Stick your TV on this and get some improved sonics. And some love-it-or-hate-it styling...
TV manufacturers are thankfully paying more attention to sound these days, particularly in their high-end models. But what if you're happy with your existing telly in all respects bar audio? Here's the Otone SoundBase, a replacement TV speaker system with Bluetooth connectivity.
The SoundBase is a sleek rectangular box that sits atop your TV cabinet or stand. Your set, in turn, sits on the SoundBase. Screens up to 80kg can be accommodated, claims the manufacturer.
Behind the fixed front-panel grille of the SoundBase sit a pair of 2in drive units. They face the listener, but are oddly-positioned; the left speaker is ranged close to the left edge just as you'd expect, but the right one is nearer the middle. Surely a symmetrical layout would have been better?
You can't expect decent bass from 2in drivers, and so the SoundBase includes a bottom-mounted 3in woofer built into an integral reflex enclosure. Its port sits at the back of the enclosure alongside the analogue (phono) and optical digital inputs. The latter, I found, accept only PCM, so bear that in mind when connecting your source gear.
On the top panel, you'll find a set of basic LED-confirmed controls that allow the SoundBase to be operated without its tiny sliver of a remote. It's very easy to use, but the unit's build quality and finish could be better – veneer 'bubbling' is an odd look that some will hate.
I fed its analogue input from a YouView set-top box, and its optical output from a Pioneer deck loaded with a copy of The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies. During the latter's first chapter, Smaug lays waste to the lake-town Escargoth, and the flaming wooden structures crackling and crashing into the water, the dragon whooshing around the sky and the general ensuing chaos are a good test for any home cinema system. While the Otone gives you some idea of the confusion and destruction, it's obviously only coming from right in front of you. The soundstage may be wider than that from a standard telly, but it's still rather compressed. You get little aural sense of the space in Smaug's lair, and there's no virtual surround function to widen proceedings either.
In terms of treble delivery, Otone's SoundBase fares quite well – clashing swords and shields during Chapter 28's full-scale showdown have nice attack. However, the bass department is limited and that has obvious implications for impact and punch during action sequences. Even Smaug's voice is robbed of its depth and menace.
A bass boost function provides a modicum of redress, but tends to 'thicken' the sound – and this is particularly noticeable with music. Other less bass-heavy voices – newscasters, Hobbits – are affected by a noticeable lower-midrange boxiness. However, this isn't serious enough to impair intelligibility.
Furthermore, there's none of the unpleasant cabinet rattling that some TV brands still insist in providing for free. The SoundBase can go fairly loud without descending into harshness or breakup.
Naturally, a system like this cannot compete with cinematic multichannel audio, but as an adjunct to a mediocre TV sound system for everyday use, it does the job, albeit with some caveats. The price tag will tempt, Bluetooth hookup is useful and it's a doddle to use.
Otone SoundBase, £130, www.otoneaudio.co.uk
HCC VERDICT: 3/5
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