We have been extolling the virtues of soundbars as a solution to the declining quality of flatscreen speakers for a long time – and suddenly there are so many of the things, it’s almost impossible to keep up with what’s what.
Given the new-found interest in them, it’s little wonder that even traditional hi-fi companies such as Wharfedale are keen to get a piece of this tasty pie.
But what is surprising, given its reputation for audio quality, is that Wharfedale’s first offering in this growing field is such an affordable one.
The only other £150 soundbars we’ve seen have been pretty poor – and surely even Wharfedale can’t produce something that sounds good for such little money?
Or can it? Perhaps in the future it will... because the Vista 100 gets a huge amount right. Unfortunately, it also gets one thing quite badly wrong.
The good news starts with the build. This isn’t the slimmest soundbar and could be an issue in terms of placement, but it is a nice-looking, 1m-wide unit.
Also, it’s more solid and feels more premium than you’d expect for this sort of money: with smart, matt-black styling and subtle silver bands, topped with touch-sensitive controls.
Behind the grilles are six drivers driven by a 60W amp, which Wharfedale claims is enough to create a muscular, room-filling sound. The claims are spot-on.
For a soundbar – let alone one costing just £150 – this makes a big noise, especially in one of the EQ modes, which apparently use Absolute 3D technology from a company called Sonic Emotion.
Use the ‘Movie’ mode while watching a film and – while you lose a bit of focus and clarity from voices – the weight is mighty impressive, as is the dispersion of sound.
Surround effects never truly envelop the listening position, but they push well into the room along the left and right sides of your soundfield.
Some will prefer turning the 3D mode off, especially for TV shows and the more dialogue-heavy movies out there. You still don’t lose depth or solidity here, but the narrower soundstage is more focused and a little bit clearer.
The problem is that the system tries a little too hard to be bassy, and when you feed it the really deep stuff it struggles.
You can watch a whole movie and hardly notice. Perhaps you will get the odd bit of blowing from the drivers during a particularly massive explosion, but that’s easily dismissed or ignored.
If your music collection is relatively tame, it’s also entirely possible that you will never encounter an issue. But play something properly bassy and you’re in for a shock.
SBTRKT’s debut, eponymous album makes us worry: tracks such as Trials of the Past have so much distortion and audible vibration that we were convinced the unit was faulty. A replacement unit proved it was not.
You can turn the bass level down using the bundled remote, but while that reduces the amount of bass it doesn’t improve the quality of it, and that means the issue is still clearly audible.
Essentially it rules out a big section of music that you might want to listen to. And while a soundbar might be considered by many to be geared more towards movies and TV shows than music, there’s also an expectation that these are do-it-all devices – and that makes the problem impossible to ignore and hard to forgive.
It’s a great shame because on first listen we were convinced that the Vista 100 was head-and-shoulders above its similarly priced rivals.
We suspect that with some tweaking Wharfedale could still pull that off, but we can’t recommend the Vista 100 as it is, without this one major caveat.
You should look elsewhere for your soundbar.