“Sky? Launching a soundbar? ...Oh but Devialet are behind the hardware? Fine.” While at first, the partnership may seem a little leftfield, the marriage of Sky's profile and Devialet's tech know-how actually makes a lot of sense.
Especially now that, months after first getting wind of the Soundbox, we have actually heard the thing.
But the French brand is on a mission to make products “smaller, lighter and more affordable”, and this venture with Sky into the premium - but not Devialet premium - market seems a good way of doing it. After all, getting the attention of over 20 million Sky subscribers can’t be a bad thing.
Turn the tables and Sky has acknowledged we can all do better than TV sound, and that a TV provider is well-positioned to deliver an alternative. Enter the Sky Soundbox.
Naturally, Devialet has leveraged some of its existing tech prowess. The Soundbox has a sealed enclosure and uses the brand’s push-push woofer technology in an effort to deliver deep bass response. But it doesn’t go as far as utilizing its ADHV2 amplification tech, which combines Class A and Class D amplification - instead the Soundbox has Class D amplifiers.
There are six woofers, two at the front and two firing from both sides, and three full-range drivers. Inside there's also audio processing at work to split those frequencies - ambient sounds are delivered to the rear-side speakers so they can reflect them off the wall and into your listening position.
Devialet’s AVL (auto volume level) sound processing also promises to analyse audio signals in real-time, and consequently adjust them, so that all of the elements of the film or TV programme’s soundtrack can be clearly heard.
One elephant in the room: no Dolby Atmos (only Dolby Digital+). Sky’s reason? The fact that its Sky+ service doesn’t support the surround sound format and therefore not all of its customers could benefit.
It's certainly a blot on the Soundbox’s landscape when you consider that similarly-priced soundbars do support Atmos, and the content is there to be enjoyed on Sky Q. But that said, the Award-winning (non-Atmos) Dali Kubik One goes to show we don't think it's yet an entirely necessary feature. Instead, Sky says it is focusing purely on delivering an “immersive sound”. Fair enough.
Talking of Sky+ and Sky Q, there are other some Soundbox benefits to being a Sky Q customer – and we aren’t just talking about the ginormous discount you get on the Soundbox if you are one (more on that later).
Press the ‘?’ key on the Sky Q touch remote and you'll be greeted by extra Soundbox-specific audio settings when one is connected.
For starters, there are three user sound modes: ‘Kids’, which sets a limited volume to look after your tiddlywink’s lugs; a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin speech enhancement; and a ‘Late Night’ (i.e. neighbour-friendly) mode that reduces bass levels.
Then there’s Q Sound, which when turned on aims to create a more immersive audio experience based on the content you’re watching. Sky will identify the metadata of the content you’re and match it to three sound profiles within the Soundbox – sport, music or cinema.
We can’t imagine that’ll be for everyone, but it certainly makes a difference. In our demo, selecting Q Sound gave a fiercer roar to Formula One car engines, and amplified crowd noise during a football match.
MORE: Sky Q Ultra HD 4K review
More after the break
Audio modes aside, the Soundbox sounds pretty impressive. Despite its modest proportions (the lunchbox-shaped, wireless speaker-resembling box doesn’t extend much further past the Sky Q box that was sat underneath it), it whacks out a startlingly clear and powerful sound that doesn’t seem short of heft or dynamism.
Watching the opening scene of Mad Max: Fury Road and the big sound more than matched-up to the size of the 65in TV it was connected to. Tom Hardy’s introductory narrative was suitably gruff, and the finer sounds of the scurrying lizard weren’t forgotten either.
That decent midrange clarity and expression was reiterated with a stream of a Ray Charles track over Bluetooth.
During the pets scene in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the background instruments were clear and detailed beneath the loud roar from the ‘cat’ and crisp bird chirps. The Sky speaker whacked out good amounts of low-end rumble when the Obscurial appeared on-screen, too.
Will the presentation of the Soundbox be as spacious as the Dali Kubik One? Possibly not. We'll hold fire on a final judgement until we’ve ushered one into our test rooms for a full review. But in terms of first impressions, we were suitably impressed.
Design and build
The Sky Soundbox doesn't scream “I’m £800” – a tough task for a soundbar, granted – but it does feel well made. The same can be said for the neatly compact remote control, too.
We’ve no serious qualms elsewhere, though we would say the chassis may trouble those who only have room for a short, wide soundbar. Physically it's almost a cross between a soundbar and soundbase, so the Soundbox does require a bit of room.
Around the back you'll find a predictable set of connections fare: a 4K-supporting HDMI input and output, plus optical and USB inputs – no more and no less than you’d expect for a speaker of this stature.
The best news yet? Sky is offering huge discounts on the £800 Soundbox for new and existing Sky Q customers, who can purchase it for – drum roll please! – just £300. While those that add multiscreen to their Sky subscription can add the Soundbox to their trolley for £250.
For everyone else, the Sky Soundbox certainly isn't cheap. But if first impressions are in-line with our final review verdict, that may not be an issue. As is true for every 'hands-on review', we’ll have to wait and see.