SpeakerCraft CS3 soundbar review

Inside CI 4 Rating

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posted on Sunday, 23rd June 2013 by Steve May

Hi-fi  Soundbar  Aldous Systems 


With the soundbar market growing exponentially, it's not surprising to see speciality audio brands attempting to carve themselves a slice of the pie. That said, SpeakerCraft isn't necessarily an obvious bandwagon jumper; the brand is still largely considered an architectural loudspeaker exponent. Of course, the CS3 isn't strictly a soundbar. SpeakerCraft describes it as a 'Stereo Centre Stage Speaker', and the form factor is more TV pedestal than horizontal enclosure. It transpires this approach brings solid benefits…

SpeakerCraft CS3: Build quality and features
The CS3 is intended for table-top installation. It measures 102 x 711 x 419mm (H/W/D), which means you can't really use it with flatscreen TVs that have a wider stand area. While suitable for conventional table-top stands, it's unusable with some key models, including several from Samsung's 2013 range.

There's nothing particularly fancy about the aesthetics of the product itself. It's a ported enclosure finished in matt black. That said, the unit itself is definitely sturdy, with no flex in the cabinet. Weighing some 11kg, it can easily take the weight of a 50-inch screen. Indeed, we plopped a 65-incher on it, seemingly without inducing any stress. A magnetic grille covers up four paper cone 3-inch mid-range drivers and two 1-inch silk dome tweeters; on the bottom of the box, a pair of 5 ¼-inch subwoofers fire downwards. Audio inputs include coaxial and digital optical, plus a pair of stereo phonos. The CS3 also boasts an integrated Bluetooth receiver, allowing users to stream tunes directly from their smartphones. There is no HDMI input, however.

The CS3 ships with a credit-card sized remote control. Stereo phono leads and an optical digital cable are supplied in the box. The only indication that the speaker is powered up is a subtle red Standby LED. When activated, this turns blue. Installation takes next to no time. Simply place the CS3 beneath the resident screen and connect it as a source. In most instances, this only requires an optical digital link, although there will always be exceptions to the rule.

SpeakerCraft CS3: Performance
Compared to the inadequate sound system of the average TV screen, the CS3 sounds positively symphonic. The system has a richness that suits both speech based reality programmes and action-orientated TV and movie fare alike. The mid-range favours dialogue, a characteristic that will suit family use. There's also a prodigious bass output for such a small enclosure. You'll not need to consider a separate subwoofer. The remote offers bass and treble trim and boost controls, so you can temper this as you see fit. Of course with no display of any type offered, it's often confusing to know where you are with any settings. Thankfully, an EQ Reset always gets you back to square one.

There's significant volume on tap. The CS3 delivers 20W into all four channels (at 4ohms). The result is some 80W of total amplification. The thing goes plenty loud enough for a large sized living room, and doesn't strain when cranked up. Imaging is a little funnelled though. While a stereo soundstage is evident, it isn't particularly wide. Still, the result feels perfectly anchored to the screen. There is a DSP 'Surround' mode on offer but engaging this actually causes the soundstage to step back from the screen and widen slightly, rather than wraping around the listening space. Ultimately we really didn't think this mode brought anything positive to the party.

The convenience of Bluetooth pairing is a welcome addition to the spec. It's a simple job to partner the CS3 to a smartphone. Selecting Bluetooth as an input via the remote is all you need do to start streaming. Audio quality is a little compressed (the CS3 doesn't appear to support aptX) but it's still a great solution when you want to share some showtunes, When it comes to dynamic wallop, the CS3 shows most Bluetooth docks a clean pair of heels. Move out of range and the Bluetooth will disconnect, however it'll reconnect when you're back in proximity. 

Overall, we were very pleased with the performance of the CS3; it's exciting to listen to regardless of content - however there are caveats. The CS3 does not have a built-in Dolby Digital decoder (or indeed, any type of decoder). With Freeview TV channels this isn't an issue, however using the optical audio output via a TV effectively makes the set itself the signal switching device. Most screens will route out through optical exactly what comes in via connected sources, so some forethought needs to be applied. With a Blu-ray player connected via HDMI and outputting bitstream, our partnered TV decoded this without incident; however when routed through to the CS3, the SpeakerCraft unit fell silent. The solution is to change the audio output from the Blu-ray player to PCM to get audio from the sound pedestal. Had that been a modest multi-channel home theatre system connected to the optical audio output of the TV, the DD bitstream would have passed through and been decoded. The CS3 performs well when fed a CD. The rich timbre of the speaker is very easy to like with a variety of musical genres.

SpeakerCraft CS3: Verdict
There's no doubt the CS3 dramatically outguns mainstream soundbar solutions, by offering more profound bass and greater volume. It's a robust performer than really adds weight and presence to television audio. The CS3's pedestal design also gives it a practical edge - provided the accompanying TV has a fairly standard stand. Comparatively, it's a more upfront performer than the Sonos PlayBar (its most obvious rival), which admittedly adopts a more conventional Soundbar form factor. Overall, we rate the SpeakerCraft CS3 a welcome new sonic solution.

The Speakercraft CS3 is available now.
Retail Price: £599
Distribution is via Aldous Systems. For more on Aldous System's product portfolio vist out partner page here.

Also read:
SpeakerCraft ROOTS review
SpeakerCraft launches CS3 Bluetooth soundbar
Sono Playbar soundbar review


Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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