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Polk Omni SB1 review: Sound bar makes movies thrilling and intelligible

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The Good The Polk Omni SB1 is an elegant sound bar that presents movies with gusto. The VoiceAdjust feature is great for boosting the intelligibility of movie and TV dialogue. The addition of Play-Fi enables advanced streaming features with better sound quality than Bluetooth. The wireless sub has its own volume control, which enables tweaking according to the content you're enjoying.

The Bad Despite the high price, the main unit is plastic and may not fit all decors. Due to the small size of the woofers some lower-mid warmth is lost. The unit lacks Bluetooth and the Play-Fi app isn't as intuitive or fully featured as Sonos' app.

The Bottom Line If you're looking for a higher-end sound bar with excellent movie sound, advanced streaming features and full control of dialogue intelligibility, then the Polk Omni SB1 fits the bill well.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

Not many sound bars cost as much as the Polk Omni SB1, but not many perform as well, either. Its wireless sub provides plenty of movie punch and its VoiceAdjust feature, which actually helps to make muddy dialogue intelligible again, is one of its best features.

Beyond sound quality the Polk is a striking-looking sound bar which offers some wireless streaming-music features, including Play-Fi and Spotify Connect, while also taking a big one away: Bluetooth.

Sure you can get better performance with music for half the price with the Pioneer SP-SB23W , but that sound bar can't match the Polk's home theater impact. As long as you don't miss Bluetooth, the Polk delivers enough features and cosmetic enhancements to make the high price worth it for the right user.

Design

There are two schools of thought when it comes to designing audio components: one is to make it blend in, and the other is to make it a statement piece. Since the Omni SB1 isn't your typical nondescript black box, it sits in the latter category, but it's by no means obnoxious or ugly.

To our eye the SB1 has a touch of science fiction about it with the "viewing deck" rectangle in the center and winglike shape. The color scheme is gunmetal gray and the aggressive look is punctuated by the metal grille across the front. Unfortunately the rest of the body is plastic.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The sound bar has a full set of controls on top and a series of LEDs across the front that "illustrate" several functions. It looks cool, but an alphanumeric display would have been more useful.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

While it looks very similar to the cheaper Polk MagniFi, the SB1 features both a larger subwoofer and a wider SurroundBar (43 inches versus 38 inches). The 14-inch square subwoofer is wireless and comes in the same gray color scheme as the 'bar.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is a small credit-card-style clicker with not one but three (!) different volume controls -- one each for bass, the VoiceAdjust feature and overall system level.

Features

The Polk Omni SB1 is a 3.1-channel sound bar that features a voice-boosting feature called VoiceAdjust, which is designed for boosting dialogue in movies or vocals in music. The VoiceAdjust is a combination of a simple volume control for the center channel and signal processing to elevate vocals from background noise.

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Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Another notable feature is the inclusion of the Play-Fi streaming standard, something the cheaper MagniFi doesn't have. Play-Fi first launched in 2013 as a competitor to streaming hardware manufacturer Sonos and offered streaming from phones and network devices. It can also access streaming services such as Pandora and Internet radio stations, and is controllable by a dedicated Polk Omni app.

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