The British audio brand sets out to raise the bar for high-end soundbars
The vast majority of soundbars on the market are of the budget persuasion, marketed as simple, cost-effective upgrades for lacklustre TV speakers. Sometimes you get a soundbar that’s cut from a different cloth, taking a more refined approach to design and sound quality. The ASB-2 from Monitor Audio is one of those.
The British brand’s first soundbar is also packed with features. AirPlay and DLNA music are onboard, while a wide range of inputs makes it a versatile hub for all your audio kit.
Like the similarly sophisticated but pricier Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 2, the ASB-2 is blessed with stunning build quality and design. As soon as you pull it from the box its high-end pedigree is clear – the cabinet is heavy and feels supremely solid.
The entire front section is covered by a silky black cloth, broken up by only a light bar that changes colour when you switch source. Behind the cloth are two 5.5in woofers, two 4in midrange drivers and two 1in gold dome tweeters made from Monitor Audio’s Ceramic Coated Aluminium Magnesium (C-CAM). Power is rated at a substantial 160W.
A supplied rubber table stand stops the soundbar slipping about, but it can also be mounted on the wall using an optional bracket. Make sure your D.I.Y. skills are good, though, as the bar weighs in at a hefty 11.5kg.
Rear connections include three HDMI v1.4 inputs and an ARC-compatible output, plus optical, coaxial and analogue stereo inputs, a 3.5mm minijack input, a subwoofer output and a USB port that supports music playback from iOS devices. Compared to the stripped-down behinds of Bose's Cinemate 1SR and Sonos' PlayBar, it's positively overloaded.
Setup is carried out through an onscreen menu – a rarity among soundbars. The basic, blocky text is dated, and you have to press right instead of OK to select an option, but it gets the job done.
Readying the ASB-2 for AirPlay/DLNA (there's no Bluetooth, unfortunately) is incredibly easy with a WPS router or iOS device – with the latter, simply connect via USB and share its Wi-Fi settings by tapping ‘Allow’ on the screen. PC setup through a web browser is trickier – my router refused to appear in the list so I gave up and used the peer-to-peer AirPlay Direct connection instead. Format support via AirPlay includes ALAC, MP3, AAC and FLAC.
Some people may question the wisdom of buying a £1,000 soundbar – an amount, incidentally, that could get you a decent receiver/speaker combo – but once you hear its sound quality, and consider the feature set, the price tag starts to make sense.
The ASB-2 is powerful and polished in equal measure, with punchy, authoritative bass, clear, decisive mids and jaw-dropping detail reproduction. In fact, it's the latter that sets the Monitor Audio apart. It digs out the sort of subtle textures that cheaper rivals gloss over. This gives the sound an irresistible and absorbing silkiness and fluidity.
And in terms of excitement the ASB-2 mixes it with the best sound systems. Play the thrilling, chilling dénouement of Children of Men and the soundbar stages the action beautifully. As Theo weaves his way through Bexhill refugee camp in a single take, machine gun fire pops from the speakers with taut, pistonic bursts, while military vehicles rumble menacingly past the camera.
Explosions are big and visceral, and, after a brief ceasefire, the fighting fires up again and the ASB-2 shatters the silence with a fast, sudden dynamic shift. It’s an extraordinary performance – insightful and layered but backed up with depth and a terrific sense of scale. Dialogue is clear and realistic, too.
The only drawback is the 3D Audio processing, which claims to add width to the soundstage but doesn’t make much difference.
With tracks from iTunes streamed via AirPlay showing the same level of sonic refinement as BDs, it's easy to applaud the ASB-2. Monitor Audio has crafted a fine performer that proves you can cut down on clutter without compromising on quality.
Monitor Audio ASB-2
Price: £1,000 Approx
Highs: Commanding, detailed sound; supreme build quality; AirPlay and DLNA support; generous connections
Lows: Expensive; fiddly PC Wi-Fi setup; rudimentary onscreen menu; 3D Audio processing not worth bothering with
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