The Polk Signa Solo is a crazily inexpensive sound bar, but does it trade off performance in the process?
So you're sick of listening to your crappy TV speakers, but don't want to spend a fortune on a separate audio system. Can you afford 200 bucks? $150? How about $130?
The Polk Signa Solo ($129/£149) is the cheapest sound bar we've ever seen in the CNET office. Unfortunately for the Solo, however, the standard of entry-level TV speakers has truly been raised thanks to Polk's own Signa S1 and the incomparable Vizio SB3621N-E8, which both cost just a few bucks more.
They both include subwoofers, and that's a big reason why the Solo doesn't sound as good as either one. Sure, it makes TV louder, and it has all the connectivity you need, but with two brilliant sound bars competing directly against it, the Solo doesn't make as much sense without a price cut. If the Solo was available for $99/£99, it would be much more recommendable to people who want an ultracheap sound bar but don't want a sub.
The Signa Solo is a sound bar stripped to its barest essence with just two inputs (3.5mm and digital optical) and Bluetooth . It offers four 2.5-inch drivers with built-in bass ports, and the speaker will decode Dolby Digital soundtracks.
If you're measuring out a space to put the Solo make sure you have a rectangle at least 3.54 inches (8.99 cm) tall by 39 inches (99.06 cm) wide by 3.91 inches (9.93 cm) deep. The cabinet is black plastic and comes with a cloth grill and a modicum of controls at the top. As a welcome touch, the Solo comes with wall mounting holes at the rear.
As a Polk sound bar the Solo comes with a number of EQ settings including Movie, Music and a Night mode. The sound bar offers an approximation of surround the company calls "patented SDA digital surround."
Setting up the Signa Solo is pretty much a plug 'n' play affair, and we like that you can adjust the bass and dialogue level via the compact remote. Bass level control isn't uncommon, but few budget or even midprice bars let you adjust the dialogue volume level -- kudos to Polk for including that!
Evaluating the Signa Solo is first a matter of setting expectations. Does it sound significantly better than your display's built-in speakers? Absolutely!
But does it have the muscle of some of our favorite budget sound bars and sound bases? The Signa Solo can't match the room-filling power of the Vizio or the S1, but it is slightly less expensive, and since it doesn't rely on a separate subwoofer it takes up less living space.
To get a handle on the Signa Solo's sound we started our auditions with "The Glass Castle," a film about a wildly unconventional nomadic family with young children. With no special effects to challenge the Signa Solo, it sounded perfectly fine. Dialogue was clear, and the bass-midrange-treble balance was natural.
With more demanding fare like "Roger Waters The Wall" concert Blu-ray, the Signa Solo struggled to deliver the full power of tunes like "In the Flesh." The music's dynamics were overtly compressed, and bass quality and quantity were in short supply. The quieter, less bombastic scenes were enjoyable, and soundstage width extended a little beyond the edges of the speaker.
The World War II drama "Hacksaw Ridge" was another film that revealed the Signa Solo's limitations as far as home theater muscle is concerned. Switching over to Vizio SB3621 restored the energy and power of Waters' music and the visceral assault of harrowing battle scenes in "Hacksaw." While the SB3621's sound bar is smaller than the Signa Solo speaker, it's the addition of the pint-size sub that makes a difference in the scale of the sound. The Vizio feels like a bigger system.
As for the Signa Solo's patented SDA digital surround technology, which Polk says "creates an expansive, multidimensional sound experience," it didn't materialize for us. The Signa Solo couldn't even project a wall-to-wall soundfield, but to be fair, a lot of more expensive sound bars can't either.
We also streamed Sufjan Stevens' new album, "The Greatest Gift," from Tidal from an iPhone 6S with Bluetooth. The atmospheric acoustic guitars and Stevens' wispy vocals sounded surprisingly decent. As a source of background music the Signa Solo was certainly acceptable.
The Polk Signa Solo is good for what it is, an upgrade over the sound of your TV's built-in speakers, and if that's all you're looking for and you really don't want a sub, it's worth checking out. But there are several other options available to you, especially in the US.