Week 32, 2017: Soundbar vs. receiver and speakers, Polk Audio Magnifi Mini review

Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 32, 2017

Q. I am putting together a media room with a 70-inch television and need a surround sound system. The room is 14×15 feet in size with a 10 foot ceiling. I’d like to stay around $1,000 and want the system to be easy to install and maintain. Is it possible to build a completely wireless surround sound system without a receiver, subwoofer or separately wired speakers that will provide the immersive sound and impact of a movie theater? Perhaps something based on a soundbar?

-M.L., San Jose, CA

A. The direct, simple answer is no, you can’t. If you want that kind of experience you have to pay for it, both in price and complexity. The old ways tend to work best, whether talking about audio, video, or photography, and that definitely applies here. Nothing can match the performance of a good audio/video receiver connected to 5 separate high-quality speakers and a subwoofer, especially if you place the speakers to optimize room acoustics and adjust and tune the system properly.

That said, you can get very good sound from a soundbar-based system, and I think it is worth a try before you start buying speakers and running wires around your media room. Since you want full sound immersion with surround effects, you should get something with separate surround speakers which you can place to the side or behind you.

Polk Audio has a new system coming soon called the Magnifi Max SR, which includes a soundbar, wireless subwoofer and two wireless surround speakers for $599. (Please note that even wireless surround speakers need to have power, which means they need to be plugged in somewhere.) I have high hopes for the Magnifi Max SR system and I hope to try one when it is released in October.

The reason I am very optimistic about the potential of this system is I recently tried the Polk Magnifi Mini system, and have come away very impressed. The $299 Magnifi Mini has a small soundbar speaker (about the size of an OontZ Angle 3XL speaker) paired with a wireless subwoofer. Setup is very easy, with the subwoofer connecting effortlessly. The remote is simple and logical, with big buttons and a nice tactile feel.

The miniature soundbar may have a small profile, but it has a big sound because it employs Polk’s SDA technology, which expands the soundfield greatly to create a feeling of spaciousness. Though made of plastic, the subwoofer has surprising impact and integrates perfectly with the soundbar to create seamless, full sound from top to bottom. Whether watching television or movies, it is very satisfying and provides the high-grade sound quality you would expect from a storied audio manufacturer like Polk.

Another pleasant surprise was discovering the Magnifi Mini is an exceptional music speaker. Wi-Fi and Google Chromecast are both built-in, providing sound quality far superior to Bluetooth. Once I started playing some sample tracks I was so impressed I stayed up way past my bedtime sampling familiar songs and marveling at what I was hearing. Though it is designed as a TV sound system, the Magnifi Mini could also make an excellent music-only system for a dorm or office where space is at a premium. Bluetooth is included as well, but once you hear Wi-Fi and Chromecast you may not use it much.

Bigger soundbars can play louder in a big room, but that is about my only nitpick about this fine system. With its excellent performance from a mini size at a mini $299 price, the Polk Audio Magnifi Mini is a big winner.