Sky Soundbox hands-on: A solid bit of kit that seems a no-brainer Sky Q customers
The Soundbox is the super-swish result of Sky’s collaboration with French audiophile brand Devialet. It aims to give Sky a top-end soundbar that’s ideal for watching movies and sports, as well as chilling out with music.
Having had an opening listen, I got the impression that the Soundbox could be fantastic option for Sky Q customers who are slumming it with built-in TV speakers.
Though, as is the case with pretty much all the soundbars we test, for hardcore audiophiles and cinephiles, where money is no object, most will still want to invest in a proper surround sound system.
Related: Best soundbars
Sky Soundbox – Design
Most soundbars and all-in-one sound systems don’t look that sexy. There are a few notable exceptions to this rule, such as the Sonos Playbase, but most look like boring black slabs of plastic that awkwardly sit in front of or below your TV.
The Soundbox sits in the latter category, featuring the same discreet, understated design as Sky’s Q range of hardware. At 37.5 x 21 x 9.5cm it’s also one of the smallest TV sound systems on the market. This, coupled with its dark black finish and lack of any external embellishments– outside of very small Sky and Devialet logos – give it an unassuming look that will fit into most lounges.
Round the back you’ll find the usual assortment of connectivity; the Soundbox includes HDMI input and outputs, an optical input and Bluetooth wireless support for those who want to use it to play music from their smartphone or tablet.
On the inside you’ll find six 3-inch woofers set in the same dual push-push configuration as the super-expensive £1690 Devialet Phantom speaker. Devialet claims the push-push configuration reduces the amount of vibration produced by the woofers. Supposedly when accompanied by some speaker-management tech, the woofers will also intelligently adapt the incoming audio signal to get the best bass possible, providing increased volume and an impressive 35Hz-22kHz frequency range.
Three 2-inch full-range drivers that are set in a 120-degree configuration accompany the woofers. Like previous Samsung and Yamaha systems, the Soundbox’s drivers aim to create a faux surround sound experience by reflecting audio off the room’s walls.
Sky Soundbox – Sound and Sky Q extras
To audiophiles and people used to top-end cinema sound systems, these claims won’t sound like anything new. For the last few years every speaker manufacturer has made similar boasts, and to date only a handful have delivered.
I can’t sensibly comment on whether the surround sound claims are delivered upon, as I only got to listen to a few clips during my demo, but from what I’ve heard there’s definitely some weight to the woofer claims. Watching the opening of Mad Max Fury Road, the engines rumbled with power and Hardy’s low grunts were distinct and controlled.
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Moving on to a scene from Fantastic Beasts, my impressions of the speaker’s tonal balance and dynamics were equally positive, with the creatures’ chirps, hisses and all, remaining distinct despite the busy scene.
The Soundbox’s audio chops continued to impress when I was demoed some of the system’s Sky and Sky Q-specific features. The most immediately noticeable of these is its dynamic volume-management system.
The system automatically optimises the sound of films and sports to ensure you never have to adjust the volume manually when a movie suddenly changes from a quiet scene to a loud one. I got to see the feature work by watching a segment of Skyfall twice: once with the demo TV’s speakers and once with the Soundbox. The difference was immediately apparent.
With the TV speakers the early spoken parts sounded fine, but the moment Bond engaged in a flurried round of shooting, the volume spiked to uncomfortably loud levels. On the Soundbox the volume levels remained level throughout, while somehow managing to maintain their sense of dynamism, which is pretty impressive.
Q customers will also be treated to three custom sound modes, designed to optimise the Soundbox for certain situations. These include:
- Dialogue Enhance mode: Ensuring speech is clear and defined
- Late Night mode: Decreasing bass and further enhancing quiet whispers
- Kids mode: Giving parents control over the maximum volume levels to protect vulnerable ears
I only got to test the dialogue mode, which again worked well during the demo. Watching a scene from Interstellar where the characters are in conversation during a rocket launch, dialogue with the mode on was more pronounced and significantly easier to hear. I personally thought the scene sounded better with it turned off, but can see it being useful to hard-of-hearing people.
My only minor quibble with the Soundbox is that it doesn’t have Dolby Atmos support, because of its lack of any upward-firing height speakers. This seems a little odd considering Sky’s just started broadcasting some sports in Atmos.
Related: Best surround sound systems
All this sounds great, and in general it is, but the Soundbox’s audio chops aren’t the chief thing that impressed me. It’s the sound system’s pricing.
The Soundbox as a standalone item has a retail value of £799, but new and old Sky TV customers will be able to buy it for just £299. Sky Q subscribers will get a further £50 discount, and be able to pick it up for just £249. For a company famous for its expensive prices, this is a surprising move and one I’m all for.
If the Soundbox manages to continue to push the top-end audio I experienced with prolonged testing, it could carve itself out as a key reason to upgrade to Sky Q, or be a cheeky Christmas present for existing subscribers when it launches in November.