The EKO 2.1.2 Dolby Atmos-capable soundbar and wireless sub adds better sound to any TV, Dolby Atmos or not. And it does so in spades.
That is the primary function of a soundbar – to improve the crappy stereo speakers in any TV. Dolby Atmos decoding is just the icing on the cake.
Now the 2.1.2 model is a Dolby Atmos-capable soundbar, not a Dolby Atmos soundbar, and EKO is all for helping shoppers understand the distinction. Let us explain. Dolby Atmos (DA) is a much used and abused term – we have seen toasters claiming DA sound! Dolby Atmos is generally regarded as a minimum of 5.1.2 or even 7.1.4 (the last two digits are the number of upwards-firing speakers).
The EKO 2.1.2 has a genuine DA decoder that takes the DA metadata (about 128 channels or sound objects) from DA-enabled content over HDMI ARC and downmixes the audio to its 2.1.2 channels. Sound is then output through the system’s seven drivers (aka speakers), including the sub.
The speaker system uses ‘psycho-acoustics’ to trick your ears into hearing 3D spatial (height) sound. In essence, it phases sound across the speaker array. Don’t worry, any Dolby Atmos all-in-one soundbar does this, and it is all about how well it does it. That is what a review is for.
Let’s face it, most soundbars are black plastic with a perforated metal speaker grill, and this is no different. But the bar seems quite substantial for its 960 x 83 x 73 mm size, and the wireless sub with its 370 x 306 x 90mm box. The package all feels quite well-made.
You can place the soundbar on the TV cabinet or wall-mount it with the brackets provided. Setup is a breeze: plug in power, HDMI cable (not supplied) and the subwoofer pairs automatically. Ready to go!
Lots of ports – a big plus
The EKO 2.1.2 has loads of ports and options that you typically don’t find on a lower cost soundbar.
HDMI 2.0 ARC 18Gbps port for connection to a TV
2 x HDMI 2.0 ports for Blue-ray, set-top-box, Fetch or media centre
Digital Optical Cable port
USB-A port for media playback
3.5mm AUX-IN port (for use with stereo RCA or 3.5mm cables)
Bluetooth 5.0 receiver for connection to a smartphone
The HDMI ports support Dolby Atmos at [email protected] compressed if you use a HDMI 2.0 or 2.1 cables (it is not HDMI 2.1 eARC 48Gbps for [email protected]/120fps uncompressed). Note that apart from HDMI, all other ports are PCM 2.0.
ARC (Audio return channel) means that the TV remote can control the volume. You need the separate infrared remote to change inputs and select pre-sets from Music, Movie, News and 3D etc.
The USB port is 2.0A with a maximum 5V/1A output. It autoplays audio 2.0 content but we did not fully test this – assume MP3 and WMA support.
The prime advantage of this soundbar is that it can switch between six different inputs.
TV types – Dolby Vision and Atmos or not
If a connected TV (or Blu-ray/set-top box, games console) supports Dolby Vision/Atmos (these go together), the soundbar will decode the DA metadata and downmix the audio to its speakers in a 2.1.2 manner (more on that later).
If the TV does not support Dolby Vision/Atmos, it will pass the all sound to the soundbar for processing. In general, that is PCM 2.0 (TV broadcasts in stereo) to Dolby Digital (Movies to 5.1). In these instances, you will not get any DA effect.
If the soundbar receives video content from an HDMI connected device (Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10, HDR or SDR), it will pass that to the TV.
How does it sound? Pretty good!
The maximum volume is 85dB (very loud), but there is noticeable distortion at that level. Back off a few dB, and that harshness disappears. It will fill a medium-sized lounge room with ease.
Let’s assume that your current TV has left and right stereo speakers, probably 5W each. Adding 4 x 2.25″ left/right front-firing drivers (60W), 2 x 2″ up-firing left/right surround (40W), and a 6.5″ subwoofer (80W) is going to make a hell of a difference to your present sound. And it does.
You get good, wide, left/right sound stage separation from the front speakers. The sub-woofer adds good room-shaking bass.
Low bass kicks in from 20Hz building to about 60Hz, where it flattens (good) to 1kHz. The sound begins to show some messiness from 1kHz to 8kHz – that is where you need to drop the volume a bit to gain control. It is then reasonably flat from 8kHz to 20kHz.
To put this in layperson’s terms, it has heaps of bass, terrific mids, and slightly messy treble. But the flat signature means it neither adds nor subtracts from the source content – you hear music as it was intended (good). And you can then use pre-sets to tailor it to your tastes. Compared to your TV, it is probably several hundred percent better.
As a Dolby Atmos device
First, put Dolby Atmos expectations on hold because 99% of what you watch won’t be DA. You will enjoy this soundbar for most TV viewing.
Now to DA, which is all about 3D spatial height or up-firing channels. This is 2.1.2, which means it has two front up-firing speakers.
The problem is that most Australian homes have high ceilings and are open plan. If there is nothing to bounce off, there is no spatial sound. As I said before, don’t worry – it is the same with any all-in-one unit that relies on psycho-acoustics.
This tries hard to get that height, but like most all-in-ones (from Sony, LG, Samsung, JBL and more) the sensation of vertical sound is minor. The effect would be stronger in a media room with 2.4m ceilings and side walls. And DA processing does give terrific sound phasing from left to right.
EKO claims, “Whether it’s intimate dialogue or a complex soundscape, every detail comes alive in rich clarity and depth, so you won’t miss a thing”.
Now we can forgive it for hyperbole, but without a centre ‘3’ channel – 3.1.2, that crystal clear voice (intimate dialogue) does not happen because there are no dedicated 1-8kHz centre tweeters to reinforce clear voice. The ‘news’ pre-set does clear voice up a little at the expense of bass, or you can independently adjust bass or treble, and that certainly helps dialogue.
It is probably unfair to any $399 device to list the desirable features it is missing because their inclusion would add many more dollars. I would love to see EKO produce 3.1.2 and 5.1.2 soundbars with Wi-Fi/Ethernet connection for voice control and multi-room speaker capability using a similar value-for-money formula.
And some will complain that it does not have HDMI 2.1 and eARC, but the cheapest comparable bars with these features are near twice the price.
This is one of the lower cost, basic feature soundbars that we have reviewed. It was a pleasant surprise to hear such strong bass and excellent flat frequency response. It also really tries to give some 3D spatial height to Dolby Atmos content.
What rocks me is that at $399. It offers so much value that you don’t see for twice the price, including 180W RMS, separate room-shaking subwoofer, three HDMI 2.0 ports, lots more inputs and a great sound signature. But what sets it apart are the two up-firing front speakers, which do add some 3D spatial height sound to Dolby Atmos content, and really help round out surround sound.
So let’s start with our pass mark of 6/10. Add genuine up-firing speakers, six audio inputs (including BT), a great sound signature, plus heaps of bass and volume. It is class-leading in this space. It gets the tick in this price bracket so head out to Big W and grab a bargain.
EKO 2.1.2 Dolby Atmos capable soundbar
For $399 you would be hard-pressed to find a better Dolby Atmos capable soundbar. I would have expected to pay more. It gets the tick!
Value for money
Ease of use
Excellent price for the features
Dolby Atmos decoder does a great job with eight speakers (2.1.2)
Good flat frequency response
Lots of input ports
You need to use pre-sets to get the best sound for each genre
Some harshness at maximum volume – back off a few dB