Plug-and-play soundbars can improve the quality of TV audio or give your phone and laptop a boost. We put two of the most popular models to the test.
The compact Majority Audio Bowfell is Amazon’s best-selling soundbar. It’s sold as an immediate upgrade to the stale sound and muddy dialogue that plague many slim TVs.
For just £15 more, the Majority Audio Snowdon II is bigger and delivers 120W, more than double Bowfell’s 50W power.We’ve put both to the test.
The first impression of the 2.1ch Bowfell was that it is surprisingly small at 72x388x54mm (HxWxD), so not nearly as wide as even a small TV. It is also not designed to be mounted on the wall:
there are no fittings for this purpose. Instead, it’s designed to sit on a table in front of a smaller, upright TV.
For any modern TV, it looks quite small: it’s wider than most portable Bluetooth speakers, but not as wide as you’d expect from a soundbar.
Your TV can be connected via Bowfell’s digital optical input or the analog line-in 3.5mm jack. It comes with an RCA cable for the latter that plugs into the red and white audio outputs on the back of most TVs.
It also comes with a simple 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, for connecting to the headphone jack of a portable device such as a phone, tablet or laptop, although many people undoubtedly prefer using the built-in Bluetooth. for streaming music.
You can also play audio directly from a USB device, for example MP3 files on a USB memory stick. Setup was simple:
the power button on the side or the ‘Mode’ button on the remote goes through whether you use a cable or Bluetooth to connect. A colored light behind the grid indicates the selected mode.
The sound was bassier and louder than my TV’s built-in sound. The sound also seemed a little louder through the cable.
The remote is small but solidly built. You can switch modes, Bluetooth pairing and adjust the volume. You can also choose a number of digital sound processing (DSP) modes:
rock, jazz or flat. There are also basic controls for navigating USB tracks. The sound quality of the 50W Bowfell is comparable to that of a good Bluetooth speaker and can handle high volumes and big bass without distortion.
We tried it out with some Skrillex and it filled the room with party-worthy bass that made the half-decent sound of the phone seem under scorn. Impressive, since there is no subwoofer.
It also boosts TV sound, but lacks stereo separation. This is partly due to the size: you do not get a lot of space between the left and right speakers in such a small device. Also, one end of the Bowfell is used for circuitry, so the right speaker isn’t even on the end.
The Bowfell is sold by size or price. In terms of size, it is perfect for students who want to pack light. You can easily fill a room with sound.
Price-wise, it’s a cheap and cheerful sonic upgrade that gives you that extra edge when watching TV on a laptop or phone. However, if you can stretch to the extra £15 to get the bigger, better Snowdon II (see below), it’s worth it if you want to boost the sound from a bigger television.
With the Majority Audio Snowdon II you visibly get much more value for your money. At 83x810x83mm (HxWxD), it’s more than twice the width of Bowfell. That means it would look good under a 37-inch and larger TV. It also looks sleek, with a curvy design rather than boxy.
A pair of brackets on the back allow for easy wall mounting, although it also fits nicely on a table. The 150W Snowdon II is a 2.1 channel soundbar, meaning left and right stereo channels plus subwoofer.
It’s very obvious when you look through the grille that there are three equally sized speaker cones. A listen confirms the fact that the center driver is not a center channel:
it is dedicated to bass. There’s also a bass port on the back, something the Bowfell lacks. The brackets keep it a bit away from the wall.
Again, the circuitry is all on the right side, so the right speaker is shifted a bit to the left, which affects the stereo separation.
This feels less problematic with this model because the Snowdon II is so much wider than the Bowfell. Entrances are a little different. There’s no USB:
instead you get separate red and white RCA jacks for aux in, as well as a 3.5mm jack. The supplied RCA cable for analog input from the TV connects to this and there is also an optical input for digital.
The remote is similar to the Bowfell control, but this time DSP modes are called Flat, Music, Dialogue and Movie. You can also tune bass and treble. The modes do make a difference:
film is bassier, while dialogue reduces the bass, so you can hear the highs better. The only downside is that there’s no visual indication of what mode you’re in, so it’s easy to forget.
The Snowdon II is louder than the Bowfell, but not dramatically. What is noticeable is that the sound is more refined, so you get a full sound that can fill even a large room, rather than just a solid bass. Skrillex sounds even better, as do television and action movies.
The difference was impressive. The names of the DSP modes betray the fact that the Snowdon II is designed as a TV soundbar that doubles as an impressive Bluetooth speaker, while the Bowfell is an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker that enhances the sound of your TV or laptop. can give a boost.
The Snowdon II is affordable enough to be the better buy unless you need the Bowfell’s compact size, say in a college dorm room or to boost the sound of a laptop rather than a TV.
From £34.95 www.majority.co.uk
JBL Bar 2.0
Big, immersive sound from a slim bar. The JBL measures 58x614x90mm (HxWxD). Despite its size, it is an all-in-one soundbar: you get a full and bass-rich sound without the need for a subwoofer. You connect it to your TV via HDMI or optical.
When money is no object, Sonos soundbars offer a high-quality sonic upgrade. You can integrate with other Sonos speakers.
For example, place two wireless speakers elsewhere in the house and then bring them to the back of the living room for movie night surround sound. This model – the smaller soundbar – measures 69x651x100mm (HxWxD).
Audio Pro T3+
You can also invest in a good quality Bluetooth speaker for a music upgrade that can also work with a TV.
It only has 3.5mm and Bluetooth inputs, but it’s rechargeable with up to 30 hours of battery life for listening anywhere. The Swedish design is typically Scandi elegant – doubly so in limited edition lemon yellow.