House Of Marley One Foundation review: Music-first Marley speaker barely misses the mark

The One Foundation features a number of connections including an optical input, USB, 3.5mm input and a set of stereo RCA inputs and a set of outputs. The latter can be used to connect a subwoofer should you wish. The speaker lacks an Ethernet port, relying on Wi-Fi and a Bluetooth connection instead.

Setup

house-of-marley-one-foundation-06.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

The House of Marley One Foundation looks, feels, and sounds like no (other) sound bar, and it sounds better the louder you play it. In our compact new CNET listening room bass was plentiful, but nowhere as deep as the bass we got from the much lower in profile Sony HT-NT5 sound bar/subwoofer system.

When we started listening we placed the One Foundation one shelf down from the top shelf of our equipment stand, but the sound wasn't right. So we moved it up to the top shelf which was definitely for the better. The One Foundation should be placed as near a seated listeners' ear height as possible.

Performance

The One Foundation likes to party, no doubt about that. To start, we played rock and of course, reggae, and the speaker was a lot of fun.

A couple of issues cropped up, too, starting with the crowded stereo soundstage. The One Foundation sounds like what it is: a single speaker. That probably won't be an issue for non-audiophiles or anyone not sitting in the "sweet spot" directly in line with the One Foundation. The fact is that stereo separation is inherently limited for single-speaker systems.

When we compared the One Foundation with the new Sony HT-NT5 sound bar/wireless subwoofer while listening to LCD Soundsystem's "Too Much Love," the HT-NT5's bass punch and clarity totally clobbered the One Foundation's, and the Marley's treble was harsher than the HT-NT5's. Vocals sounded pretty good on both speakers, however.

The HT-NT5 played loud enough, but it didn't sound as good as the One Foundation when played loudly. Oh, and we noted that when we weren't playing movies or music, we heard a small amount of hiss and noise while sitting 6 or 7 feet from the speaker.

With movies we were even less satisfied with the One Foundation's sound. That mono-ish soundstage was too narrow on the TV series "Lost: The Second Season." The scenes of the beach or in the dense jungle felt too cramped and narrow. Male voices were too "chesty," and thick when we were sitting 6 feet away from the speaker; after we moved back another 3 feet the sound balance was better. This speaker is better suited to music than movies or games.

Using AllPlay to coordinate music between several speakers worked well, though the relative lack of services -- no Pandora, for instance -- hurts it against all of its rivals. Sound quality was similar to what we'd heard using a wired connection. That is to say, at low levels the sound is a little muddy, at two-thirds it sounds good, and anything over that sounds shouty. You'll want to play this thing at "uncomfortable to talk over" volume in order for it to sound its best.

Conclusion

Priced at more than a grand the House of Marley One Foundation is a tough sell. The real oak front baffle is a nice contrast to the look and feel of the usual plastic or metal 'bars, but the sound quality for the most part isn't so hot. Yes, it can rock out like few sound bars can, but the deep bass "foundation" comes up short. That's curious, as we imagine most reggae fans will need to add a subwoofer to this already very expensive speaker.

Best Speakers for 2020

All best speakers
  • VIZIO SB3621N-E8

    The Vizio SB3621n-E8 is the best budget soundbar we've ever heard, period.

  • Q Acoustics 3020i

    Starting at: $314.99

    The Q Acoustics 3020i bookshelf speakers combine cutting-edge design with excellent sonics.

  • Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2

    Starting at: $299.98

    The Elac Debut B6.2 changes things up with a greater emphasis on build quality and sonic...

  • Sonos One

    Starting at: $197.96

    With great sound, a compact size and the option of either Google Assistant or Alexa, the...

  • ELAC Uni-Fi UB5

    Starting at: $641.10

    The ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 shattered our expectations for the sound quality we could expect from...

More Best Products

All best products