When you think of Haier, air conditioners and other appliances are the first products to come to mind. Yes, the Chinese company has ventured into discount
Guess what? We don't have Haier to kick around anymore. We spent a considerable amount of time listening to the company's SBEV40-Slim sound bar ($260 street), and we're pleasantly surprised to report that it's pretty great. In fact, the Haier is one of the best-sounding sound bars at this price level.
The SBEV40-Slim (which also goes by the name "Haier Slim Evoke") has an incredibly thin profile at just 1.1 inches thick, along with a slim, wireless subwoofer, making it one of the more stylish sound bars on the market. And its connectivity is a cut above most of its competitors, with two HDMI inputs, an optical audio input, and a minijack input.
On top of being thin, it sounds great and has all the features you could want -- what's not to like? Not much. There's no built-in Bluetooth or AirPlay for streaming music wirelessly from a smartphone or tablet, which is a nice perk you get on some systems. And it doesn't sound nearly as good as a true surround-sound system, although that's true of any system at this price. At any rate, these are nitpicks about what's an overall excellent home theater option. If you're looking for a sound bar that costs less than $300, the Haier SBEV40-Slim should be at the top of your short list.
We can't remember seeing a sound bar that's thinner than the SBEV40-Slim. The speaker's claim to 1.1-inch thinness isn't just marketing fluff; it's that thin all the way through. The metal feet on the bottom take up a little more room, but they're also very sturdy and stable, which isn't always the case on a sound bar system. I'm rarely impressed by ever-thinner HDTVs (99 percent of the time I'm looking at the big flat side), but the Haier's thinness is definitely a perk considering it will live on the cramped space in front of your TV on or in your home theater cabinet.
If the Haier was just thin, you could dismiss that as a gimmick, but a lot of thought has obviously been put into the rest of the design as well. There's no visible display on the front panel, but press a button on the remote and a display lights up behind the speaker grille, letting you know what input you're on or how high the volume is. And the display is smart enough to disappear again when you're done. There's nothing else on the front panel, except for a few buttons that run along the top in case the remote goes missing.
The subwoofer is seriously slim, too. While most subs have a boxy shape, the SBEV40-Slim's has a narrow profile, measuring just 5.9 inches deep. It's also wireless, so it's easy to place pretty much anywhere in your living room (although it does need to be plugged into the wall).
While the Haier gets most of the design notes right, the remote could use a little work. The volume rocker is nice and prominent, but it has an unconventional horizontal layout. The rest of the buttons are also laid out horizontally, even buttons like Mute that deserve a more distinctive treatment. It's not a bad clicker, but you'd be smart to invest in a quality universal remote.
Most people don't need a lot of features in a sound bar. Just a single digital input can be enough if you use your TV to switch between devices. The SBEV40-Slim goes beyond the minimum by including two HDMI inputs, an optical audio input, and a minijack input. Even if you're planning to use your TV as a switcher, those extra inputs on the sound bar are nice in case you run out of inputs on your TV.
While connectivity is well-covered, the SBEV40-Slim doesn't have any wireless streaming-audio options. Bluetooth or AirPlay is a nice plus in a sound bar, letting you play any music source available on your phone (including music from apps like Pandora) wirelessly through the sound bar. Last year's LG LSB316 is a decent sound bar with built-in Bluetooth, if you're looking for that functionality. (Alternatively, you can add Bluetooth with a dongle via Logitech's Wireless Speaker Adapter.)
Once you've plugged in the subwoofer and speaker and hooked up your sources (TV, cable box, Blu-ray player, and so on), you're good to go. The subwoofer automatically pairs with the sound bar, and the Haier Evoke Slim doesn't have any speaker calibration or adjustments; even the subwoofer's volume is fixed relative to the speaker. It's impossible to make it sound any better or worse than it does when it comes out of the box.
One technical note: the Haier Evoke Slim doesn't decode Dolby or DTS, so make sure your TV and other sources can send PCM signals (rather than bit stream) to the sound bar. If you don't know what any of that jargon means, don't worry, it likely won't be a problem for your home theater.
It's hard not to have low expectations for a 1.1-inch-thick speaker, but our skepticism vanished as soon as we started to play movies. The sound wasn't thin at all; in fact, the Haier's tonal balance was so rich we sometimes felt the sound was slightly dull. Then again, that laid-back character should make the SBEV40-Slim easy to listen to for hours on end. The Vizio VHT215 sound bar system has a brighter, more immediate sound, which some listeners might prefer, but we liked the Haier's easygoing balance.
The sound was excellent while watching Porcupine Tree's "Anesthetize" concert Blu-ray. The guitars and keyboards were clear, and Gavin Harrison's huge drum kit had terrific impact and power, far beyond what we've heard from similarly priced sound bars. Turning up the volume to a fairly loud level didn't alter our favorable opinion of the Haier. We attribute some of the system's poise under pressure to the unusually seamless blend between the Haier sub and sound bar. True, the bass doesn't go superdeep, but what's there is nicely done.
We used the battle scenes that come early in the "Home of the Brave" Blu-ray to test the SBEV40-Slim's stamina, and the skinny speaker handled the gunfire and explosions with the ease of a much larger system. Dialogue sounded natural and closer to the sound of a good center-channel speaker than we've heard from most sound bars.
The Haier Evoke Slim doesn't have a "late-night" compression mode to reduce movies' soft-to-loud dynamic range, but you can switch off the subwoofer using the remote. The sound will then be a lot thinner, but less likely to disturb sleeping family members. The only way to change the sound balance is with the Mode button on the remote that toggles through News, Music, Movie, and Surround options. News slightly enhances dialogue intelligibility, Music and Movie sounded about the same to us, and Surround produced a slightly larger stereo sound stage.
We compared the Haier Evoke Slim with the Yamaha YAS-101 sound bar system, which doesn't come with a subwoofer, so the first thing we noticed was how much smaller and less dynamically alive it sounded. Once we got past that, the YAS-101 sounded clearer and more transparent than the Haier. The YAS-101 does a great job for a system without a subwoofer, but it can't play as loud or handle brute-force soundtracks as well as the Evoke Slim. Neither sound bar produced much surround effect -- they're both strictly two-channel systems -- but the YAS-101 sounded more spacious than the Haier.
Conclusion: Superslim with sweet sound
Few sound bar speakers sound great with classical, jazz, and rock music, including many of the largest and most-expensive we've tested over the years. The Haier SBEV40-Slim's smooth balance, combined with its excellent design and feature set, make it a top pick for the budget sound bar category.