Do you need a huge soundbar to create a big sound? We get nano with Philips' slender contender
Is the time right to downsize that soundbar? Well, with set-top boxes, games consoles, Blu-ray players and jumbo bags of Maltesers all vying for space beneath your flatscreen, real estate is increasingly precious, so if you can shrink without impacting sound quality, going nano clearly makes a lot of sense.
Enter the Philips Fidelio B1. Just 41cm wide, this bijou ‘bar hardly draws attention to itself. Even the wireless subwoofer is impressively slim. But can a small soundbar still do your Blu-ray collection justice?
The B1 'bar offers a curved-edge design, combining aluminium and black fabric grilles. It looks good, and feels worthy of its considerable asking price.
Around the rear you'll find an HDMI input plus an HDMI ARC output, 3.5mm minijack, USB and optical digital audio port. Neither HDMI port supports 4K HDCP 2.2, so any 4K source (Sky Q, UHD Blu-ray, etc) will need to be routed to a UHD screen direct. Bluetooth (with NFC pairing) is onboard, but there's no DLNA or multiroom talents to get excited about.
For such a compact enclosure, the B1 creates a surprisingly wide soundstage, and there’s sufficient volume on tap; I don’t think you’ll have a problem filling a smallish viewing room. Behind the grille are four drivers, two at the sides and two in the centre. Arranged in a cross-firing configuration, they create a relatively expansive sweet spot. A pair of additional soft dome tweeters in the top of the unit, used with an 18-hole waveguide, function as a virtual speaker array to heighten the soundstage. The B1 can handle a 5.1 bitstream and aggregates its amplifier modules to claim multichannel credibility, but it doesn’t convince in any faux surround regard. But when it comes to a wall of sound, it’s undeniably convincing.
The overall performance of the 'bar and subwoofer duo is solid. The B1's sonic signature is energetic, and dialogue delivery benefits from a clean mid-range.
The subwoofer is a front-ported MDF enclosure, just 86mm deep. The package includes a plastic stand to position it vertically. You could possibly lay it flat under a sofa, but given that the soundbar has little to offer below 200Hz, placement is rather crucial. Keep it close to the main soundbar for best integration.
If you want to add weight to action movie soundtracks, the B1 doesn’t disappoint. It moves air with startling efficiency. In fact, viewing Mad Max: Fury Road, I felt the need to wind bass in a bit via the B1's remote control to achieve a better balance.
Game title Battlefield 1 is a thunderous, visceral experience and the B1 goes to war with admirable enthusiasm.
If this soundbar does have a limitation it’s with streamed music. While there’s no issue with functionality – pairing over Bluetooth is a snap – presentation is too much blunt force trauma, and not enough grace and fluidity. A dedicated Music mode helps smooth out delivery and removes the mid-range lift which helps keep film dialogue clear, but that doesn’t improve basic musicality.
This svelte soundbar system delivers pretty much what you’d want. It makes a big, exciting sound that belies its smart, compact design. Best partnered with sub-50in flatscreens, it’s equal fun with blockbuster movies and game soundtracks. Philips' microbeaming drivers are less adept with music, though, which may be a concern if you intend to use the B1 as a multipurpose sound system. Furthermore, the price tag here feels a little on the high side considering the strengths of the varied competition.
Philips Fidelio B1
Price: £450 approx
We say: This good-looking compact 2.1 soundbar system is too heavy-handed for music but packs plenty of slam for movies and games..
Drive units: 6 x racetrack drivers Amplification (claimed): 120W (soundbar) Connections: HDMI input; HDMI output with ARC; 3.5mm stereo minijack; USB; optical digital input Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD MA: No/No Separate sub: Yes. Wireless Remote control: Yes Dimensions: 408(w) x 56.7(h) x 115(d)mm Weight: 7.56kg Features: Bluetooth aptX; tweeter wave-guide; auto volume leveller; microbeam speaker technology; music/movie audio processing modes; sub stand
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