For the past year and a bit I've been using a 2.1 Sound bar for my TV, it's been great. It's done the job and with HDMI-Arc it's been really easy to use without any fuss. But let's be real, a sound bar at that price (was around $350 when i purchased) doesn't exactly delivery a booming sound. It definitely fills the room but the wireless subwoofer is underwhelming given it's size.
So i came up with a project to a real-world scenario. What's the best bang for buck sound bar replacement for $2000 that let's me keep the functionality of my current setup?
To give you a bit of a perspective, My name is Sahin and i'm the Marketing Guru at Selby. Having joined Selby over a year ago just as COVID hit Melbourne I've finally had a chance to go hands on with some HiFi gear to better understand the product. My background in tech and music fuels my passion for quality listening experiences. As an audiophile not too hung on up on the miniscular details of audio I always seek the best value i can get for the most accurate yet 'Fun' sound. As a producer i have the advantage of listening to music i personally make, which gives me a great foundation to how i interpret the quality and soundstage of speakers.
'Hey Google, play my daily playlist on the Shield'
Every weekend i utter these words as everything automatically boots up and starts playing while i do my morning routine. For me, HDMI-Arc is a must have. It let's me run my Google Assistant devices with ease.
So my goal was to get products that would fit into this scenario and offer a premium sound upgrade to the sound bar... And with the help of our Thornbury store staff we came up with not just one but a few solutions. But our main topic for todays blog will be the winning solution.
Bluesound Powernode 2i & The JBL Stage A170
While the Powernode 2i is a slightly better amplifier internally it's biggest difference comes in software features. So unless you specifically want something the Powernode offers or prefer the look of it, the SONOS Amp is more than capable of handling the speakers we are pairing with it. Just an FYI. The pricing in this review was as of June 1st, 2021. At your time of reading pricing may have fluctuated.
I'm going to preface this by mentioning this particular option comes in at $2444 - Making it more than the $2000 budget but perfectly fitting under the $2500 mark. However if you were to swap out the more premium Powernode 2i for another great amp the SONOS Amp that would put you at $2089 - smack bang on budget.
Both amps have HDMI-Arc and because i was not after surround sound, it didn't make sense to get a multichannel amplifier like a Yamaha V4A. If you really wanted to cut down on the price a bit more but don't care for HDMI-Arc you could consider a basic Stereo Amp like the Yamaha WXA-50, NAD C 328 or the NAD C 338 which has Chromecast built-in.
The biggest thing i learnt when picking speakers was to DEMO THEM!
With my main purpose being Music, i chose the JBL Stage A170's due to their sound signature favouring low end frequencies. I found them delivering more bass with great clarity across the low end frequencies. When positioned correctly the music sounded very well balanced. It's got room filling sound and great bass response & dynamics to give that low end a bigger punch - Just enough to make it an entertaining experience - With the budget limits the A170 deliver an incredible music experience.
Music Test Tracks
You can compare my thoughts on these tracks with your setup to see how it sounds different. For accurate reference these were streamed from an NVIDIA Shield using a wired network connection.
You can also check out my Spotify playlist here - I used this playlist as a baseline for music.
Low Roar - Bones
Layered vocals on a deep synth background this tracks comes alive when that kick-drum kicks in. It has a deep bass that is sure to shake your room on each kick. The A170's handle this tracks very well with the deep vocals really benefiting from the low-end strength of the A170's.
Michael Jackson - Thriller
Listening to this on vinyl was an exciting experience. Hearing the production quality of Michael Jackson's famous songs through the powerful combination of the Powernode 2i and the JBL A170's, every track was 'thrillin' to listen to.. pun intended. With the advantage of the A170's low end every track delivered clean and punchy bass that elevated the experience of listening.
With the strengths the A170s deliver movies become a truly entertaining time. Big booming sound and thunderous low end definitely make watching movies that little bit extra special.
Army of the Dead
The night the movie came our on Netflix was the first weekend i had these speakers so it was a great opportunity to put it to use. The mid-range for speech and vocals wasn't as bright as some other models as you'd expect, having a deeper sound to it. Having said that hearing Dave Bautista talk is never a sound you wouldn't want to listen to! The action scenes however is where things kicked up a notch with the A170's delivering a great sound stage that filled the room with every gunshot, every footstep & explosion. The dynamic strength of the Stage A170's delivers an impeccable stereo experience, I can only imagine how adding a few more speakers in surround could deliver an incredible home theatre experience without completely breaking your wallet.
Overall the Powernode 2i and the JBL Stage A170's delivered me an incredible stereo music setup with incredible dynamics and favourable low end that made my music extremely entertaining to listen to while delivering amazing everyday movie and TV listening.