Last year, we had an opportunity to review Boston Acoustics’ Tvee Model 20, a two-channel soundbar and wireless subwoofer bundle that aimed to merge simplicity with performance. It appealed to buyers wanting better sound than their display’s speakers could offer, without all the complexities involved in a multi-channel home theater solution. The Model 20 successfully brought bigger sound in a tidy, simple package, but we felt the system asked too much of the subwoofer and wondered if a three-channel system might improve dialogue clarity.
In this review, we take a look at Boston Acoustics’ latest soundbar-subwoofer offering, the Tvee Model 30. Like the Model 20, this new version keeps it simple, but aims to kick performance up a few notches through the addition of a digital input, Bluetooth wireless capability, a revamped wireless subwoofer design and a six speaker, three-channel soundbar.
Out of the box
The Tvee Model 30 system arrived packed in a single box. Inside, we found a soundbar about two inches higher and seven inches wider than the Model 20, a rectangular subwoofer, an AC power supply, AC cable, a three-foot pair of RCA cables, a digital optical cable and a user manual.
Features and design
The TV Model 30 offers the strongest driver complement of Boston Acoustics’ soundbar line-up so far. Behind the magnetically secured grille are three 3.5-inch, fiber-ceramic drivers, along with three ¾-inch metallic dome tweeters. Each woofer is flanked by a port, leading us to believe there are partitions separating each speaker — as if each channel were its own compact bookshelf speaker within a larger, single-cabinet structure.
The subwoofer uses a 7-inch, fiber-ceramic woofer inside a tuned band-pass cabinet. As such, only the port, which is located toward the top of the front of the cabinet, is visible behind the sub’s metal grille. The grille, in this case, serves an aesthetic purpose primarily, but will manage to keep younger children from making any irretrievable “deposits” into the port hole as well.
The sub’s cabinet is tall, deep and narrow. Since the woofer is tucked inside, the sub can be placed upright or laid down on its side. To that end, Boston Acoustics opted to provide self-adhering “feet” separately, so that customers can orient the sub the way as they want it. On the back of the subwoofer is an AC power socket, a power switch, a wireless “station” switch and a volume control knob.
On the right face of the soundbar, through holes perforated in the grille, we find buttons for power, input, mute and volume up and down, and to toggle between music and movie mode. On the rear panel, the bar has one optical digital input, a stereo pair of RCA plugs for analog audio, a power switch, trim knob, another four-station wireless switch for mating with the subwoofer, a DC power port, and a switch to choose whether you have it mounted on a wall or set on a table. Cleverly tucked away on the right hand side of the soundbar, we found a recessed 3.5mm jack for easy connection to portable media devices.
As for processing, the Tvee Model 30 offers Dolby Digital decoding (no DTS folks, sorry). The aforementioned music-movie mode button toggles between a purely stereo presentation and a three-channel, virtual surround sound mode that cranks dialogue out of the soundbar’s center-most speaker array.
Setting up the system was extremely easy. Since most of our components are routed through an A/V receiver, we chose to use one of the receiver’s optical outputs to feed the Tvee Model 30 with a signal. This approach differs very little from the suggested method of connecting the soundbar to a TV’s optical digital output, providing all components are routed to the TV in the first place. For those who have signals travelling all over the place, it might make sense to consolidate them to one component that offers a digital output (likely the TV).
Setting up our remote to control the Tvee was also pleasantly easy. The soundbar’s power, volume, mute and input buttons can all be programmed to accept any remote’s commands through a learning algorithm built into the soundbar. The only problem with not having a dedicated remote, however, is that you’ll need to have an unused remote output option, perhaps a spare AUX output, for instance. Otherwise, you wind up adjusting your TV, receiver or cable box in concert with the soundbar. In our case, the cable box remote, which was programmed to adjust the TV’s volume, simultaneously raised and lowered both the TV and soundbar’s volume. Fortunately, we were able to disable our TV’s speakers.
As a side note, we wanted to mention we are glad to see the red LED on the back of the Tvee Model 30’s subwoofer is not nearly as bright as the one we saw on the back of the Model 20. This LED is much more subdued and not prone to lighting up a room at night.
The one thing that bothers us about this new model is its grille. We appreciate the choice to use magnets to secure it, but there seems to be an unnecessary amount of leftover space between the soundbar’s edges and the edges of the grille. It is definitely not a secure fit, and might be prone to being dislodged should an unwary passerby wander too closely.
To balance the subwoofer’s level with the level of the soundbar, we queued up Marc Broussard’s latest, self titled album, placed the soundbar in music mode and let it rip. With our subwoofer placed in the corner of our room, the bass was a little on the heavy side, so we backed off its volume and achieved a balance we were very happy with.
The subwoofer with the Tvee Model 30 seems to reach a little deeper and and blend more successfully with its soundbar companion than the Model 20 combo we tested a little over a year ago. The subwoofer seems more even throughout its operating range and, due to the soundbar’s larger and more plentiful speakers, isn’t required to work up into the midbass range to such a degree that it is easy to locate. As a result, the system sounded unified and harmonious, as if it were a single unit — a significant improvement that was noticeable both during music and movie watching.
Though the subwoofer in this system isn’t likely to set off any car alarms in the area, it does deliver some punctual bass and does it with a finesse we just don’t expect to see in a product at this price point.
The soundbar itself also sounded great. Though it lacks some of the musical refinements we might expect to hear from some of Boston Acoustics’ stand-alone bookshelf speakers, it gets pretty close. There is some coloration to the midrange that made some vocals sound less open and natural than a high-end stand-alone satellite speaker could provide, but Boston Acoustics isn’t aiming the Tvee Model 30 at audiophiles.
On the other hand, to say that the Tvee Model 30 “serves its purpose” would be a gross understatement. The sound quality it delivers doesn’t just provide its listener with better sound than a TV’s speakers can provide, it delivers really great sound capable of reaching some seriously healthy volumes. We’ve seen plenty of iPod docks around the Tvee Model 30’s price range that can’t deliver half the sound it can, let alone provide virtual surround sound and bass big enough to shake the windows.
About the virtual surround: We’re generally not big fans of fake surround — probably because we’d rather have a quality two-channel sound stage than a poor virtual surround effect. Fortunately, the Tvee Model 30 doesn’t force that decision. It can sound great in two-channel mode for movies or music. Engage the movie mode, and dialogue becomes anchored to the center, with effects splashing back and forth between the left and right channels. The virtual surround effect is not overbearing, and does provide some spaciousness to movies, television and games. It’s a fun enhancement, though we did find it a bit annoying during sitcoms with canned laughter and applause. Each time the fake audience tracks got played on a TV show, the virtual surround lept into action, further exacerbating the unnatural sound of a recorded audience reaction.
Music streamed to the Tvee Model 30 via Bluetooth sounded pretty good. We’ve heard some cleaner wireless delivery from a very few products, but not many can match the Tvee’s Bluetooth range. We were able to travel a good 15 to 20 feet away without any signal drop-out. The convenience of this feature is hard to deny. Plus, the availability of a hard-wired connection on the side of the soundbar offers the ability to listen to a portable audio device with higher resolution.
Games sounded excellent with the Tvee Model 30. We played Call of Duty: Black Ops for several hours with the Tvee engaged and were surprised to hear gunshots reproduced with some serious punch. There were some instances where the center speaker seemed out of balance with the left and right speaker, but this was the only time we felt the urge to adjust channel levels. That being the case, we’re not listing the lack of individual channel control as a con — especially since dialogue was never difficult to hear during movie watching — but those who insist on individual channel control need to know that it isn’t available with this unit.
The Boston Acoustics Tvee 30 delivers fantastic sound quality in an attractive package with a level of convenience that is unparalleled. Its simple interface is intentional and should appeal to those who want to match their big, beautiful picture with some equally impressive audio. The convenience of the wireless subwoofer and Bluetooth capability are big bonuses, too. To get much better from a soundbar product will require a significantly higher investment, making the Tvee Model 30 a great bargain and top performer in its class.
- Extremely easy to install and use
- Big sound with dialogue anchored in the center
- Well-integrated subwoofer
- Bluetooth wireless audio capability
- No DTS decoding
- Front grille is not well secured