Product Review: Phillips SoundBar (HTL2101A/F7)

Product Review: Phillips SoundBar (HTL2101A/F7)

Looking to add some power to your home media set up? Soundbars are the latest craze, replacing traditional 5.1 surround speaker systems for those who don’t have the space but need the extra sound. Often times these soundbars are much cheaper than an entire home theater in a box and provide more power than your TV’s speakers. This past week I took a look at one of the entry level products, a Philips HTL2101A/F7 and in this article I will let you know what $60 USD can get you.

To leave NautilusMODE.com and view product information on Amazon.com, click here:Philips HTL2101A/F7 Soundbar Speaker (Black)

 What’s A Soundbar?

If you haven’t heard of one of these before, let me explain what this is. A soundbar is a long bar that contains speakers which is designed to help add or replace the sound in your home media set up. These can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but usually they are in the form of a long thin box, although they can have curves to match a particular aesthetic. Many of the soundbars created today are designed so they can replace full sound systems, offering things such as ‘virtual surround sound’ and ‘amplified bass’. However, these features will vary by product and price levels.

Expectations

As always you should keep your expectations in check when purchasing home electronics. The experience will vary greatly by brand and price range. So buying a low cost solution may give you disappointing results. You certainly would not want to assume a $60-$100 soundbar would provide a movie theater like experience.

With this in mind, Allyson and I live in a small apartment and have a modest sized media center in our living room. We have a 38″ flat screen TV(Magnavox brand) an Xbox 360, a Wii and a collection of DVD’s that are set up for easy enjoyment. Nothing exotic or over the top. All of this sits in an open first floor and generally we are sitting 10 -12 feet away from the TV.  The TV puts out nice sound, but anything else in the background can easily drown it out. The TV sound can go up to compete, although it quickly starts to distort and it sounds like the speakers will blow at any second. Recently the air conditioners were installed which creates 24/7 background noise so I needed something able to overpower it and(hopefully) do it on a budget.

The Product

Looking for a soundbar I found the cheapest option at our local Target store. This was a Phillips brand, model HTL2101A/F7 for around $60 USD. If you were not aware, Phillips is the parent company of Magnavox. As I am very satisfied with the features of our TV and the price I paid for it, I purchased this hoping to find the same kind of value.

htl2101a-f7_top
The Philips SoundBar is about as wide as our 38″ TV. It has gentle curves and is a skewed box shape.

Features

This soundbar includes the following features:

  • Wireless remote to change inputs, adjust bass/treble and mute.
  • 40 Watt Speakers
  • Rear Nail/Screw Wall Mounts
  • Virtual Surround Sound
  • Bass Reflex Speaker System
  • Dolby Digital Certification
  • Variety of Input Methods:
    • 3.5mm (aux.) audio
    • RCA (Red & White cable input)
    • Digital Coaxial
    • Digital Optical
    • USB (Flash Drive [FAT file system] with MP3/WMA Audio support)
Back of Unit - Power Cable and Inputs in Mirrored Locations
Back of Unit – Power Cable and Inputs in Mirrored Locations
RCA, Coax and Optical Inputs
RCA, Coax and Optical Inputs
Device Right - USB and AUX Input
Device Right – USB and AUX Input

Performance

I performed a variety of tests on this device, including all inputs excluding digital coaxial as I do not have a cable available to use. Overall though it performed well with the main limiting factor being the quality of audio being sent. I honestly couldn’t tell any difference between any of the inputs, so there is no need to use a specific connection over any other one. Use whichever one is easiest.

It was easily able to overpower all background noises and be loud enough that I am sure my neighbors could hear. Also, while at high volumes, it did not suffer any distortion which is exactly what I was hoping for.

On the downside, the ‘Bass Reflex’ washed out the mids and lows and made many of the subtleties in the audio get lost in translation. This was rather disappointing. However, with that said I do tend to favor more balanced audio than its bass heavy counter part. I would also like to note that this was only really noticed when listening to high quality music files where I have heard them on quality equipment previously.  So the speakers do make good sound, just do not expect anything greater than a $40 pair of computer speakers can output.

Test Methods:

Ok, so how did I test all the audio differences? Let’s take a look!

To test the soundbard I compared it to my PC sound set up. I have a Sound Blaster Audigy SE sound card for 3.5mm output as well as on-board audio which includes digital optical as well as standard 3.5mm jack. I used the cross platform Clementine music player and 320kbps MP3 rips of our CD collection. Specifically, I used the Foo Fighters Greatest hits CD as their music contains a nice range of tones and background subtitles.

Speakers For Comparison

My PC speakers are a 7 year old Altec Lansing (VS2321) 2.1 speaker set. I originally purchased these from Staples for about the same price as this soundbar costs today. Although rather old, these speakers in combination with my dated Sound Blaster Audigy SE sound card produce some of the best audio I have ever heard being able to produce deep bass, crisp highs and smooth mid tones.

To test the sound I played each song once from the same output(sound card vs integrated audio) to both devices. As my PC speakers do not connect via optical audio I did not perform this comparison.

Overall between each set up there wasn’t a huge difference in quality. The major difference is that the enhanced bass seemed to overpower the mid tones leaving the audio feeling off balance. Even when adjusting the treble and bass on the soundbar I could not mimic the clarity of my pc speaker set. With that said though, I could balance it well enough to make it sound good. This soundbar by no means creates bad sound, its just about average for its price range.

I also tested its ability to play MP3’s via a 16GB Flash drive formatted with a FAT32 file system. This worked wonderfully. It detected all songs on the drive and played through each. On the downside though there are no controls to change songs. It only plays through each song, and in my case file/album order as only a single album was loaded on to it. I only added a single album on the drive so I am not sure how a USB stick full of songs would be processed. Audio through USB was as clear it could produce. This would be great for parties where you want some background songs looping without having to manage anything.

Verdict

Overall this is a decent soundbar for $60. It performed well given its features and price tag.  If you are looking for decent TV speaker replacement without spending much money, this can surely do the job. Just don’t compare it to expensive audio equipment. I am satisfied with my purchase.

Pros:

  • Loud distortion free audio
  • With proper connections it can compliment your existing sound setup instead of replace it. I can have both my TV speakers and soundbar active at the same time
  • Plentiful inputs, all with equal quality output

Cons:

  • Bass Reflex system can be over powering at times
  • Muted mid tones with more emphasis on bass
  • Virtual Surround Sound tends to only add echo
  • Any off the shelf PC speaker system with the same price tag can do the same job, if not possibly better. However, this devices form factor makes up for that.

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Update 2015/01/11: Have you purchased this SoundBar and are having trouble getting it to work?  Check out my troubleshooting article here for a comprehensive list of tests to get your SoundBar working as intended.

Looking to buy one of these for yourself?  You can click the following link to leave NautilusMODE.com and view the products page on Amazon.com: Philips HTL2101A/F7 Soundbar Speaker (Black)

2 thoughts on “Product Review: Phillips SoundBar (HTL2101A/F7)

  1. Hi Annette,

    When I encountered this problem I would switch inputs and then select back the original input I wanted. Additionally I ran into an issue once where I required new batteries in the remote to get the entire unit to work again. If you still have issues, check out my troubleshooting post here: Troubleshooting: Phillips Soundbar

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