The SB3950E1 is Toshiba’s latest entry-level soundbar, tasked with the job of improving weedy TV sound without costing you the earth. The sub-£100 price tag is reflected in the bare bones feature list, but anyone seeking a no-frills plug-and-play audio upgrade for their TV might be tempted.
It’s one of three new soundbars from Toshiba – the step-up SB3950M1 is a more powerful version, throwing in Bluetooth and extra sound modes, while the Mini Sound Bar II comes with an external wireless subwoofer and Absolute 3D Sound processing.
Build quality is pretty good for such an affordable soundbar. The main body is fashioned from matt black plastic, with an attractive cloth grille covering the drivers. It’s light, but far from flimsy.
Everything is built into a single speaker bar, which can be mounted on the wall or placed on a flat surface in front of your TV. For wall mounting, you get a pair of metal brackets in the box, and with a depth of just 57mm it won’t stick out very far from the wall.
Viewed from the front, the look is pleasingly minimal – the only visible detail is a discreet LED display showing the selected input, which automatically dims after a few seconds. This clear, easy-to-read display removes all the guesswork when tweaking sound modes or adjusting the volume.
On top is a row of small buttons, allowing you to toggle through inputs or turn the surround mode on and off (more on that later). The power button is surrounded by a silver ring, which is a minor detail but adds a welcome flicker of glamour to an otherwise unremarkable design.
Connections are as basic as it gets, with one optical digital input and one 3.5mm minijack input, both of which face sideways in the recess on the back. This makes setup nice and simple – a single optical cable connects the TV and soundbar, with the 3.5mm jack for those whose TV lacks an optical output. Anyone hoping to run Blu-ray players or games consoles directly through the soundbar via HDMI will need to step up to the SB3950M1.
Toshiba has stripped out all the frills, leaving Dolby Digital/DTS two-channel decoding and DTS TruSurround as the only features of note. There’s no Bluetooth, no HDMIs and no built-in subwoofer, but remember this is all reflected in the low price.
Toshiba says DTS TruSurround processing ‘extracts and places audio cues for ultra-realistic and immersive virtual surround sound, whilst post-processing and psychoacoustic techniques make for bass and audio enhancement’. Sounds great, but we always take these claims with a pinch of salt.