For many film fans, a Dolby Atmos soundbar will provide everything they need to experience the latest movies on TV with a level of audio realism that their set’s built-in speakers could never deliver. But what if you also want to listen to music? The best soundbars excel at movie sound, but some listeners may end up disappointed when it comes time to play music on the same ‘bar.
The reasons for this are many, but it mostly comes down to a soundbar needing to pack the speakers used to convey left, right, and center channel information – and, in some cases, surround and height channels as well – into a slim, compact, all-in-one unit. The better designs make an effort to reproduce stereo music with a high degree of clarity, but the main job for most soundbars is generally to deliver maximum impact with movie soundtracks.
Fortunately for music fans, a new wave of TV-friendly fully powered stereo speakers has been making gains of late. We’ve seen such models emerge from traditional speaker companies like KEF, Dynaudio, and SVS, and can now add Elac to that list.
While the KEF and Dynaudio offerings are pricey models with built-in Wi-Fi for wirelessly streaming lossless audio from Tidal, Apple Music, and other services, Elac’s new Debut ConneX powered speakers ($600 / £600 / AU$900) depend upon aptX Bluetooth for wireless music streaming. But Bluetooth is only part of the Debut ConneX story. Like the other models I’ve mentioned, Elac’s latest speakers feature an HDMI ARC input, which lets you link them to your TV to get much improved movie sound – though without Dolby Atmos height effects.
Coming from a regular speaker company, the Debut ConneX is designed the same as the best stereo speakers. It uses a 0.75-inch soft dome tweeter and 4.5-inch polypropylene woofer, both of which are powered by a built-in 2 x 50-watts amplifier. Rear-firing ports are used to increase low-end output, and they are aided here by an XBass proprietary bass enhancement circuit.
Not surprisingly for a speaker with ConneX in its name, there are plentiful connection options beyond HDMI ARC and aptX Bluetooth. There’s a USB PC port that supports up to 24-bit/96kHz signals along with an optical digital audio jack and a phono preamp input for a direct turntable connection. A subwoofer output is provided to hook up an external sub for extended bass, and rear-panel speaker terminals on the primary Debut ConneX (the one containing the amplifiers and input connections) is used to link it with the satellite unit via included wire.
The Debut ConneX is available now in three finish options: black, walnut, and royal blue.
Analysis: Powered speakers with HDMI are the new soundbars
Fully loaded Dolby Atmos speaker systems powered by one of the best AV receivers provide a fast ticket to top-shelf home theater sound, but not everyone has the space for that option, or the money to pursue it. With their compact size and generally impressive handling of movie soundtracks, soundbars are a solid and affordable alternative that makes for an easy recommendation.
But as good as soundbars can sound, you really need to use one of the top-performing models to get decent results for stereo music playback. Not surprisingly, that’s an area where traditional hi-fi speakers can work magic, conveying music with clear separation between channels, uncompressed dynamics, and a sense of transparency that tricks you into believing the musicians are right there in the room with you.
For those seeking the above qualities when listening to music but also want to watch movies and TV on the same system, powered speakers with HDMI are another easy recommendation. Yes, they are not a replacement for a full Dolby Atmos home theater setup, nor are they designed to be one. But with prices starting at $600 / £600 / AU$900 for Elac’s Debut ConneX, they are a flexible and sensible option, and one that can give you the best of both music and movie worlds.