The Polk Audio SurroundBar SDA IHT sounds better than most sound bars and puts a focus on simplicity, but its feature limitations and lack of a remote make it less appealing against the competition.
Polk Audio SurroundBar SDA IHT
Just because you don't want a full surround-sound home audio system doesn't mean you have to settle for the sound coming out of your TV's speakers. That's the pitch behind TV add-on speakers, which are stripped-down versions of sound bar home theater systems that offer minimal connectivity but promise a significant upgrade over your TV's tinny speakers.
Polk Audio's SurroundBar SDA IHT is the company's entry-level sound bar, and it offers just the bare essentials, with just one analog audio input, no remote, and no front display. If all you need is a dead-simple TV add-on speaker, we did like the SurroundBar IHT SDA's subtle design; the balance between the wireless subwoofer and the surround bar was also well above average.
On the other hand, we found it hard to accept many of the missing features when competitors like the Sony HT-CT100 (3 HDMI inputs, $250 street price), and JVC TH-BA1 (three inputs, $300 street price) offer much more for the same price.
In an era where glossy finishes tend to dominate, the SurroundBar SDA IHT's understated design ethos is a welcome relief. The front is dominated by a dark gray speaker grille, while the rest of the cabinet features a matte gray finish.
On top of the sound bar are a few controls, including volume, mute power, and a remote-pairing button. One feature conspicuously missing from the SurroundBar SDA IHT's front panel is any kind of display, aside from a colored LED to give feedback. The lack of a display helps the product's looks but detracts from its usability. When you're increasing the volume, there's no way to know if you're at maximum volume or if there's still some headroom. We preferred the LCD display on the JVC TH-BA1, which would light up when active, but then go dark when you finish making adjustments.
As we mentioned, the SDA's connectivity is limited to just a single stereo analog input. Yes, you can use your TV as an audio switcher as a workaround, but when Sony's HT-CT100 (which first debuted in 2008) sells for $100 less and includes three HDMI inputs, it's hard to accept the SDA IHT's connectivity limitations. Even if you don't have HDMI gear, JVC's TH-BA1 includes two optical audio inputs and an analog audio input, plus it also features a wireless sub, a remote and LCD display. Between the lack of the remote and the audio routing, we wound up feeling like the Polk had an awful lot of workarounds where a few feature upgrades would have sufficed.
Subwoofer setup is as easy as it gets: it just needs to be plugged into an AC outlet and it's automatically paired with the sound bar. The sub has its own volume control on its rear panel, and like all small subs this one should be placed as close as possible to the speaker to achieve the best sound.