meticulous high-frequency presentation is backed up by a solid midrange, allowing dialogue to burst through the hustle and bustle of a busy action scene - impressive for a virtual centre channel.
The HTL9100 is fairly beefy too, perfectly capable of making action scenes sound rowdy without any obvious signs or brashness. It might be a little polite for some tastes but for anyone raised on the weedy sound of a flatpanel TV will find it powerful enough.
The subwoofer underpins everything with tight, solid bass that fuses seamlessly with the soundbar. We did have to reduce the bass level to kill some rather boomy low frequencies at first, but post-tweaking the sound is solid and cohesive.
Using the soundbar with the speakers attached isn’t quite as enjoyable, but it still sounds dynamic and detailed, while Virtual Surround does a passable job of spreading the sound across the front of the room.
Music sounds great through the HTL9100, lending more of those lovely high-frequencies to the music while mids and bass are nicely balanced. On its own the soundbar doesn’t boast particularly deep bass reproduction, so you’ll need to keep the subwoofer on whatever you’re listening to.
The Philips HTL9100 is the home cinema solution that many people have been crying out for – a space-saving soundbar that doesn’t completely shatter your dreams of owning a proper 5.1 system.
It’s the best of both worlds – you can keep it tidily tucked away at the front of the room while watching TV or playing music, then bust out the surround speakers when you fancy a bit of 5.1. It’s such a good idea we can’t believe no-one’s done it before.
The idea is well executed too. Its sound is powerful, detailed and immersive, while the excellent spec sheet includes built-in Bluetooth, a wireless sub and a healthy selection of sockets.
On the downside, it’s more expensive than your average soundbar, but if you want true surround sound on demand then we think it’s a price worth paying.
Philips’ ingenious soundbar is the ideal solution for those who want true surround sound without the clutter. Its wireless speakers, chic design, polished sound and impressive spec justify the price tag