Here’s one downside to being an audio reviewer: You’re always changing gear. I often have to do an hour of setup just to watch a movie. That’s partly why the PowerBar 235 got so much use during the month I had it for testing. It sets up in minutes and requires no configuration.
The other reason is that it sounds good. A 5.1 system it’s not, but it has sufficient output, bass power, and overall sound quality that I was able to watch movie after movie without pining for a bigger system — or for a subwoofer.
Rule No. 39 of reviewing audio products: If you’re gonna test a soundbar’s bass, you’re gonna have to watch some crappy movies, at least until Martin Scorsese or Werner Herzog start blowing lots of stuff up. So I started my evaluation with Battleship, which is exactly like one of those hundreds of cheap action movies on Netflix you’ve never heard of, except it wasn’t cheap and you’ve heard of it. When I played the climactic battle scene, where the titular antique warship confronts some weird alien thingamajig, the PowerBar 235 actually shook my listening chair a little with the sound of the battleship’s big naval guns, and the system played loud enough to suck me into the movie, despite the student-film-quality dialogue.
The next crappy movie, The Punisher, proved that Battleship was no fluke. During a scene where the title character brawls with this big Russian dude, the impacts pounded so hard and tight that I felt them in my chest. In Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus — third in my viewing but No. 1 on my list of crappiest movies of all time — deep bass notes in the soundtrack were surprisingly well defined in pitch and timing.
Even with H-PAS, though, the 4-inch woofers couldn’t shine on the toughest bass tests, such as the opening spaceship flyover in Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. But while the bar didn’t reproduce the lowest frequencies of the flyover, it punched like hell during the explosion that follows.
It also sounded good in the mids and treble. The sound has a smooth character that’s ever-so-slightly rolled off in the highs; many movie soundtracks sound a little too bright, so that’s a good thing. I found the voice reproduction considerably better than with a typical active soundbar, with none of that annoying lispy quality that so many soundbars produce on female dialogue, and a fuller reproduction of the lower notes of male voices than most active soundbars can muster.
For movies and TV, leave the PowerBar 235 in the five-channel enhanced mode, which delivers a realistic sense of ambience and even occasionally tricks you into thinking you’re hearing surround speakers. It does its job without a hint of the disembodied, phasey quality that many of the surround sound simulation technologies in active soundbars produce. It also delivers a better balance than the regular five-channel mode, which sounded too center-channel-heavy for my taste.
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