If you’ve been to the Bristol Sound & Vision Show in the last few years you’ll have seen and heard exactly what the fuss is about when it comes to Dolby Atmos. This year, Arcam wowed everyone in their demo room with an AV system close to £100,000 that showed just how capable an Atmos system can be. Of course, your average customer on the street probably doesn’t have that kind of money stashed away. Or, if they do, they probably feel reluctant to part with it. That’s why manufacturers design wholly more affordable systems for your everyday consumer that aren’t going to make our store card machines blow up when you try to pay for them!
Enter the Atmos soundbar. Enhanced performance capabilities but discrete enough to sit on most people’s TV stands. Philips’s Fidelio B8 is by no means unusual, the Yamaha YSP5600, Samsung HWK850 & HWK950 and Onkyo LS7200 are all listed on our website. For those not familiar, all Atmos soundbars use upward firing speakers to project the sound towards the ceiling where it is reflected down towards your listening position. The Fidelio B8 features 18 speaker drivers in its bar powered by 180w amplification; 4 front facing, 2 at each end of the bar for the surround affects and 10 firing upwards from the top of the bar. Couple that with the 220w in the subwoofer and there’s plenty of power in the B8 to get you set up in your living room. Philips utilises its Ambisound technology to help direct sounds around the room and the result is a 5.1.2 soundtrack using only a 2 piece setup.
Connection-wise, there are two HDMI inputs (both 4K, 30fps capable), one HDMI output with ARC, one optical & coaxial each and one 3.5mm AUX jack plus AptX Bluetooth. The subwoofer is wireless too so no need to have a long cable should you decide to place it towards the back of the room. Quality control is decent too with a sleek brushed chrome style finish with an LED display front and centre which is dimmable if you find it distracting.
Once out of the box, the first thing to say is that the subwoofer is big. Not overly wide or deep but very tall so it’s unlikely that you’ll be hiding it underneath anything like a table. Having said that, once it’s powered up it’s obvious that it’s a pretty capable performer. When trying it out next to the sofa in our demo room we had to take the bass down a few notches for it not to overwhelm the rest of the soundtrack. If action movies or gaming is your thing, you’re going to be hit with some heavy bass every time there’s an explosion so you may need experiment with placement if you can. There are also Movie, Music and Voice preset EQ’s so that you can choose your preferred sound.
Although the bar is pretty slim being only 5.2cm high it still has a fair amount of punch to it. The side speakers definitely improve and widen the soundstage and the addition of the up-firing drivers open up the ambience of whatever you’re watching. Sat at a distance of about 3.5m from the bar, we found that rather than a surround sound affect, the B8 offered a more open sound. Panning from left to right was wider and more obvious and the atmos speakers definitely added more height. It gave the affect that our demo room was wider and had a higher ceiling than it actually has! It’s worth mentioning though that you still get a sound that is relatively front-orientated without having any surround speakers behind you. The treble and mids came out a little harshly when we first fired it up loudly so we think it’ll be more suitable for smaller rooms where there isn’t a huge space to fill. On the remote you’ll find buttons to raise or lower the volume of the drivers controlling the Atmos height channels. The range is only high, medium and low (and off is an option too) rather than smooth integers like the master volume, but its inclusion is appreciated.
As with a lot of sound projection soundbars, the results were not as convincing as having a fully-fledged AV receiver with cabled speakers (we found we had to have the height volume on high to really appreciate it) but that’s not the point of this product. Not everyone wants cables trailed around their skirting boards, nor do they want lots of speakers dotted around the room with a big receiver powering it all underneath the TV. In this respect the Fidelio B8 is one of a few great soundbar options to experience Dolby Atmos in the home. So long as you’re aware that the surround sound aspect is less effective than a traditional AV system you’ll enjoy what the Fidelio B8 has to offer. Pop into your local store to test one out!
Author: Steve, Bristol store