Maxell MXSP-SB3000 Soundbar review

Soundbars are one thing, but TV speaker bases are the latest trend in affordable home cinema sound. The Maxell MXSP-SB3000 Soundbar is a giant under-the-telly base with integrated subwoofers and speakers to boost that TV sound.

But it goes a step further than some competitors too: built-in Bluetooth means it can be used to play music from various devices, while the sheer size of this 'bar - it's more of a wedge really - can cater for TVs up to 80kgs. That means it will support almost any current screen that you happen to throw at it, including some of the slightly older sets that, typically, are heavier than modern-day ultra-slim ones.

If you're happy with your screen but want a boost in sound delivered from a system that can also cater for music, is the Maxell SB3000 the one?

The Incredible Hulk

We've seen a lot of soundbars, surround systems and speaker bases in our time and they're typically fairly large. The Maxell is huge though. It measures a whopping 94cm across - which will make it wider than plenty of 42-inch screens. That will immediately limit its appeal to those seeking something altogether more subtle.

As everything is contained within the single unit, however, there's no mucking around placing a sub somewhere else around the room. That's both a benefit and a burden, though, as a smaller soundbar and sub combination may befit your setup better. Much the same can be said about lack of separates too: this is a stereo soundbar, not a surround sound system.

But, actually, it looks rather good once in place. It might be a hulking great thing, but the tapered design softens its visual impact and the textured surface has a quality look when it catches the light. We sat it under an older 46-inch Toshiba unit no problems and it integrates well.

At the controls

Plugging in is nice and easy too. There are three HDMI ports and one optical, alongside RCA and 3.5mm analogue inputs. Plus Bluetooth 4.0 to cater for all things wireless - although that's no use for TV audio.

These ports are absurdly tucked away though - it's not a casual job to pop a new 3.5mm jack into the rear for example. Consider this is a big, heavy unit with an equally big, heavy TV on top and you'll want to get everything wired up and leave it at that we suspect. Not that we want to see unsightly ports all over the shop, but the way these ones are buried in an alcove to the rear makes it doubly difficult to make adjustments.

Once you're plugged in the Maxell typically flicks itself over to the active channel by detecting incoming audio. This is good, but the balance of volume levels can be widely different - if it's set to half volume for Bluetooth playback then the sudden boom of louder TV audio from a set top box will have you dashing around for the controls or to pull the plug.

Whereas some soundbars don't offer much in the way of illustrating what they're doing, the SB3000 has a basic screen on the front to illustrate source and volume, and if there's a problem - such as no Bluetooth, for example - then it will show this in wording that's easy to understand. There's no adjustments that can be made via a TV interface however.

In addition to the buttons on the unit a small physical controller comes in the box too. This is useful to switch between sources, adjust volume, EQ presets, and a variety of other controls. It's good to see EQ options available - such as Music, Sport, Speech and more - but we would like much greater control. Bass and treble only have a two-stage boost that is less refined than some of the competition out there.

Sound advice?

The reason you'll be contemplating the Maxell SB3000 is because you want better audio. Once wired up there's no discernable delay between screen and audio, so lip-sync between screen and what you hear matches up. Bluetooth does have a delay, but that's as expected and your TV won't be using that anyway.

TVs tend to lack bass output because of their designs, so that's the first thing that this soundbar addresses with some success. It's a fairly crude bass-level control, but the dual woofer system can deliver enough thump while, conversely, remaining subtle in its delivery at the lower volumes. We've been using the SB3000 as a Bluetooth speaker in the office for many days and, so long as the correct preset and bass adjustment is selected, it does the job well. Our choice was the Music preset with bass maxed out, as the other EQ options sounded too flat and muffled for the mid-levels to shine.

We don't want to drown in bass for movie watching though - and we suspect your neighbours don't want to either - so shifting over to a different preset keeps things balanced. Again, mid-levels aren't a shining example but are good enough.

With the remaining mid-high frequencies we found the sound was clear, without distortion and delivered with enough available volume. For TV audio we did find the large scale design would ping sound off the walls which gave an odd pseudo-surround style some of the time, which was a bit odd but not something we found a problem when listening to music.

Given that this soundbar costs £200 at the time of writing, it undercuts the competition by a considerable margin and yet doesn't scrimp on the sound quality. It's a value offering that won't give as much thump as a separates system, but for the money we can barely throw any serious criticism at the Maxell.

Verdict

When we first lugged the Maxell MXSP-SB3000 Soundbar out of its considerable box, we were surprised by how big it was. In our setup it fitted in just fine, but in plenty of others it won't be suitable - and that's one of the things that will cost this soundbar attention from as wide a customer base as it could.

On the other hand, its ability to bear maximum loads up to 80kgs will cater for an audience that other TV sound bases can't. If you've got a bulky set with naff sound then the Maxell could be exactly what you're looking for.

We're particularly fond of the Bluetooth functionality for music, while the variety of inputs will cater for a large range of TVs and external systems as required. And the audio doesn't scrimp for the price point: you'll get that much wanted boost in sound whatever you happen to plug in, although we tended to find that different sources required preset adjustments.

We'd like more presets, greater equalisation control, and less messing about at the recessed exterior when attempting to plug things in, but otherwise - if you have the space - the Maxell SB3000 Soundbar is a well balanced product well worth its asking price.