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Clever Design; Reasonable Performance; Curious Configuration
on January 30, 2012
First saw this at Sam's Club last fall and thought to myself, "What a clever design. Two 7.5w front facing speakers and a 15w downfacing subwoofer (with bass boost circuitry) cleverly disguised (and functional) as a tabletop stand." Still, even at $80 (the original MSRP was $129), it was just too pricey for the equivalent of a $40 set of computer speakers. However, when Sam's dropped the price to ~$50 last week, I jumped on it.
The good news: Performance is precisely what one might expect given the technical specs. Readers plagued by the tinny internal speakers on their 32" HDTVs will notice an immediate improvement, especially with the additional depth generated by the bass boost. It's also attractive; its piano gloss finish complements the TV base as if they were destined to be together (as long as the display weighs less than 55 lbs). Two other nice features are a second input (for your favorite MP3 device) and an automatic standby mode that kicks in when the unit no longer detects audio input.
My only complaint with the unit is the remote (or that fact that it even has one). Consider the most common applications of the soundbar:
As a computer speaker: With power/volume and input/source controls conveniently at your fingertips on the right side of the unit, you have no need for a remote (other than base boost which should have been implemented on the unit itself anyway).
As a supplemental speaker for an HDTV or STB/HDTV: The unit's two inputs will only accept 3.5mm mini-plugs. Thoughtfully, Maxell provides both an RCA-to-3.5mm stereo cable (suitable for audio out from the TV, the set top box, or an amplifier) and a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable (suitable only for headphone output on some TVs -- I know of no cable/satellite STBs with headphone output). UNFORTUNATELY, if you use the more common and logical RCA-to-3.5mm cable, you cannot control the unit with anything other than the Maxell remote! Huh? What's that?
That's right... if you want to use your cable/satellite remote or your TV remote, you must connect using the 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable, and even then, you can only control the volume. Unfortunately, in my setup, the headphone jack is on the front of the TV (where it's supposed to be)... so now I have a wire coming out of the FRONT of my TV going to the BACK of the soundbar!
[BEGIN RANT] It's almost as if the guys in Maxell's remote control group tried to come up with a way to compromise an otherwise elegant design. Rather than imbue their nifty product with a standard code page used by millions of universal remotes, they chose to make their throw-away remote the center of the unit's control universe, and moreover made it a learning remote so that it could operate your TV and/or cable box! Spare me the $10 in extra cost and give me something that will integrate seamlessly into my existing configuration. [END RANT]
In all fairness, other learning remotes can capture the Maxell remote's proprietary codes to operate the unit (in fact, the unit is defined in the Logitech Harmony database), but really, that's just a workaround for Maxell's bonehead decision to even include a remote (especially one with proprietary codes).
Design: Good (Great if it had not be compromised by the configuration decisions)
Performance: Good to Better than Good
Configuration: Workable but bordering on brain dead
Price: A deal at $49.87 (at Sam's)