At Sound & Vision we celebrated our own special brand of fireworks in July with a handful of Top Picks that command the attention A/V enthusiasts. From a super well-executed soundbar and crème de la crème suite of home theater speakers to one of the best (and most affordable) OLED TVs on the planet, we present five Stars of the Summer of 2020 — a time we will remember for years to come. Kick back, grab a beer or glass of wine, and see which of these gems inspire you. We’re confident that at least one of them will. Here’s to an enjoyable summer, whether you’re staying home or embarking on a much-needed vacation getaway.
Sonos Arc Soundbar: $799
Is it possible to experience “immersive sound” with a compelling sense of height from a long, slender soundbar? Heck yeah. Sonos accomplishes the trick using 11 drivers strategically placed in a 45-inch Dolby Atmos-enabled TV speaker it calls the Arc. “Height information present in a 5.1.2 Atmos signal was impressively anchored on the ceiling about a third of the way back toward my seating…precisely where it should be,” wrote reviewer Rob Sabin, who characterized the bar’s overall sound as “exceptionally smooth in the midrange right on up through the highs.” In other words, the Arc is a capable performer with music and movies. For a more intense theater experience, you can add a pair of Sonos One SL speakers ($179 each) and boost bass with the stand-alone Sub ($699), as Sabin did with impressive results. But, as he noted, “I’m betting you’ll love Arc even without the surrounds.” Factor in Sonos’ excellent multiroom music platform and the ability to control the system from your smartphone — with voice commands — and you have a soundbar that stands out among all others.
AT A GLANCE
Outstanding music and movie sound
Impressive rendering of height information
Solid bass for a standalone soundbar
May require latest eARC HDMI connection for Atmos
No DTS decoding
Hisense 65H8G Quantum LCD Ultra HDTV: $800
TV technology has advanced to the point where it’s now possible to get a nice big screen and great 4K picture quality along with Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR), native streaming capability, and a host of useful picture controls (adjustable gamma anyone?) for less than a thousand bucks. Case in point: The 65H8G, a 65-inch LCD set from China’s Hisense that draws on quantum dot illumination and full-array local dimming with 90 zones to deliver image quality you’d expect to see from a set costing much more. “In the live action The Call of the Wild, a subtle range of hues, not to mention the detail in the stunning scenic vistas of the Great White North, were impossible to criticize,” observed veteran TV reviewer Tom Norton. HDR performance was equally impressive on the 4K Blu-ray versions of A Quiet Place and 1917. Making a great deal even better, the 65H8G is currently selling for $700 at Amazon and BestBuy.com. Awarding the Top Value designation to this TV was a no-brainer.
AT A GLANCE
Effective local dimming
Precise HDR tracking
Poor off-center viewing
Minor banding artifacts
Revel PerformaBe Surround Speaker System: $20,500 (as tested)
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: Revel’s Performa Be is one of those rarefied speaker systems designed and built for devout audiophiles who will settle for nothing less than “the best.” Which is precisely what Harman’s high-end speaker brand endeavors to deliver with the 5.1 ensemble Tom Norton reviewed: two F226Be towers up front, a C426Be center speaker, a pair of M126Be speakers for rear surround, and two B110V2 powered subwoofers, each featuring a 10-inch driver and 1,000-watt amplifier. With music, the Performa F226Be towers (with or without a separate subwoofer) sounded “full-bodied, open, and airy, with just the right amount of detail,” while the complete ensemble delivered an exceptionally rewarding experience with movies. “The atmospheric soundtrack [of Blade Runner 2049] engulfed me in virtually every scene, even within the ‘limitations’ of a basic 5.2 setup without Atmos or other enhancements. Dialogue was always intelligible and never obviously colored in any way, and the three front speakers blended seamlessly.” If the best is what you seek, you simply must include the PerformaBe on your audition list.
AT A GLANCE
Superb overall performance
Impeccable fit and finish