SMATE- it’s a sound bar but not as we know it (review)

Most sound bars sit modestly under a flat-screen TV, barely 50mm high so as not to obscure the screen. SMATE’s Theatre Series Soundbar model SM2SB5.1TH150 is well, not really a soundbar at all –  it is a damned big speaker enclosure.

It is a rectangle measuring 1098 (L) x 236 (H) x 165mm (W) containing ten x 3” mid-range, three x 1” tweeters and two x 5.25” sub-woofers arranged in a 5.1 (front left/centre/right, rear left/right, sub-woofer) configuration.

That is 15 speakers in a massive ported enclosure capable of playing 2.1 or 5.1 sound from USB, Bluetooth, three HDMI (including an ARC circuit) AUX, Optical, Coaxial and dual Karaoke mic inputs. Note: there is a removable acoustic screen covering the speakers. The final product has golden coloured speaker cones.

Having recently interviewed SMATE’S founder and chief technologist/designer Sunny Bhasin http://www.gadgetguy.com.au/smate-new-aussie-tech-disrupter/ I began to understand the rationale behind this – it is the kitchen sink of sound bars. “Mate I wanted a real, all-in-one, sound enhancement device that would work with the TV, play good rocking sound at parties, and cater for us Karaoke types as well, so yes its bold and beautiful. It is not an incy wincy sound bar but a real speaker enclosure,” he said.

So be warned – this is not a soundbar for wimps. Bhasin said he has wall mounted his (it comes with brackets) and it is substantial enough to sit a flat screen TV on top of it too.

 

Tech Specs – SM2SB5.1TH1 https://www.smate.com.au/

  • 6 channel amplifier Dolby Prologic II, 5.1 surround sound
  • Front L/R: 4 x 3″ mid, 2 x 1″ tweeter
  • Centre: 2 x 3″ mid, 1 x 1″ tweeter
  • Surround L/R: 4 x 3″ mid
  • Frequency response for mid/treble 85Hz -20KHz
  • Sub-woofer: 2 x 5.25, 40Hz-250Hz
  • S/N RATIO:>86dB
  • Total Harmonic Distortion THD (1KHz): <0.1%
  • Power: RMS: 150W (20W x 5 channels + 50W sub)
  • Full function remote

Input/Output

  • Bluetooth 4
  • 1 X AUX L/R RCA
  • 1 X USB 2.0
  • 1 X HDMI OUT ARC
  • 2 X HDMI 1.4 for up to 4K pass through
  • 1 X 5.1 Channel RCA
  • 1 X COAX SPDIF
  • 1 X OPT SPDIF
  • 1 X Sub-woofer out RCA
  • 2 X Karaoke mic input 6.5mm

How does it sound?

If adjusted correctly – and there is a trick to that – it is quite good with sufficient sound up to 86dB at three metres (equivalent to loud music) with relatively low THD – enough to fill a large lounge room.

The sound it produces depends on whether your playback device has any equaliser settings and the quality of your source material, e.g. lossy downloaded MP3 will sound worse than an HDMI/AUX/Optical connected TV/CD/DVD.

If not adjusted correctly it can sound a bit off. SMATE has perhaps given users too much power with independently adjustable front, surround, and sub-woofer “volume” controls instead of an equaliser with presets. You can easily and inappropriately ramp up channel “volumes” as well as master amplifier volume – this power can be easily abused by those who don’t know better.

The solution is to set the master volume and the individual channel volumes to 50% and adjust the latter up or down, one at a time until you feel you have the right mix.  It is not very scientific, but it works.

I used an advanced spectrum analysis meter that helped me find the sweet spots. I obtained a reasonable sub-woofer frequency response peaking at 80Hz, elevated mids, a slightly recessed treble and a quite recessed 10-20KHz.

On that basis, it is naturally more of a mid-centric sound signature (bass recessed, mids boosted, treble recessed) which is fine for TV and streaming. With a little experimentation, you can increase the treble to a brighter vocal setting or bring the bass up to Warm and Sweet. I suspect the sub-woofer RCA output jack and an optional sub box could cure the lesser bass response.

Surround sound 5.1

The box uses side ports to bounce sound off walls and provide “spatial” effect rear speaker sound. We look for definition, dimension and separation – do the sounds come from beside, behind or above you?

Using 5.1 Dolby DVD content it managed to project sound from well in front of the unit, its left and right separation were adequate, and the added spatial dimension was enjoyable.

Gadget Guy’s take

We have been spoiled having reviewed the best from Bose, Sonos, LG, Samsung and more. These sound bars have significantly higher specifications and smaller footprints to match the considerably higher price tag.

SMATE’s soundbar is an honest attempt at good sound from a variety of input devices. It seems well made, it should have a lasting quality, and at $419 (on sale pre-Christmas) it punches well above its weight.

Pros

  • I like the use of 15 discrete speakers for sub, mid and treble
  • Sound quality and quantity is fine for the intended purpose
  • Karaoke function – complementary microphones and alcohol not supplied to loosen the vocal cords
  • Price – it’s a bargain

Cons

  • It is a damned big unit so make sure you have space. Wall mount or put the TV on it (165mm wide)
  • SMATE needs to market it as an all-in-one speaker enclosure. It comes as a bit of a shock if you are expecting a sound bar!
  • Too easy to adjust individual sound channels that can lead to less than perfect sound

Price

RRP is $525, but it is on Christmas sale at $419 it is a bargain

Ratings

Features: 5 out of 5 – very fully featured for the price
Value for money: 5 out of 5 especially if on Christmas sale
Performance: 4 out of 5 – it is a good all rounder
Ease of use: 3 out of 5 – too much control with individual channel settings. Prefer pre-sets
Design: 3 out of 5 – you will love or hate the somewhat bling black glossy piano finish.