9 / 10

Philips HTL5120 review

Philips HTL5120 review

Company

Philips

Price

£250

The HTL5120 is a single-unit solution aimed at those who crave fulsome home cinema sound but don’t have room for a full 5.1 setup – and with an integrated active subwoofer it’ll take up even less space than usual.

Design and connections

The HTL5120’s build quality and styling are a cut above most soundbars at this price point. There’s an air of luxury about its slim, curvy bodywork, with a silky black cloth grille covering the entire front section and gloss-black panels at both ends. The whole thing is solid and weighty, making a mockery of that £250 price tag.

Design-wise, it’s unique look. It sports a sloping, wing-shaped profile that allows you to lay it flat on a tabletop or mount it upright on the wall. Cleverly, there’s an orientation sensor that detects how it’s positioned and optimises the sound accordingly.

Other little touches like the brushed silver panel on the front underline the unit’s superb build. Printed on this panel are names of inputs and sound modes, with a row of lights above indicating which one is selected (as well as indicating the bass, treble and volume level when adjusted).

The sockets are all found within a recess on the bottom of the unit, with the cables poking out from a gap at the back. And those connections are generous – there are two 3D-capable HDMI inputs and an Audio Return Channel-compatible output, making it easy to boost sound from a suitably-equipped TV.

These are joined by two digital audio inputs – one coaxial, one optical – and two analogue inputs, 3.5mm minijack and RCA. By soundbar standards that’s pretty much a full house – the absence of a USB port for digital music playback is the only minor gripe, but the HTL5120 makes up for it with built-in Bluetooth. That means you can easily stream music from laptops and mobile phones.

Features

Joining Bluetooth on the spec sheet is Virtual Surround Sound, which attempts to generate a 5.1-like effect from its stereo speakers. Double Bass lends extra depth to low frequencies while Auto Volume Leveller smoothes out jarring jumps in loudness.

The HTL5120 musters a total power output of 120W, with on-board decoding for Dolby Digital and DTS. There’s no support for Dolby True HD or DTS HD Master Audio but the HDMI inputs will accept decoded LPCM.

Operation

Setting up the HTL5120 is a cinch if tabletop mounting – plonk it down, plug it in and you’re ready to go. Wall mounting is more involved and requires careful cable management, but nothing too drastic on the DIY front.

The aforementioned lack of display panel on the front is a problem when it comes to selecting inputs or sound modes – you might have to actually get off the sofa to check which of the tiny lights is selected. They light up incrementally to indicate the volume level but when you adjust the bass or treble levels the sound briefly cuts out, which is a tad irritating.

Thankfully, Philips has supplied a pleasant remote, and not one of those cheapo credit-card types either – this is a full size affair with a curved back end that sits snugly in the palm. The button layout is sensible and spacious with clear labelling. There are dedicated controls for adjusting bass, treble and audio sync, plus input selection keys are grouped together at the top.

Performance

The HTL5120 is a superb performer, offering a refined yet powerful sound that puts any TV to shame – and most similarly-priced soundbars, for that matter.

The sound is laced with fine detail, conveyed smoothly and crisply from the unit’s assured speakers. This lends a silky quality to movie scores, while scenes with lots of high-frequency elements sound open and airy. Many affordable soundbars sound compressed and harsh in the mids and highs but Philips is clearly cut from a different cloth, refusing to buckle even with the volume up high.

Quiet dialogue-driven scenes are a joy to behold, such as Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf at the start of The Hobbit. Their speech is rendered with superb clarity, while subtle detail like chirping birds and flittering insects dances around in the background. But crank up the action and the HTL5120 musters an exciting, room-filling sound, underpinned by sturdy bass from the built-in sub.

What’s great is that its bass output is fairly restrained, adding seamless depth and punch to the other speakers without making you constantly aware of its presence. Some separate soundbar subs are too rowdy and intrusive, but here the Philips does a subtler job.

If there’s a flaw – and I’m clutching at straws here – it’s that Virtual Surround doesn’t even come close to replicating the sense of envelopment you get from a real 5.1 system, although it does spread the stereo soundstage.

But back to the positives and it’s pleasing to discover that the HTL5120 is a terrific music player, bringing its inherent warmth and finesse to my music collection – that applies to MP3s streamed over Bluetooth and CDs fed from a Blu-ray deck via HDMI or the analogue inputs.

Verdict

Spend some time in the HTL5120’s company and you’ll soon realise that it’s one of the best soundbars in its class. It reaches levels of refinement and smoothness beyond what you’d expect from a £250 soundbar, but backs it up with power and punch when needed – all of which makes for a thrilling listen, even within the limitations of a stereo soundbar. Couple that with superb build quality, a clever-yet-classy design, plentiful connections and built-in Bluetooth and you have yourself a real bargain.

Specifications

Manufacturer and model

Philips HTL5120

Quoted power

120W

Channels

2.1

HDMI output

1

HDMI inputs

2

Component video output

No

Composite video output

No

Ethernet

No

Digital audio inputs

2 (1 optical, 1 coaxial)

3.5mm minijack input

Yes

Analogue stereo input

Yes

Dolby TrueHD decoding

No

DTS HD Master Audio decoding

No

Dolby Digital decoding

Yes

DTS decoding

Yes

USB port

No

Built-in Wi-Fi

No

iPod/iPhone support

No

DLNA media streaming

No

Online content

N/A

3D ready

Yes

Dimensions (soundbar) W x H x D

1,010 x 154 x 81 mm

Smartphone control

No

Audio Return Channel support

Yes

Radio tuner

No

Sound processing

Virtual Surround, Double Bass, FullSound, Auto Volume Leveller

Pros

  • Classy sound
  • Robust build quality
  • Many connections
  • Built-in Bluetooth

Cons

  • No USB port
  • Virtual Surround virtually ineffective

Company

Philips

Price

£250

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