While consumers seem to be more and more savvy when it comes to discerning good image quality in a TV, a good chunk of these buyers still aren’t thinking about the other half of what makes for a killer movie experience: the sound.
Unfortunately, this problem is compounded by the fact that today’s super-svelte, thin-profile TVs just don’t have the real estate (or flexibility in price) to include quality speakers. And if you don’t already own or want to invest in a full 5.1 (or greater) surround system for whatever reason, you’re left with few options for getting something better than tin-can sound from your TV.
Luckily, many TV manufacturers have addressed this issue by offering sound bars as an add-on purchase. Toshiba has been doing so for some time now, and one of its latest offerings, the Mini 3D, is quite possibly the smallest on the market. But given its super-compact size, can it possibly be any good? Read on for our findings.
Out of the box
When we first opened the Mini 3D’s box, we were amazed at just how much heavy packing foam and how little sound bar there was inside. Unless you’ve seen Toshiba’s Mini 3D on display somewhere, nothing can possibly prepare you for just how small its two pieces are. With measurements of roughly 11.4 x 2.8 x 3.9 inches for the sound bar and 8.7 x 9.7 x 8.7-inches for the sub, Toshiba’s Mini bar should fit into all manner of mini spaces, or mini systems, or even mini fridges, if so desired. Sadly, no mini bottles of our favorite single malt were included with the Mini bar. (Okay, okay: We promise to refrain from using the term “Mini bar” and its associated puns anywhere else in this review.
While it doesn’t sport exotic finishes or brushed metal accents, the Mini 3D pair is very well-made considering its price. Both pieces feature smoothly finished, matte-black top plates, and the sound bar’s curved sides and wraparound fabric grille are especially nice touches. We also noticed of a pair of cute little baby reflex ports around back, along with several different input jacks. Other items we found inside the box were a card-style remote control, 1/8-inch – left/right RCA Y-cable, a wall-wart power supply and user manuals.
Most manufacturers include some method of virtual surround processing in its sound bars, and Toshiba is no exception. The Mini 3D utilizes Sonic Emotion’s Absolute 3D processing, which is said to simulate a room-filling, immersive sound experience by bringing together several different sound manipulation technologies, including spatial analysis, wave field synthesis, and both physical and psycho-acoustic effects.
Bluetooth connectivity allows the Mini 3D to accept wirelessly streamed audio from any compatible device, including many computers, tablets, and smartphones. Note, however, that it can only be paired with one device at a time.
In a peculiar arrangement, the power supply plugs directly into the sound bar, then the sub connects to the sound bar with an obsolete S-Video connection. The provided cable is somewhat shorter than expected, meaning both pieces must be positioned relatively close to each other. However, given their inconspicuous sizes, we don’t imagine this causing too many setup problems. Other features include three sound preset modes (labeled movies, music, and games), dual digital inputs (one each coaxial and optical), and a claimed frequency response of 38Hz to 19kHz.
We decided to test the Mini 3D the way we figured most users would use it, straight out of the box and without any break-in. Other components used in this review were a Samsung BD-C5500 Blu-ray Player, iPhone 4, and Dell Latitude D810 laptop.
Even without any break-in, the Mini 3D sounded awesome out of the box. Make that really, really awesome. Cueing up the killer opening car chase scene from Quantum of Solace on Blu-ray, the Toshiba Mini 3D put out an impossibly ginormous sound field, making that gorgeous Aston Martin roar. In fact, the sound field was so huge, a visitor thought what she heard was coming from the much larger pair of floor-standing speakers on either side of our entertainment center.
What’s more, this wasn’t your typical, phase-y, washed-out, “virtually-enhanced” sound bar sound, either. Streaming our favorite Dr. Who episodes from Netflix, the Mini 3D reproduced this show’s multitude of sound effects with ease, filling its huge sound field with good detail, excellent vocal clarity, and an overall natural tonal balance. We could clearly hear the clink of gun shells as they hit the ground, for example, and we never strained to hear any dialog during dense action scenes. Regardless of the movies or shows we tried, the Mini 3D consistently bested our TV’s built-in speakers by a mile.
Once we put on some music, though, things really started cooking. We tried music from all kinds of genres, and the Mini 3D sounded great with all of it. For example, the swell of instruments near the end of “Paper Tiger” from Beck’s Sea Change album was reproduced with all of its scale and dynamics intact. “When We Get By” from D’Angelo’s classic album Brown Sugar also had excellent bass weight while maintaining good pitch definition and clarity.
Even on more acoustically demanding fare, such as classical and jazz, the Toshiba Mini 3D maintained its clean, tonally natural, and large-scaled composure. Listening to the first movement from Janine Jansen’s excellent rendition of the Britten violin concerto, strings were reproduced with all of their vibrancy and sheen without adding any artificial brightness.
We then tried using the Mini 3D’s Bluetooth input with our iPhone 4, and they paired seamlessly every time without a hitch. Here also, the sound quality was excellent, and when we compared the same tracks over both wired and Bluetooth inputs, the Mini 3D delivered comparable performance both ways.
Toshiba’s Mini 3D wasn’t completely without fault, however. Put on some midrange-heavy music, and at high volumes the sound starts to break up a bit. Speaking of volume, there was certainly plenty of it, but occasionally we found ourselves maxing out the volume control and wishing for just a little bit more. Still, these were minor complaints, especially for something that typically retails for well under $150.
The only other complaints we had of the Mini 3D had to do with its functionality. Again, it’s easy enough to use, but unfortunately there’s no input indicator to speak of: You have to cycle through the input button until you hear sound. There is, however, a blue indicator light and a separate input button for the Bluetooth input, making it easy to toggle back and forth between it and the standard inputs. Again, these are minor quibbles for such a low-priced component.
We’ve joked a bit about the Mini 3D sound bar’s abbreviated name in this review, but believe us, its sound is no joke: The Toshiba Mini 3D is a gold-star winner. In fact, it’s the most impressive compact sound bar we’ve heard in quite a while. Its larger-than-life presentation will amaze all who hear it, and its clean, natural, and well-balanced demeanor will ensure you get the most sonic bang for your buck. Add in the insanely reasonable price of $130 or so on the street, and its grandma-friendly operation, and the Mini 3D becomes a no-brainer for our Editor’s Choice award. If you’re looking for a convenient and space-saving way to break free of your TV’s crummy built-in speakers, we can’t think of a better pint-sized option than Toshiba’s Mini 3D.
- Enormous sound field easily fills a room
- Clear, natural, and well-balanced sound
- Sounds good with both movies and music
- Inconspicuously-small form factor
- Super easy to use
- Limited loudness capabilities due to its size
- Mids can get a little distorted when pushed too hard
- No source indicator light