Sound bars started out with a single purpose – to enhance the audio quality of the connected TV. Most TVs with built-in speakers aren’t enough when it comes to the fullness of the audio. The speakers are too small and not powerful enough to take advantage of the current audio technologies and codecs featured in today’s HD movies and TV shows. Even the TVs that do boast support for these technologies struggle to deliver solid audio experiences at higher volumes. Today’s sound bars do more than just bump up the movie quality though; they also double as media centers where you can wirelessly stream music from audio devices. The Polk Audio Omni SB1 is one of the premium sound bar packages that offers streaming features but it primarily focuses on bringing the best movie experience possible.
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About the Polk Audio Omni SB1
The Omni SB1 is a 3.1-channel sound bar with a pretty sleek look. It isn’t as “boxy” as other sound bars and the metallic speaker grille has a pretty unique design that partially extends to the top. An eye-catching design is to be expected for a sound bar that costs more than $600 but unfortunately for the Polk Audio Omni SB1, the body is made of plastic. It isn’t very obvious at first but it definitely doesn’t feel like a premium speaker unit. The top of the speaker has a few more buttons than you would find on an ordinary sound bar. You can find the usual dedicated volume, play/pause and power buttons but there are also dedicated controls for adjusting the voice and bass as well as a Wi-Fi button. The back of the unit features a USB port for firmware updates, an optical port, a 3.5mm input and a 3.5mm output for a wired subwoofer. The package comes with both an optical digital cable and minijack to RCA cable.
You probably won’t need to use the 3.5mm subwoofer jack because the Omni SB1 package comes with a subwoofer of its own and it connects to the sound bar wirelessly. It is rounded too to match the style of the sound bar unit and it has a nice metallic Polk logo. The included remote control is pretty small featuring the same set of buttons found on the sound bar along with dedicated movie and music modes.
The Polk Audio Omni SB1 has built-in Wi-Fi but it utilizes DTS’s Play-Fi audio standard for receiving audio streams. This may mean that you can’t connect the sound bar to your wireless network in the traditional sense but the audio standard is open allowing other Play-Fi-enabled speaker systems to link to the Omni SB1 for a multi-room setup. This includes Polk Audio’s competitors too like Definitive Technology. The main downside is that the sound bar sacrifices other standards including the more universally accepted Bluetooth. Not only does Bluetooth support a broader range of mobile devices outside smartphones but it is also easier to use. Play-Fi is easy too but those new to the technology have to deal with a very small learning curve. Basically, you just download the Polk Omni app from the Google Play or iTunes App Store and start from there. You do not need the DTS Play-Fi app.
Playing back music through the 150-watt Polk Audio Omni SB1 easily sounds better than standard TV speakers and the Play-Fi protocol doesn’t come with the same audio degradation downsides as Bluetooth. However, the movie audio performance outshines the music performance. The VoiceAdjust feature is the main driving force of the superb movie experience. Dialogue sounds very clear and just about all aspects of the audio sound full and loud with the exception of the high-end where the clarity drops. This is more apparent when listening to music though. Tracks with heavy bass sounded better than expected but you can expect some distortion at maximum volume. There are also no virtual surround sound technologies but the Omni SB1 doesn’t really need them. Wireless performance is also very good although you can only get the best experience if you have a wireless-AC router with 5 GHz support.
• Play-Fi plays nice with other Play-Fi speakers including ones not made by Polk Audio to open up some interesting multi-room possibilities.
• Really levels up the movie watching experience.
• VoiceAdjust really helps with the dialogue clarity.
• No Bluetooth.
• Music quality not spectacular.
• Pretty pricey.
With a $699 price tag, you really need to make sure you are taking advantage of the Play-Fi technology because having a multi-room environment full of different speakers is just too cool to pass up. Otherwise you’d be spending too much on a speaker that really tries its hardest in delivering great home cinema quality and succeeds in doing just that. If you can find the Polk Audio Omni SB1 for cheaper, much better because it still outperforms the typical $300 sound bars in all respects.