SOUND BARS ARE still relatively new to many people in comparison to surround-sound speaker systems, but we’re already expecting more from them than simply better audio quality for watching TV and films.
Philips was clearly on the same wavelength as us when it produced the Fidelio HTL9100. This sleek sound bar splits apart into surround-sound speakers when you want that authentic cinema experience.
In its default configuration, the HTFL9100 looks like any other sound bar. It shares the same sleek and minimal design as the entry-level HTI_5120,with black cloth speaker grilles and lots of brushed aluminium. The teardropshaped unit will sit comfortably in front of your TV without obscuring its IR port, and looks equally stylish mounted to a wall. There’s no LCD display, but the row of white LEDs illuminate to show volume, bass or treble levels as you adjust them with the remote control.
We’re used to sound bars skimping on inputs and outputs, but Philips has been generous when it comes to connectivity. The HTL9100 has two HDMI inputs and a single HDMI output that supports Audio Return Channel (ARC) to let you use the external speakers with your TV’s integrated Freeview or Freesat tuner. You’ll also find analogue RCA, digital coaxial and digital optical audio inputs at the back, along with an easier to reach 3.5mm input on one side.
As the HTL9100 has built-in Bluetooth, you won’t even need to break out a cable to stream music from a smartphone or tablet The HTL9100 doesn’t have an onscreen interface, so you must rely on the remote control to trigger the process and watch the LEDs to know when you’re connected.
in its standard sound bar mode, with the satellite speakers attached to the main sound
bar, the HTL9100 sounds warm and detailed. The high-end is precise without sounding sharpy so acoustic tracks sparkle^ but there’s enough low-end grunt to give presence to heavier tracks. There’s not a lot of stereo separation, but that’s to be expected from a single sound source.
When the unit’s broken down to produce two rear speakers, the HTL9100 shows its true potential. The speakers lock firmly into
the main unit with magnets, but once removed they switch over to wireless mode, using a proprietary frequency to avoid conflicting with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals. Each speaker has an internal battery that charges whenever you return it to the main unit. Philips says each one will last 10 hours.
The subwoofer is also wireless, and it connects to the sound bar automatically when you plug it into the power socket. The subwoofer is compact, so it should squeeze behind a sofa. Despite its size, the subwoofer
still manages to pump out a surprising amount of bass for films and music. Bass doesn’t dominate the mix, either. The subwoofer adds rumble where we’d expect it, but it doesn’t not encroach on the mid-range.
Switching to surround sound makes a big difference when watching films. DTS digital surround support helps the HTL9100 create a realistic soundscape that surrounds you with incidental audio. You don’t need to change
any settings to activate surround sound; sound pauses briefly when you disconnect the speakers from the sound bar, and resumes in surround sound. Music benefits from the extra speakers, too. Tracks have a richer, more precise sound with better differentiation between the mid- and high-frequency sounds.
PASSING THE BAR
The ability of the HTL9100 to transform from a sound bar to surround-sound system in less than a minute, without the need to worry about batteries or cables, makes it one of the best home cinema speaker systems we’ve seen for those with limited space. It has all the features we’d expect from a high-end system. The Sonos Play bar is similarly priced, but you’d need a couple of Play 1 speakers for surround sound. For non-Sonos users, the HTL9100 is one of the best sound bars around.