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Energy Power Bar review: Energy Power Bar

Energy Power Bar's back panel
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Connectivity options are sparse, so you'll want to use your TV to switch between devices.

Connectivity options on the back are minimal. There's just a single optical audio input and and a stereo analog input. That's enough if you connect everything to your TV first, then use its audio output to connect to the Power Bar, which makes sense since you'll be using your TV's remote to control the sound bar.

One quick note: the Power Bar doesn't decode Dolby or DTS soundtracks, so you'll need to make sure you're not trying to send it bit stream audio. If you're not sure what all that jargon means, don't worry, it likely won't be an issue, as most TVs output stereo PCM, or you can always default to using the analog connection.

Energy Power Bar's keyhole slots
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Keyhole slots on the back make the Power Bar easy to wall-mount.

The Power Bar can be wall-mounted with the keyhole slots on its rear panel. The speaker doesn't have any speaker calibration requirements, and the sound bar/wireless subwoofer "pairing" was totally automatic. As always, we recommend placing the sub within 5 or 6 feet of the sound bar for best sound quality. The subwoofer has a volume control on its back panel. That's fine, but the rear volume control isn't as convenient as on other sound bar systems that control the bass/subwoofer balance with the remote.

Performance: More power, please
The Power Bar has fewer features than most of the sound bar/subwoofer systems we've tested. There are no surround-processing modes, late-night dynamic range compression schemes, or dialogue enhancements. It's strictly a stereo, 2.1-channel system, and other than adjusting the subwoofer volume level, there are no fine-tuning or sound-balancing options available to the user. While the bare-bones approach worked well for the Haier SBEV40-SLIM, the Power Bar could have used some tweaking options in our listening environment, as it was far from the most exciting-sounding bar speaker we've tested, and the 8-inch subwoofer is no powerhouse.

The Power Bar's laid-back sound balance is easy on the ears, but a little bland for our tastes. We watched a bit of the "Wall-E" Blu-ray and the textures of the little space-age robot's motors and beeps lacked detail. The film's expansive orchestral score sounded reined-in and flat.

That constricted quality was even more evident when we compared the Power Bar with Yamaha's YAS-101 sound bar as we watched Peter Gabriel's "New Blood: Live in London" concert Blu-ray. The YAS-101's soundstage filled most of the front wall of the CNET listening room, and the Power Bar's stereo stage felt cramped by comparison. There was more dynamic life and energy to the sound of the YAS-101. That speaker doesn't come with a subwoofer, so sure, the Power Bar made more and deeper bass, but that didn't tilt the balance in favor of the Power Bar. The YAS-101's sound was simply more lifelike and it's $150 less.

The film "5 Days of War," a drama set during the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, didn't alter our opinion of the Power Bar's home theater prowess. The sounds of Russian tanks crushing everything in their paths and jet planes' missiles blowing up buildings lacked oomph; the Power Bar's dynamics were missing in action. Dialogue sounded fine in the quieter scenes, but it was much harder to follow when the action heated up.

Rock music on CD reveals the limitations of most sound bar systems, but we felt the Power Bar was unusually competent with music. The subwoofer/sound-bar sound jelled, and while the sub's performance still wasn't anything special, it blended unusually well with the sound bar. The Black Keys' blues rock came to life over the Power Bar.

The speaker's sound with movies left us cold, but it was somewhat better with two-channel music. That's fine, but the prime mission of a sound bar is home theater, and the Power Bar faces stiff competition in that area.

Conclusion: There are better sound bars for the money
Energy makes truly outstanding compact speakers -- the Energy Take Classic 5.1 system is one of our favorite products of all time -- but the Power Bar just isn't in the same league. It's relatively expensive and, at least in our listening environment, its performance doesn't justify the cost. The Energy Power Bar will sound better than your TV's built-in speakers, especially with music, but you can find a better value.

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