AudioXperts 'Audio Entertainment Console'
Make no mistake, AudioXpert’s 4TV is not a soundbar. As the company loudly proclaims throughout its literature, the 4TV is an ‘Audio Entertainment Console’, an extravagant descriptor by which we presume them to be emphasising that this is not a bar but a ‘base’ design — a wide, deep and low cabinet which can go underneath your television rather than sitting in front, below or on top of it.
And ‘Base’ does admittedly sound rather mundane for such a beautifully finished unit, with its radiused corners, aluminium-base highlight and black smoked-glass top finish embedded with flush touch controls that illuminate when you walk up to them. But it is all suitably subtle, so that the 4TV disappears into décor, yet shines when you examine its detail. ‘Apple-centric’ might be a fair adjective, especially as the designers have provided a slide-in socket and dedicated input specifically for the original Apple Airport Express, more of which below.
A swivel base is included, and there seems little reason not to fit it, given it raises the 4TV a mere centimetre while allowing supersmooth swivelling of your entire TV to left or right, pretty much as far as your rear wall will allow.
Such understated elegance jumps an important hurdle into any household — the 4TV is never likely to be labelled a “monstrosity” when introduced into the average Australian lounge. But that’s only half the battle. How does it sound?
While you might expect it for the price, the speaker complement here is impressive. The ‘subwoofer’ is actually four 11.5cm woofers working together, while a further four drivers cover the midrange, and a pair of 20mm fabric-dome tweeters provide the treble. All these together receive 200W of power between them (RMS, no distortion levels quoted).
The midrange drivers here are interesting. Called ‘HART’ (High Aspect Ratio Transducers), they measure 130mm long by 35mm high, a ‘racetrack’ design which allows a much greater cone area within the restrictive height of the 4TV than circular cones could achieve, while dual suspension systems and support allow a large voice coil even within this unusual aspect ratio.
Not to be outdone, the four bass drivers are termed ‘SSHO’ (Super Slim High Output) woofers, with double the excursion of ‘typical’ drivers, so able to shift more air, for more powerful bass.
All this fits into the stylish base, which is 437mm deep and 1022mm wide. That’s a fraction wider than most 42-inch TVs, but you could go much larger — AudioXperts rates the 2112 as being capable of supporting models up to 80kg, dropping to a still-substantial 57kg if you fit that invisible swivel base. That’s plenty — for example Sharp’s 80-inch monster TV is exactly 57kg with its stand attached; Panasonic’s current 60-inch LED is a mere 27kg (so you could have two). One practical restriction is that your TV stand can’t be much deeper than 38cm, or it might cover the 4TV’s top-mounted touch controls. (The forwardbending stand of LG’s award-winning 55-inch LM9600 just fits it.)
Nearly all the 4TV’s connections are at the rear, a little inaccessible once a large TV is in the way, especially since the sockets are further recessed back into the base (nice and protected, but fiddly round the back — bring a mirror and penlight). In its favour, the basic connections can be extremely minimal. We started with what the manual calls “best option” of just power cable and a digital optical connection from our TV. Not much fiddling required there.
Later we added the analogue input (RCA phono sockets at the rear); there is also an ‘Aux’ minijack input on the right-hand side (the manual mysteriously shows it on the left). A USB socket at the rear is available for connecting the cables from compatible Apple devices, and thereby playing from them while they charge.
There is an electrical digital input and a second optical input which can be used for anything but is labelled ‘Airport’, the company suggesting you add one of Apple’s $119 devices. The 4TV comes with a connector cable for the current model while the original Airport Express actually docks in the back; very neat. The Apple device effectively adds AirPlay and Wi-Fi to the 4TV, so you’ll have full iTunes integration including multizone operation from a Mac computer and direct streaming via Wi-Fi from an iPhone or iPad. An average consumer may need a bit of help getting that all working, but once configured, there’s nothing simpler or prettier to use than Apple’s ‘Remote’ and ‘Music’ apps.
Even without adding an Apple box, you can stream direct from any smart device via the Bluetooth input. This supports the higherquality apt-X codec, though you need a phone which supports apt-X as well.
Still, we found ourselves impressed with the sound from Bluetooth here, even without the apt-X option. To pair a device you hold the top-panel Bluetooth button for a good few seconds until its blue LED blinks slowly, then rush to get your partnering device ready before the LED unilluminates and hides its state. We paired an iPad and Windows 7 PC with no problems at all, able to fling the sound from any app or program straight to the 4TV.
Streaming Diana Krall’s ‘Abandoned Masquerade’ from an iPad 2, the 4TV presented very enjoyable music to the sweet spot, with a nicely resonant upright bass underpinning Ms Krall’s rich vocal — it was enough to make us think of the sound of real hi-fi speakers. We tried opera (well, Philip Glass’ ‘Akhnaten’) and that too rolled forth musically with individual singers positioned in a real soundstage, if sometimes slightly brittle in their tone and shaping, characteristics confirmed when running A-B against the same files on a adjacent hi-fi system.
This softness might in part have been the Bluetooth connection, so to give it the best source quality, we connected our iMac via a classy LehmannAudio DAC to the analogue inputs, and played the same files again. Interestingly the performance was significantly clearer but with less bass, perhaps bloat introduced in the iPad playback or Bluetooth transmission. This loss of underpinning was easily corrected with a tweak of the subwoofer level control.
A word on that subwoofer control, which is a knob at the back (lean around the right side of your TV and hunt with your fingers). The knob turns through perhaps 300 degrees, but delivers very little bass until the last 10% of its movement, leaving all the critical adjustment within a tiny range. In our room the optimum was just a tiny bit back from maximum, although as already mentioned, we adjusted it regularly according to the requirements of different inputs and even for different material, especially when listening to music. Moving to TV/films, and engaging the ‘Movie’ move, we found the subwoofer level required another adjustment, downwards, as we discovered just how much noise this discreet base unit could produce. (A lot.) Not too inconvenient, but we couldn’t help remembering how easy subwoofer adjustment was on units that have sub level buttons on a remote control.
There’s no remote provided here at all, so we had to teach the 4TV a lesson, namely the codes from our TV remote. As with other soundbars (and not-soundbars) in this test, the 4TV learns volume up/down, mute and power, and can learn more if you’re brave enough to map other buttons to random keys on your remotes. (‘Don’t forget Gran, for dialogue mode just press green on the PVR remote.’) As noted in our soundbars conclusions on p44, use of your TV’s volume control hinges on your TV having a ‘TV speakers off’ option; our two test TVs both did, but we know some that don’t. You could then map volume to some other buttons entirely, at the risk of confusing visitors. Happily for us the procedure here was simple and worked well.
So, the sound modes. There are three — ‘Music’, ‘Movie’, and ‘Enhanced Dialogue Listening Mode’. The last two should only be used with genuine 5.1-channel source material, which can be easily identified by a light coming on next to the DTS/Dolby Digital legends on the console; the 4TV includes decoding for both. These sounded crisp and clear, with a good push of left/right channels and surround effects out wide, and the centrechannel keeping dialogue well intelligible and clear — we didn’t need to use the ‘enhanced dialogue mode’ (interestingly described very specifically by AudioXperts as “improving dialogue intelligibility for people that have experienced sensorineural hearing loss”).
For all stereo sources, including movies and TV, we’d recommend using the ‘Music’ mode, simply because the ‘Movie’ mode uses extravagant phase effects to create a wide soundstage from stereo — often the central vocals were nearly cancelled out by this. Credit to the missus for spotting this first, with crowd effects louder than shouting cops during one of her many murder shows. Unusually, she was right. Try it to hear the effect for yourself, but if you suffer inaudible dialogue, just choose ‘Music’ mode to fix it.
As described in our soundbar introduction, the optical digital output of your TV may not pass a 5.1-channel signal from an HDMIconnected Blu-ray player. So the 4TV’s extra inputs could be essential if you want to use the ‘Movie’ mode to decode genuine surround from your Blu-ray player. The 4TV has just enough inputs to work as a hub for most users.
One other tip, in case like us you’re confused that the unit’s top-mounted power button turns the unit off, but not on. In fact you have to activate the 4TV’s motion sensor first — which isn’t 100% reliable, so a couple of entertainingly strange lunges and runs towards the unit may be required to get the red LED a-pulsing, ready to be activated.
The 4TV is certainly towards the top of this group for music, while TV and movies sound great and powerful when you select the right mode. Also worth mentioning is an impressive five-year warranty, which includes two years of exchange.
So the answer to our opening question is yes — the 4TV 2112 brings performance to the party alongside an aesthetic so easily acceptable that it might slip into many lounges with several days’ grace before anyone even notices its arrival. And they’ll rush to pair their smartphones to play music when they do. How’s that for a stealth system?
Jez Ford | Sound + Image