- Written by Chris Heinonen
- Published on 16 January 2013
Introduction to the Toshiba SBX4250 Sound Bar
Every year flat panels get smaller bezels, thinner cabinets, and hung on more and more walls. This shift has been beneficial in almost every area except for one: sound. Back with CRT displays, the size of the cabinet meant that throwing in a decent pair of speakers, or potentially even a subwoofer, was very possible with how much room was available. Unfortunately physics means that the smaller, thinner cabinets of flat panels don't have the space available to put in a pair of speakers that allows for audio that matches the picture.
Coming in to fill this niche are sound bars, which are seemingly available from every vendor in every size and price range. From simply providing a decent pair of stereo speakers to totally replacing your surround sound system and receiver, sound bars are available to fit any need. I'd always been a bit skeptical of them, but I also typically had a nice pair of speakers and a receiver hooked up to every TV in the house. Since the living room TV was now sitting on its own, the speakers put away to keep a curious toddler from hurting them or himself, it seemed like a good chance to see how a sound bar could improve the integrated speakers on my plasma. Toshiba sent over their new SBX4250 sound bar that also includes a wireless subwoofer so I can see how well it improves upon what the TV offers.
TOSHIBA SBX4250 SOUND BAR SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer
- Drivers: Two 1.5" Tweeters, Four 2.5" Midrange, 1x 6.5" Woofer
- Amplifiers: 2 x 75 Watts (bar), 1 x 150 Watts (subwoofer)
- Inputs: 2 Optical (SPDIF), 2 HDMI, 1 L/R RCA, 1 3.5mm stereo
- Outputs: 1 HDMI (with ARC)
- Remote Control
- Dimensions (bar): 3.6" H x 37.6" W x 2.2" D
- Weight: 4.9 Pounds
- Dimensions (subwoofer): 14.0" H x 13.2" W x 7.6" D
- Weight: 14.3 Pounds
- MSRP: $330
- SECRETS Tags: SoundBars, Speakers, Toshiba
Design and Setup of the Toshiba SBX4250 Sound Bar
Setting up the SBX4250 is very simple and quick. It has a decent selection of inputs, with dual HDMI, stereo RCA, 3.5mm and two Toslink audio inputs, as well as an HDMI output that also supports ARC for bringing audio back from your display. My display doesn't support ARC so the easiest way for me to hook up the sound bar is to route the Blu-ray player through the TV with HDMI, and then use the optical output on the TV to send audio to the Toshiba. Since I use the internal TV tuner as well, this will send all the audio to the sound bar without needing to change inputs on it.
This also takes away the ability to send TrueHD or DTS-HD MA signals to it, but the Toshiba doesn't support these so it really isn't causing any harm. Inside the sound bar unit, the SBX4250 has a pair of 2.5" midrange and a 1.5" dome tweeter for each left and right "speaker", along with a 75W amplifier for each side. These are paired with a wireless 6.5" ported subwoofer with a 150W amplifier to handle bass duties. The bar itself is just over 3' wide making it a good pair for a display in the 42" range, and at 5 lbs. is very easy to wall mount. With its wireless interface, setting up the subwoofer is easy as you can choose the position with the best bass response, or just place it somewhere out of the way.
Everything is controlled with a simple remote control. Most controls are only located on the remote and not on the sound bar itself, but you can handle basic volume and input switching straight from the bar. Additional feature included SRS surround modes and Bluetooth for streaming from a PC or Smartphone.
Toshiba SBX4250 Sound Bar In Use
Hooked up to an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player and Samsung plasma, I disabled my TV speakers and sent everything via optical to the Toshiba sound bar instead. The difference in sound quality was very apparent from the start. My plasma is a little over 3 years old now, so it is a bit thicker with larger speakers than many current models, but the difference was still big. There was greater depth to the sound, dialogue was clearer, and the experience was much better. Having speakers that fire straight at you instead of out of the back of the display was a huge improvement. The subwoofer was a bit low at the default setting but raising the level to +2 or +4 did a better job filling the room and matching the level of the vocals.
Watching Cars 2, while the subwoofer was small its impact was clearly heard with depth charges at the start of the film. The action moved across the soundstage well during a chase scene and sounds were more distinct than with the TVs internal speakers. Switching from Stereo to the SRS modes led to a far wider soundstage that did an even better job drawing me in. Without SRS the sound was confined to the width of the bar but with it enabled is seemed to fill my whole front wall.
On football those crowd sounds seemed to come from around then TV than directly from it while game sounds and dialogue remained anchored in the middle. Movies and TV were also improved with SRS I think, as it sounds more like a 3 channel front setup than a sound bar with a couple small speakers under my TV. I'm really not a big fan of things that seem like gimmicks, but SRS does a very good job with movies and TV.
Switching over to music, I felt the opposite about SRS. Just like with Audyssey, I found that SRS made the soundstage a little loose, and removes the ability to locate instruments and performers in the mix. Switching to stereo mode gives me sound that is decent, but behind what you would probably get from a $300 pair of bookshelf speakers for music. This comparison is a little unfair since those speakers may need a subwoofer or amplifier, but the sound bar does better with TV and video than music. The main loss is that the soundstage with music is trapped between the speakers in the sound bar, no wider or deeper than that. Recordings sounded compressed and restrained, a bit trapped by the dimensions of the sound bar.
Sea Change from Beck usually has a wide, deep soundstage where you can pinpoint the vocals and instruments with precision. From the Toshiba everything was coming from a small central space instead. The sound was good but it was clearly listening to a recording of music, feeling a bit small rather than large and expansive. The subwoofer usually played well, and did a good job filling in lower octaves, but was unable to keep up with the rapid fire drumming on One from Metallica. One shouldn't expect miracles from a 6.5" woofer, and the Toshiba was better than I thought it would be on this torture test.
Listening to Unplugged from 10,000 Maniacs and Automatic for the People by REM, vocals are very legible and clear, even with Michael Stipe's habit of mumbling through some words. The SBX4250 doesn't have the ability to produce the big dynamics that are on these albums, but you get a reasonably good reproduction. I wouldn't pick the Toshiba just for its music reproduction ability, but taken as a bonus to go with the movie and TV sound quality, the SBX4250 was better than a TV or a tiny iPod dock for listening to music, and doesn't require a TV to be on.
Conclusions about the Toshiba SBX4250 Sound Bar
Coming in, I was a big skeptic of the sound bar. They were everywhere at CEDIA just like headphones were at CES. As everyone jumps onto the bandwagon I worry that most companies are looking to go out there and just get something to market but not to make something that actually delivers. From the time that I hooked up the Toshiba SBX4250 until now, it made a big improvement in the quality of sound in my living room. Everyone that listened thought it was better than they imagined it would be, and it made me no longer a skeptic of sound bars.
I've had home theater equipment come through my house that costs more than my car, but the thing that my wife has enjoyed the most is the Toshiba sound bar. It's simple, it makes a large improvement compared to the standard speakers, and it provides what I think is a very good value for the money. If you're buying a new flat panel and aren't hooking up a dedicated stereo system to it, you really should look at a sound bar like the Toshiba SBX4250. You will likely come away surprised about how much of an improvement it will make in your home and how much more enjoyable watching a movie or TV can be.