- Slim dimensions
- Detailed, dynamic sound
- Wireless subwoofer
- A tad shouty at loud volumes
- Limited connections
- Review Price: £249.97
- 10 drivers (eight full range, two tweeters)
- Wireless 130W ClassHD subwoofer
- Vector Firing Side Drivers
- Fractal Expansion processing
- Wall or tabletop mounting
Some soundbars aim to deliver an all-in-one home cinema solution, chucking a Blu-ray player into the mix alongside all sorts of networking tricks, multimedia features and fancy-pants sound decoding. Others, however, have a much simpler goal in mind – to boost the stereo sound quality from your weedy flatpanel TV without taking up precious living room space. The Roth Bar 1 is one of the latter.
This super-slim speaker can be placed on a tabletop using supplied feet that clip onto the bottom, but with a depth of just 57mm it’s absolutely perfect for mounting on the wall (there’s a mounting kit in the box) and at 780mm wide it’s ideal for TVs between 32in and 42in. You also get a powered subwoofer, which we’re delighted to report is wireless. That gives you more freedom when it comes to placement, as well as eliminating messy cables.
The speaker isn’t particularly showy or glamorous, but certainly easy on the eye – its understated looks are designed to blend in, not to draw attention from the TV screen. The entire front panel is covered by a removable grille, which hides a funky silver front panel and the all-important speaker drivers (ten to be precise).
Right in the middle is a control panel made from transparent plastic, which allows blue LEDs to shine through to indicate the volume level or sound mode (it disappears after a few seconds). The buttons include volume and subwoofer volume, mute, input and surround mode. Thankfully it also comes with a remote to save you getting off the sofa.
A recess around the back houses a modest selection of sockets. There are two analogue stereo inputs and a 3.5mm minijack input, which can be connected to your TV’s headphones output if you want to use your TV remote to control the volume (or you could use it to connect an MP3 player). Otherwise TVs and set-top boxes with phono outputs should be connected to the red/white inputs.
Some may turn their nose up at the lack of digital audio inputs, HDMIs and the like, but the Bar 1 isn’t designed to be a hub for all your audio gear – it’s more an extension of your TV’s speakers and on that score the basic socket line-up makes sense.
Inside the soundbar are ten drivers designed to spread sound around the room using a ‘multi reflection’ design. There are eight 40mm long-throw full range drivers, and two 19mm aluminium dome tweeters. Four of these are Vector Firing (VF) Side Drivers, which are found on the slanted edges at either end. These generate a wider sweet spot and more pronounced surround effects.
These VF drivers are designed to work in conjunction with Fractal Expansion (FX), which may sound like a painful medical procedure but is actually a virtual surround processing mode. It works with any stereo content, creating a virtual centre channel and expanding surround information. You can switch between FX and straight stereo modes using the remote or the front-mounted buttons.
Elsewhere the soundbar packs 2 x 16W of amplification, while frequency response is quoted as 180Hz – 20kHz.
The wireless subwoofer boasts a 130W ‘ClassHD’ amplifier with a 6.5in long-throw woofer, delving down to 35Hz to deliver the required bass punch. Unusually, the subwoofer is quite tall and slim, which could make it easier to squeeze into tricky spaces, and despite the slightly tacky ‘satin black’ finish it’s robustly built.
The system takes no time at all to setup. The soundbar and subwoofer talk to each other automatically when you first fire them up, but should the connection drop out then pairing buttons on both units get everything up and running again (blue lights indicate when a connection is made).
It’s easy to access the sockets too, and although we weren’t prepared to drill holes in our test room, wall mounting looks fairly straightforward.
With so few functions on board, the remote control is simple to operate. It sports just eight buttons – main and subwoofer volume controls, mute, surround, input and power – and fits snugly in the hand with its curved back-end.
If you’ve only experienced movies and TV shows through your flatpanel TV’s speakers, then hearing them through the Bar 1 will be a revelation. It capably articulates music, speech and effects with a crisp, dynamic character, making your average flat TV sound like a transistor radio.
We gave it a workout with Star Wars on Blu-ray – piped directly into the unit’s analogue stereo ports from a Samsung deck – and the Roth does a great job with the iconic action. From the deep, gruff tones of Darth Vader to C3PO’s prim electronic jabbering, dialogue is consistently clear and open. It also excavates plenty of the disc’s high-frequency detail despite the use of a down-mixed analogue connection.
We’re also pleased by the cohesion between the soundbar and the sub – the two cross over smoothly, and the sub delivers thick, thumping bass without excessive boominess or lag. Subtle bass ambience during quieter scenes (like the deep background drone of the Death Star, or the bassline of the Cantina bar theme) is also nicely handled. Sure we’ve heard tighter and punchier subs, but for everyday use it’s solid.
The Roth can go reasonably loud, but when you crank up the volume to near-maximum a couple of cracks begin to show. Loud effects like screaming spacecraft and blasting lasers start to spit and distort, which isn’t easy on the ear and will make you reach for the volume controls. Keep a lid on the level though, and you’ll be treated to smooth and engaging audio.
As for virtual surround, the FX mode certainly adds extra zing to the regular stereo mode, delivering a more spacious soundfield, but describing it as surround sound would be a little optimistic.
The Roth Bar 1 is a soundbar with a very clear purpose – to boost the power and clarity of sound from your TV – and on that score it does a stand-up job.
Movies sound clear and detailed, the subwoofer handles bass information with reasonable power and agility, plus FX processing and the VF side-drivers add extra spice. Push the volume too high though and cracks start to appear.
The inclusion of a wireless subwoofer and the slim, compact shape of the soundbar are also big benefits, likewise the easy installation and operation. Some may hanker after more connections, perhaps a digital audio input or two, but the Bar 1 wasn’t conceived as an audio epicentre – for day-to-day TV listening it’s a satisfying solution.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 8