The SBM1W soundbar system is something of a novelty. Like all soundbars its speakers and amplifiers are packed into a single box, which can be installed near your TV with minimum intrusion. But this unit is less than half the size of a regular soundbar, taking up even less of your space.
The accompanying subwoofer adds bass depth, while built-in Bluetooth allows you to stream music from portable devices without the need for unsightly cables. But the best part is that it’s yours for around £150, which looks like decent value if its performance is up to scratch.
Design and features
The speaker unit looks more like an iPod speaker dock than a soundbar. It measures 290mm wide and 72mm high, and is perfect for perching on top of furniture or a TV stand, but it’s not suitable for wall-mounting.
The soundbar sports a sloping edge all the way round, covered in black cloth. It’s stylish but not flashy, which makes it ideal if you want your sound system to be heard but not seen.
On top of the box is a row of silver buttons that enable you to adjust volume and input selection up close, but there’s no display panel at all – just a couple of lights to indicate the Bluetooth and power status.
On the back is a decent number of sockets considering how little space there is to play with. They include optical and coaxial digital inputs for DVD or Blu-ray decks, analogue stereo input and a 3.5mm minijack input for MP3 players and the like.
With the subwoofer, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that it’s compact enough to install near the TV without much hassle and its black, cube-shaped enclosure is fairly good-looking as subwoofers go. The bad news is that it’s passive and not wireless – a cable-free connection would have sent the convenience factor through the roof.
The standout feature is Bluetooth streaming, which is a real boon if you have loads of tracks stored on your phone that need liberating.
Next to catch my eye on the spec sheet is Sonic Emotion sound processing, including an Absolute 3D mode that attempts to expand the soundfield, and three presets – Movie, Music and Game.
The built-in amp delivers 10W of power to each of its four 51mm speaker drivers and 20W to the sub, resulting in a total power output of 60W.
If you can’t place the soundbar centrally in front of your TV, then a switch on the back offsets the sound depending on its position – so if it’s to the right, select the ‘R’ setting and the sound is projected to the left.
It’s worth noting here that there’s no Dolby Digital or DTS decoding on board. If you want to feed audio digitally from a Blu-ray or DVD deck you have to select ‘PCM’ in the player’s setup menu and not 'bitstream' – otherwise you won’t hear anything.
The SBM1W is easy to set up but awkward to use. With no display, you can’t tell what input is selected, which means you have to toggle through them all until you hear it playing. There’s also no indication whether 3D mode is on or off and you can’t tweak the EQ.
The remote doesn’t help matters either. It’s one of those risible credit card style affairs with fiddly blister buttons. The layout’s not bad though and it covers every function, which means you shouldn’t have to leave the sofa.
Pairing up Bluetooth devices is easy enough – select Bluetooth mode and find the Toshiba on your device – but I had trouble getting the two to handshake until I stood right next to the unit.
Play a movie and what jumps out is how punchy and powerful the SBM1W sounds for such a small unit. Blockbuster action scenes really benefit from this, sounding loud and exciting – much more so than any TV, and for many buyers that’ll be the clincher.
But inevitably with a cabinet this small (and a price this low) the SBM1W struggles to match the assuredness of larger, more expensive soundbars. Turn the volume up too loud and the speakers start to strain when handling particularly blaring effects, sounding a little rough round the edges.
Also, while its high frequencies are clean, it’s not as insightful or refined as soundbars from the likes of Yamaha. But then, that’s only to be expected at this price.
The Toshiba isn't bad with music either, handling tunes from my iPod with nice energy and a pleasing balance across the frequencies.
The SBM1W is an ideal sound system for anyone who’s really pushed for space. With its compact form factor and built-in Bluetooth, convenience and space-saving are high on the agenda, plus its sound quality is loud and bassy enough to put your TV to shame.
It’s not the most refined performer though, losing its cool with the volume cranked up, plus it’s a little fiddly to use and the subwoofer isn’t wireless, but on the whole it’s a likeable sound solution for the money.
Manufacturer and model
Digital audio inputs
2 (1 optical, 1 coaxial)
3.5mm minijack input
Analogue stereo input
Dolby TrueHD decoding
DTS HD Master Audio decoding
Dolby Digital decoding
DLNA media streaming
Dimensions (soundbar) W x H x D
290 x 72 x 100mm
Dimensions (subwoofer) W x H x D
220 x 246 x 220mm
Audio Return Channel support
Sonic Emotion Absolute 3D