Reviews

HAS ANKER RAISED THE BAR?

Recently, I decided to treat myself to a brand new TV. Of course it had to be bigger and better than my old one. After much deliberation I settled on the 55” LG SK 9000, a flat screen Super UHD 4K TV, just one step below their OLED range. One of the reasons for choosing this TV was its Dolby Atmos® capability.

WHAT IS ATMOS

Atmos is the system used to create lifelike surround effects in movie theaters. It’s often called three-dimensional sound because the waves are not only coming to you from the left and the right, but also from above, below, and from the center. You can literally feel that helicopter landing in the middle of the theater.

Dolby Atmos® is the next big thing in home entertainment because it is much more immersive, or should I say ATMOSpheric? Right now there are a limited number of movies and Netflix Shows with Atmos, and one show on Amazon Prime Video: Jack Ryan. It’s a start.

The speakers of most flat screen TV’s are where manufacturers try to save money. If good sound quality matters to you, you’re better off buying a separate soundbar or speakers. I have a Vizio surround system with a soundbar, a subwoofer, and two satellite speakers. It’s affordable. It’s brilliant, but it doesn’t have Atmos.

SOUNDCORE INFINI PRO

Enter Anker. Through their We Love Testing program I got my hands on a brand new Soundcore Infini Pro, a 36-inch 2.1 Channel soundbar. It has Dolby Atmos® and built-in subwoofers, 4K HDR Pass-Through, HDMI Arc, and Bluetooth 5 Wireless Music Streaming. All of this for only $249.

In comparison, the next cheapest Atmos-enabled soundbar that’s on the market is the LG SK8Y, on sale at Best Buy for $330. This does include a separate subwoofer. Now, I know that Anker has a reputation for offering value for money, but can a company mainly known for cheap cables and phone chargers compete with the big boys? I was extremely skeptical.

Coming in at 36.61 x 4.72 x 2.4 inches and 7.28 pounds, this is a light, unobtrusive unit wrapped in black fabric. It comes with a 1.5 meter power cable, a remote control, 2 × AAA batteries, a 1.5 m HDMI 2.0 cable, 2 wall mount brackets, a wall mounted bracket locator card, some screws, and a user manual.

CONNECTIONS

It’s possible to connect the unit to the television using an optical cable (not included), but for the Atmos signal to pass through, you’d need the included HDMI cable (HDMI can pass higher-resolution audio).

The Infini Pro gets connected through the HDMI ARC port. ARC (Audio Return Channel) gives you the ability to use one remote for all of your audio device’s most common functions and lets you adjust the soundbar’s volume via your TV’s remote control.

Thanks to Bluetooth you can stream you favorite music to the soundbar, and control it with the Soundcore App. The actual remote is simple and easy to use. It allows you to choose between movie, music, or voice mode, depending on the content you’re watching or listening to. Cinema mode was my favorite. Bass lovers will like the dedicated buttons to intensify the lower frequencies with minimum distortion via what Anker calls “BassUp™ technology.”

On top of the unit there’s a touch control panel allowing you to choose the audio source, switch to bluetooth, turn the volume up and down, and turn the soundbar on and off. A change in settings is reflected by a change of the color of the lights. For instance, when an Atmos signal is processed, the light turns from white to dark blue.

The good thing about having the indictor lights on top is that they’re not distracting the viewer. The bad thing is that it leaves you guessing whether or not the bar has switched to Atmos mode, for example. To check that, you actually need to stand up and look.

PERFORMANCE

For a relatively small unit it has a 120-W output which packs a punch. It has more than enough oomph to fill up most rooms, and keep the neighbors awake.

I’ve heard low-budget soundbars that are really muddy, but what surprised me about Infini Pro was the sonic clarity and detail it produced. While live streaming a concert by the singer Mariza, the delicate timbre of the 12-string Portuguese guitar came alive in my living room. Her voice sounded warm and rich, and I could feel the percussion.

For a 36” bar, the soundstage it produces is quite wide. Enough to create a surround effect, although it’s not as realistic as the sound coming from behind, as produced by a set of satellite speakers.

DOLBY ATMOS®

My first ATMOS experience was disappointing, but as it turned out, it had nothing to do with the Infini Pro. I was watching the Netflix show Formula 1, Drive to Survive. It’s perfect to put any ATMOS sound system through its paces. Lots of roaring engines, car crashes, and high-speed chases. All of a sudden the audio became very choppy and unbearable to listen to.

Searching online I found a simple solution: turn off all connected devices, and unplug everything for at least three minutes. After plugging every device back in, it worked like a charm and my living room turned into a Formula 1 circuit. It was thrilling!

To create this effect, the Infini Pro has two front-facing 2.5-inch mid-range drivers and 1-inch tweeters with dual, up-facing 3-inch built-in subwoofers. To hear what they’re truly capable of, I suggest you download the Dolby Atmos® Leaf and Amaze trailers to a flash drive, and stick it in your TV.

To get the immersive sound, the up-facing speakers fire the audio toward the ceiling from where it bounces back to the listening area. According to Dolby, regular, flat ceilings work best.

HOME THEATER

In movie theaters, Dolby Atmos® is capable of processing up to 128 channels of sound, which can be routed to up to 64 individual speakers. Obviously, the Atmos used in home theaters has to be seriously scaled down, especially if coming from a single soundbar. So, if you just came back from Avengers: Endgame and you’re expecting a similar panoramic sound, you’ll be disappointed.

However, listening to the Infini Pro, I felt I was in the rain forest while watching David Attenborough’s Our Planet with birds singing, snakes slithering, and insects buzzing. I could literally feel the thunderous roar of the caravan of vehicles emerging from the desert in Mad Max, Fury Road. And coming from a small soundbar, that was pretty exciting. So, what’s the final verdict?

SUMMING UP

Don’t let the small footprint and the low price fool you. Even when it’s loud, this attractive bar won’t distort. Dialogue is clear, and the sound is rich and well-balanced.

The Soundcore Infini Pro most certainly adds another dimension to your listening experience. The 3D surround effect is modest, but it’s definitely there.

If you are thinking of moving to Atmos without breaking the bank, Anker has just raised the bar in value for money!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice