Polk Audio has launched a new soundbar in its MagniFi range of home cinema systems - and it could be a great alternative to the popular Sonos Arc if you're short on space.
The new Polk MagniFi Mini AX is a compact soundbar and subwoofer combo, which looks set to deliver Dolby Atmos immersive audio without taking up lots of space.
At just 37cm wide, the soundbar itself is kitted out with a five-driver array, and comes with both Atmos and DTS:X surround sound to create what Polk describes as "a lifelike cinematic listening experience" for any room. Like previous Polk soundbars, the MagniFi Mini AX features the company's Voice Adjust technology, which should make it easier to hear mumbling actors by clarifying speech with the bar's center driver.
It comes with a wireless downfiring subwoofer, which should deliver rumbling bass frequencies without the need for lots of cables snaking around your living room - another bonus if your home is on the smaller side.
You'll be able to adjust the sound somewhat, with Movie, Music, and Night modes changing the audio performance of the soundbar based on what kind of content you're watching, or whether you want to avoid disturbing your neighbors during late night film sessions. An OLED display on the top of the soundbar lets you control your playback - alternatively you can use the included remote control or your TV's control if you're using a HDMI connection.
The new soundbar should be easy to connect to your TV, with HDMI eARC/ARC, optical, and AUX ports. There's also AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth connectivity for streaming music from a mobile device.
Costing £429 in the UK, global pricing for the new Polk soundbar is yet to be announced - but that works out at around $560 / AU$780. That's considerably less expensive than the $899 / £899 / AU$1,499 Sonos Arc - and yes, you would be making some concessions in terms of features and specs if you opt for the Polk MagniFi Mini AX over the best soundbar of 2022.
Do upfiring drivers matter?
Unlike the Sonos Arc, the MagniFi Mini AX doesn't feature the upfiring drivers required for 'true' Dolby Atmos (in which sound is bounced up to your ceiling and back down to you ears to give a sense of height), instead relying on digital signal processing to make it feel as though movie soundtracks are coming at you from every angle.
Virtual surround sound is rarely as effective as using real Dolby Atmos speakers, but it can still be pretty convincing - and soundbars that utlilize this tech are usually much cheaper than those with upfiring drivers.
The difference between the two technologies is most evident when you compare soundbars like the Sonos Arc and the Sonos Beam (Gen 2). While the Sonos Arc, which comes with upfiring drivers, delivers an excellent sense of height and width, the second-gen Beam doesn't provide that feeling of overhead sound. Still, we were mightily impressed by the wide soundstage provided by Sonos' smaller soundbar.
As two soundbars that utilize virtual Dolby Atmos, it's useful to compare the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) to Polk's latest model - but we aren't expecting them to sound exactly the same.
While the Sonos Beam is the most compact Sonos soundbar on the market, Polk's new MagniFi Mini AX is only half the size - and that means the sound may not be as loud, powerful, or spacious. That's not a given, though; both soundbars feature a five-speaker array, and the MagniFi Mini AX has the benefit of an included subwoofer.
Whatever soundbar you go for, we're yet to find any Dolby Atmos model - upfiring or otherwise - that can beat the performance of a true surround sound system that includes speakers positioned around your room.
You can use a soundbar as part of a surround sound system quite effectively, with a bar acting as a center channel, two rear speakers, and a subwoofer. Doing this with the Sonos Arc or Beam is easy thanks to Sonos' multiroom wireless speaker technology, which makes adding additional channels as simple as tapping a few buttons in the company's app.
This can get really expensive very quickly, though - and Polk has a cheaper solution if you're on a strict budget. You already get the soundbar and the subwoofer with the MagniFi Mini AX - you'd just need to add a pair of Polk SR2 Wireless Speakers (opens in new tab) for $199 / £159 (about AU$270) to complete your setup.