MagniFi is a slim soundbar equipped with Polk’s Voice Adjust technology, designed to bring extra intelligibility to dialogue – arguably the most important component of any movie or TV programme. Polk has gone to great lengths to ensure that vocals can be heard regardless of the material, listening volume or sound quality by using complex DSP algorithms and a specific centre channel volume control.
This 3.1-channel system includes a compact wireless subwoofer to add a bit of bass wallop, while built-in Bluetooth makes music streaming a cinch from mobile devices. On paper it’s the ideal way to boost weak TV sound while keeping clutter to a minimum, but it needs a top-drawer performance to justify the relatively steep price tag.
SEE ALSO: Best Surround Sound Systems 2015
Polk has made a real effort with MagniFi’s design, resulting in one of the best-looking bars we’ve seen for a while. Both the bar and sub are clad in a classy satin charcoal finish with curvy lines and striking details. We like the way it curves upwards at both ends and its lack of clutter on the front, aside from a subtle Polk logo at one end.
In the centre of the speaker mesh is a silver rectangle that draws attention to the all-important centre speaker. To the left are seven LEDs that light up in a row to indicate the volume, bass and voice level. Certain lights glow blue or red to denote selected inputs. On top is a row of buttons governing volume, voice and bass levels, input, power, mute, and Bluetooth.
At 53mm high, the bar is remarkably slim and unlikely to block your TV’s IR receiver, while the 968mm width makes it a good match for TVs of 40in upwards – it looked fine below our 55in set, although for bigger sets you’ll probably need a wider bar.
A recess on the rear panel plays host to optical digital and 3.5mm mini jack inputs. The idea is that you connect your TV’s optical output to the soundbar and it’ll play whatever you’re watching.
Of course that means all of your other kit has to be connected to the TV rather than the soundbar, which might not suit everyone but it does mean you don’t have loads of unsightly HDMI cables hanging down behind the bar.
Build quality is excellent. There’s nothing light or flimsy about the bodywork and the materials feel more solid than budget bars. You’d expect that at this price, but if it has a knock-on effect on performance then it’s worth the expense.
The same goes for the subwoofer, which boasts a reassuringly stout and robust cabinet. It’s unusually attractive too, thanks to that lovely charcoal finish and a top panel that curves down into the front face. Best of all is its compact size (328 x 305 x 229mm), which lets you tuck it in a tight space.
Being a wireless sub, you won’t find much on the back besides a status light for wireless pairing and a power switch. There is, however, a 3.5mm ‘sub input’ that can be linked up to the corresponding output on the soundbar, although this is completely ignored in the manual.
Voice Adjust is the star attraction here. Despite the sonic improvements soundbars bring, Polk’s research shows that people can still have trouble hearing dialogue amid the other effects, so this technology provides the solution.
The soundbar uses three identical 25mm x 75mm full-range Dynamic Balance drivers in a line – left, centre, right – but employs a low pass filter to limit the left and right speakers to around 450Hz, while the centre channel stays full range. Not only does this emphasise the crucial midrange frequencies (where speech is found) but it also enhances the overall output and limits distortion.
This, combined with complex DSP algorithms, ‘timbre shaping’ and a dedicated centre channel volume control, ensures that you shouldn’t have any trouble hearing those handy plot explanations.
Elsewhere, Polk’s Full Complement Sub Bass Drive tech uses all the drivers to reinforce bass and upper midrange reproduction, while Time Alignment takes steps to ensure that the soundbar and subwoofer play at precisely the same time, ensuring a better blend.
You’ll also find Music and Movie modes, adjustable bass, Bluetooth with aptX, NFC and Digital decoding. Polk’s DJ Stream app for Android and iOS devices allows up to four connected devices to create playlists and stream music to the MagniFi.
Setting up the MagniFi is remarkably easy thanks to the single-cable TV connection and wireless sub. The soundbar and subwoofer pair automatically – the LEDs on the back of each light solid green to indicate a successful connection – but if that doesn’t happen you can easily reset them using the bar’s sync button.
MagniFi can be programmed to respond to IR commands from your existing TV’s remote. Good job too, as the supplied remote is awful. It’s an awkwardly-sized credit-card-style affair, complete with unresponsive blister buttons that often require several presses to register. It does, however, cover all the key functions, including dedicated voice and bass controls, plus input/sound mode selection keys.
Using the soundbar is easy enough, despite the lack of an LED readout on the front. The ‘row of lights’ system is easy to follow for volume levels, plus they light up in different patterns when you switch sound presets.
After firing up The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the first thing we notice is MagniFi’s big, room-filling sound. As Smaug launches his attack on Lake Town, its satisfying volume and energy make for an engaging, exciting listen.
When the dragon spews fire over the buildings, deep waves of bass and forceful midrange flood the room. We hear the crack of splintering wood and the tinkle of breaking glass, while the Polk’s muscular presentation of Howard Shore’s score brings instant drama and gravitas.
Later, Smaug’s booming voice sounds incredible as the subwoofer imbues it with lashings of deep, chunky bass without compromising the intelligibility of Benedict Cumberbatch’s delivery. In fact, the subwoofer is the star of the show – bass notes are thunderous yet tight and well integrated. There’s terrific definition and punch behind every transient, with little overhang to speak of.
The Polk offers a decent amount of treble, although it’s not quite as crisp and open as we’d like for the money – the Q Acoustics M4 soundbar, for example, offers more refined high frequencies and a smoother presentation for a similar price.
Amid the chaos, we get a chance to hear the effects of Voice Adjust. As Bard’s family flee the town in a boat, Tauriel utters the line “we cannot go back”. With the mode turned down low, it’s difficult to hear this line over the roaring fire and collapsing houses. But crank it up to maximum and her words are remarkably lucid.
Voice Adjust is even more useful when listening at low volumes. With voice volume at maximum, we reduced the main volume to two lights and dialogue is perfectly audible as Bard pleads with Thorin through the Erebor gate. It’s quiet, but there’s enough dynamic thrust to catch it from the sofa.
Great news, but to be honest we’re not sure why you’d ever turn it down. Below maximum, the soundtrack is strangely unbalanced, making certain effects louder than they should be and drowning out voices. There’s also a reduction in bite and attack.
Voice Adjust isn’t great for music playback either, making it difficult to find a satisfying balance. We played Jarrod Lawson’s Music and Its Magical Way with voice volume up full, and although it adds depth and clarity to Lawson’s treacly vocals, other instruments get lost in the mix.
But if you turn it down low, his multilayered harmonies sit too high in the mix, while the lead vocal gets drowned out by the busy drums and piano lines. Fruitlessly fiddling with the voice controls to find the right balance greatly hindered our enjoyment of the Polk’s performance.
MagniFi is an impressive soundbar in many ways, offering a stylish design, superb build quality and a loud, punchy sound that fills the room nicely. The subwoofer is excellent, offering the sort of tight, weighty bass we look for – a rarity among soundbar subs.
However, we’re not completely sold on Voice Adjust. It works well with movie material, adding extra clarity and presence to voices (particularly with the volume down low), while the boosted midrange ensures a snappy tone. But with music, it has an adverse effect on balance and organisation, making it very hard to find a satisfying balance.
Detail could be a little sharper too, while the lack of HDMI ports might deter some buyers. There were signs of promise here, but if we had £400 to splash on a soundbar we’d look towards the Q Acoustics Media 4, which offers a cleaner, crisper and more transparent sound.
SEE ALSO: Best Soundbars 2015
Voice Adjust is a valiant effort to tackle a pressing soundbar problem, but its adverse effect on certain areas of performance left us feeling frustrated. That said, in many other respects it’s a superb soundbar, particularly its chic design, solid build and room-filling sound.