It’s never been easier — or more affordable — to ditch your crappy TV speakers for something better. Over the past several years, we’ve seen major manufacturers turn their attention (and hefty development dollars) toward soundbars, aiming to provide an elevated listening experience that’s convenient, compact, and affordable for those who don’t have a ton of money left over after their big TV purchase.
That’s exactly the niche that budget-conscious manufacturer TCL — the company behind some of our favorite affordable TVs — is looking to fill with its Alto 7+ soundbar. Though it sits at the top of TCL’s shiny new soundbar lineup, the Alto7+ is a sub-$200 model with an included wireless subwoofer that serves as an enticing starter bar for those tired of tinny TV sound.
Out of the box
There’s not much to say about the Alto 7+’s package; just the usual L-shaped box bearing the soundbar, wireless subwoofer, and remote. We will add that the 7+ comes with everything you need to get it hooked up and connected, including an HDMI cable, 3.5 mm audio cable, an optical cable, and even an infrared passthrough cable and wall mounting kit. We’ve seen $1,000 soundbars that shipped without an HDMI cable, so credit where it’s due.
Features and Design
As far as soundbars go, the 2.1-channel Alto 7+ is very understated to look at. A long, slim bar with the TCL logo in the center, it features rounded mesh grills on the left and right sides, with virtually nothing to draw your attention away from the screen. The subwoofer is equally drab, a rounded rectangle with the TCL logo on the front that seems designed to disappear into its corner.
You’ll probably spend the majority of your time using the included remote (more on this later), but the Alto 7+ does include physical buttons on top of the bar to control volume, Bluetooth pairing, and source selection, as well as a power button.
Speaking of sources, the soundbar has one HDMI ARC port (though no HDMI input), an optical input, 3.5mm input, a USB input, and Bluetooth for wireless streaming. Because it has only a single HDMI port, you’ll have to plug game consoles, disc players, or other gadgets into your TV, but that’s not unexpected for a sub-$200 bar, nor is the fact that there’s no Wi-Fi connection here, limiting your streaming options.
Even as far as soundbars go, the 2.1-channel Alto 7+ is very understated.
The included remote offers a slightly expanded array of controls over the on-board keys, with play/pause and song skipping buttons for Bluetooth playback control, volume, and source. The remote also includes three buttons for changing between its three equalization settings: News, Movie, and Music. One omission that accounts for one of our biggest gripes about the Alto 7+ interface is the lack of a separate key for subwoofer level, which is handy for quick adjustments when things get too boomy.
In terms of interface, there’s also very little to speak of. A multi-colored LED on the front of the soundbar is virtually all you get, switching to red in standby mode, green for AUX/3.5mm, blue for Bluetooth, orange (we found it to be more yellow-ish) for optical, purple when it’s using HDMI ARC, or white for USB.
In keeping with the, shall we say, minimalist theme, the audio processing is also quite basic. The Alto 7+ offers only basic Dolby Digital decoding, with no DTS decoding at all, let alone more advanced or high-resolution codecs.
Setting up the Alto 7+ is an absolute breeze.
Such a simple array of inputs makes setting up the TCL Alto 7+ an absolute breeze. Just connect your TV via HDMI ARC or optical, pick the correct input, and make sure your TV is set to output sound via the port you chose. HDMI ARC allows you to control volume via your TV’s remote, though you may have to enable that setting on your TV.
If your TV doesn’t have an HDMI ARC port, you can use optical or Bluetooth — though you’ll have to use the soundbar’s remote to control it.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Alto 7+ is its excellent dialogue performance – one of the primary reasons a lot of people buy soundbars. When listening to dialogue-heavy scenes in Game of Thrones, Jessica Jones, or other streaming favorites, we were always able to discern every word coming out of characters’ mouths, both on-screen and off, with a depth that was utterly lacking on the tinny built-in speakers inside our TV and projector.
The system did equally well in fast-paced scenes with plenty of background noise, able to propel the sound of squealing tires from an old Blu-ray copy of Bad Boys II around our room without removing focus from the main characters’ frequent shouting matches.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Alto 7+ is its excellent dialogue performance.
The Alto 7+’s action prowess is also evident on the low-end, where the wireless subwoofer does well to bring needed oomph to the impact of explosions, without overpowering the rest of the sound. In smaller rooms, you might wish for granular level adjustment for the woofer, but we suspect it will be set right for the majority of customers — adding punch and depth to the sound, but not rattling the walls of your viewing space. You can also, of course, adjust the position of the sub in your room for better balance.
We found movie mode by far the most transparent of the equalization settings, with the news setting getting too harsh and boxy on the top of the frequency spectrum even for dialogue-heavy content, and the music mode providing our favorite tracks with a somewhat limited soundstage. We’d suggest most buyers just leave it in movie mode all the time.
TCL covers the Alto 7+ from defects in materials or workmanship for one year from the date of purchase.Our Take
TCL’s Alto 7+ is a solid, no-frills soundbar that ramps up the sound of your favorite shows and movies at a great price.
Is there a better alternative?
There are very few options that we consider better for $180, but it is worth noting that our top-rated soundbar, the Yamaha YAS-207, is only $120 more. Those who can scrounge together a little extra dough will prefer the better sound and more advanced features of the YAS-207, but for those who simply don’t have the cash to move up, the Alto 7+ is a great option.
How long will it last?
With a basic array of inputs and a clean, well-built design, we expect that Alto 7+ will last through many years of solid use.
Should you buy it?
Sure. If you are looking to spend a relatively small amount of money on a significant sonic upgrade for your new TV, the Alto 7+ is a good option. Even at this low price, you get great sound and a simple interface to simply plug and play.