Toshiba SBX4250 review:

A ho-hum sound bar packed with features

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The SB4250 is also packed with ports, with two HDMI inputs, two optical inputs, one analog input, and a minijack input. All that connectivity isn't exactly necessary if you use your TV as a switcher, but the surplus ports can still come in handy if you have more devices than inputs on your HDTV.

There's also onboard Dolby Digital decoding, which isn't a must-have sound bar feature, but it can be useful in a few instances. One is if you use your TV's internal over-the-air tuner, as TVs send a Dolby Digital signal from their optical output, so you need a sound bar with Dolby Digital decoding to hear audio. The same applies if your TV's built-in Smart TV feature outputs a Dolby Digital signal. And if you end up connecting devices directly to the SBX4250, rather than using your TV as a switcher, it will be able to handle bit stream Dolby Digital audio, if your device doesn't handle decoding.

Setup: Easily tweakable
There's no need for any kind of speaker calibration out of the box, and the wireless subwoofer automatically pairs with the sound bar.

The SBX4250's remote makes it tempting to tweak the sound to your heart's content, with direct control over the subwoofer, bass, and treble levels. There are also preset equalization curves for rock, jazz, movie, and so on, but they can only be engaged when the sound bar is being used in stereo mode.

The SRS TruSurround HD and SRS TruBass sound processing modes can also be adjusted right from the remote. TruSurroundHD opens up the sound, spreading well beyond the speaker's 37.5-inch width, while the TruBass mode (predictably) adds more bass. Listening in stereo the speaker sounded too small, so we used the TruSurround HD processing for all of our listening tests.

Sound quality: Good, but unexceptional
The SBX4250's sound is a big step up from what you'll hear from your TV's built-in speakers. It gives more bass, greater dynamics, more detail, and a bigger and wider stereo image.

It fared less well when we compared it with other sound bars in the same price range. We started with a Blu-ray of "The Hunger Games," and scenes in the jungle populated with a dense mix of insects and birds sounded fairly clear, but dialogue lacked body, and voices were slightly sibilant. When Katniss Everdeen runs through the forest as it erupts in flames, the bass was lightweight, nowhere as full and visceral as we heard during the same scene from the (now discontinued) Haier SBEV40-Slim. The SBEV40-Slim also projected a bigger, broader sound stage, although the SBX4250 earned points for its sonic clarity.

The SBX4250's weak link is its subwoofer, which isn't as powerful as most sound bar subs, although it certainly makes more bass than you'll get from the Bose Solo ($400) pedestal sound bar, which lacks a separate subwoofer.

With jazz singer Diana Krall's "Live in Rio" concert DVD the SBX4250's superior clarity again stood out when we compared it with the SBEV40-Slim, but Krall's voice at times sounded a little harsh. CDs sounded even less convincing, but few sound bars, even ones that sell for a lot more than this one, ever really cut it with two-channel music.

What are the alternatives?
Most new 2013 sound bars haven't been released yet, so the SBX4250 doesn't have much current competition at the moment. The Vizio SB4021M-A1 ($270 street) is a solid alternative, with better sound quality and a nicer design, but it lacks built-in Bluetooth. Zvox's Z-Base 420 ($300 street) and the Bose Solo ($400 street) are also compelling options if you're more focused on style, as their pedestal design results in a cleaner look than the SBX4250's more traditional sound bar design. And the Speakercraft CS3 ($600 street) offers good looks, built-in Bluetooth, and great sound quality, but it's twice the price.

If you're in the market for a sound bar, your best bet right now might be to wait until the new 2013 models come out in the spring. Bluetooth will be much more common and you'll likely be able to find a sound bar with similar features that looks and sounds better than the SBX4250.

Conclusion: Buy it for the features, not the sound
If you can't wait for new sound bars to come out, the main reason to choose the SBX4250 over its competitors is its better-than-average feature set. The Toshiba SBX4250 is a good value at $270 for those who are looking for lots of connectivity and built-in Bluetooth. However, it's hard not to think that most buyers would be better off waiting, or sacrificing features for a sound bar that looks or sounds a little better.

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